Friday, February 26. 2010
Wichita Eagle: Tanker contract looks promising: I haven't been counting, so I'm not sure whether this is the 30th or the 300th editorial or op-ed column the Eagle has run in favor of wasting $35 billion taxpayer dollars to give the Air Force something they don't need and that will only be used to get the US involved in foreign conflicts faster than ever. This is a monumentally bad program which can and should be attacked on numerous grounds: it is a colossal waste; the whole program has been fraught with corruption (with one Boeing official, Darleen Druyun, winding up in jail, and several other resignations); and it makes a long-term strategic commitment to extending our worst desires to act as the world's police force. It isn't even much of a jobs program: this editorial, like every other, leads off with promises of jobs: the usual share promised to Wichita has been 1000, although lately Boeing has been backing down on that as they find they need to spread more jobs around to lock up more congressional support. That political clout came in handy in 2008 when the Air Force awarded the contract to Northrop and their proposal to modify Airbus airliners -- a deal which has its own cadre of congressional flacks, starting with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). All that political pressure resulted in rebidding the deal on terms more favorable to Boeing.
You have to wonder why Boeing's lobbyists even bother to plant so much propaganda in the Wichita Eagle, given that the whole state's congressional delegation has long been bought and paid for. Leading the fight is ex-Boeing employee Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), who has been obsessing about tankers so long that Bush wound up nicknaming him Tanker Todd. One thing that's curious about all of this is that the current tanker fleet, based on venerable Boeing 707 aircraft that have been periodically upgraded with new wings and engines, are based and maintained here in Wichita, a steady source of jobs that would be phased out with new tankers. Even if Boeing wins the contract, they're always happy to auction the jobs to the highest (or more often the lowest) bidder. They've already wiped out 90% of their Wichita plant, and they moved their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so the executives would be less likely to run into unemployed plant workers. Meanwhile, they've spread out facilities all over the country, wherever they could find political favor, plus they've pawned much of their work off on China and Japan -- including the wings on their new 787 Dreamliner, something hitherto regarded as the crown jewels of the airframe industry. (They've even sublet their real crown jewels -- their lobbying organization -- to China back in the 1990s to press for "most favorable nation" trade status.)
Boeing cooked up the tanker scam about 10 years ago as a way to extend their soon-to-be-obsolete 767 production line. The Air Force didn't have any interest in new tankers, and certainly didn't have any budget for it, so Boeing proposed to finance the tankers privately and lease them to the Air Force, where they'd be buried in the operating budget, away from the more competitive procurement budget. Needless to say, the lease scheme opened up hitherto unimagined avenues for ripping off the government. John McCain played a small role in shooting the lease scam down, but eventually Boeing got the Air Force to put the deal on its procurement wish list, but that wound up inviting EADS into the bidding -- after all, Airbus has their own obsolescent airliners, the US desperately needs European support for its NATO disaster in Afghanistan, and Northrup, with their own roster of paid politicians, was eager to partner with them on a cushy deal.
So now we have lobby money flying thicker than ever, but all you ever read is how many jobs would be created -- numbers that seem really paltry compared to the $35 billion outlay -- and maybe a bit about how old the KC-135s are. The antiwar movement has missed a golden opportunity to shoot this turkey down, because it raises so many issues, especially about how we view the future role of the US in world affairs, but also about how business and politics colludes in the US, and how the Defense Department juggernaut keeps feeding conflicts by investing in them.
Thursday, February 25. 2010
Another quick round of book notes, including some of the Af/Pak books mentioned in yesterday's post. I haven't actually been looking around very hard: haven't spent as much time as usual in bookstores or libraries, and haven't spent much time scrounging through the new release lists. Nonetheless, I've accumulated my quota of things to mention.
Moshe Adler: Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (2009, New Press): About time someone turned the tables on "the dismal science" and show that what's dismal about it is how susceptible it is to political whims of its practitioners.
Perry Anderson: The New Old World (2009, Verso): New Left Review editor and historian, surveys Europe after the Cold War, a time when Europe is widely presumed to have come into its own, but still habitually follows US foreign policy, no matter how benighted (which under Bush, in particular, was pretty far gone).
Joyce Oldham Appleby: The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010, WW Norton): General history, touting the culture of capitalism as well as the economics.
René Backmann: A Wall in Palestine (paperback, 2010, Picador): More like the wall in Palestine, cutting through the West Bank, less for security than to impose a new partition on the landscape, and not much about that either given the Israelis show every intent to keep both sides.
Bruce Bartlett: The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a Way Forward (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Still a self-styled conservative, but whereas his 2006 book still clung to Reagan's legacy (title: Impostor: How George W Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy) and his 2008 book was dishonest (title: Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past) he finally has some doubts about Saint Ronald. Now he's pitching Keynes and the Welfare State to his conservative brethren, but it's probably too high and hard for them to touch.
Mats Berdal: Building Peace after War: A Critical Assessment of International Peacebuilding from Cambodia to Afghanistan (paperback, 2009, Taylor & Francis): Short (186 pp) primer, drawing on multiple cases including Congo. Most likely this is one of those subjects where successes are all alike but failures each break apart in their own ways.
Barbara Bick: Walking the Precipice: Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan (paperback, 2008, Feminist Press at CUNY): Peace/women's rights activist, moved to Afghanistan in 1990 as civil war superseded the US-backed mujahideen war against the Soviet-backed regime, again in 2001 to the anti-Taliban Panjshir Valley before 9/11, again in 2004.
Eric Blehm: The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan (2010, Harper): Heroic war literature with all those touchingly valorous little details. Hard to tell what actually happened from the hype, but it looks like this team dropped into Afghanistan in late 2001 to help organize Karzai's anti-Taliban Pashtun rebellion, which didn't exactly work out even then let alone for the long haul. More Afghan war memoirs/stories since last I collected a list: Jon Lee Anderson: The Lion's Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan; Colin Berry: The Deniable Agent: Undercover in Afghanistan; Christie Blatchford: Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army; Matthew Currier Burden: The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan; John T Carney: No Room for Error: The Covert Operations of America's Special Tactics Units From Iran to Afghanistan; Dayna Curry/Heather Mercer: Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan; Ed Darack: Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers - The Marine Corps ' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan; Lt Gen Michael DeLong: A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Mike Friscolanti: Friendly Fire: The Untold Story of the US Bombing That Killed Four Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan; Chuck Larson: Heroes Among Us: Firsthand Accounts of Combat from America's Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan; Marcus Luttrell/Patrick Robinson: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10; Malcolm MacPherson: Roberts Ridge : A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan; Sean Maloney: Enduring the Freedom: A Rogue Historian in Afghanistan, and Confronting the Chaos: A Rogue Military Historian Returns to Afghanistan; Sean Naylor: Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda; Johnny Rico: Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America; Peter Telep: Direct Action: Special Forces in Afghanistan; Chris Wattie: Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, the Taliban and the Battle That Saved Afghanistan; Stephen D Wrage, ed: Immaculate Warfare: Participants Reflect on the Air Campaigns Over Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq; Thomas W Young: The Speed of Heat: An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan; also: Masood Farivar: Confessions of a Mullah Warrior; Emmanuel Guibert/Frederic Lemercier/Didier Lefevre: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders; Patrick Macrory: Retreat from Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan 1842; Matthew J Morgan: A Democracy Is Born: An Insider's Account of the Battle Against Terrorism in Afghanistan; Jules Stewart: Crimson Snow: Britain's First Disaster in Afghanistan (i.e., 1841); Christine Sullivan: Saving Cinnamon: The Amazing True Story of a Missing Military Puppy and the Desperate Mission to Bring Her Home; Mary Tillman: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman.
Kristina Borjesson, ed: Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11: The Journalists Speak Out (2005, Prometheus): Interviews with 21 journalists on the pressures to support the Bush terror wars. Not sure who all is interviewed, but some war critics are included -- Paul Krugman, Juan Cole, Chris Hedges -- as well as bigwigs like Ted Koppel. Borjesson previously edited Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press.
Jennifer Burns: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009, Oxford University Press): Right-wing libertarian hero, one of the more unorthodox and unruly figures in American conservatism, all but worshipped for her two big novels, the main point of which seems to be that you can never be too greedy. I developed an intense dislike for her based on exposure to acolyte Nathaniel Branden, which may or may not be fully deserved.
Matthew Carr: Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain (2009, New Press): In 1492 the Christian Reconquista defeated the last Muslim enclave in Spain. It also marked the beginning of the Inquisition, which killed or expelled all of the Muslims and Jews from Spain. This focuses on the Muslim side of the story, a horrific episode of what we now call ethnic cleansing.
Hillel Cohen: Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967 (2010, University of California Press): Important book on Israel's recruitment and use of collaborators. Cohen previously covered the earlier period in Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948. Subsequent volumes are likely to get ever stickier, especially after 1967 when Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, and after 1988 when Intifada broke out. Still, the principles were established early, and the effects within Palestinian society have been devastating. (I've read reviews of the original Hebrew edition.)
Stephen F Cohen: Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (2009, Columbia University Press): The main interest here is probably the path by which the US and post-Soviet Russia returned to a quasi-Cold War standoff. Not sure how much of that there is, since Cohen is a Soviet studies guy, and likes to show off his expertise back to prime Stalinism.
Stephen P Cohen: Beyond America's Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Plenty to write about, but unless one tackles Israel, petrodollars, and military hubris there's not much to say about it. Cohen is a think tank "expert" on the region, which means he's on someone's payroll.
Brian Coughley: War, Coups and Terror: Pakistan's Army in Years of Turmoil (2009, Skyhorse): A British "expert" on all aspects of the Pakistan military, having spent a good deal of his life in Imperial armies.
David Faber: And Then the Roof Caved In: How Wall Street's Greed and Stupidity Brought Capitalism to Its Knees (2009, Wiley): CNBC business analyst, keeps it short (208 pp) and vivid, but probably not very deep.
David Faber: Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (2009, Simon & Schuster): The event in question is the most clichéd in the 20th century, so it would be good to get a fresh review of the situation. Not sure whether this book does that, but it does appear to be a substantial book on the subject -- at least it weighs out at 528 pp. Not sure that it helps that he's less a historian than a journalist.
Michael Fellman: In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History (2010, Yale University Press): Argues that terrorism has been "a constant and driving force in American history." Casts a fairly wide net: John Brown, Sherman's march through Georgia (but not his efforts to exterminate bison to starve out the Indians?), Ku Klux Klan, Haymarket Square, the Philippines War. We all recall that "violence as as American as apple pie," but I'm doubtful that resurrecting our love/hate affair with terrorism is a good idea.
Antonio Giustozzi: Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (paperback, 2009, Columbia University Press): Promises a great deal of detail on how the neo-Taliban works, but I suspect it's still sketchy, and I'm not sure how the author got what he got.
Antonio Giustozzi: Empires of Mud: Wars and Warlords of Afghanistan (2009, Columbia University Press): Not sure that the warlord side of the Afghan equation is any easier to research than the Taliban side. Ismail Khan and Abdul Rashid Dostum are prominent subjects here.
Michael Hogan: Savage Capitalism and the Myth of Democracy: Latin America in the Third Millennium (paperback, 2009, Booklocker.com): Essays on Latin America, recommended by Noam Chomsky. Probably not the Michael J Hogan who has a number of books on cold war diplomatic history, nor the novelist Michael Hogan, but the Michael Hogan with a couple of previous books on Mexico is a possibility.
Raymond Ibrahim, ed: The Al Qaeda Reader (paperback, 2007, Broadway): In case your copy of Mein Kampf is lonely. Introduction is by Victor Davis Hanson, who's certain to muddy the waters.
Tim Jackson: Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (2009, Earthscan): Short book (160 pp), arguing that it is possible to have broader prosperity without economic growth, a good thing given the limits to growth posed by natural resource constraints. Most economists seem to believe that trickle down from infinite growth will satisfy everyone, but that strikes me as not just untenable but downright dumb.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson/Joseph N Cappella: Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2008; paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Also focuses on Wall Street Journal opinion pages and Fox News. Has a lot of charts and stuff.
Alex S Jones: Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy (2009, Oxford University Press): Specifically newspaper news. Others have pointed out that there is no shortage of demand for news now; rather, there's a shortfall in supply from newspapers, which traditionally provided news as a sideline to their now-suffering business of selling advertising. I'll also add that the demise of newspapers is less of a problem than the demise of democracy, which has been increasingly evident in newspapers' lack of interest in searching out real political problems.
Robert Lacey: Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (2009, Viking): Broad-ranging survey of Saudi Arabia these days. Lacey previously wrote The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa'ud back in 1981, which had the good fortune of being banned by the Saudis.
David Loyn: In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Short book (288 pp) for the range, but occupations often look alike. Nice company.
Jamie Maslin: Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn: A Hitchhiker's Adventures in the New Iran (2009, Skyhorse): Sounds like a good idea to me, but I'd bet that Iranians don't hold a candle to good ole American porn, much less American rap. Still, good to see that Iran isn't as monolithic as caricatured. On the other hand, I can't say that porn and rap have ever had much political impact, even here.
Pankaj Mishra: Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond (paperback, 2007, Picador): Travel reporting on the influence of the west on south and central Asia.
Richard North: Ministry of Defeat: The British in Iraq 2003-2009 (2009, Continuum): "This has become one of the most humiliating chapters in British Military History . . . the only real success of the British Government has been to hide from view." Still sounds smarter than the Americans.
William L O'Neill: A Bubble in Time: America During the Interwar Years, 1989-2001 (2009, Ivan R Dee): A history of the 1990s, a rare period of peace and prosperity bracketed by the two forever wars. O'Neill has tended to write kaleidoscopic period histories: A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home & Abroad in World War II; American High: The Years of Confidence 1945-1960; Coming Apart: An Informal History of the 1960s.
Jerrold M Post: The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to al-Qaeda (paperback, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan): Dives into the murky waters of trying to build a psychological profile for terrorists, which seems like one more way to miss the political point.
Filip Reyntjens: The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006 (2009, Cambridge University Press): Books about the extraordinarily bloody Congo War(s) are finally coming to light: Gerard Prunier's was called Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe, which still seems to be like the first goto book, but reviews were pretty mixed.
Bruce Riedel: The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future (2008, Brookings Press): CIA guy, GWOT insider, profiles the Enemy in considerable detail, thinks he knows how to beat him/them.
Andrew M Roe: Waging War in Waziristan: The British Struggle in the Land of bin Laden, 1849-1947 (2010, University Press of Kansas): "As much of a powder keg today as it was when India was part of the British Empire," and much for the same reasons. I still recall John Major after 9/11 boasting of how much the British could teach the US about dealing with terrorism. This is what they can teach us about securing the sliver of Pakistan called Waziristan.
Mick Simonelli: Riding a Donkey Backwards Through Afghanistan: How I Successfully Spent $400 Million of Your Taxpayer Dollars to Build the Afghanistan National Army (paperback, 2009, Mill City): Obviously, an inside job; I gather he's planning on a sequel where he bumps the figure to $2.1 billion. At that rate, Afghanistan will have the highest military expense/GDP ratio in the world, a ratio unimaginable in any country that has to pay its way. Only someone who realizes how ridiculous that is would name his book thusly.
Rodney Stark: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2009, Harper Collins): Argues that the Crusades were just the response of Europe to "Muslim terrorist aggression," as opposed to religious fanaticism or incipient imperialism, which have been pretty universally understood to be the range of options. Wonder where he got such a novel idea? Certainly not from history.
Mary Anne Weaver: Pakistan: Deep Inside the World's Most Frightening State (paperback, 2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Looks like a rework of Weaver's 2002 book Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, maybe even a plain reissue: certainly a lot more has happened in the last eight years than comfortably fits within an extra 16 pages.
David Wildman/Phyllis Bennis: Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer (paperback, 2010, Olive Branch Press): Bennis also has primers on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Iraq war. Few critics cover the ground more surely or get to the point quicker.
Garry Wills: Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010, Penguin Press): Another book on the endless growth of presidential power, this one tying it to the atom bomb trigger, going back as far as the Manhattan project.
I usually do a paperback update, but will hold that off until next time. (Shouldn't be soon enough, as I have 34 notes left over.)
Wednesday, February 24. 2010
Peter Bergen: The Ultimate AfPak Reading List: Bergen's reading list covers Afghanistan (Soviet Invasion from 1979-89, rise and rule of the Talian 1994-2001, and post-2001), Pakistan (general, post-2001 Jihadism), and Al Qaeda (general, 1988-2001, since 2001, media strategy) with some background (underlyilng causes of 9/11 attacks, Islamist terrorism and its intellectual influences). A big chunk of those books have been on my reading list, so I thought I'd consolidate the list from 11 pages to 1, merge the categories, drop the essays (which no doubt are of equal interest), and add links to my book pages (where I have them; [*] denotes an entry in by Book Notes file):
The section on Pakistan is very short, not that there's a lot more to choose from, aside from narrow and rather dated monographs. The omission of Tariq Ali's The Duel is notable both as a substantial book on Pakistan and for what it says about American power as a root cause for the troubles. The section on root causes is also short, and focuses exclusively on terrorist psychology, whereas it should be obvious that at least part of the problem is the US has sent its corporations, military, and spies far from the homeland. No small amount has been written about that, both on the general problems of empire and on specific conflicts -- Iraq and Israel would each swamp the list, Iran and Saudi Arabia would add significantly to it, and there are other hot spots. For the most part I haven't singled out books like that unless they specifically tripped my keyword searches below. Any broad spectrum survey of US politics in the region would include works by Gabriel Kolko, Noam Chomsky, James Carroll, Jonathan Schell, Chalmers Johnson, Andrew Bacevich, Stephen Kinzer, Tim Weiner, Dilip Hiro, Tariq Ali, and Michael Klare.
Scrounging through the Book Notes file, looking for keywords (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Islam, jihad, al Qaeda, terror), but skipping books focusing on other Arab areas, suggests some additional books. The main thing that's missing above is a better critique on how the US got so tangled up in the Muslim world that it became a target of al Qaeda, and what sort of ideology plays out in the compulsion to revenge 9/11 by waging an indiscriminate war against civilians who had nothing to do with al Qaeda.
Also found mentions of a bunch of Afghanistan war memoirs: Jon Lee Anderson: The Lion's Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan; Colin Berry: The Deniable Agent: Undercover in Afghanistan; Christie Blatchford: Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army; Eric Blehm: The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan; Mark W Bromwich: Captains Blog: The Chronicles of My Afghan Vacation; Matthew Currier Burden: The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan; John T Carney: No Room for Error: The Covert Operations of America's Special Tactics Units From Iran to Afghanistan; Jeff Courter: Afghan Journal: A Soldier's Year in Afghanistan; Dayna Curry/Heather Mercer: Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan; Ed Darack: Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers - The Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan; Lt Gen Michael DeLong: A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Brandon Friedman: The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War; Mike Friscolanti: Friendly Fire: The Untold Story of the US Bombing That Killed Four Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan; Chuck Larson: Heroes Among Us: Firsthand Accounts of Combat from America's Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan; Joe LeBleu: Long Rifle: A Sniper's Story in Iraq and Afghanistan; Marcus Luttrell/Patrick Robinson: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10; Malcolm MacPherson: Roberts Ridge : A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan; Sean Maloney: Enduring the Freedom: A Rogue Historian in Afghanistan; Platte B Moring III: Honor First: A Citizen-Soldier in Afghanistan; Craig M Mullaney: The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education; Johnny Rico: Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America; Mike Ryan: Battlefield Afghanistan; Doug Stanton: Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan; Peter Telep: Direct Action: Special Forces in Afghanistan; Benjamin Tupper: Welcome To Afghanistan: Send More Ammo: The Tragicomic Art of Making War as an Embedded Trainer in the Afghan National Army; Chris Wattie: Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, the Taliban and the Battle That Saved Afghanistan; Stephen D Wrage, ed: Immaculate Warfare: Participants Reflect on the Air Campaigns Over Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq; Thomas W Young: The Speed of Heat: An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan; Regulo Zapata Jr: Desperate Lands: The War on Terror Through the Eyes of a Special Forces Soldier; also: Masood Farivar: Confessions of a Mullah Warrior; Emmanuel Guibert/Frederic Lemercier/Didier Lefevre: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders; Ali Ahmad Jalali: Afghan Guerrilla Warfare: In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters Patrick Macrory: Retreat from Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan 1842; Matthew J Morgan: A Democracy Is Born: An Insider's Account of the Battle Against Terrorism in Afghanistan; Jules Stewart: Crimson Snow: Britain's First Disaster in Afghanistan (i.e., 1841); Christine Sullivan: Saving Cinnamon: The Amazing True Story of a Missing Military Puppy and the Desperate Mission to Bring Her Home; Vladislav Tamarov: Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier's Story; Mary Tillman: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman; This list continues to grow at a rapid pace.
The stuff I've added is no doubt less selective than the original list, although it also helps fill in critical holes. Overall, this seems like an awful lot of material, but there are a lot of things poorly covered if covered at all: starting with day-by-day political relationships between the US and various Afghani and Pakistani agents; there is little systematic military analysis, especially of damage to civilians; there is little accounting of money spent; there is a massive propaganda snow job to unshovel; there are secret prisons with a legacy of torture; there is the matter of Karzai's miraculous purchase on his office. So the ultimate list is still to come. But this is a start.
Monday, February 22. 2010
Finally got in a whole week of dipping into the jazz prospecting queue, almost at random, picking up some stuff that had fallen (sometimes literally) through the cracks, and some things I've passed over many times (as if avoiding).
Michaël Attias: Renku in Coimbra (2008 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Israel, moved to US in 1977, bounced back and forth between US and Europe until settling in New York in 1994. Group is a trio with John Hebert on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums; same group recorded Renku in 2004. Attias wrote two pieces, Hebert three (including the one reprised at the end); the two outside pieces are by Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons, touchstones for Attias. Russ Lossing joins in on piano on one cut, but in three plays I have to admit I didn't notice him. Tight group, the sax not unusual for free jazz, the bass and drums busy but not overbearing. B+(**)
Steven Schoenberg: Live: An Improvisational Journey (2006-08 , Quabbin): Pianist, b. 1952. AMG lists him as Classical, but doesn't list any classical recordings by him. Rather, we have an 1982 album Pianoworks reissued on his label in 2007, plus one more -- none reviewed or rated. His website is on of those Flash things designed to make extracting information so painful you give up. Seems to do film and theatre work. Married his his school sweetheart, Jane, who works with him in some capacity, but not on this solo set, improvised live at Smith College, Northampton, MA (except for two cuts recorded later). Doesn't strike me as very jazz-oriented, but likable as piano music goes, rhythmically regular with a lot of harmonic fill. B+(*)
Curt Berg & the Avon Street Quintet: At Stagg Street Studio (2009, Origin): Trombonist, originally from Iowa, studied at Drake and USC. Broke in with Woody Herman c. 1970, and has several more big band credits -- Don Ellis, Jim Self, Vince Mendoza. First album, with saxophonist Tom Luer and pianist Andy Langham, plus bass (Lyman Medeiros) and drums (Bill Berg, don't know if related). Berg wrote all of the songs, including three he dedicated to Gary Foster, Eliot Spitzer, and Moacir Santos. Trombone almost always plays in unison with the sax -- soprano, alto, and tenor are listed in that order -- for a harmonic effect I don't care for, but the rhythm is gingerly sprung. B
Big Crazy Energy New York Band: Inspirations, Vol. 1 (2008 , Rosa): Leader here is Norwegian trombonist Jens Wendelboe, who cut a couple of non-NY Big Crazy Energy Band albums in the early 1990s. He plays, conducts, produces, wrote or co-wrote 5 of 9 songs, and keeps the energy level high. Still, as Wolfgang Pauli would say, his high energy physics isn't crazy enough. Can't say I like closing with a Beatles tune either. B-
Tineke de Jong/Albert van Veenendaal/Alan Purves/Hans Habesos: Midday Moon (2008 , Brokken): Dutch group. De Jong plays violin, van Veenendaal (prepared) piano, Purves percussion, Hasebos marimba. De Jong's notes describe herself as "a classical violinist inspired by jazz standards" and van Veenendaal as "an improvising pianist without style boundaries." In other words, she's more conventionally boxed in, whereas the pianist easily breaks convention. Especially striking when the drums and marimba expand on the prepared piano's percussion; less so when de Jong returns to chamber jazz, which predominates. B+(**)
Q'd Up: Quintessence (2009, Jazz Hang): Utah group, fourth album since 1999, with previous iterations of the group going back to 1983. Steve Lindeman (piano, keyboards) and Jay Lawrence (drums, vibes) write most of the pieces, with a couple of assists from vocalist Kelly Eisenhour (who sings three cuts) and a couple of standards. Ray Smith plays various saxophones and woodwinds, Matt Larson plays acoustic and electric bass, and Ron Brough plays vibes when not switching off for drums. Overall they claim 25 instruments, which varies the sound in ways hard to pigeonhole, except what you get from postbop. B
Matt Slocum: Portraits (2009 , Chandra): Drummer, from Minnesota, now based in New Jersey, looks like his first album, although AMG has him confused with another Matt Slocum who plays guitar and cello, particularly in the band Sixpence None the Richer. Piano trio plus guest sax on 4 of 9 cuts. The pianist, who lays out on two of the sax cuts, is Gerald Clayton, impressive here. Bassist is Massimo Biolcati. Walter Smith III and Dayna Stephens play tenor sax on two cuts each, with Jaleel Shaw on alto on a cut with Stephens -- Smith's two cuts stand out. B+(*)
Ralph Lalama Quartet: The Audience (2009 , Mighty Quinn): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1951, 7th album since 1990 (first 5 on Criss Cross), with John Hart on guitar, Rick Petrone on bass, Joe Corsello on drums. Mainstream, more bop than post, with Rollins an obvious model -- "I'm an Old Cowhand" is a nice touch even if it falls well short of Way Out West. Hart has a good day. B+(**)
Lajos Dudas: Chamber Music Live (1990 , Pannon Classic): Not sure why I have this down as a 2009 release: it was mastered in 1997 and most likely released shortly after that. Jewel case is a little worn, too. Dudas plays clarinet, was born 1941, don't know how many records he has but he sent me one in 2008, Jazz on Stage, that made my HM list. This was recorded live in Bonn, with Sebastian Buchholz on alto sax and "buch-horn" -- the two horns provide a sharp-shrill contrast, vigorous when it's just the two of them. The third participant is vocalist Yldiz Ibrahimova, who has one of those operatic voices I can rarely stand. B
Darryl Harper: Stories in Real Time (2009, Hipnotic): Clarinet player, b. 1968, has four previous records as the Onus -- the one I've heard an HM. Teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University. Organized this group as a clarinet quartet with piano, bass, and drums, plus occasional vocalist Marianne Solivan. Sometimes goes for a chamber jazz/quasi-classical sound, and sometimes makes it work, although he can also throw out a piece of light funk like "Tore Up." Don't care for the singer, although she's not without interest, at least on the "Saints and Sinners" suite. B+(*)
Scott DuBois: Black Hawk Dance (2009 , Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978, fourth album since 2005, second I have heard. His 2008 album Banshees got shortchanged in Jazz CG (19) with a high HM. This is only slightly less striking, probably because he slows the pace more, and defers less to his sax/bass clarinet player, Gebhard Ullman. Quartet is filled out capably by Thomas Morgan (bass) and Kresten Osgood (drums). Ullman has never sounded more like a mainstream bopper, which actually suits him well. B+(***)
Vivian Houle: Treize (2008 , Drip Audio): Canadian vocalist, works through 13 tracks each with a different musician. Some pieces lean toward art song, or even opera, while others match the instrument head on -- especially the duo with drummer Kenton Loewen. I'm duly impressed, but can't say as I enjoyed much of it. B
Lee Shaw Trio: Blossom (2009, ARC): Pianist, from Oklahoma, b. 1926, played a little and taught a lot over the years, but didn't start to establish a discography until a mid-1990s trio with bassist Rich Syracuse and husband-drummer Stan Lee. Stan died in 2001, replaced (on drums, anyway) by Rich Siegel. Mostly Shaw originals, with one from Siegel, two from Syracuse, and two 1940s bop pieces from Fats Navarro and Johnny Guarnieri. B+(*)
Matt Vashlishan: No Such Thing (2008 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, from the Poconos, based in/near Miami, latched onto Dave Liebman, adopting not just his sound but his look as well, and more importantly a big chunk of his band for his debut album: Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, Michael Stephans on drums, Liebman himself on soprano and tenor sax. Paired the saxes tend to run in boppish chase sequences, light-footed and fleet. A couple of change of pace pieces show nice form and tone. Juris gets in some tasty solos, too. B+(***)
Dana Hall: Into the Light (2009, Origin): Drummer, first album although he has a couple dozen side credits going back to 1998, including two with trumpeter Terell Stafford, who leads off here. Quintet, sort of post-hard bop, with Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano/Fender Rhodes, and Rodney Whitaker on bass. The horns crackle, but come off a bit sloppy, with Warfield never clearly establishing himself. The drummer asserts his control by playing even louder, and is dazzling at best. B+(*)
Mike LeDonne: The Groover (2009 , Savant): Keyboard player, mostly organ these days, something he's been getting progressively better at. The soul jazz formula is a dime a dozen, but you can't fault him for skimping on ingredients: Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Alexander's swoop through "On the Street Where You Live" is a high point, and Bernstein is always good for a few tasty solos. B+(*)
Chris Potter/Steve Wilson/Terrell Stafford/Keith Javors/Delbert Felix/John Davis: Coming Together (2005 , Inarhyme): Originally intended to be the first album by saxophonist Brendan Edward Romaneck, 1981-2005, who wrote 8 of 11 tracks -- three covers are "My Shining Hour," "Nancy With the Laughing Face," and "Killing Me Softly With His Song." After Romaneck's "sudden and tragic end," the sax role was picked up by Chris Potter (first six tracks) and Steve Wilson (last five tracks). Potter's quartet sessions jump off to a fast start with a tour de force attack on "My Shining Hour." Romaneck's compositions are less compelling but provide plenty of scaffolding for Potter. Wilson's quintet sessions, with Terell Stafford on trumpet/flugelhorn, are less sharp, of course, but still of a high order. B+(**)
The American Music Project: On the Bright Side (2004-05 , Inarhyme): Quartet with Dane Bays (alto sax), Keith Javors (piano), Dave Ziegner (bass), and Alex Brooks (drums) providing the jazz backbone, plus two vocalists: singer Curtis Isom and rapper Dejuan "D Priest" Everett. Bays wrote the music, except for a John Coltrane piece ("Lonnie's Lament"); Everett wrote the words, including a "Welcome" that spells everything out literally. I won't argue that this isn't quintessential Americana, but neither the rapper -- who sounds a bit like Chuck D but less so -- nor the singer hold their own, and while there's nothing wrong with the band -- I'll never complain about too much sax -- they're not really the point. B+(*)
Jeff Baker: Of Things Not Seen (2006-07 , OA2): Vocalist, most likely Seattle-based, fourth album since 2003's inevitable Baker Sings Chet. This one is gospel-themed -- Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" threw me off for a minute, but two straight songs with "Thou" in the title steered me back. Stylistically he reminds me of Kurt Elling without the numerous annoying tics. Cut in Seattle with Origin's all-stars -- the Bill Anschell-Jeff Johnson-John Bishop trio is impeccable, and Brent Jensen is superb as always. Not into the songs, although the unlisted 12th song, with uncredited violin and backup singer, has some grace within it. B-
Marc Copland: Alone (2008-09 , Pirouet): Postbop pianist, b. 1948, closing in on his 30th album since 1988, should be a major figure but they're so many pianists. As the title explains, solo. Very measured, quiet even, exactly the sort of thing that never commands my attention in a solo piano record. Starts with "Soul Eyes"; includes three originals and three Joni Mitchell songs among ten total. Intelligent and lovely, of course. B+(**)
Robin Verheyen: Starbound (2009, Pirouet): Saxophonist, lists soprano ahead of tenor, b. 1983 in Belgium; studied at Manhattan School of Music; based in New York. First record, a quartet with Bill Carrothers on piano, Nicolas Thys on bass, Dré Pallemaerts on drums. Wrote 9 of 11 pieces, with one by Thys and "I Wish I Knew" (Harry Warren, Mack Gordon). B+(**)
Gail Pettis: Here in the Moment (2008-09 , OA2): Standards singer, b. 1958 in Kentucky, grew up in Gary, IN; now based in Seattle. Second album, split between two piano trios. Most songs have been done a lot -- "Night and Day," "Day in Day Out," "Nature Boy," "I Could Have Danced All Night" -- but she handles them with authority and a touch of soul. B+(*)
Hadley Caliman: Straight Ahead (2008 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1932, cut a few albums in the 1970s then nothing until 2008. Second comeback album, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet, Eric Verlinde on piano, also bass and drums. Mainstream player, not an especially strong voice, but his "Lush Life" is particularly nice. B+(*)
Bob Sneider & Paul Hofmann: Serve and Volley (2008 , Origin): Guitarist and pianist, respectively, in a duo. Sneider has five previous albums, including a couple of Film Noir Projects with Joe Locke, and two previous duos with Hofmann. I find this a little light and sketchy. Title piece, by the way, is a 22:32 five-part suite. B
Dave Sharp's Secret Seven: 7 (2009 , Vortex Jazz): Bassist, mostly electric, from Ann Arbor, MI. Group actually a quartet -- Chris Kaercher (various saxes, flute, harmonica), Dale Grisa (Hammond B3, piano), Eric "Chucho" Wilhelm (drums, percussion) -- with extras added here and there. Sharp and Kaercher share writing credits. Mostly funk grooves, with honking sax blasts; harmless. Ends with two "bonus tracks": a "radio edit" of the opener, and a vocal also pegged to radio, an r&b cover called "Can I Be Your Squeeze?" B
Tom Braxton: Endless Highway (2009, Pacific Coast Jazz): Saxophonist, tenor first, then soprano, alto, flute, keybs. Fourth album since 1998, dedicated to the late Wayman Tisdale. Pop jazz, soupy keybs, pumping sax riffs. Closes with three radio edits, including obligatory vocal fluff. B-
Dave King: Indelicate (2009 , Sunnyside): Happy Apple/Bad Plus drummer, goes solo for his debut album with his drum track alongside an indelicate piano track. King wrote all the pieces. Probably unfair to say he plays piano like he plays drums, but the repetitive riffs and frills could easily have been conceived on drums; on the other hand, he never adds the sort of frills that are as natural to pianists as limbering up. Interesting, but not very compelling. B+(*)
The Zeke Martin Project: U4RIA (2009, Zeke Martin Project): Drummer, b. 1973, Brussels, Belgium; at age 12 played with Steve Lacy; moved to Cambridge, MA for high school, then on to New York, then back to Boston. Group is a quartet with Sean Berry (sax), Yusaku Yoshimura (keyboards, harmonics), and Rozhan Razman (bass). Seven cuts, all standard jazz/pop covers, only one I didn't recognize is Jaco Pastorius's "Teen Town." Little new here, but they bring graceful swing and good cheer to the project. One vocal: Nina Parlour on "Summertime." B
Darunam/Milan: The Last Angel on Earth (2008 , 64-56 Media): Darunam is a group/duo of guitarist Radovan Jovicevic and vocalist Manu Narayan. Jovicevic is Serbian; Narayan Indian-American. They met up in New York, and have one previous album. Milan is Milan Milosevic, clarinet player, also from Belgrade (presumably not the Bosnian basketball player). Songs are based on various angels, saints, or deities, including Bacchus, Raphael, Cupid, Karl [Marx], Mahatma [Gandhi], and Theresa [Mother]. Mostly in English -- Vanessa Ivey also sings some -- sort of world fusion with Balkan and Indian elements but nothing that clear. Interesting sound mix; less sure about the themes. B+(*)
Tierra Negra & Muriel Anderson: New World Flamenco (2009 , Tierra Negra): Tierra Negra is a pair of German flamenco guitar players, Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs. They have at least 9 albums since 1997. Anderson is an American guitarist, based in Nashville, considered Folk by AMG, credited with "classic & harp guitar" here. She has more than a dozen albums since 1989. Her website includes recipes but no biography. Most cuts include bass, drums, percussion; some palmas, but mostly the percussion is secondary. Nothing cooks, but intricate guitarwork can be its own reward. B+(**)
Kat Parra: Dos Amantes (2009 , JazzMa): Singer, b. 1962 in Detroit (AMG, which also describes her as "a Northern California native who lived in Chile as a teenager"), based in San Jose, CA. Third album. Picks her way around Latin musics, including a special interest in Sephardic Jewrs, tracing their music from Spain to North Africa and singing in Ladino -- she calls her group The Sephardic Music Experience. All this would be fascinating if only she were better at it. Her voice has little appeal, the backing singers (where used) add clutter, the Sephardic pieces lack the kick of the Afro-Cubans, and a piece of Afro-Peruvian Landó is even duller. B-
Peggo: In Love (2009 , Big Round): Not much info here, although the "enhanced CD" sticker promises more if I pop the CD into a computer. Don't have recording dates, so 2009 is a guess; don't have musician credits. Singer's full name Peggo Horstmann Hodes, where Horstmann is the surname of her grandfather Henry -- cited as her introduction to these old standards -- and Hodes is her husband's surname, congressman Paul (D-NH). First album, although she has a couple of early-1990s children's albums as Peggosus, and there are three evidently folkie Peggo & Paul albums. This one is straight standards, all indelible classics, with a "Medley of Love" mopping up nine more. The anonymous band does its job; a plain-sounding male singer joined in for the last two cuts, contrasting with her somewhat theatrical pitch. B+(*)
Melanie Mitrano: All Things Gold (2009 , Big Round): Singer-songwriter, "Dr. Mitrano" on her website: "first woman to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston" -- doesn't say when, but she started teaching in 1996. Resume seems to be mostly classical, which is how AMG files her -- her MySpace page starts with "What's a nice classical singer like me . . ." Second album since 2006. Backed with a piano trio plus guest horns here and there. Voice doesn't set off any opera alarms; she goes with the flow, and the band swings. Has some things to say too. B+(**)
Mel Carter: The Heart and Soul of Mel Carter (2008 , CSP): Singer, b. 1943 (although I've also seen 1939 cited). AMG: "Mel Carter was soul music at its most vanilla, if indeed he could be characterized as a soul singer at all." He recorded steadily 1963-70, with a top ten hit in 1965 ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me") and two more singles grazing the top 40. This is his first album since 1970, a standards set with a jazz combo, bookended with two takes of Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart and Soul," with some 1950s doo wop fare, like "The Glory of Love," worked into the mix. Don't know his early work other than the hit(s), but I'd guess the vanilla is mostly in the mix -- not an issue here, nor need he break new ground. He's a good ballad singer, and the songs and arrangements suit him fine. B+(**)
Eddie C Campbell: Tear This World Up (2008 , Delmark): Chicago bluesman, plays guitar and sings, b. 1939, in Mississippi like so many others -- was 6 when he made aliyah. Only his eighth album since his 1977 debut, first in a decade. Not much to differentiate him from a dozen others, except that he's still around and kicking it, and blues authority grows on old guys. B+(**)
Burkina Electric: Paspanga (2009 , Cantaloupe): Another African fusion project where a visitor (drummer/electronics wiz Lukas Ligeti) lands somewhere (Burkina Faso) and hooks up with local musicians (guitarist Wende K. Blass and singer Maï Lingani), the result being an African no less syncretic than the natives produce these days, but better distributed. Ligeti brought a German d/b/a Pyrolator along for more electronics. The only other credits are two dancers, brought along to "help us draw audiences into our unusual rhythms" and thereby to validate them. The rhythms are synthesized from local traditions, and scarcely feel wanting even if the main reason for going to Africa is to up the rhythm quotient. The guitar is less slick than the coast and less rustic than the desert. The vocals are down home, as they should be. A-
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Tim Warfield: One for Shirley (2007 , Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, part of the "tough young tenors" generation, with an impressive debut album in 1995, but this is only his fifth album, the first since 2002. Shirley, of course, is Shirley Scott, the legendary soul jazz organ player, with Pat Bianchi filling her role here. No bassist necessary, but drummer Byron Landham gets reinforcements from percussionist Daniel G. Sadownick, and Terell Stafford slip in some trumpet -- not a soul jazz standard, but Stafford and Warfield are a frequent team. Aims low, and succeeds simply, although not as simply and elegantly as Scott's usual tenor player, Stanley Turrentine, could do. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Saturday, February 20. 2010
The lesson I draw from this is that it is possible to respond to provocations in different ways according to the political interests of those in power. Bin Laden got his war because that's the way Bush wanted to play it. He craved the opportunity to become a War President, and played up his Commander-in-Chief role to the day he left office. What Stack did, however, is far less useful either to Obama or to the Republicans who seem more inclined to spin it into jokes. Even if someone wanted to escalate the event into a war, what could you do? Send drones out over West Texas looking for wedding parties to bomb? Round up random taxi drivers and beat them to death? Those are things we did in Afghanistan, but it's highly unlikely that we'd treat American citizens with that same level of contempt and indifference.
Friday, February 19. 2010
I hauled a bunch of tools down to the basement today, and stripped off the tarp that had been covering the dining room table. Then I made dinner, not the first since we got the countertop finished but the first sizable affair: originally expected seven, then had three cancels, so added two more, then the cancels showed up anyway, giving us eight at one time, plus one more straggler later. Plenty of food, anyway. I decided to do Ruth Reichl's "family dinner" from Garlic and Sapphires: roast leg of lamb, scalloped potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, but since I had mascarpone in the refrigerator, I replaced the last-minute chocolate cake with tiramisu. Roasted the lamb in the gas oven, and did the potatoes in the electric. The lamb came out a bit mixed: well done on the outside, rare near the bone, both quite tasty. The other dishes were slightly underdone, but close enough. Everyone was pleased.
The dinner conversation was dicier. Someone referred to Koch -- not clear whether the company, which has a long track record for environmental lapses, or the brothers, who rank among the top five families who bankrolled the far right's think tanks -- as evil, and that snowballed into an intemperate argument about capitalism vs. socialism and/or capitalism vs. democracy, as if both pairs were necessarily antipodal and exclusionary. One low point was when someone asserted that there are no socialists any more, a point a third or more of those around the table would take personal exception to. And there were others, just less clear. I can't go back and rehearse the points, but as someone who rarely manages to get a word in, I can at least make my points.
The first is that socialists within democracies -- including most of Western Europe and excluding the likes of Stalin and Mao -- have always supported democracy with individual rights including a broad right to property, and have usually supported a vibrant, open market system where the primary actors are capitalists. The few exceptions to the latter point tend to be archaic, as these days hardly anyone objects to a well regulated free enterprise system. In fact, it is not unusual for socialists in power to spend more energy maintaining the viability of capitalism than to advance worker interests -- France under Mitterand being one of the more obvious instances. (Obama, of course, doesn't come anywhere near qualifying as a socialist, but his instinct, like FDR's, to save capitalism by reforming it is something nearly all socialists share.)
So my first point is that socialism and capitalism are not incompatible: socialism is in fact built on capitalism, only reformed to mitigate the excesses that capitalists are prone to. Another way of putting this is that there are many variants of capitalism; consequently, it is a fallacy to speak of capitalism as requiring specific historical traits that turn out to be inessential, such as child labor, suppression of labor unions, a free hand to pollute, immunity from torts, or price fixing. It is just as easy to imagine a capitalist system where workers are guaranteed basic rights, where externalities (like pollution) are limited by market mechanisms (like cap-and-trade), where countervailing powers ensure that markets are transparent and competitive. It probably doesn't help when either side labels such reforms as socialism, but it isn't crazy: we live in a world where social values matter, even more than profits or self-serving freedom.
The argument here goes back to the Koch brothers. As near as I can tell, they -- and their privately held company -- hold two sets of closely related but asymmetrical political ideals. On the one hand, they are extreme libertarians -- Bill Koch, for instance, ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. My first encounter with Koch was when I worked for a Wichita typesetting shop and wound up doing several jobs for them: retyping the books of Murray Rothbard. Someone tonight pointed out how we routinely expect services from government like firefighting -- and as such how we have to have some kind of government, even if a restricted one. Rothbard, of course, disagreed: he saw no problem in each individual or company contracting with its own favored firefighting service, or failing to do so would suffer the consequences of receiving no help in fighting fires. (Rothbard had even nuttier ideas, like contracting with private services for money and justice.) In this vein, the Kochs became major backers of libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute.
On the other hand, the Koch's company took a more pragmatic tack, making the right contributions to the right politicians to garner the favors of a government effectively controlled as an oligarchy. In this regard, the Kochs act much like any other oil company, seeking tax breaks and regulatory favors: their big payoff coming early in the Bush administration when they were able to consolidate and dispose of more than a hundred environmental pollution cases. The Kochs' libertarianism is especially ironic here: their company is utterly dependent on the powers of government to establish the property rights their business would be nothing without, yet they deny that the public that makes their business possible should have any authority to limit the damage their business can do.
The more I read into the "irritable mental gestures" that pass for thought on the American right, the more struck I am by how narrow and selfish the individual interests championed are, and by how paranoid they are in ascribing the consequences of failing to get their way. Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Businessman's Crusade Against the New Deal starts off with the story of how the Du Ponts turned on FDR: one point was when one of the Du Pont brothers discovered that three of his black servants had quit his employ in favor of government relief jobs. From that point onward, every time a businessman fails to prevail, especially over a worker, he accuses the government of driving not just toward socialism but all the way to totalitarianism. It never occurs to them to compromise to respect other people's rights -- the only right they can imagine is their own. It's sad that anyone believes them, but the Kochs are by far the richest guys in these parts, their company is not nearly as stupidly run as their ideology, they have a big payroll, and many people are inclined to suck up to the rich and powerful, or to cynically let them have their way.
Thursday, February 18. 2010
Steve Benen: Georgia Senators Forget the President's Name: This is a good example of how Obama can't get any credit even when he does something wrong -- and wrong not in the sense of carrying on a discredited Bush policy like Guantanamo or military tribunals or free money for banker bonuses or bombing Pakistan with drones trying to provoke a civil war or carrying Netanyahu's water in his diversionary campaign to stir up trouble with Iran. More like wrong as in something he did completely on his own, trying to jump start nuclear power plant building by guaranteeing massive loans, saddling the public with all the risk while private companies reap the profits. Needless to say, Georgia's Republican senators are into that sort of thing, but not to the point of acknowledging that it wouldn't have happened but for Obama:
I can see the political logic, but usually when you can get the other party to do your bidding, you're at least civil about it -- if only to claim that even-so-and-so sees the wisdom of your policy. I suppose one can come up with several theories why the Republicans are behaving this way. One is that they're really worried that Obama will consolidate a center-right that effectively stifles the left while avoiding the pitfalls of the far right, thereby rendering the Republican Party useless to the ruling class: in this scenario, anything they can do to delegitimize Obama, even if it's just a rude slight, is necessary. Another is that they're just racists, pretending (as their forefathers did) that blacks are (or should be) nothing more than invisible servants. Of course, you'd think Georgia Republicans would know better.
As for Obama's pro-nuclear power stance, I can't say I approve, nor that it's one of his biggest mistakes. My UK missile defense correspondent wrote back that he was surprised and disappointed that I oppose nuclear power. That's not exactly what I think, but it is an approximation. I think the US nuclear power industry has a huge problem with waste management, and that until someone does something to get that under control it's irresponsible to build more power plants. I also think that proliferation hasn't been adequately thought through. In the beginning nuclear power plants were a front for nuclear arms production, and that aspect has never been cleanly separated out -- in large part because the demand for nuclear arms has never been extinguished. One major consequence of this is that the industry has never had anything resembling transparency, which has meant that it has never been possible to accurately assess risks. (One of the few assessments we have is that private capital has been unwilling to invest in nuclear power plants since the 1970s, or really forever given the role the AEC played.) More generally, there are lots of externalities associated with nuclear power plants, which have historically been ignored but really need to be reckoned. (On the other hand, one can argue that coal-fired power plants have greater externalities, but it's hard to compare without having full transparency.)
Moreover, there are political issues. In particular, we had the spectacle of George Bush running around the world promoting nuclear power yet recoiling when Iran bought into the argument. I am, quite frankly, more worried that an Iranian nuclear power plant might melt down than that Iran would be able to blackmail the world with nuclear bombs. This in turn gets wrapped up in the global geopolitics of energy use. I've read various things about how much usable uranium exists, which make it more or less attractive, but either way it poses a race to see who can use it all up first. And that gets to my deeper misgivings: I expect that we are headed into a period of energy use contraction, and expect that to have profound effects on how we live -- maybe for the worse, or possibly, if we get smart about it, for the better. I don't see a lot of value in throwing more energy investments at the problem just to avoid the day of reckoning -- although I don't mind relatively safe investments to soften the blow. It may well be that in the long run we need to figure out how to do nuclear power right, and make use of that. But we're not there yet, and I don't see a lot of evidence that we're headed in the direction of getting smarter. Indeed, judging from the Georgia Republicans in the Senate, I'd say the opposite is the case.
Wednesday, February 17. 2010
Steve Fraser: A Tale of Two Presidents: The notion that Obama might be a "transformational president" like Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed brief favor back when we could actually imagine "change we can believe in" as meaning something concrete. A year into their respective first terms, Roosevelt moved much further than he could have imagined, while Obama has rarely done anything but backpeddle. Fraser contrasts the two, seeing Obama's New Deal trajectory as reversed from Roosevelt's, approaching populism only as his attempts at accommodating the powers keep failing. Consider Obama's prospects:
There is plenty of reason to think that the financial collapse that triggered this recession was every bit as severe as that of 1929, but the resulting worldwide depression was arrested in much shorter order. This had less to do with the underlying dynamics than the fact that people in power -- even in the ultrareactionary Bush administration -- felt the need to act aggressively. And even though their solution was to re-stuff the pockets of the rich, the political support they needed came not from the Republican rank and file but from Democrats who bought the argument that a collapse on Wall Street would be a disaster for Main Street. That seemed like a good deal at the time, but less so now: not only was the crisis resolved on terms extremely favorable to the same bankers who caused the problems in the first place, but the apparent ease with which the crisis was averted has evidently dispelled any chance of changing things to prevent similar crises in the future, let alone any effort to make up for the damages done.
You can chalk this up to our reluctance to learn anything except in the hardest ways possible. At least in 1933 when Roosevelt came to the White House there was no doubt that the nation faced a grave situation. The main thing Roosevelt brought into play was a strong predilection for taking action, even if he didn't have a firm idea of what to do, and even if he wound up pursuing different approaches following no fixed ideology. That he was ultimately seen as a liberal had less to do with how he wanted to act than with the fact that his various liberal initiatives helped the economy and helped people cope with the economy whereas his conservative initiatives -- like slashing spending and balancing the budget -- failed. Obama has no such luxury today, partly because we don't think we're so desperate, and partly because the ideological blinders have been clamped down so tight.
On the other hand, you have to wonder why it should be so difficult. When the stock bubble burst in 2000-01, uncovering mountains of fraud that sank Bush's buddies at Enron, even a Republican president and congress felt obliged to make some token reforms, yet the banking industry, following a much larger and much more damaging meltdown, is good to go back to business as usual with little if any reform. Part of this is that Republicans have cynically chosen to block any reform that in any way crimps a potentially lucrative contributor, but it's also because the media seems determined to stifle anything that smacks of populist revolt -- even to the point of anointing the Republicans as the real populists, leaving the word hopelessly neutered. It's almost as if the media is doing the work of its corporate paymasters.
Roosevelt had no trouble striking a populist pose because it was in the air, driven by the agitated poor and confirmed by the readily identifiable "economic royalists" who opposed him. Obama will have a tougher time, if indeed he ever decides to try. He is certainly even less inclined to try than Roosevelt, whose own upper class pedigree gave his rabblerousing a cloak of irony. But what Obama is bound to discover is that the elites he tries to appeal to with reason have their heads stuck in a view of their interests that is ultimately bad for most Americans and eventually even for themselves. So Obama could find he needs to move to the left to save himself, or to save the country, or even to save its ruling class. The question is whether he does so soon enough and strongly enough to save the Democrats' grip on congress in 2010.
Tuesday, February 16. 2010
Paul Woodward: British officials say Mossad murdered Hamas commander: Starts with passport photos of suspicious persons traveling on anything but Israeli passports. (In particular, there is a report that the real Melvyn Mildiner never left Jerusalem and is actively seeking to clear himself.) The juicy part is here:
This reminds one of the CIA abduction case in Italy, which as far as I know is still waiting for the agents to be captured, but wasn't pursued so quickly to the desk where the buck stops. But then that seems to be a shorter path in Israel, where prime ministers routinely sign off on Mossad operations (or order them up directly). This may seem like politics, but once one starts looking at such actions as criminal conspiracies -- and assassination is nothing if not criminal -- they take on a life of their own.
By the way, Woodward forgot about another class of indicted Israeli prime ministers: those who got nabbed for corruption. Ehud Olmert tops that list. Not sure who else, but Ariel Sharon seemed to be headed that way before he checked into the witless protection program.
PS: Added an update to "Bayh" below.
Monday, February 15. 2010
Matthew Yglseias: Evan Bayh: I'm not sure just how this works, but Indiana's so-called Democratic Senator timed his retirement announcement to minimize the chances of the Democratic Party to retain his seat. It won't be much of a loss, and it's tempting to say "good riddance" -- even at the risk of being called a "fucking retard" by Rahm Emmanuel. Bayh has never seen a war he didn't like, did his share to wreck health care reform, and has periodically grabbed the spotlight to spout sheer nonsense on budget matters. Of late the only thing he's been campaigning hard for is the dubious title of dumbest person in Congress. As for whether any of this is principled, let's quote Yglesias:
Evidently, Bayh leaves with a $13 million campaign warchest. Not sure what happens to that -- maybe he'll roll it over into a flier at challenging Obama in 2012 -- but it looks lost for the Democrats in the Indiana senate race: a huge opportunity cost. He was well ahead in the polls, with no reason to think he shouldn't have been able to triangulate his way to a third term, despite some Republican lust for the seat. Despite all the noise, I don't see the GOP as a lock for big gains in November. They are know-nothing, do-nothing obstructionists in thrall to a rigid ideology that seeks to capture government for nothing more than a joy ride after which they leave it and us battered and bruised. And they don't see the slightest reason to think otherwise, especially as long as their obstruction seems to be wearing Obama down. The only thing that's going to wake them up is to get wiped out in the next round of elections. Had he run, Bayh would have been part of that rout, even though he's actually been about as much of a problem as the Republicans. Without him it's a bit harder. It does, however, keep his track record intact: count on him always to do the wrong thing.
Update: Some more kind words on Evan Bayh:
[*] Also, note this from a comment to Jonathan Chait's post:
It also looks like Bayh is pretty much home clear with the $13 million he raised for the Senate race he isn't running in. It looks like no other candidate qualified for the Democratic primary, so the party will pick a replacement candidate -- although I've also seen a report that conservatives are flocking to restaurant owner Tamyra d'Ippolito, who had announced against Bayh but hadn't been able to get enough signatures to make the primary ballot.
I figured I'd pass on Jazz Prospecting this week, but came up with enough at the tail end to post. The week was pretty much wiped out for me by a minor illness of some sort. In any case, this promised to be a light week as I moved on from finishing a Jazz Consumer Guide column last week to starting a new round this week. The Voice has the draft now. I'm told it will most likely run March 17 or 23. I have a lot of new stuff in the queue to prospect, but the next column is already overstuffed, so I may try to push through a short cycle. That was the plan last time, but didn't work out. I wound up with 219 records in the cycle's Jazz Prospecting file, just about the same as in recent cycles (225, 226, 230). One thing unusual this time is that I cleared my shelf of records I had put back for further play. I've been somewhat more intemperate about that lately, feeling the need to get past records I don't quite get but am pretty sure I'll never wind up sufficiently interested in to spend Jazz CG space on -- Jon Gordon is a prime example below, although actually only Ibrahim made the cut this week.
Pat Metheny: Orchestrion (2010, Nonesuch): A solo album, of sorts, consisting of a huge array of mechanized instruments that can be programmed like a player piano -- the orchestrionics -- with guitar improvisation on top. The machines were custom-built: pianos, marimba, vibraphone, bells, basses, guitarbots percussion, cymbals and drums, blown bottles, "and other custom-fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments." Could have used more pictures and diagrams, although the cover hints at what's going on, not least through the absence of any humans in charge. The music itself is less eventful, an envelope of orchestration wrapped around the guitar, Metheny making his way through six long-ish, typically propulsive pieces. B+(**)
Torben Waldorff: American Rock Beauty (2009 , ArtistShare): Guitarist, b. 1963 in Denmark, based in Sweden, has five or so albums since 1999, the last couple on my HM list. I can't say as I have a good feel for his guitar, mostly because he keeps using tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who keeps blowing everyone else away. B+(**)
Tom Tallitsch: Perspective (2009, OA2): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano), b. 1974, based in New Jersey, closer to Philadelphia than to New York. Third album, a quintet with guitar and piano but no more horns. Strong postbop set, has an attractive sound to his tenor; soprano less so, of course. B+(*)
Sherman Irby Quartet: Live at the Otto Club (2008 , Black Warrior): Alto saxophonist from Alabama, b. 1968, sixth album since 1997, the first two on Blue Note should have established him as one of the brightest young mainstream players around -- cf. Big Mama's Biscuits -- but he disappeared for six years before coming back on his own label. Otto Club is in Napoli, Italy, which flavors the quartet -- Nico Menci on piano, Marco Marzola on bass, Darrell Green on drums. One original and five jazz covers, with only Roy Hargrove's "Depth" of postbop vintage. The opening and closing bop classics ("Bohemia After Dark" and "In Walked Bud") shine, but the slower pieces don't stand out much, and the pianist doesn't do much with his spotlight. B+(*)
Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne: Bombella (2008 , Sunnyside): Steve Gray, who died between the recording and its release, arranged and conducted ten Ibrahim pieces. The WDR Big Band is one of the better jazz repertory big bands around, with power and polish and a roster that can be counted on to nail a solo slot. Ibrahim plays piano, starting solo on "Green Kalahari." He is a consistent delight here. The band works wondrously sometimes, but sometimes seems a bit off. You can substitute piccolo flute for pennywhistle, and "Mandela" will be wonderful as always. B+(***)
Jon Gordon: Evolution (2009, ArtistShare): Alto saxophonist, also plays some soprano. Has a dozen or so albums since 1989, mostly on Criss Cross and Double-Time. This one is, well, complicated. Five of nine pieces are cut with a large ensemble, including John Ellis on tenor sax, Doug Yates on bass clarinet, plus trumpet, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion, and strings. First track opens with just the strings: two violins and a cello, with a quasi-classical feel. A couple of other tracks pair Gordon off with Bill Charlap on piano. Kristin Berardi pops up here and there with vocals. Couldn't listen closely in two plays, but doesn't seem promising enough to explore further, which isn't to say there isn't anything of interest here. B
John Stein: Raising the Roof (2009, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, from Kansas City, MO; discography (8 records) starts in 1995 but he appears to be older. Quartet with piano, bass, drums, same group as on his previous Encounter Point. Mostly bop standards (Silver, Timmons, Thad Jones, Gillespie), with two originals, a Jobim, and "Falling in Love With Love." Has a light, silky touch that slices neatly through this material. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, February 14. 2010
One of my favorite websites, Paul Woodward's War in Context, has a new look and feel, and I don't like it. In particular, it shares one idiosyncrasy with the recent facelift to Mondo Weiss which I hated so much I pretty much stopped reading the website: only the two (or in War in Context's case three) most recent posts are provided complete. After that, the next dozen or so are provided in short synopses in two columns, each requiring a separate click to get to. The two sites have other similarities. This makes me think they're built with the same toolkit. War in Context identifies its toolkit as "Thesis WordPress Theme" and provides a link to the source. I can't make much sense out of their website, but it looks like some sort of proprietary software scheme, which is one more reason to be annoyed. The hype for the software makes some utilitarian claims, but the effect is to throw up more obstacles between the content and the reader. Lots of websites use obfuscation to cover up a lack of content, which is irritating but can easily be disposed of. What's sad is when such things happen to sites that do have something to say.
Saturday, February 13. 2010
James Surowiecki: The Populism Problem: I have no idea why Republican ranting is called Populism these days, and neither does Surowiecki. It used to be a code word for a Democrat talking about class, but now it seems to apply to any demagoguery, no matter how incoherent. Surowiecki writes:
Surowiecki misses many more examples. Krugman's latest column is on Republicans and Medicare. I tried reading Jane Mayer's The Trial, on Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in court in New York and just couldn't plow through the incoherency of the critics, not to mention the calls for lynching Holder. They act like being interrogated by the FBI and prosecuted by the DOJ is some form of coddling -- a perception that no one who's been through it seems to share. This isn't just confused. It constitutes some sort of nationwide nervous breakdown.
Mayer offers the Massachusetts Senate race as an example:
Actually, if I was going to make a Hollywood fantasy movie of some special posse breaking into Bin Laden's cave, wrestling him to the ground, and cuffing him, I'd end it with a G-Man towering over him and reciting the Miranda warning. That's exactly how you established that the law has triumphed. I doubt that anyone seeing such a movie would fail to get the point, which isn't to say that Lynne Cheney wouldn't rush out to write an op-ed condemning me.
I haven't written anything about "underpants bomber" Abdulmutallab because from the moment the story broke it seemed like a confirmation that the system had basically worked -- maybe not as frictionless as one would like, but when do systems ever work like that? That the FBI was able to convince the would-be bomber to provide useful info was consistent with the FBI's track record -- unlike the CIA's, where he would have been tortured into spouting useless nonsense. As many people have pointed out, the case was exactly analogous to that of Richard "shoe bomber" Reid, who was prosecuted in exactly the same way by the Bush administration -- in one of the few cases where they realized that everything they needed was legal. The only difference today is that the hysteria that folks have worked themselves into based on the totally bogus idea that Obama is pro-terrorist. He may have given up the silly "war on terror" rhetoric, but he's on track to kill more terrorists (and bystanders) than his predecessor, and he hasn't shown any evidence of pulling back or toning down a war that quite frankly never was a good idea.
Brown's statements underscore not just how paranoid and excitable folks are, but how ready they are to trample the constitution. To my ears this sounds exactly like they're calling for fascist dictatorship, although if you listen to much right-wing radio you'll hear that Obama has this or that secret plan to establish his own fascist dictatorship. This is all the more incredible given how deferential Obama has been to both parties in Congress and to the lobbyists of industries he's made very modest proposals to regulate, and how he's backtracked on virtually every principled promise he made to end the illegal actions and policies of the Bush administration. You have to wonder where folks get this stuff.
Radio, of course -- the Republican Noise Machine is in full gear. But also papers like the once-liberal Washington Post have gone whole hog into attack mode. Glenn Greenwald writes:
The point of that Greenwald column was to write about Mukasey, but it comes only one day after another column which also summarized the Washington Post's Op-Ed page:
It's an old truism that the easiest way to get folks to believe something is to keep repeating it ad nauseum, and that's what this sounds like. And if the so-called liberal media is this far gone, why not just throw caution to the wind and go with the flow? (Other than that it's totally fucking nuts, that is.)
PS: This is another case where the title might sound better with a little German, like "The Völkisch Revolt" -- although there must be an even better word/phrase that's beyond my limited vocabulary. I left out a digression into how much this sounded like fascism once I got to the leader-principle (you know, Führerprinzip) and started trying to plug in names. I'm not sure whether Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck came out more farcical -- you could make a good case either way. Which may mean a real fascist movement is further off than it seems. But what is clear is that the masses -- the people Goldhagen called the "willing executioners" -- are primed and ready. The Republicans may want nothing more than to count their votes, but they're so desperate to do so they're promising to become far worse than Bush and Cheney could dare get away with.
Friday, February 12. 2010
I got a letter from someone in the UK asking for my opinions on a couple of things. Don't know why he cares, but I have lots of opinions. He asks:
My first thought about missile defense is that it doesn't work. It's not only that it is a very difficult technical task given the speeds, sizes, and distances which leads to a very complex and finicky system, but also that it's virtually impossible to test to any real degree of confidence. Maybe if you had a lot of incoming rockets you could get some real world practice. Testing against MIRVed ICBMs, even with mock warheads, is prohibitively expensive, not to mention dangerous. Israel has some sort of system for combatting toy rockets from Gaza, but it's a long ways from being reliable.
That leads to my second thought, which is what good is a defensive shield system if it can't be trusted as reliable? It isn't exactly useless, but it is certainly dangerous. In particular, it's likely to confuse the chain of command, and it's likely to confuse whoever the enemy is supposed to be. We know, for instance, that both the US and the USSR regarded the other's ABM efforts as destabilizing advances meant to secure a first strike capability -- even if one was certain that the system would fail you couldn't trust the side that was building it to recognize its faults. (Ronald Reagan was the only guy on earth who regarded such systems as benign.)
There are other problems, like response time. In order to have a chance of working, response has to be pretty automatic, which runs the risk of taking the decision of starting a war away from the chain of command -- a problem that is all that much worse given that the likelihood of a glitch is greater than the odds of an actual attack.
Your economic points are valid enough. It's certainly cheaper to defeat an ABM system than it is to build one, which is yet another reason it's impossible to build a working system against a determined, resourceful foe. On the other hand, rocket science is rocket science, and few nations are actually any good at it (or for that matter B-2-like bombers). More likely a relatively poor nation would try to circumvent rather than overwhelm the system, in which case the economic differential is a moot point, and the system is even more unworkable.
It's also worth noting that in the US missile defense has evolved (i.e., has been molded by selection pressures) mostly as a form of graft. The companies who build it are rewarded for their political clout and are not punished for failures. The US has deep pockets, but nothing that can't be wasted by companies like Boeing. And how deep for how long is a serious question.
As for your rogue state scenario, I think you'll find that the critical issue isn't how perfectly defended we are -- no real way to do that, and certainly not with a hacked missile defense shield -- but how aggressive (or reckless) we choose to be. The US was not deterred from attacking Iraq by chemical and biological weapons -- real in 1991, mythical in 2003; on the contrary, Saddam Hussein was deterred from using them. The US has very daunting conventional military force, and if the other side wants to play nuclear, the US can bring that on too, faster and harder than any other nation. Such a strategy may be riskier once the opponent has nuclear weapons, but no recent US president (except maybe Reagan) seems to have been squeamish about sacrificing American lives.
On the other hand, there are no rogue states like you mention. No nation can conquer its neighbors and become "a great power." Every such occupation costs more than it's worth. (Iraq taking Kuwait might have been an exception, but Kuwait is contiguous with Iraq, really the same people and culture, and small enough to be manageable -- India taking Goa was a similar example but nobody cared about that.) Nobody has figured out how to practice nuclear blackmail. I suppose you could say that Israel is free to bomb Syria and Lebanon, but Israel's conventional forces have ample deterrence, and Israel doesn't flaunt its bomb. Similarly, the US has fought many wars without bringing nuclear weapons to the battlefield, and has caused incredible amounts of damage. Nuclear weapons are at best difficult and awkward to use. As for terrorism, there are plenty of options besides regime change, and often regime change is a bad strategy. North Korea, for instance, is an awful mess, but you'd have to be a really crackpot pseudo-humanitarian to think invasion is the answer.
To sum up, I think missile defense is an insane investment intended to produce a set of undesirable policy options that are unwise and fraught with danger. I see it as a very stupid and unnerving thing to pursue.
I think it's extremely unlikely, almost unthinkable. This has much to do with how Israel's security elites view themselves, and it's not that they're too "moral" to do such a deed so much as that they're too professional. The endstate they want is for the Palestinians to be ground down and invisible -- "an utterly defeated people" -- but more important they really don't want an endstate. The conflict is what holds Israel together, what gives Israelis their identity, and what gives the security elites their unique societal status. It's not surprising they don't want to give that up.
On the other hand, if the elites did decide to implement a final solution, I don't doubt that it would be substantially popular among Israelis -- probably only a big minority right now, but it wouldn't be hard to uncork enough terror to sway a majority. One thing to understand is that most Israelis have been systematically terrorized all of their lives -- not by Palestinians, although they've done their part, but by the Holocaust culture, military indoctrination, religious study, all-pervasive hasbara. A good picture of the gap between what the elites know and what the masses fear can be gleaned from Tom Segev's 1967, although since then both sides have gotten much nastier. There are no shortage of political demagogues and "willing executioners" in Israel, but it would take an extreme fluke to flip the elites.
For what it's worth, Israel is a pariah state already -- maybe not a North Korea, but the comparisons to South Africa are, if anything, too generous. The more the Palestinians try to court world opinion -- as opposed to trying to fight their way out of their cage -- the more bizarre Israel looks and the more isolated it becomes. That may matter little to the masses who can't see themselves, but the elites will eventually face a self-identity crisis as traditional allies like Europe and the US turn on them. If this really were an existential conflict, they might decide to go down an isolationist path, like Myanmar, but the conflict isn't like that. There's a straightforward deal on the table which would leave the elites secure in a slightly smaller Israel, and if the choice was that or Myanmar they'd be unprofessional not to take it. It will, of course, be Israel's choice: no one's going to impose regime change on them. But South Africa was in a similar situation, and chose to be part of the world rather than apart from the world.
I actually think most rogue states would lean that way if given a self-respecting chance. Building anti-missile shields to ensure a nation can't take any recourse against you while you pound them back to the stone age is a crude, expensive, and ultimately ineffective way to solve such problems.
Let me add a little more on missile defense. First, recall that in the days and weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, Bush's top priority (having passed his tax cuts) was getting Congress to approve funding for major expansion of anti-missile defense. One of the first conversations we overheard when we went out to lunch in Brooklyn that day was someone saying, "boy, too bad we don't have that anti-missile defense system." I don't recall anyone rejoining with, "oh, come on, the anti-missile defense system is only for real, serious attacks."
Fred Kaplan has a good chapter on anti-missile defense in Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power. In particular, he says (p. 79):
And (p. 85):
And he follows this with various examples from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the setback that shook Nixon into negotiating the ABM Treaty (pp. 89-90):
I considered working the latter story into my response. In particular, I thought about comparing Bell's scruples to the companies that have been working on Star Wars since Reagan came in. Another interesting sidelight is a story from James Carroll's House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power. In the early 1960s McNamara set up the in-house Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to sort through all the crap the CIA and the military brass were passing off as intelligence. The first head of the DIA was Carroll's father, Lt. Gen. Joseph Carroll, who remained in charge until Nixon's Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird, fired him in 1969. The reason? Carroll refused to remove a statement from an intelligence estimate that said that the Soviet Union wasn't pursuing a first strike capability. Why? Because the statement was needed to justify Laird's ABM system (i.e., the same one Bell decided wouldn't work).
Also worth reading is Chalmers Johnson's Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, which focuses especially on space-based weapons schemes (e.g., p. 216):
In fact, he gives an example of a doomsday weapon: a rocket that could launch "a dumptruck full of gravel" into orbit, where it would suffice to destroy every satellite, including the NSA's and the military's eyes and ears, as well as most of our global telecommunications bandwidth, plus handy things like GPS. Missile defense would also produce space debris, starting with the test phase.
Thursday, February 11. 2010
Glenn Greenwald: Wall Street Owners Angry with their Purchase: Starts with a New York Times article where anonymous Wall Streeters are grousing about how Obama has turned on them, saying unkind things, "rousing the dirty rabble with their anti-banker rhetoric." They're so upset they're threatening to pull the plug on their contributions and flock to the Republicans -- after all, who among the Republicans would talk trash about them? Given how much influence the megabanks have had over Obama and his team, how mild his actual statements have been, they're showing awful thin skin. The arrogant sense of entitlement is shocking. It's as if they thought the backroom deals with cooked up with the Fed and Treasury were brought on by popular acclaim, or (more likely) that public opinion is totally irrelevant anymore. The Republicans have done the banks a lot of favors thus far, not least by raising such a stink over any attempt to use the same sort of restructuring the Republicans used to clean up the S&L mess -- what they called "nationalizing" the banks. The result of that was that Obama wound up rescuing the bank shareholders while leaving the banks under the same management that broke them -- and a big chunk of the real economy -- in the first place.