Nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic ...


We've got a new Think Again column here called "Mr. Pot, Meet Mr. Kettle." It's about the newfound and hypocritical conservative sensitivity to "harsh" remarks from liberals.

George Zornick here again, as Eric sails the ocean blue. As you may know, we just wrote a four-part Think Again series on Bush's war on the press (here, here, here, and here). I'm happy to report that recently, a member of the mainstream media has acknowledged the vicious campaign George W. Bush waged against the Fourth Estate. Here's The Washington Post's Dana Milbank:

Begging off because of an ongoing investigation? Hiding behind Patrick Fitzgerald's skirt? Warning a reporter not to "waste" a question and asking for an alternative question? All four techniques were popularized by Bush.

OK, that's not a strong indictment, but I'll take it. Wait, what? Milbank was comparing Bush's treatment of the press to Obama's?

Yes, it appears that when Obama interrupted the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick, who was posing a question that had been asked and answered repeatedly, Obama invited a broad comparison to a president who's created fake news reports, planted reporters in the White House briefing room, sealed off record amounts of government information, criminalized information-gathering and imprisoned reporters, and so on.

McCormick was asking Obama about Rahm Emanuel's contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Of course, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has asked Obama not to speak on that, and so he hasn't. No reporter has produced evidence that the silence is the result of some type of political collusion between Fitzgerald and Obama. Yet, somehow he's still "hiding behind Patrick Fitzgerald's skirt." As Jamison Foser notes, Obama is screwed either way. He can conform to Fitzgerald's request, or he can defy it and potentially undermine the investigation into Blagojevich.

Still, McCormick was stubbornly asking about Emanuel's contacts, inviting the president-elect to defy a U.S. attorney and kneecap a corruption investigation, and Obama interrupted him. This specific exchange drew not only a comparison to Bush from Milbank, but this warning from the new NBC Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker: "Our job is to hold him to account ... we're going to have to get tougher."

The press is finally asserting itself, and only eight years too late.

Earlier in the week, I noted Glenn Beck's odd historical analysis: that the United States in 2008 is very similar to the United States in 1860. He mentioned the Illinois corruption fiasco and the auto bailout vote as (I think) the reasons why.

After further research, I've realized this is actually a running theme for Beck. Here he is on election night last month: "It's 1860. This country is a tinderbox. I wonder if (tonight) there will be the celebratory burning down of a city."

And here he is interviewing Kelsey Grammer in October:

You know, to kind of go off on your Civil War thing, I was, two weekends ago I met with a guy who was I believe the first person to say a global terror network. That was his phrase. And he said this is not -- we're treating this like a police action. This is not. This is a global terror network. And I said to him, I asked him, you know, where are we in our history, where do you think we are. And he said, people don't understand. We're in 1860.

And here he is giving an interview (to The Joplin Globe this week about his new book:

"I've been on the economy now for two years, and both of (the political parties) are taking us down to a place I don't even recognize," he said. "I'm afraid we're living in 1860 and on the verge of some real trouble."

Admittedly, I'm not a Glenn Beck scholar, but this is really hard to figure. It seems Beck thinks the nation is teetering on the brink because of election-night jubilation and/or Islamic terrorism and/or partisanship and/or the economy and/or Rod Blagojevich and/or the financial bailout.

I know that warnings of imminent crisis get audiences riled and move books, but this is borderline deranged. Maybe his old bosses at CNN can explain what he means ...

It appears former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani may be hosting a talk radio show on Westwood One.

Are we going to hear the same serious (and deserved) discussion that happened when it became public that MSNBC's Chris Matthews was going to run for Senate? We didn't hear it when Mike Huckabee got his show on Fox News, but everyone knows what Fox is and what it does.

Westwood One, though, should be asked these questions. By the way, with Huckabee and now Giuliani on the air these days, I wonder how Mitt Romney feels ...

This is well deserved. It's really amazing that Hannity's nightly, nine-month campaign to make Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers the two most important people in American politics failed so spectacularly. Polls showed these attacks had no tangible effect on voters.

Think about that. Americans, it must be said, are quite susceptible to persistent marketing. It will lead them to buy everything from clear Pepsi to ridiculously oversized Hummers. But Hannity's relentless and admittedly quite creative effort to hammer Wright and Ayers into the political discussion didn't even move the voter needle one point. That's really something.

From TomDispatch:

"Worlds shudder and collapse all the time," Tom Engelhardt begins.

"There's no news in that. Just ask the Assyrians, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty, the final Romanoff, Napoleon, or that Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff. But when it seems to be happening to your world, well, that's a different kettle of fish. When you get the word, the call, the notice that you're a goner, or when your little world shudders, that's something else again."

Engelhardt's own little world -- of book publishing -- shuddered recently. "Black Wednesday" they called it in the publishing business, as a round of firings commenced, one distinguished house essentially shut its doors, and an editor whose work he admired was essentially perp-walked out of his office and axed.

He puts the recent events in his niche business world -- he remains an editor for Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt, owned by MacMillan, which, in turn, is possessed by the German publishing giant Holtzbrinck -- in the context of far larger firings and "reorganizations" nationwide and global, in order to talk about how parochial we are, how we feel disaster most strongly when our own small worlds shudder.

But Engelhardt also explores just why the bloated publishing conglomerates acted like the auto Big Three, why they couldn't see (and seize) the future even when they could watch it happening these last years in an allied world of print: the newspaper. In the process, he also considers one of the strange miracles of book history -- the book has long resisted the ad (totally rare in our world), which, he suspects, was one factor leading publishers to doubt the relevance of the collapse of newspapers (which were dying, in part, because ads were being sucked onto the Internet).

This is a curious tale of a more than 500-year-old technology that has yet to be surpassed, but also of what happens in a world when the sales stop (as they have in bookstores nationwide). It's personal and it's something a little different for his website TomDispatch.

This week on Moyers:

As a new administration is set to take over in the White House, Bill Moyers checks in with author Sarah Chayes on the state of affairs in America's other war in Afghanistan. An author and former journalist, Chayes has lived the last 7 years in Afghanistan helping to rebuild the country. Then, as 43 states face budget shortfalls, New York Gov. David Paterson talks with Bill Moyers about how states are dealing with the economic crisis. And, the Journal and Exposé: America's Investigative Reports examine a whistleblower's tale of military housing contracts gone awry.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Josh Silver

Media and technology issues are once again front-and-center this week. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an A1 story claiming Google and President-elect Barack Obama were abandoning their commitment to Net Neutrality.

The paper got it all wrong. Neither allegation is true. The WSJ blew the story, but as is usually the case, there is a thread of truth in the "secret" documents that the WSJ uncovered: Google does want to "co-locate" their massive servers in the actual facilities owned by the major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. However, they remain committed to Net Neutrality, and they are not asking for exclusive arrangements with ISPs. The best article I've seen is here.

One good outcome of the botched story is that it got Obama to once again make his commitment to Net Neutrality public. Indeed, he has repeatedly promised to "take a back seat to no one" and protect the free and open Internet. Tuesday's New York Times published an important editorial -- quoting Free Press -- that urged the next president to seize this "Eisenhower Interstate moment for the Internet." Read the whole article here.

Last week, Free Press released "2009 Media & Tech Priorities," a document outlining our top policy priorities for the year ahead. You can read the whole thing here. It is worth taking a moment to read this roadmap to reform in all of the many sectors of media reform. It already has been spotted on desks in Congress and at the transition team headquarters.

At the start of next year, we expect the new administration to push through a major stimulus bill to reinvigorate the economy. Everyone is currently angling to get their issues funded through this bill, as it is likely the only major opportunity for new appropriations for quite some time. We are focusing our efforts on a plan for universal high-speed "broadband" buildout, and also supporting efforts by public broadcasters to increase funding for public media.

Today, we are releasing our broadband stimulus plan, which we will aggressively push for inclusion in the spending bill. In great detail, we describe $44 billion in investments the government should make to jump-start the economy and bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans. It's an ambitious and innovative plan, but based on Obama's supportive statements just last week -- we may well get what we're asking for.

Obama declared that "every child should have a chance to get online" in America on the same day -- Dec. 6 -- that we launched our first "Internet for Everyone" town hall meeting. We brought together nearly 200 people in Los Angeles for an interactive meeting about the future of the Internet and how it would improve their lives and their communities. A short video about the project is here. Marty Kaplan's report from the event is here.

While we're optimistic about the new administration, we're watching closely who they'll put in key positions governing media and technology. On Dec. 3, Free Press placed a tongue-in-cheek job announcement in several major Washington newspapers for a new FCC chairman with "a strong commitment to protecting the open Internet, ensuring fast and affordable Internet access for all Americans, and diversifying media ownership." See it here -- where more than 10,000 people have already voted on their top priorities for the next FCC chief.

Finally, we're going out tomorrow with an open letter to Obama, signed by more than 100 organizations and 50 prominent individuals. It collegially reminds the president-elect -- using his own words - of the promises he made on Internet and media issues, and that we expect him to appoint federal agency officials who will make good on his pledges.

Name: Robert Bateman
Hometown: Washington, DC

Greetings Altercators, just back for a moment to respond to a very long letter.

Yesterday Mr. Reed Richardson asked, "So, I guess, my question to you is: shouldn't we address this disconnect between the military and the civilian worlds before we can realistically expect ordinary citizens to make informed judgments about our country's future naval posture? I'd be interested to hear you thoughts, as well, on the merits of introducing some kind of mandatory national service."

His question was long, detailed, and deserves a full response.

Well, Reed, I'd start my response with, "What the HECK do you think I am trying to do here on Altercation?!"

As I've often stated, I try to avoid being seen as either Left or Right. I do not talk about politics directly, or politicians currently sitting, if I can at all avoid it. But I do try to engage on both flanks. So, when interacting with somebody from the Right, I often find myself trying to explain to them why (pick your topic: wiretapping, torture, attacking Iran, whatever) is just a blatantly stupid idea ... from a MILITARY perspective. This often sways, in part because I am usually talking to a non-military person who had heretofore been basing his political argument upon what he thought was military reasoning. Though it usually was not.

On the other side of the spectrum, as thousands of Altercation readers who have written to me over the years will attest, I am in no way shy about explaining why a cherished position of the political Left might be utterly blinkered and counter to their true objective and/or values. "Explaining?" Hell, who am I kidding. I argue.

Thus, when dealing with a hard-core anti-war protestor who is against all use of force, I use the Socratic method and ask, "You oppose Iraq, right?" (yes) "You also support women's rights?" (also usually a massive yes) "But you support cultural independence in all cases?" (usually a yes) "So you oppose going in to Afghanistan and would prefer that all women there must live as they did under the Taliban?" (sometimes, not often, but sometimes that gets a "yes") ... we will progress along these lines until the person has renounced fighting against the Holocaust, or re-uniting the Union and ending slavery ... at which point I'll usually give up, but hope that the person I engaged has second thoughts now. Sometimes they do. In the process I also hope that they have come to a better understanding about the military in general, the uses of force by our democracy, and have in some small way closed the divide on that side.

So that is what I am doing, from inside the military. Of course, for my troubles I am periodically called a "neo-con warmonger Bush/Cheney apologist" by some, and a "liberal mouthpiece in the pay of George Soros" from others.

The question is, what are all of you doing from the outside to remove that theoretical gap? Are you encouraging your liberal sons and daughters to pursue national service in the Armed Forces...or do you try to dissuade them? Do you encourage liberal friends to learn more about the military, so that they can have informed objections about some things that occur (and as all here know, I am often one of the biggest critics of my own service), or do you automatically agree with any sentiment that seems in line with an political inclination of your own?

One should remember that although there are good statistics that point out that the majority of the officer corps is "conservative", that can mean a host of different things. I think quite a lot of military officers are conservative in their personal finances and believe strongly in self-reliance, trying to eschew all personal debt for example. Those things are "conservative." But in the Army at least, the overwhelming number of my peers that I've talked to about it also support gay rights and a woman's right to choice. So are they liberals? Army officers tend to be leery of fancy new technologies which are unproven (because "proving" for us, means somebody must die, perhaps unnecessarily). Is that conservative? It is by most definitions. Yet we also advocate and participate in the largest government-run medical healthcare system, and we want more of it, not less. That's socialist at best. So are we liberals?

Do you see now the fallacy?

Finally, so far as "National Service" goes, I know quite a few officers who really are hard-core right-wingers in most aspects of their life...who advocate this idea, which is essentially communistic. Think about it, "National Service" essentially says this: "Citizens owe the State, and must pay the State with a period of involuntary service for the betterment of all society, in peace or war, which will also indoctrinate those citizens and make them better members of a larger more homogeneous conformist society." I do not even bother to take sides in the issue because I know that a true National Service program would cost more than this nation could ever afford, in mere filthy lucre, if not in an erosion of the individualism which made this country great.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

LTC Bob, glad you discovered "The West Wing," which in its first four seasons was one of the most brilliant television shows ever assembled. The character to whom the general was talking, Leo McGarry, was the White House chief of staff, the president's best friend, and among other things a former secretary of labor. He also was an alcoholic who had been in rehab for drug addiction, too, and later became the vice-presidential nominee but died of a heart attack on election night when the actor who played him, John Spencer, died. Hm. The Democrats choose a vice-presidential nominee with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and Republicans don't use it to destroy him?

I mention all this because "The West Wing" often was attacked as "The Left Wing," yet the plotlines were three-dimensional -- on several occasions, Republicans acted nobly or fairly and pointed out to the liberals with whom they were dealing that they were more decent than painted. Thus, the show was a dream, but not just that way. The president was a liberal Nobel Prize-winning economist who loved history and culture, and one theory holds that liberal voters in 2000 compared Al Gore's wishy-washy campaign with Martin Sheen as president and that comparison may have cost Gore votes.

Hm. Americans choosing the literate, intelligent candidate for president. Maybe it's no longer a dream.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

LTC Bateman's observations about the episode of West Wing could not be more pertinent to the entire Iraq debacle and most wars in general. When one looks at war dispassionately, as soldiers and generals are required to do (to the best of their ability, they are only human), one can easily call innocent people who die "collateral damage." After all, the sole purpose of soldiers and generals in war is to win it. It is the duty of the civilian superiors, i.e., the Commander-in-Chief and/or Congress (should they ever choose to take on the Constitutional mantle of declaring war again...cowards all), to bring his or her humanity to the forefront to counterbalance the required dispassion of our military leaders.

It is when that civilian leadership has no heart or soul, and they have no sense of human decency or honor, that THEY should be held accountable for War Crimes. All war IS criminal and if all war is criminal, then those who start them are the true criminals, aren't they?

There will always be cases when a soldier or general should NOT obey an order from their Commander-in-Chief (or even their immediate superior officer) if the order is against the laws of god and man. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are perfect examples of this. NO ONE below Rumsfeld should have allowed those atrocities to happen; the military generals should have stopped it somewhere along the line, but didn't. Those who did nothing will have to live with the consequences of their inaction upon their own consciousness. But the civilian leadership MUST be held accountable for the actions that took place at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

There is one thing that everyone on this planet shares: our humanity. It is that sense of shared humanity that created the War Crimes tribunals after WWII and since. If our common humanity starts to hold these oligarchs and rogue leaders accountable by putting them on trial for Crimes Against that common Humanity, ONLY then will wars like Iraq become too personally dangerous for people like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to start.

Just think of the thousands of instances of "collateral damage," as well as the lives of our own soldiers and those of our allies we could have spared ... for a war that Never Should Have Been.

Name: Mark D
Hometown: Pay-to-playville (Chicago)

LTC Bob,

My perception, which may or may not be shared by some in the Altercatosphere, is that the US Military does not have an adequate investigation and enforcement apparatus to adjudicate actions that might be deemed possible war crimes by an International Criminal Court. First, is that perception correct? Second, how independent is this apparatus? Your quotation, "All war is criminal," nicely captures the difficulty with judging exactly when and under what circumstances combat operations become criminal. Also, what mitigating circumstances would be considered if war crimes are brought? Are those mitigating circumstances culturally specific or universal? I apologize if my questions appear naive or ill-informed. Thanks.

Name: Charles Hinton
Hometown: Satellite Beach, FL

I am a great fan of Bob Bateman and grudgingly admire his reluctance to comment about matters above his pay grade. However, I take exception to his analogy and implication that combat men who cause collateral damage -- like the West Wing episode that recounted killing the eleven civilians accidentally in the attack on a dam -- would be vulnerable to war criminal charges.

The war criminals are those at the highest level who authorized and justified torture. At Guatanamo relatively small numbers of the detainees were captured by US forces, getting the preponderance of them by virtue of advertising and paying a bounty to people who would turn in supposed criminals. An excellent way to collect a little money while settling a grudge.

The McClatchy papers ran a series of articles on this matter last June. According to Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, there is no doubt about torture and war crimes committed by the Bush administration.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Name: K. Castro
Hometown: The Left Coast

LTC Bateman, with all due respect to your profession, and with great admiration for your chosen calling (i.e., Historian), I must take great offence in your citations under "War Crimes and Misdemeanors" of Dec. 17. In the eyes of much of the world, especially the developing countries of the south and east (not to mention many progressive leaning folk in the USA), the basic issue of the US's non-involvement in the International Criminal Court lies in the fact that this country believes itself to be "greater" than the signatory countries of the ICC. This perspective is only epitomized by the soon-to-be former administration of Bush the Lesser; it is not new. Indeed, it was probably begun by Teddy Roosevelt's administration.

As a member of an American Indian Tribe, I fully understand this point of view. It continues to be thrown in the faces of my people. And on the international stage, whether one's plane is strafing a Vietnamese village, cutting wires on an Italian ski-lift, or remote-targeting an Iraqi wedding party, the results are and will be always the same: a perception of an arrogant, willful, conquering country attempting to impose its values and mores on a lesser-developed country, with no recourse for justice against the conquering country, all the while holding the "lesser" country in great contempt for its lack of technological/cultural sophistication.

As long as the USA holds this perception of other countries, we will continue to rot from the core. Attempting to understand this issue from a TV show illustrates a severe lack of understanding and appreciation from one who has seemingly traveled across the globe.

Name: Curtis Miller
Hometown: Moorestown, New Jersey

LTC Bateman:

I read the article Reed Richardson pointed to on Wednesday, December 17.

The article analyzed state by state enlistment rates on a red state/blue state bases. It seems to me if you did the same analysis based on state economies, average income, poverty rates, unemployment rates, you will get almost the same result.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL

LTC Bateman,

I have not written you in the past. Therefore the first thing I want to say is thank you for your service to our country. I may be the only conservative reader of any constancy of Bro. Eric's. I just enjoy getting smashed in the mouth on a routine basis.

I enjoyed your "West Wing" commentary. I would also remind you of something that you probably have heard or read as an historian. Before General William Tecumseh Sherman laid Hotlanta to waste he encouraged the entire population of that city to evacuate. He is said to have met with the Mayor who reminded the General of his obligations to civilian populations. The General is said to have replied, and I paraphrase as I do not have Shelby Foote's tome in front of me ... all war is cruelty, you cannot refine it ...

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


It has long seemed to me that the sacrifices made by the members of our armed forces are too great to be asked for or accepted, whether there are willing volunteers or not. It skews citizenship, for lack of a clearer way to express it; it deeply erodes the idea of "equality".

Then I read "Armygirl" (in The Sandbox) writing that she would not want to be in combat next to someone who's commitment she had reason to doubt. That certainly gave me pause. No doubt that in her shoes, I would feel as she does, but that has not erased the nagging feeling noted.

I have no answer for myself or anyone else. It seems clear, however, that we'd have the devil of a time transitioning to a draft if that were decided. How would the current forces feel about and work with the inductees? I know that soldiers are taught "You have a job to do -- do it", and that they work hard to be consumate professionals, but they are also human, and Armygirl's words linger.

Name: Bob Page
Hometown: Independence, MO

"Oh my tongue's the only muscle in my body/That works harder than my heart..."

George, props to you for using a line from one of the best songs ever written, by a truly fine band, Brand New. I was fortunate enough to have a son who exposed me to this fine group.

Glenn Beck's line is beyond stupid: "Where did that happen where the president can just become a king and do whatever he wants?" Duh? Welcome to our world of the last 8 years Glenn. Oh, well, to continue the song: "I hope you come down with something they can't diagnose/don't have a cure for."

Name: Dan Farrow
Hometown: Marietta GA

There are lot of good men and women who won't be home this Christmas because they are serving overseas. Many of them have Internet access, and you can send them this Christmas message -- a message that recognizes their service and sacrifice, and reminds them that they will come home, and we will be waiting. Check out the video, and if you like it, forward it to military members and their families. This is my way of making the most of this sacred season, and you're welcome to join in the fun.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.