Jan 11, 2008

Why does Bill Moyers get a bad rap?

I don't know why people think that Bill Moyers is not to be listened to. The other day I ran across a comment on a news site and the writer dismissed out of hand that Moyers had been used as a source. You knew that the commentator on the news story had not even gone to the Moyers reference to check it out.

For the past two weeks, Bill Moyers has been having as his guest Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a media analyst, very bright and perceptive, commenting on the elections and the absolutely god-awful bullshit coverage on the TV. My god I am so tired of it. The talking heads are absolutely incapable of discussing the issues or even asking the questions that would focus on the issues.

Tonight Jamieson gave her comments on the Iowa and NH votes. Also, Moyers interviewed Shelby Steele, a conservative (!) essayist and scholar at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, commenting on Obama. Steele has just published a book on Obama called A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama And Why He Can't Win. Steele wrote a book called The Content of Our Character which I read a number of years ago with real appreciation. A really interesting interview.

Both the commentary by Jamieson and the interview with Steele can be found here. If you come to this post late, search Moyers' site for the references to the program.

You might enjoy it if for nothing else than the pleasant change of pace from the crap shoot on NBC, Fox, CBS, CNN. (Only C Span will give you some interesting actual coverage of the issues as the candidates discuss them. The rest of the idiots are more interested in sound bytes and stupidity. I have a fantasy of calling up and getting on Hardball and telling Mathews to shut the hell up and start doing some real journalism.)

You have to grant me this: listening to Moyers talk about the issues and the quality of the reporting is a hell of a lot more interesting than watching somebody like Wolf Blitzer or even the mainstream tools at Washington Week that follows the Moyers show out here in PST zone. (Washington Week which is now sponsored by National Journal and the National Mining Association. Sheeesh. Or as Archie Bunker used to sneer, Jeez, Editht!

Jan 7, 2008

A Specter is Haunting America!

A relative of mine has had the misfortune of receiving emails sent by the very conservative parent of a friend. From time to time my relative forwards one to me. I couldn't let this one go by, however, without trying to parse it and perhaps try to understand the conservative man's thought processes.

So here is the text of the email my relative forwarded to me:

Subject: A German's Point of View on Islam
Let us neither become the silent majority, nor the victims of the evil
being propagated in this World!

Very sobering message!

A man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II owned
a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German
people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward

"Very few people were true Nazis "he said," but many enjoyed the
return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those
who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just
sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we
had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost
everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my

We are told again and again by "experts" and "talking heads" that
Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want
to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is
entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel
better, meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across
the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam
at this moment in history.

It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of
50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically
slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking
over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb,
behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque
after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and
hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is that the
"peaceful majority", the "silent majority", is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in
peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about
20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China's huge
population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to
kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a
warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of
12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and
bayonet. And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it
not be said that the majority of Rwandans were "peace loving"?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our
powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of
points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.
Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up ,
because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that
the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs,
Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and
many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until
it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold; we must pay attention to
the only group that counts; the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Lastly, at the risk of offending, anyone who doubts that the issue is
serious and just deletes this email without sending it on, is
contributing to the passiveness that allows the problems to expand. So, extend
yourself a bit and send this on and on and on! Let us hope that thousands, world
wide, read this - think about it - and send it on.

I thought this was an excellent example of paranoia--and very sincere paranoia at that. As I read it again, I began trying to think of ways I could rebut this attempt to start a chain letter of propagation of the paranoia. I actually thought of sending the message back to the man who had sent it to my relative, but I knew that a response would be worth very little. It could not possibly inspire a dialogue. At best, a response would be read and then tossed aside as the rant of an unpatriotic fool.

However, it seems to me to be a good start at examining the thinking of the fierce foes of Islamofascism. It also forced me to write down what I thought might be the good alternatives to the strategy we have taken since September 11, 2001, the day that the specter began to haunt the more conservative and impercipient citizens of the United States.

Dear Mr. _____________:

E________ forwarded your email to me and some others of her friends, and I am presuming to respond to it rather than forward it. I find the anecdote of the German survivor quite important, though I am not sure that it is the same kind of importance that the author of the message has in mind. The anecdote tells me that I have a duty--as the German industrialist obviously did not think he had--to speak out against what was happening to his country.

I think in fact, that the message you sent to E__________ is counter-productive, and in fact is the very kind of thinking that was rife in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Perhaps the good German industrialist, had he the chance to relive those moments, might have spoken out in protest and attempted to keep himself and his friends from just "sitting back and letting it happen."

Did you notice that title of your email is somewhat deceptive? The German industrialist did not even mention Islam. In other words, whoever sent you the message has forced the anecdote to fit the notion of "Islamofascism" so currently fashionable in conservative circles. Or perhaps the writer of the original has fallen victim to the winter strain of what I like to call the Giuliani virus?

The whole message omits, unfortunately, a very important element of reasoned discourse. That is, we all have have a duty to provide evidence for our assertions, and secondly, we cannot suppress ideas that counter our argument, especially if we acknowledge them.

I will take the second point first, and refer to the assumption the writer of the message makes:

"Although this unqualified assertion [that "the majority of Muslims want to live in peace"] may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history."

However, if the unqualified assertion that most Muslims want peace may be true, surely that IS relevant. Perhaps we have here an inconvenient truth? And despite his common sense view that such might be the case, he suppresses the idea by calling it fluff, and replaces it with what, I think is an apt but unconsciously damaging metaphor. He chooses to believe not in reasonable persons desiring peace but in the "specter" of "fanatics rampaging across the globe." Unfortunately, the word "specter" carries too much unreality as well, with connotations of apparitions and ghosts.

I think that is the root of the problem I have with this message. The thought might appear to be a specter, but appearances are not reality.

However, for the sake of the argument, let's delineate the specter that arises by deliberately suppressing the inconvenient truth. How about some evidence that shows how the "fanatics" rule Islam? That is to say, where is the proof that "the Fanatics" are actually in charge of the major Islamic countries of the world (we can begin with Indonesia, we can follow with Egypt, or Turkey, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. However, those last are our allies!) Perhaps he means that all powerful country called Sudan? Perhaps not. We have agreements with the government of Sudan to assist us with the “War on Terror.” We might even have sent captives there for . . . rendition. (We can leave aside the Palestinians and Hezbollah for the moment, since they are quite weak compared to the United States, and we can also omit Libya since we started trading with it again.)

So perhaps without having the courage to name them, he really means Iran and Syria? Can he then perhaps show how these two countries are run by fanatics like Hitler? And can he present evidence that has been substantially supplied by neutral third party sources rather than the United States government--or more specifically the office of the Vice President and the Weekly Standard? And once he has established that can he show how Iran and Syria are also secretly massing aircraft carriers, planes, tanks,and ships for an invasion of the major countries of the western world?

This material armament does not even consider the troops they would need. For example, we know now that the rudely replaced General of the Army Eric Shinseki was probably correct that at least 300,000 troops would be needed to secure a country the size of Iraq. So the Iranians--who are pretty good soldiers themselves--would need at least 3.6 million troops to secure a country the size of the United States. (And when you think of the insurgency that would result from all of our well-armed citizenry, they'd probably want twice that number at least.) That's a lot of troops to hide in the Canadian wilds. Perhaps the Iranians are signing secret non-aggression pacts with Mexico and Canada so they can stage the invasion. But you might object, they will deliver the bombs with their missiles. Perhaps the ones that can barely reach Israel will some how grow booster rockets and make it over the Mediterranean and the Atlantic to strike Baltimore.

You see, I am taking the analogy the message is insisting on seriously. But I cannot see how the industrial capacity in Iran and Syria is very similar to the military buildup that took place in Germany during the 1930s after the National Socialists were defeated but Hitler was appointed Chancellor. Without a Wehrmacht and a Luftwaffe, I think it might be difficult to rampage over the globe.

I think you will find yourself hard pressed to find the evidence. I think what is driving this message is a fearsome fantasy, not common sense. The reasonable and well-substantiated idea that most Muslims want peace, since at the present moment they are the ones who appear to be the victims of terror, gets lost in the aura of an apparition grounded in fear.

Some mitigation is needed. All the fanaticism alluded to in the message is local, and is mostly internally contained. The fanaticism of the Nazis, the Stalinists, the Japanese Imperialists, and the Maoists is long gone. The so-called Cold War is over. The local fanaticism the writer fears is hardly equal to any of those mid-century powers either in extent or in philosophical influence. Those mid-century wars are done, and current efforts to create new Hitlers, Stalins, or Tojos who speak Arabic or Farsi and believe in a government founded on a single religious belief are flimsy at best and not very useful.

Indeed, I find that a few proponents of the word "Islamofascism" also have a worrisome tendency to insist that the United States is really a Christian nation and that Christian principles should control governmental approaches to problems. In fact, I find that those religio-political zealots have something in common with the leaders they accuse of "Islamo fascism." So much so in fact that I am tempted to be glib and talk about "Christofascism" as if it were as real.

Of course, the absurdity of the latter term underscores the absurdity of the former. Neither begins to approach the real problem. The person who wrote the message probably does believe that terrorists are actually taking control of the Islamic countries, but when you stop to think about it, the evidence is not there.

We should keep in mind that the country with the largest offensive war machine, and a military budget larger than almost the rest of the world combined is the United States. We should also keep in mind that the expenditures for Iraq and Afghanistan are "off budget." So that means we have the greatest military expenditures in the history of the modern world.

You might remind yourself that George W. Bush announced the term "Axis of Evil" just a few months after the Iranians sent overtures of negotiation (or didn't the National Review tell us about that?) In fact, as has been well-documented, the Iranian government both before and after the election of their current president, had cooperated with the United States against terrorists and the Taliban in Afghanistan.Looked at objectively, I am afraid that much of the world with some justification perceives the United States as that "specter rampaging across the globe."

You also may not know it, but our soldiers are currently being encouraged and browbeaten into believing that they are soldiers for Christ rather than soldiers of the United States. In fact, one could reasonably argue that the continuing and so-called "unpatriotic" resistance to the ongoing sectarian tendencies within the military is an attempt--unlike the cowardly German capitalist/industrialist—to deter the Christian militarism.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, I refer you to the lawsuit brought in Federal courts this past year by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. A believer in Islamo Fascism would call criticism of the "war on Terror" unpatriotic. It is not. It is part of the movement to deter the destruction from within of the Constitution of the United States.

As Ron Paul, the most ignored (and the only anti-war) Republican candidate has said on more than one occasion, quoting Sinclair Lewis, when fascism comes to the United States, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. In fact, I can argue that at least the German industrialist in the anecdote was aware of what was going on. Hitler after all, had been elected to office in a democratic and constitutional process.

I can argue that most people in the United States are not even aware of what is going on. Most people in the US exist in a bubble of self-contained amnesia about injustice, domestic spying, executive abuse, disregard for treaties (which the Constitution refers to as part of the "supreme law of the land"), the destruction of Habeas Corpus and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

The last creature to discover water is the fish, as a philosopher once said..

That terrorism is a problem, there is no doubt. That there are terrorists worldwide, there is no doubt. That they can plan and commit acts of terrorism is certain. That they have the actual power to take over the nations of the developed world is a fantasy. In fact, it is an utterly bizarre fantasy. Terrorism has become a larger problem because of the phantasmagorical "War on Terror." Our neo-colonial efforts to control the oil resources of other countries is also beyond doubt a contributing cause.

The real shame is that good old fashioned police work; international cooperation; intelligent security programs not distorted and gutted by corporate cynicism, stupidity, and lack of patriotism; rational nuclear disarmament efforts; and some genuinely intelligent and objective domestic, immigration, trade, human rights and foreign policy might have had some real impact on the terrorist problem. Unfortunately, over 7 years have been badly wasted, counter productive, and damaging to our country and to world peace.

If I might close the loop of the analogy in this message that I will not forward, the Nazis, you may recall, made similar and successful efforts to create terrorist enemies: back then the Nazis called their terrorists Communists, socialists, labor organizers, intellectuals, vermin, gypsies, Jews, and homosexuals. We don't need that kind of thinking anymore. We need to think about the problem of terrorism and handle it as a rational citizen of the modern world, not like it's a crusade, or a holy war, or a season of "24," or a John Wayne shoot 'em up. So in the interests of trying to play the German citizen who did protest what was going on, I am returning the message to you and hope you will consider the problem a bit differently.

Sincerely yours,