"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show
"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket
"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming
May 23, 2013
Michael Kinsley Can't Recall Michael Kinsley's Words of Wisdom
This is one of the key things everyone should understand about politics, by a great writer named Michael Kinsley in 2008:
When you hear the presidential candidates carrying on about democracy and freedom, do you ever wonder what they would be saying if they had been born into societies with different values? What if Mitt Romney had come to adulthood in Nazi Germany? What if Hillary Clinton had gone to Moscow State University and married a promising young apparatchik? What if Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, like his father, where even now people are slaughtering one another over a crooked election? Which of them would be the courageous dissidents, risking their lives for the values they talk about freely—in every sense—on the campaign trail? And which would be playing the universal human power game under the local rules, whatever they happened to be?
Without naming names, I believe that most of them would be playing the game. What motivates most politicians, especially those running for President, is closer to your classic will-to-power than to a deep desire to reform the health-care system.
This is some dumbass thing advocating budget cuts aimed at the middle class, by some dumbass named Michael Kinsley in 2013:
…[Paul Krugman] considers briefly, but seriously, that [my] problem might be simple “sadism,” but retreats from that daring charge to an only slightly more plausible conspiracy theory: that austerians don’t want the economy to recover until they’ve had the chance to use bad times as an opportunity to shred the social safety net. Either that or a psychological variant: they need bad times to continue in order to justify their status and their speaking fees. Amidst these far-fetched possibilities, let me propose one more: maybe austerians really, sincerely want what’s best for America and the world, and really believe that theirs is the better path than Krugman’s. Maybe austerians—poor, deluded creatures that we are—actually think that their path will result in less pain, not more.
How is it possible that Kinsley could write both of these things?* My theory – which has never been successfully disproven – is that there is an anvil in Washington, D.C., and all prominent American pundits are required to have it dropped on their heads once every six months. Kinsley actually has sustained less brain damage than most of them.
*In theory, there's no contradiction between the two things Kinsley wrote. As he says, powerful people are all motivated by "your classic will-to-power," rather than a burning desire to improve the general welfare of their nation. But human beings, including powerful ones, also have a need to believe that they're good. So all powerful people persuade themselves that they are motivated by a burning desire to serve their nation.
For instance, Saddam Hussein saw himself as Iraq's greatest patriot. He sincerely believed that him being in power was best for Iraq, and the occasional torture and massacres and genocides that that required would result in – as Kinsley puts it – "less pain, not more."
So sure, the austerians sincerely believe that slashing Social Security and Medicare – which will coincidentally mean they can pay lower taxes and be more powerful, since other Americans will be more desperate – is sadly necessary.
But obviously this isn't the point Kinsley is making. Despite what he wrote five years ago, he somehow believes the sincerity of the austerians has some significance. It's like someone saying that Saddam sincerely believed that dropping sarin gas on Hallabja was the best for Iraq. Of course he did. Who the fuck cares?
May 12, 2013
We Are So Disappointed With the Corrupt Afghan Government
I'm sure it's tough for many reasons to work for the Sulzbergers and Carlos Slim at the New York Times. But I'd have an especially hard time coming into the office every day and being forced to write paragraphs like this in today's story about Afghanistan:
American and NATO officials in Kabul…said that [development] aid would continue, although the amounts given were likely to be reduced over time. And the Afghan government would have to live up to its commitments to battle corruption and run a more open government for the aid to keep flowing.
It's not just that the New York Times itself uncovered the story of the CIA giving the Karzai government millions in bags of cash one week ago. It's that the bags of cash article was written by the same reporter, Matthew Rosenberg.
Yet here he is today, faithfully passing along the news about how anonymous American officials sincerely want Karzai to be less corrupt. It's like breaking the Eliot Spitzer prostitution story, and then quoting him a week later explaining how he's going to continue paying Ashley Dupré as long as she lives up to his longstanding demand that she be less of a prostitute.
(I have much more sympathy for the payee in both situations. In Karzai's case, he likely remembers that after the Soviets left, their last puppet was castrated, dragged through the streets of Kabul behind a jeep, and then publicly hanged. So you can understand if he wants to keep some cash on hand.)
P.S. Last October Glenn Greenwald and Kade Ellis has a long exchange on twitter with Rosenberg in which he finally acknowledged that the U.S. government may not be 100% trustworthy. Read it to see how resistant Rosenberg was to answering basic, straightforward questions.
P.P.S. It's also hard to be a reporter at the Washington Post.
Several years ago, think tank couple Fred and Kimberly Kagan worked for David Petraeus in Afghanistan. Then they came back and told the world about how we had to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.
It turns out that, according to great reporting by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Kagans were paid nothing by the Defense Department. Instead, they continued to get their salaries from their think tanks, which in turn are largely funded by defense contractors that profit from indefinite war.
Yet Chandrasekaran had to write this without acknowledging that it was funny in any way at all:
Petraeus called them his “directed telescopes” and urged them to focus on the challenge of tackling corruption and building an effective government in Afghanistan, a task they addressed with gusto.
I guess in this case it would be like Spitzer seeing a second prostitute and paying her extra to look into the issue of why Ashley Dupré was such a prostitute.
But the best part is that after having the Kagans look into the issue of how the Afghan government could get less corrupt, David Petraeus went on to become director of the CIA. Maybe he flipped through their report whenever he needed a break from stuffing cash into the plastic bags.
May 06, 2013
Reminder: The U.S. Government Lies About the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Mideast
Obviously I have no idea whether any chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and if they have who's responsible. But this is a good time to remember that, even beyond the bogus case for the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government has a long history of lying about this subject.
This is from last week:
In a letter to key lawmakers, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies "assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."
Now Carla Del Ponte, a member of the UN Commission on Syria, says they have "strong, concrete suspicions" that chemical weapons were used in Syria, but that they were deployed not by the Assad regime but by Syrian rebels. (Del Ponte was the lead prosecutor of Slobodan Milošević; earlier she barely escaped assassination when Sicilian organized crime attempted to blow up her house with 1000 pounds of explosives.)
And this is from March 1988, about Saddam Hussein's notorious gassing of the Iraqi city of Halabja back when Saddam was our ally:
The U.S. State Department said both Iran and Iraq had used poison gas in the fighting around Halabja and called on both nations to desist immediately.
"This incident appears to be a particularly grave violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons. There are indications that Iran may also have used chemical artillery shells in this fighting," department spokesman Charles Redman said in Washington.
He declined, however, to say what evidence the United States had to implicate the Iranians.
Seventeen years later, investigative reporter Joost Hiltermann wrote about declassified State Department cables instructing U.S. diplomats to muddy the water by claiming that both Iraq and Iran had used chemical weapons around Halabja and "to dodge the 'What’s the evidence' question with the stock 'Sorry, but that’s classified information' response...In the final analysis, the only evidence for the convenient claim that Iran used chemical weapons during the war is that the US government said so."
More recently, a senior U.S. official explained the general principle about this kind of thing: "The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don't cooperate, we ream them as best we can."
P.S. Charles Redman, the Reagan State Department spokesman who lied about Iran using chemical weapons in 1988, was later rewarded by Bill Clinton with the Ambassadorship to Germany. He then cashed in by becoming a senior vice presidential at Bechtel. Thanks to Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks you can read here about Redman flying to Tripoli to try to get Bechtel into business with the Qadhafi family.