Category Archive 'The Nation'

12 Jul 2010

Madison Did It

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Howard Chandler Christy, Dead White Men Conspiring to Obstruct Societal Transformation

In an amazingly prolix and rambling (more than 17,000 words) essay in the Nation, Eric Alterman voices liberal despair at the failure of Barack Obama and the democrat congressional majority to enact every jot and tittle of the “progressive” left’s agenda and arrive in a single bound in the sunny uplands of Socialism.

They was robbed, Alterman complains. They won an election only to find that the system was stacked against them.

[T]he truth, dear reader, is that it does not much matter who is right about what Barack Obama dreams of in his political imagination. Nor is it all that important whether Obama’s team either did or didn’t make major strategic errors in its first year of governance: in choosing to do healthcare before financial reform; in not holding out for a larger, more people-focused stimulus bill, in eschewing a carbon tax; or in failing to nationalize banks and break up those that are “too big to fail.” Face it, the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against us.

Curse those checks and balances. Blast that Montesquian system of a government divided into separate branches and that bicameral legislature which allows the minority in its upper house some additional rights of resistance.

Reading on, we learn that Obama’s long march to Utopia was unfairly burdened from the start by “significant problems” as well as “political and economic crises” left behind by “America’s most irresponsible, incompetent and ideologically obsessed presidency.” When in doubt, blame Bush, and when you really have problems, blame Dick Cheney.

Cheney, we learn, is to blame for the BP mess.

In response to the California energy crisis of 2000-2001, the Bush Administration assembled a “National Energy Task Force” which wrote a massive 170 page report, advocating all sorts of basically conventional ideas with the goal of increasing the amount of domestically produced energy.

The left identifies Dick Cheney’s leadership of this task force in 2001, as the hidden hand behind the 551-page 2005 energy bill passed by Congress which (in Section 390) allowed drilling an oil well to enjoy a “categorical exclusion” from the lengthy and burdensome environmental impact process essentially in circumstances in which the same kind of paperwork had already been completed for the same location within the past five years. The fiend!

If only we could exclude all political contributions and any external input from interested parties impacted by proposed legislation, Alterman laments. Then politicians voting on legislation would not be influenced by their actions’ potential victims, and they would then answer only to public interest organizations and the leftwing commentariat.

The current state of affairs is intolerable because vitally important measures, like Cap and Trade, are going nowhere. Alterman quotes Aloka Jha — who turns out to be the Guardian’s science and environmental correspondent, and not the Andaman Island pygmy with the blow gun working for the villain in Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four (1890) — warning that, “even under what now looks to be an unrealistically rosy scenario,…we can expect the Amazon to turn into desert and grasslands,”

while increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere make the world’s oceans too acidic for remaining coral reefs and thousands of other marine life forms. …

After a 3C global temperature rise, global warming may run out of control and efforts to mitigate it may be in vain. Millions of square kilometers of Amazon rainforest could burn down, releasing carbon from the wood, leaves and soil and thus making the warming even worse, perhaps by another 1.5C. In southern Africa, Australia and the western US, deserts take over. Billions of people are forced to move from their traditional agricultural lands, in search of scarcer food and water. Around 30-50% less water is available in Africa and around the Mediterranean. In the UK, summers of droughts are followed by winter floods. Sea levels rise to engulf small islands and low-lying areas such as Florida, New York and London.

Bad as all that sounds, the worse problem is the diabolical, and completely insincere efforts of conservatives in alliance with corporations to “[discredit] activist government and [present] laissez-faire policies as the natural order of things.”

We conspirators on the right are succeeding in brainwashing the credulous American public, you see, because we are lucky. It just so happens that we have the biggest gun in the fight, Alterman complains.

Fox News is by far America’s most popular cable news network and its lead over MSNBC and CNN just keeps growing. In prime time, Fox hosts regularly attract more viewers than both competitors combined. This is a matter of considerable political significance for the potential success of any progressive president because the number one cable news network in America just happens to be dedicated to a program of purposeful misinformation rather than any honest accounting of the news.

It is obviously totally unbalanced that the left has only ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, CNBC, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, USAToday, and the rest of the mainstream media. Conservatives have Fox News, AM Talk Radio, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. It just isn’t fair!

Alterman believes journalism ought to speak with a single voice, a decidedly leftwing one, and he finds it appalling that conservatives have established even modest beachheads from which to participate in public policy debates.

As a result of a more-than-forty-year assault on journalism by right-wing funders—coupled with the decimation of so many once-proud journalistic institutions—an awful lot of the most influential perches in what remains of our media are populated by people whose loyalty to journalism is vastly outweighed by their commitment to conservative talking points. One of the primary transmission belts for such arguments is the Wall Street Journal editorial page, whose audacious refusal to countenance reality can be breathtaking.

Perhaps the only way the left can win, and can get the results it desires and is entitled to, Alterman reflects, is to change the rules.

[I]f America is to be rescued from the grip of its current democratic dysfunction, then merely electing better candidates to Congress is not going to be enough. We need a system that has better, fairer rules; reduces the role of money; and keeps politicians and journalists honest in their portrayal of what’s actually going on.

One pictures commissars appearing at the offices of the Wall Street Journal to see to it that editorials opposing socialism stop arriving in the press room.

Beyond “rules change,” Alterman sees a need for better organization, more pressure. The left, he believes, can bully politicians and shame journalists into getting in line with the left’s program of “societal transformation.”

The current situation represents a setback, but there is the future to think about.

Obama is taking the best deal on the table today, but hopes and expects that once he is re-elected in 2012—a pretty strong bet, I’d say—he will build on the foundations laid during his first term to bring on the fundamental “change” that is not possible in today’s environment. This would be consistent with FDR’s strategy during his second term and makes a kind of sense when one considers the nature of the opposition he faces today and the likelihood that it will discredit itself following a takeover of one or both houses in 2010. For that strategy to make sense, however, 2013 will have to provide a more pregnant sense of progressive possibility than 2009 did, and that will take a great deal of work by the rest of us.

To borrow from Hillel the Elder: “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

Lots of luck with that, Eric.

The self righteous naïveté of the left is amazing at times. Picturing those entirely imaginary billions of peaceful agriculturalists wandering the earth in search of new lands produces a rueful smile.

It must be highly gratifying to be on the side so completely in possession of justice and reality that its only opponents are fiendish conspirators and cynical hirelings paid by nefarious corporate interests.

Laissez faire, i.e. spontaneous voluntary order, is not the natural state of things. In Nature, the intelligentsia sit down and decide what would be best, and the state using armed force proceeds to make sure that everyone and everything conforms to the plan. There is Nature in action.

The Constitution, the framer’s system of checks and balances, was a terrible idea that obstructs societal transformation. We should get rid of all that. It just isn’t right that people and business potentially affected by legislation are allowed any influence at all. We must put a stop to that, too. And, worst of all, intellectual opponents of the left actually possess platforms of their own these days. By definition, anything these people say is false, misleading, and mere propaganda. Maybe after he wins in 2012, the Obama the Great will do something about that.


19 May 2009

Responsible Journalism Award

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Our special award for responsible journalism goes to that ever popular red-rag The Nation for today’s unsigned story, which quotes an alleged interview by arch-traitor Seymour Hersh with “Arab TV.”

The story contends, in broken and infelicitous English, that Pakistan president-elect Benazir Bhutto was murdered by a US assassination squad operating under the orders of Dick Cheney (!). Supposedly, she was killed because she had revealed in an interview in 2007 with Al Jazeera that Osama bin Ladin was dead, killed by Omar Saeed Sheikh.


In this November 2, 2007 (14:38 video) interview with David Frost (at around 6:10), Bhutto refers to a “very key figure” in Pakistani security, a retired military officer, who she alleges “has had dealings” with (among others) “Omar Sheikh, the man who murdered Osama bin Ladin.”

But, as Omaron notes in this blog posting, Bhutto’s reference to bin Ladin was probably just a slip of the tongue.

While she did say what I (and now lots of others) thought she said, … both from reading the transcript and re-watching the clip, was that she simply misspoke, meaning to say “the man who killed [WSJ reporter] Daniel Pearl” – which Omar Sheikh is accused of – in such a matter of fact tone, because it is well known.

It appears she didn’t realize what she said. Even Frost, that ever-cunning interviewer, seems to have missed it.

Speaking not for the Al Jazeera network, but for myself – as a journalist – I can say that the question should have been cleared up in the interview. But why I chose not to pursue the story: Not because of a conspiracy or a cover-up, but because it was an apparent slip of the tongue.


The Nation’s news story tells us that the US death squad is under the command of General Stanley McChrystal, just appointed by Obama as US commander in Afghanistan, and that it also killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafique Al Hariri and the army chief of Lebanon.

One can only observe that the Nation’s news reporting fully equals its political and economic analysis in responsibility, accuracy, and quality.


Ooops! What do you know? Why, Seymour Hersch himself denies having said any such thing, and calls the Nation’s report “complete madness.”

Are they embarassed, do you suppose?

17 Jan 2009

Bolshie Guidebook

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Kyle Smith alerts us to a recently published guide to the land of the “progressives.”

For 143 years, The Nation magazine has maintained, in its adorable way, the blue-faced scowl of an angry toddler shaking its fist at the grown-ups. But while you could go to The Nation in recent years for instruction on how to think about the latest perfidy of the Bush administration, the magazine was no help when it came to advice on, say, how to find a really good lesbian knitting cooperative within easy bicycling distance or where to buy anti-globalization comic books printed on recycled hemp.

The long wait is over. Now comes “The Nation Guide to the Nation,” a travelog/catalog/almanac (whatever you do, don’t call it a bible) “for and about a community of committed, passionate people who have active consciences and a lively sense of social justice.”

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