Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Mugabe Equation

As the political situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates further by the day, I've noticed that the way the mainstream in this country reports it is truly bizarre. It is all a matter of perception, of what the sides "say" is going on, and no one can really sort it out, it's all African after all, and who really understands those people?

Every report I hear on the radio or see on teevee or read in the papers claims that "critics" declare that (for example) some 85 "murders" have taken place, or that Mugabe's forces have done this or that "bad thing," or that "international observers" claim such and such nasty business is going on, or that "the opposition insists" thus and so. Reporters on the scene describe what they see in great and awful detail, and still the anchors of the Zimbabwe desk are skeptics.

"We'll just have to see how this shakes out, thank you."

This is the universal approach of American mass media to the Zimbabwe political crisis, so I think it is fair to assume that it is the result of an industry-wide narrative adoption.

And I've wondered if this will be the pattern for coverage of the American political scene: no truth, just narrative, a narrative that favors McCain -- or rather, favors Power in the abstract -- and is skeptical of his opposition, yet presents everything as what people "say," or "claim," not -- ever -- what actually IS.

An extreme example of Zimbabwe coverage on the NewsHour last night:

[Note: the New Yorker cover illustration above is meant to convey an attitude in the media of detachment, it is not meant to imply that the New Yorker's coverage has been particularly faulty or that there is any particular New Yorker story being criticized here. In fact, the New Yorker has consistently been one of the better news operations on this and many other topics.]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The way they were meant to be.

Media mavens Chris Rabb, Rebecca Traister, and Norman Solomon discuss the media atrocities of the previous week on GRITtv:

And just for the hell of it:


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why "Village" is the Wrong Metaphor

For some time now, Digby has used the "Village" metaphor to describe the collective known as the Washington Press Corps, a metaphor that ultimately comes from a Sally Quinn piece quoting David Gergen from almost a decade ago in which she defended the world she and her colleagues lived and worked in from the Evil That Was Clinton. Gergen supplied the memorable quote:

"We have our own set of village rules," says David Gergen, editor at large at U.S. News & World Report, who worked for both the Reagan and Clinton White House. "Sex did not violate those rules. The deep and searing violation took place when he not only lied to the country, but co-opted his friends and lied to them. That is one on which people choke.

"We all live together, we have a sense of community, there's a small-town quality here. We all understand we do certain things, we make certain compromises. But when you have gone over the line, you won't bring others into it. That is a cardinal rule of the village. You don't foul the nest."

Quinn and Gergen were serious -- it was about SEX after all -- and Digby is overtly satiric in using the metaphor to describe a rotten to the core press corp in DC. And the Village metaphor has spread throughout the blogosphere to describe these decrepit media functionaries (no longer describing a place but merely the denizens thereof).

I have objected and tangled with Digby more than once over her devotion to this metaphor -- it is now pretty much universal in the so-called lefty blogosphere -- because I believe that it is a grossly inaccurate and potentially self-defeating metaphor.

A "Village" has certain -- generally positive -- evocations for most people, and artists have made whole careers out of depicting village values, characters and ways of life. Gergen himself was using the metaphor in a positive way to describe how closely and intimately linked the Washington Press Corps was with one another and with their all-important sources and how the insider linkages are fundamental to the operations of the "Village."

Digby and most of the rest of the so-called lefty blogosphere of course consider the incestuousness and clannishness of the Washington Press Corps and their sources to be a very negative thing, and so their use of the "Village" to describe the same thing David Gergen did is meant as a satiric jab, with a highly negative connotation.

The problem is, despite its universality, it doesn't work.

It doesn't work in part because it doesn't describe reality. Gergen, in other words, was wrong, even deliberately deceptive, in trying to put a positive gloss or spin on the incestuousness of Washington and its many layers of courtiers, eunuchs and functionaries by calling it a "Village."

It's a "Village" in somewhat the way Marie Antoinette's Petit Hameau was.

In other words, a subdivision of a Palace like Versailles.

And the Washington Press Corps is a bunch of powdered and perfumed, bewigged and panniered courtiers.

The Palace metaphor was even Digby's preferred metaphor, one that is used very effectively by Paul Rosenberg, but she says she shifted to the Village metaphor after reading Quinn's piece in the Washington Post all those years ago and hasn't been able to let go of it.

Sally Quinn -- and David Gergen -- rules her world. Which is silly.

And yet, once the Village metaphor was adopted by Digby it became the standard on the lefty blogs within weeks or months.

Only a few of us hold out for the old fashioned Palace metaphor, which I believe is a far more accurate and telling descriptive of the nature of DC courtier media and "source" incestuousness.

And there's another thing, I think a more important thing than being accurately descriptive with ones metaphors: The Palace Media and its layers of sources, it's go-to eunuchs, functionaries, and gossips, is something that most people can come to revile. Indeed, rebel against. A "Village" metaphor short-circuits the rebellion before it begins and transforms the natural revulsion at the goings on of the Palace and its retainers -- especially when exposed as being as bloodthirsty and corrupt as they truly are -- into a sort of tittery joke. A "Village" metaphor makes them and their evil seem quaint, charming, cute.

And that won't do. It just won't do. How can you do anything about something you think is so 'darling?'

Whereas Storming the Winter Palace has more than a little evocative and powerful meaning.

You see?

Ain't nothin' quaint or cute about it.

You want cute? I gotchur cute right here:

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Now what?

Obama has issued a statement saying he supports the "compromise" FISA "reform" passed by the House, and he will "work" to remove telecom immunity from it in the Senate, a Senate that already passed the fullthroated domestic surveillance and telecom immunity FISA "reform" the House Leadership worked so hard to "compromise" on.

He's not gonna do shit.

This is what he wants. He knows he's going to ascend to the Peacock Throne, and he's getting ready. He's taking his elevation to the Purple a lot more seriously than the current occupant ever did. Which I guess is a good thing, eh?

But the point is that he is not going to defend and protect the Constitution and the rule of law as he's sworn an oath to do, any more than he chooses to, which in this case, he doesn't.

That's the attitude of a Monarch. And that's what we're going to get. The Republic, it's time to admit, is kaput, an empty husk. And Obama is going to need the powers the Congress is so eager to give the King/Emperor if he is to rule as well as reign.

Admitting as much is very difficult for Americans. Most don't really care one way or another. The Constitution lost its popular constituency long ago. But the notion that the nation is now a monarchical empire, ruled by Imperial Ukase or Rescript, sometimes masked by Congressional "law" (often after the fact), is foreign, and once was resented. But now? Not so much.

How long did it take the Romans to realize their Republic was gone? The forms and institutions endured for hundreds of years after Octavian's advent. But the Roman Republic expired, and the people, for the most part were just as happy it was so.

So it is among Americans, and so it will be if Obama proves to be what he says he's setting out to be: a benign monarch as opposed to Bush, the crazed autocrat.

Who can complain?

Certainly not the Palace Courtiers.

But the question is, what is to be done about it, if anything?

According to the Incrementalists, this reversion into monarchy/autocracy will be halted and turned around in oh, fifty-sixty years, who knows, it took decades after all for the rightists to get to the point where they are today, so it will realistically take as long or longer for so-called progressives to take the country back, but they will. One day. Eventually. Just be Patient.

Revolutionaries -- the handful of them there are -- say "Pshaw!" and demand instant overthrow by masses of People in the Streets.

Neither, in my view, is correct because they haven't clarified to themselves what's actually happened, nor what they want in its stead.

In my view, Incrementalists (Glenn Greenwald being one of the most determined and astute of them) essentially like things the way they are, and like to complain about them and argue about them all the time. But they don't want any real change, nor are they in any way prepared to take any action that might precipitate real progressive change. They want power and influence to be sure, but not to accomplish any real reform or progress, or to -- say -- revive the Republic, but only to operate within the New Empire as antagonists to the King/Emperor. They want their position to become an official position (of antagonism, to be sure) within the Palace. And then, over many years, decades, generations, centuries, their antagonism will serve to mitigate, mediate and modify the worst excesses of the System, a System they fully support. A System which is, in fact, a monarchy and empire, not a self-governing constitutional republic.

The Revolutionaries (of which there are so few, it's almost impossible to name them) simply want something else again. Amy Goodman and the crew at Democracy Now! make a good pitch for what's wrong and what ought to be, but they're not into overthrow as such. They have justified contempt for what "is" -- but even then, they don't name it much more than declaring "corporatist" -- and occasionaly "fascist" and "police state" -- wrong-doing. All of which is fine, but doesn't lead to the Something Else Again the Revolutionaries want.

And everyone's a critic, myself included.

My own perspective is that the reversion to monarchy and empire was inherent in the Constitution the Framers adopted, no matter their arguments to the contrary. "Spin" was not unknown in those days, either. The trend has been toward greater territorial expansion and greater concentration of power in the executive throughout the whole history of the country, and it has culminated, now, in what amounts to a full consolidation of power in the Presidency and its extensions. The Congress does not act to curb that power, it grants more power to the Presidency. The judiciary has taken upon itself to appoint and guide the Presidency almost as if it were in the role of Regent or Confessor, but not to curb it beyond certain modest restraints -- which are typically ignored.

These days, if we want something different than the monarchy/empire we have, we need a different framework than the Constitution; it's that simple.

Achieving that is impossible for Incrementalist. They cannot think that way. What IS requires the Constitution as is, and a Regime as is, and antagonism as is. If there is Change, it is toward solidifying and consolidating and from time to time mitigating, not toward resistance and renewal.

A Different Framework than the Constitution hasn't yet occurred to the Revolutionaries. With the collapse of or abandonment of Communism, there remains very little ideological revolutionary fervor anywhere in the world, Venezuela excepted, but the Bolivarian Revolution is barely understood -- or even noticed -- in the United States. Chavez is just perceived as some vague zambo "enemy." Exactly why isn't known. The only thing that is known is that "he's got our oil." Which means, eventually, the Empire will seize it.

I think most Americans would be comfortable with a benign monarchy, and they're getting comfortable with the notion of Obama on the Throne. Whether it will happen, I can't say, but it's looking more and more likely every day, and it's clear to me that with Obama's FISA statement of yesterday, he fully intends to operate within the current Monarchical/Imperial System without let or hindrance.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

NOTE: Contribute to the ActBlue/StrangeBedfellows anti-FISA "reform" ad campaign. It can't hurt, and who knows, it might lead to something. In these turbulent times, any action can precipitate a Butterfly Effect.

Monday, June 16, 2008

McClatchy Does It Again

Taxi to the Darkside trailer...

McClatchy is doing an important series on the sweeping up of the innocents in the GWOT which is bound to raise some hackles (once heavy crepe veiling and deepest mourning for the Monsignor have passed) among the Palace Courtiers and might just get the perpetrators -- of the series, not the crimes -- a Pulitzer or two.

Wouldn't hurt given the fact that McClatchy is bleeding advertising revenues and announced another staff cutback today.

From today's report on the routine brutality of captive in American military custody:

The brutality at Bagram peaked in December 2002, when U.S. soldiers beat two Afghan detainees, Habibullah and Dilawar, to death as they hung by their wrists.

Dilawar died on Dec. 10, seven days after Habibullah died. He'd been hit in his leg so many times that the tissue was "falling apart" and had "basically been pulpified," said then-Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the Air Force medical examiner who performed the autopsy on him.

Had Dilawar lived, Rouse said in sworn testimony, "I believe the injury to the legs are so extensive that it would have required amputation."

After Habibullah died, a legal officer for U.S. forces in Afghanistan asked two military police guards at Bagram to demonstrate how they'd chained detainees' wrists above their heads in a small plywood isolation cell.

"Frankly, it didn't look good," Maj. Jeff Bovarnick, the legal adviser for the Bagram detention center from November 2002 to June 2003, said during a military investigation hearing in June 2005.

"This guy is chained up and has a hood on his head," Bovarnick continued. "The two MPs that were demonstrating this took about five minutes to get everything hook(ed) up; and I was thinking to myself, if this was a combative detainee, it must have been a real struggle for them to get him to comply, and the things they must have been doing to make him comply."

The only American officer who's been reprimanded for the deaths of Habibullah and Dilawar is Army Capt. Christopher Beiring, who commanded the 377th Military Police Company from the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2003.

One of the many problems all along has been the absence of field officers in this Great War against innocents. It's not just that few have been charged and convicted of the endless crimes committed in our names, it is that they aren't there at all. Officers are simply absent. They are either holed up in the various palaces or bases seized from the natives, which, until recently, they rarely left. Or they are running around sucking up to their own superiors, sometimes quite openly angling for attention and promotions by... "following orders" which has led to one atrocity after another.

McClatchy is documenting war crimes, in detail, with plenty of names, dates and whatever evidence they can secure. The military, of course, denies everything -- when it isn't completely refusing comment of any kind.

What will eventually happen with this material is anybody's guess. Righteously, the entire regime and all of its enablers, and those in the military who have carried out atrocities and war crimes would face justice of some sort, but we've seen that no such thing even contemplated.

No. They'll get away with it. Indeed, they may be honored, at least some of them.

And We, the People look on in horrified disbelief. The McClatchy series needs to be seen.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Monsignor Passes

What with all the keening and covering with ashes going on at the passing of Msgr. Tim Russert, the Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News and the Moderator of Meet the Press, and long time Catholic Apologist, would-be priest, and potential Monsignor, you'd think the Pope Himself had passed.

What with all the expressions of devotion and belovedness his shade is receiving from the so-called progressive blogosphere, you'd think he was a model of some sort to be emulated. A courtier to be flattered. St. Reagan himself doesn't receive such devotion.

Come on, people. What would you do if Chris Matthews died? Throw yourselves on his funeral pyre?

This is ridiculous.

Tim Russert was an obsequious toady to power, particularly -- nay, almost exclusively -- to Republican Power, in true Palace Courtier fashion, and it was his job of Sunday mornings (although MTP was broadcast on Sunday afternoons for years in my region) to catapult the propaganda, get the weekly Republican talking points out, and interview Republican politicians in as gentle and subservient a manner as possible. It was his job to savage and embarrass Democrats. He set the standard for it. And he was emulated throughout Gasbag Land.

His sudden death was of course a shock, not simply to his colleagues and rivals (assuming he had rivals) but to the world of political junkies in general, who can barely imagine carrying on without the Monsignor to guide them. Russert was the definition of serious political media.

It's apparently impossible to imagine a mainstream political media without him.

What was truly surprising to me, scanning the hundreds or thousands of comments on the lefty blogs on the topic of Russert's passing, was the number of posters who said they "liked" him, and who claimed he was "fair." Clearly, his influence over the way people define basic terms (like "fairness") was tremendous. Of course there were a handful of those who expressed disgust with his on-air behavior and condemned him to the Fires of Hell for What He Did (such as tirelessly promoting the Iraq invasion and occupation, dismissing or denouncing Democrats and other opposition and so on), but most were nearly as obsequious as Russert himself in the throes of his passion for Republican Power.

I stopped watching him a long time ago. This list of posts at Media Matters might help clarify why:

Will pundits who blasted Howard Dean in 2003 over troop-numbers response question McCain's fitness following his Iraq troop-level falsehood?
Friday, May 30, 2008

Amid spate of high-profile stories, Russert continues to ignore "the story about Senator McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money" on Meet the Press
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Russert: "[T]he story about Senator McCain and lobbyists and ethics and money -- that continues" -- but not on Meet the Press
Friday, May 23, 2008

On Meet the Press, Russert allowed GOP strategist Murphy to falsely claim that "Rubin mischaracterized," "paraphrased" McCain
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Exec. producer tells fishbowl DC that Meet the Press "would certainly be open" to interviewing Bob Barr
Friday, May 16, 2008

Will Russert offer Libertarian candidate Barr the same Meet the Press platform he gave Nader?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Russert told Harwood, "Speak for yourself," on the media as McCain's "base" -- but Russert's colleague Matthews has said it too
Monday, May 12, 2008

Russert noted media's lack of scrutiny of McCain over Hagee, other issues, but not Russert's own McCain "grace period" on Hagee
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Russert suggested GOP would run ads against Obama featuring "Pledge of Allegiance" charge without noting it's false
Sunday, April 20, 2008

On Today, Russert, Mitchell, and Lauer highlight Clinton's tax returns, don't mention McCain's
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

On Morning Joe, Russert mischaracterized Democrats' Iraq positions, his own debate question
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

and there are many more at the site. Or go through Digby's archives.

It's just appalling.

A modest suggestion: instead of holding up Tim Russert as a model and speculating about who will take his place, how about thinking of this as a teaching moment, rethinking the whole notion of media "vs" pols and, for example, resurrecting the earlier version of Meet the Press in which a panel of journalists grilled the guest under the deft moderation of Lawrence Spivak? Or maybe roundtables in which media representatives are themselves grilled by -- oh, why not? -- bloggers and/or citizens?

Russert was the dominant personality in his trade, and that meant that his particular viewpoint and many of his character traits became accepted as the standard of his profession. We've seen the results.

It's time for something else again.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

50 States, Baby!

(Ottmar Liebert, "Snakecharmer")

Thankfully, the recriminations between the Dem candidate partisans are diminishing quickly.

The rank thuggishness displayed by internet personalities like Markos and Aravosis and their toadies now appears to be grossly out of step with their candidate, Senator Obama, and his active reconciliation efforts with the Clinton camp, efforts that seem to be bearing fruit. The poo flinging just might end soon, and that would be great. Devoutly to be wished, as it were.

Meanwhile, something very significant happened in the wake of Obama's picking up enough delegates to become the Democratic presidential nominee (I hate the term "presumptive nominee" and -- at least for now -- refuse to use it).

He's building on Howard Dean's "50 State Strategy" for revivifying what had become a nearly moribund Democratic Party under the aegis of the Clinton - McAuliff "17 State Strategy."

Four years ago, when Dean was vaulted to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee -- following a failed presidential bid months earlier -- he pledged to rewrite the rules concerning where and how Democrats would compete. In the subsequent months, resources and staff were invested into unconventional and even previously untouched locales. The idea was that the party simply couldn't compete without a margin for error.

But at the time, party insiders, who believed Dean was stripping away important resources from key races, were privately and, on occasion, publicly livid.

Had Clinton won the nomination, I have little doubt that Dean would be out as Party chair and the state and local Democratic infrastructure that Dean has developed would be dismantled in favor of concentrating Party resources in a few states, the strategy that led to two Clinton "victories" -- pluralities, never majorities -- and the loss of Congress to radical Republicans back in the day.

That was one of my beefs with the whole idea of a Clinton Restoration: we'd go backwards in terms of party organization, which would lead, not surprisingly, to loss of gains made over the past few years (as inadequate as they have been, those gains are better than retreat.)

So when Obama and Dean got together the other day and Obama proclaimed his enthusiasm for both Dean and the 50 State Strategy, I was very pleased indeed.

Yes, We Can!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

O(What You Call Your) Bama!


Well. At least he's got enough delegates lined up to take the nomination if they don't change their minds between now and August. Which they are very unlikely to do. But, given the way things have been going this campaign season, nothing would surprise me anymore.

And there is plenty to be troubled about regarding some of the elements of the Obama campaign.

First things first. Let's get it out on the table and out of the way: too many of Obama's most ardent supporters have become disreputable punks. They've been led by people who have become some truly repellant internet characters like Markos and Aravosis and Arianna, and their primary objective has been to trash Hillary and her supporters relentlessly. It long since reached the point of an obscenity. And apparently, no matter what, they cannot let go of their hatred and contempt of The Clintons and anyone (which amounts to almost half the Democratic Party, and pretty much all of the the Republican Party) who does not sing the praises of Obama long and loud enough.

There is no Obama Presidency in January of next year if the Clinton supporters who have been rigorously alienated by Obamaites sit this one out or -- far less likely -- vote for McCain. You don't do a purge until after you've got the Power, but for whatever reason, Obamaites have an urge to purge right now, and they don't care how it affects matters in the future.

All those old white women who support Hillary can just go Cheney themselves, now and forever more.

OK boys. Have it your way. But don't go crying that the Nasty Old Coot Republicans stole your presidency -- because you are doing a fine job fucking it up yourself. Keep it up.

Digby has been one of the saner voices in the blogosphere about what is going on, and she has been relentlessly trashed by Internet Thugs for Obama when she tells the truth. Unfortuantely, in this campaign season, "Truth" is the thing that cannot be told, ever, or the illusion, the gossamer bubble that surrounds the Obama campaign, will burst. She's a CLINTON SUPPORTER!!!!! Get her!!!!

There are and have been plenty of reasons not to support Hillary, primarily her warmongering in my view, but that's apparently too simple for the Internet Thugs for Obama to contemplate. No, they see their mission as one of complete destruction of The Clintons, their Machine, and all their fans and supporters, scorched earth, from here to eternity.

It's insane. It's Stalinist. Oh boy, let's trade one set of Authoritarian Thugs for another. Send the Busheviks into Siberia and bring in the Obamamaniacs -- to complete the task of purging and Autocracy.

Lucky us.

Unfortunately, that's the flip side of the vision of hope and change that Obama has been marketing, in one of the slickest and most appealing presidential campaigns since RFK's in 1968. In the background are all these droogs.

Is that the lesson that we've learned from the constant crisis and thuggery of the Bushevik years? Maybe so. Or is it all more illusion? Is all this implied threat and internet thuggery more apparent than real? It isn't really there, and millions of Americans aren't really and completely alienated from the Obama campaign and he's gonna win by double digits in the fall, and we're gonna be happy again, just you watch.

I guess we're going to find out, aren't we?

There's plenty that Hillary and her campaign did wrong, first on principle: those unrepudiated votes for blood and gore and Empire. She couldn't be my candidate any more than Kerry could. That's very straightforward, and it doesn't require smearing and psy-ops to communicate. She has terrible judgement when it comes to the fundamentals like war and peace and whether the United States should act like the biggest bully on the block.

Hillary is not my candidate, she has never been my candidate. But I have defended her when I thought she was being unfairly smeared by the Obama Droogs.

And THAT made me a "Hillary Supporter!" to be targeted for the purges underway and to come. Defending Hillary from unfair smears was enough. That's not just Stalinist, that's full on Cultural Revolution Maoism.

The key question for me now: If McCain wins in the fall -- which is not beyond the realm of possibility if the wedges driven between Democrats aren't removed (and not by eliminating the dissenters) -- would he be more or less totalitarian? We know he's an authoritarian and wants to become an Autocrat like his mentor Bush. Would he turn into an all out Totalitarian? Could be. He's not running for President, he's running for Commander In Chief and he sees his future like Patton before the Flag. That may mean, to him, that the nation's already tattered and shaken self governing constitutional republic is finally extinguished replaced by a quasi military junta that operates on a distinctly Basic Training model. Yep, that's totalitarianism.

If Obama wins -- and it's an uphill climb, but he's done it before -- does he build on the Bush legacy of civilian authoritarianism and institute his own brand of totalitarianism? Or will he curb the excesses of some of his supporters?

We'll see, won't we?