Why the Lies of the Iraq War Still Matter

George W BushThere is a tendency to look back on the George W Bush years with a certain amount of nostalgia. He might have been awful but at least he wasn’t Trump. But is that really true? This week is the 16th anniversary of the Iraq War and I think it shows that nothing has really changed.

From mid-2002 to roughly mid-2003, I was working at home. So I spent a lot of time listening to NPR. Now I know what conservatives think, “NPR?! That’s leftist radio!” But you know what a conservative’s definition of “leftist” is: “not far right.” The truth is that NPR is the most middle-of-the-road, Milquetoast news you can find.

In the lead-up to the Iraq War, there was no pushback. When Dick Cheney when on The News Hour to quote stories in The New York Times that he had planted, it was allowed without a hint of skepticism.

So the only thing I was being “told” was that this Saddam Hussein guy was really dangerous and maybe we should go to war. But somehow, that was not my takeaway.

The Iraq War Lie

Donald Trump has done many reprehensible things. But he hasn’t caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians — yet.

From no later than September 2002, it was clear to me that the Bush administration was going to war with Iraq. And all “news” was just a propaganda effort to sell it.

There was absolutely no question of what was coming. This fact has made me angry at liberals who supported the war. How could they have known?! By paying the smallest amount of attention.

But here’s the thing: we know that George W Bush lied us into war. And we know that Dick Cheney did too. As did the “oh so respectable” Condoleezza Rice. And “reasonable” Colin Powell.

How are any of these people worse than Donald Trump? The answer most people will give is that they didn’t lie about everything. But that doesn’t make sense. These supposedly respectable Republicans lied about the single most important policy issue of their time. And while Trump probably does have a mental defect that doesn’t allow him to know what the truth really is, these people don’t have that excuse.

It’s like I’ve often said: a racist is not as bad as a non-racist who uses racism to gain power. These people lied because they thought their personal interests were more important than the rights of other countries.

Lies Then, Lies Now

Donald Trump has done many reprehensible things. But he hasn’t caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians — yet. But that’s not my point.

What we know about the Iraq War is that the US intelligence services didn’t believe that Iraq was any kind of threat. So George W Bush and his enablers just made up their own intelligence.

We know Colin Powell was lying when he told the UN, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” (Compare this to the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space, “We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer.” It’s chilling!)

Same as It Ever Was

Republicans had no respect for the truth then and they have none now. It’s not surprising that they should have selected a leader who appears to not even know the difference between fact and what he wants to believe.

Nor is it surprising that the American people would make such a man president. Americans have been fed a delusional diet of American exceptionalism for decades. Generally speaking, we can’t recognize the truth. We still think we support democracy because our media titans tell us that Saudi Arabia is modernizing and is much better than Venezuela where they have ridiculous things like internationally-monitored free elections.

The Republican Party will back anyone — and I do mean anyone — who will deliver the only things the party cares about: tax cuts and deregulation. There is no difference between George W Bush and Donald Trump — other than that the former is more evil and the latter is more stupid.

Bill Maher, Lee Camp, and Comedy Cojones

Lee CampAs a reader of this site, you are of course a good liberal, and no doubt familiar with the many post-Jon Stewart purveyors of political humor. John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Seth Myers’s “A Closer Look” segments, the unfairly canceled Larry Wilmore, and Michelle Wolf.

All have done great work. But you may not be familiar with a more left-wing alternative, the columnist and comic Lee Camp. We’ll get to him in a moment!

Bill Maher: Daring Truthteller

Recently, the funny writer Drew Magary posted an article at GQ, titled Bill Maher: Do We Need Him? Maher has, once again, said something people take umbrage at — this time, joking that rural communities lack sophistication. As Magary observes, this is far from the most offensive thing Maher’s ever said — it doesn’t even crack the top 20. (And, in this case, the riffing clearly was a joke; most of Maher’s truly repugnant opinions are delivered with full sincerity.)

Magary is perhaps a little too dismissive of Maher’s long-practiced joke-delivery style. It’s old-fashioned, but he is skilled at it. What Magary gets absolutely right is exasperation at Maher’s “smarmy brand as Teller of Uncomfortable Truths,” a tone Maher’s adopted since being fired by ABC for saying 2001’s suicide bombers were, physically, not cowards.

While ABC was rather gutless in that instance, Maher ended up quite rich and happy at HBO — essentially, like getting fired from a bad job and immediately finding a better one. So Maher’s firing hardly counts as a great hardship, suffered for Telling Uncomfortable Truths.

Punching Down

Along with his self-righteous sense of singular moral courage, Maher has repeatedly punched down on targets his audience shares no admiration for (fundamentalist Muslims, humorless liberals) and, worse, given airtime to others who’ve been justly criticized for more viciously doing the same.

The likes of Ann Coulter, Grover Norquist, Jordan Peterson, and Milo Yiannopoulos, Maher seems to believe, are kindred spirits, attacked by those who want to stifle free speech. In fact, they are the ones attempting to stifle free speech, by deflecting genuine criticism with evasions, untruths, and whining about persecution.

There might be some point in having these monsters on if Maher or his other guests called out their incessant dishonesty. That rarely seems to happen. The most widely-watched clip on Maher’s YouTube page is where Larry Wilmore berates Yiannopoulos for his repugnant remarks towards the LGTB community. Generally, the guests, and Maher, let the liars get away with it.

(The vile Yiannopoulos, now broke, wants other to feel sorry for him. Nobody complains more than a neofascist whose viciousness towards others stops being rewarding.)

As Magary correctly states: Bill Maher’s “show has done far more to legitimize shitty people than to subvert them.” Which, more than the smugness, more than the faux-daring offensiveness, is why I no longer tolerate the skilled joke delivery of Bill Maher.

Lee Camp

I’d been reading Camp’s occasional TruthDig columns for a while, and finally got around to noticing that his bio line mentions the show, Redacted Tonight. It’s roughly in the same visual style as most of those mentioned above, although it clearly doesn’t have the same budget. (In that way it reminds me of the early years of The Daily Show, with a far stronger political viewpoint.)

Here’s his column’s take on our mucking around in Venezuela:

Maybe those people really need our help, and U.S. intervention will work out great—exactly like it did in Syria,
and Yemen,
and Iraq,
and Iran,
and Afghanistan,
and Chile,
and Honduras,
and Haiti,
and Somalia,
and Libya,
and Guatemala,
and Nicaragua,
and Colombia,
and Panama,
and Fraggle Rock,
and those tree forts where the EWOKS LIVED!

Camp is an avowed socialist and Washington, DC native; that’s where the program is taped. (Most of these programs are taped in New York — Bee and Oliver share the same studio, in fact, and Bee once carved her name in his desk!)

It’s presumably because Washington is the home to RT America (The US branch of RT Network, which is funded by the Russian government). They presumably host Camp’s program because of his opposition to American imperialism.

A Few Words About RT Network

The little-seen network is state-sponsored and claims to receive no editorial interference. That’s hard to determine, but they’ve certainly run programs with hosts and/or guests who are no lovers of the crony capitalism Russia has embraced since 1989. For example, Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann, and Noam Chomsky, among others.

It’s also had some true wackadoodle guests on before, like the crazy Jesse Ventura. Larry King has a show there, maybe because he missed wearing the suspenders. Basically, the gist seems to be that anyone who legitimizes the viewpoint that America isn’t always a Pure Force Of Moral Goodness for our world is welcome on that network.

Well, as others have noted, it’s not like we don’t export CNN to basically every airport on Earth, and that’s in the business of justifying America’s awesomeness. My best guess is that RT will hardly allow any direct criticism of Moscow’s policies, while most other subjects are fair game. Al-Jazeera English, which is widely considered a genuine source of reportage, doesn’t ever criticize Qatar.

As Glen Greenwald noted recently, the US media accepted unquestioningly a false 23 February story from Venezuela that showed our preferred side in the best light while demonizing the enemy. An RT reporter got the story correct, later that very day. (It took The New York Times until 10 March to confirm what that reporter had said immediately.) While Greenwald admits that we should look hard at any government’s state-approved media, in this instance, it was the RT reporter “who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth.”

The New York Times, naturally, considers Lee Camp a Russian tool. NPR is slightly more forgiving.

Redacted Tonight

Camp comes across a little like a young college student who just discovered socialism. But he was born in 1980 and told Fox & Friends to go fart itself, on air, ten years ago. He’s been an Onion writer and part of the East Coast comedy scene. If anything makes him look younger, it’s the long hair; in one episode a co-performer calls him “progressive Jesus.”

Most episodes feature Camp in the funny-angry opening role, then interviewing either one of his co-performers (he’ll play the straight man) or a serious guest; one recent episode featured human rights’ activists from Colombia.

He could use a larger writing staff (most of these shows credit at least ten), as sometimes the jokes are a little repetitive; Camp relies on a lot of what Spock called “colorful metaphors.” Take this recent example:

In my professional opinion, anyone who had anything to do with the selling, perpetrating or planning of the Iraq War should never again hold a position higher than assistant trainee to the guy who picks up the shit of a dog that does not belong to anyone of any particular importance. If that position does not exist, we as a nation should create it just for this moment.

But even when the jokes sound similar, his outrage at criminal injustice always feels real. Here’s a typical recent episode:

Fake Cojones And The Real Thing

Ultimately, Maher’s schtick is hugely neoliberal. It’s humor for the kind of socially tolerant careerists who trust our financial overlords, are vaguely critical of our widely-known military disasters and don’t want to hear about the secret wars. The sort of people who think TED Talks and (Maher’s frequent guest) Andrew Sullivan represent common-sense wisdom. For whom Maher can seem kinkily outrageous at times, but mostly against those dumb religious sorts and super-lefties who don’t live in the real world.

Maher pretends to have Giant Cojones, which gets him accepted among the faux-intelligentsia and has made him obscenely rich.

Lee Camp’s humor might at times feel a little more desperate because he’s genuinely angry. Is he hurting? No, he’s got a perfectly successful comic career, even if it currently involves going a bit quiet on Russia’s crimes. But, as a true liberal, he’s frustrated and furious at what our system of power does here, there, everywhere. And that takes more cajones than Bill Maher has ever had since his struggling club days.

Stop Appealing to Authority About Names

AuthoritariansBack in the early 90s, everyone pronounced Linux with a hard-i as in “fire.” For one thing, how else would an English speaker pronounce it? (If you are Finish, you can pronounce it how ever your language dictates.) But more important, Linux came from the fact that the kernel was written by Linus Torvalds.

Then everything changed in 1994 when Torvalds produced a bit of audio. On it, Torvalds said, “Hello, this is Linus Torvalds, and I pronounce Linux as ‘lee-nux.'” And everyone started pronouncing Linux incorrectly.

I don’t say people pronounced it incorrectly just because I don’t like it. Torvalds did not say he pronounced Linux as “len-ux.” In Finish, people apparently pronounce “Linus” as “Lee-nus.” But here in America, we pronounce Linus as “lie-nus.” I personally think we should pronounce Linux the way we did at first. But even if you don’t accept that, we don’t pronounce Linux the way that Torvalds did.

Now Torvalds is not a thoughtful guy. Otherwise, he would have realized that distributing his audio recording was an authoritarian move. Up to that time, people argued about it. But the moment The Great and Powerful Linus had his say, The Ignorant and Weak Computer Geeks fell into line. And now we have a stupid name for an important piece of software.

It amazes me that people fall for this stuff. If Torvalds had decided that his kernel should be named “smelly Finish anal cavity,” I doubt everyone would have followed along.

Idiot Developers Choose to Pronounce GIF as “Jif”

The issue is much worse for GIF. Steve Wilhite is the main person responsible for the image format. Like Linus Torvalds, he is a great computer scientist but otherwise an idiot. He has been outspoken in saying that it is pronounced “jif.” But his argument is nothing more than that he and the gang at CompuServ used to pronounce it like the peanut butter and say, “Choosy developers choose GIF.”

A bunch of computer scientists made a bad joke? Well, in recognition of this rare event, let’s throw all reason aside and pronounce GIF like it’s a brand of peanut butter!

The problem is that GIF is an acronym. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Normally, acronyms follow from the words that are in them. For example, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is not referred to as “jat.”

Of course, the vast majority of people pronounce GIF with a hard-G. That’s because few people knew that the GIF creators thought it should be pronounced in some unreasonable way. If they had, they would have gone along as the authoritarian followers they are.

Language Is Not Proscriptive

What this all comes down to is that a group of people should be allowed to communicate the way they want. This is why I have no problem with “PIN number” — something that drives a lot of people like me crazy.

The situation is bad enough when someone hauls out the dictionary, “See! It says in The Book that you are wrong!” People often fight back against that. But when it is a computer star, the normally “libertarian” online nerd community rushes to comply, Jawohl!

And this is the real problem: authoritarianism. It isn’t just the weak internet nerds; it’s also the stars themselves. Back in 2013, Wilhite complained, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

But this is hardly surprising. Despite that most of these computer scientists think of themselves as Howard Roark, on the whole, they are limited thinkers who easily bend to facile arguments. Whether acting as authoritarian leaders or authoritarian followers, they shouldn’t be listened to.

Disclaimer

This article strikes me as the kind of thing that certain kinds of idiots would use as a kind of gotcha, “So you agree we shouldn’t call transgender people by their preferred pronoun!” That’s not the case at all. I’m not talking about that. For one thing, this is just a matter of manners. It’s interesting that Ben Shapiro thinks that his scientific ignorance trumps any kind of social norm toward politeness.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the current pronunciation of Linux if the community had always pronounced it with a soft-I. My problem is this appeal to authority. “This piece of free software will from now on be called Liposuction!”

Of course, I pronounce Linux with a soft-I. The word is established and it would be confusing to pronounce it with a hard-I. But how ever I pronounce it isn’t going to personally harm anyone. Although if it harmed Linus Torvalds, I don’t think I’d care.

Republicans Support Israel but Not Jews

JexodusRecently, Trump tweeted conservative activist Elizabeth Pipko’s quote, “Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party. We saw a lot of anti-Israel policies start under the Obama Administration, and it got worsts & worse. There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party. They don’t care about Israel or the Jewish people.”

Misinformation From Jexodus

This is part of the new astroturf group Jexodus. Conservatives love these fake groups. Last year there was WalkAway, which was supposedly a movement of liberals who were “walking away” from the Democratic Party. Of course, there was no such movement. In fact, Russian bots were using #WalkAway to discourage liberal voting ahead of the 2018 general election.

We are seeing the same thing with Jexodus. It’s actually funny how obvious this is. Although the group says that Elizabeth Pipko is its national spokesperson, there is nothing on their website to indicates that Jexodus is anything but her. I searched Archive.org. The first appearance of Jexodus.com was on 6 March 2019. (The domain name was created last November.) And the first appearance of the website already had “MEET ELIZABETH” in its menubar.

What’s more, check out the announcement:

We are thrilled to announce Elizabeth Pipko, international model, Trump 2016 campaign staffer, poet, patriot, and fiercely proud millennial Jew — as our national JEXODUS spokesperson.

So Pipko has been a Republican for at least three years. How does she have any connection to an exodus (Or jexodus because this time it’s Jews!) of Jews from the Democratic Party?

Conservatives don’t even try anymore. The domain was registered last November. And it was only for a year. So the whole thing was only ever meant for one news cycle. Sadly, it’s received enormous coverage even if it has been mostly skeptical, it pushes the idea that hordes of Jewish Americans only care about Israel.

Other than rabid support for Israel because it has a proto-fascist government, what does the Republican Party provide for Jewish Americans? As with all but the super rich: not much.

Libertarians Don’t Deliver

Conservatives don’t care about Jews even as they are hysterical about Israel.

I had a similar experience when, long ago, I was a libertarian.

My main issue was drugs. I was concerned then (as now) that people were thrown in cages because of their use of vegetable products. So it isn’t surprising that my first real break with libertarianism was over this issue.

You see, most libertarians are just neo-confederates. They hate the Civil Rights Act. They claim to be for “states’ rights” because of their love of local control. But in fact, they just believe in them so that they can set up white supremacy at the state level.

Note that the Libertarian Party started in the wake of the civil rights movement. This isn’t a coincidence, although I’m not saying that its founders were neo-confederates.

But even among less racist libertarians, it was all about taxes. And while they accepted that drugs should be legal (or at least decriminalized), it wasn’t an issue they cared about all that much.

More important, over time I saw that libertarians weren’t doing much to stop the Drug War. But the Democrats were. They might not have any overarching ideology about drugs, but they saw a problem and they worked to fix it.

In other words, ideology is meaningless if it isn’t making the world better. And libertarians have a vile ideology that really doesn’t care about the interests of the poor and weak.

Similarly, conservatives don’t care about Jews even as they are hysterical about Israel.

Liberal Jewish Americans

Just like with any group in America, Jewish liberals vote for Democrats and Jewish conservatives vote for Republicans. It’s just that the vast majority of American Jews are liberal.

Paul Waldman wrote an excellent response to this, No, President Trump, America’s Jews Will Not Be Joining You in the GOP. Waldman is apparently Jewish and he talks about his mother telling him about the “liberal legacy of Judaism.” So it makes sense that the vast majority of American Jews would vote for the Democratic Party.

Of course, the right thinks that Jews should vote Republican. Ben Shapiro famously thinks the Jews who vote for Democrats are Jews in Name Only. But ultimately, this is just equating support for Jews with support for Israel. And I think that most evangelicals who support Israel do so in an explicitly anti-Jewish way. (They want Jews in control of Jerusalem to bring on the end times when all Jews will convert or be killed.)

As Paul Waldman’s mother shows us, the unique history of the Jews makes them “sympathize with the oppressed and the excluded.” And it is in this way that the Republicans are clueless about their appeal to American Jews. The Republican Party is in no way the party of the oppressed and excluded. Quite the opposite.

Zionism as Protection of the Weak

Zionism is part of this broader project of protecting the oppressed. And I continue to tentatively support Zionism even as I have stopped supporting Israel. If ever there was a country that should fight for the oppressed and not be an oppressor, it is Israel. But that is obviously not what has happened. (It may be that Zionism will always turn out this way, but I’m willing to give it another try; this time not on contested land.)

As long as American Jews care about justice for all people, they will support the left. Even those who continue to support Israel (and that’s most) can see that it is the Democratic Party that is pushing forward on issues of inclusion and justice — and on the long-term safety of Israel. The Republican Party has become proudly white nationalistic. No amount of pandering to Israel will change that.

Democrats Can Stop Being Afraid

NRA ParodyHere’s something I’ve been thinking about: the harm conservatives do to themselves with their “all or nothing” approach and how Democrats need to stop allowing it.

Groups We Fear

I’m talking here about groups like the NRA. For a long time, Democrats were terrified of the NRA. But over time, the NRA became a Republican-only group. Since they would brook not even the smallest concession, only extremists went along with them — even if more reasonable politicians still feared them.

A good example of this is my Representative: Mike Thompson. I consider him ridiculously pro-gun. Yet the NRA gives him a C+ rating. So is it any wonder that the House Democrats have now passed a gun control bill? (Sponsored by Mike Thompson!)

We see the same thing with Israel. I think that Netanyahu will go down in history as the guy who screwed Israel by picking a side in US politics. Maybe this had to happen because Likud has become as extreme as the Republican Party. But to be so explicit about it was a bad tactical move.

I don’t think it is a surprise that the Democratic Party is now seeing a pushback to “Israel right or wrong.”

We Never Should Have Feared Them

Of course, it never mattered. For decades, Democrats did nothing on gun control and the NRA still vilified them and encouraged their members to almost always vote Republican. And most American Jews (Ben Shapiro — God’s elder brother — calls them JINOs) are more skeptical of Israel than the Democratic Party.

So we see two things. First, conservatives being unwilling to accept anything but complete capitulation. Second, we have had Democrats who capitulate in exchange for nothing.

De Rigueur Calls for “Realism”

The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests.

I hear a lot of people complaining that the younger, more aggressive, Democrats are being unrealistic. But it seems that it is the conventional wisdom that turning ever to the right would lead to power that was actually unrealistic. What exactly did we get from all Bill Clinton’s triangulation? Cries of “Socialism!” NAFTA and welfare “reform”? What did we get for electing Blue Dog Obama? Cries of “Socialism!” a near debt default and Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch?[1]

The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests. It goes way beyond the NRA and Israel. Warren’s plan to break-up Facebook and others is a good start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough; even still, many Democrats think it is outrageous because they have been living in a cave made out of money the last 25 years.

The Battle Is On

The battle is on for the soul of the Democratic Party. And may I never again see an article about how young Democrats need to be realistic. It’s funny how we never saw articles saying that the Tea Party had to be more realistic. And after Trump, what is “realistic” anyway?


[1] The stolen Gorsuch nomination doesn’t matter. There will still be articles about how the Democrats are misbehaving once they have the White House. The mainstream media all stood around twiddling their thumbs while McConnell stole a seat. But anything a Democrat does to correct that will get a loud and sustained, “Foul!” Sadly, the next Democratic president will likely be in the old mode and do nothing. When they go low, we bend down so they can better kick us in the face. But that is changing.

Bernie Sanders Voters: Welcome!

Bernie SandersIn my recent Odds and Ends Vol 24, I noted that I think the #NeverBernie brigade should be more respectful of Bernie Sanders because his millions of supporters are very much part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Indeed, a big argument against Sanders in 2016 was that on policy issues, there was no difference between his voters and Hillary Clinton’s voters. The fact that this is now ignored is one of many aspects of what I’ve come to see as “Bernie Sanders just can’t win.”

Sanders-Trump Voters

Many people make a big deal of the fact that 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump. I’m going to dig into this. But there is a bit of confusion on the matter. When this number comes up, I am sometimes also told that many Republicans voted for him in open primaries. That certainly means that Sanders actual support was less than is indicated by this vote total.

Personally, I just don’t think there are that many Republicans who voted for him. Sanders got over 13 million votes. It is absurd to think that even one million of those votes were from Republicans. But even granting that, it’s only 8 percent.

More importantly, if a lot of Sanders voters were really Republicans, that means that a much smaller number of actual Sanders supporters voted for Trump — more like 4 percent. But as I said: this is nonsense. To a first approximation, we can assume that all the people who voted for Sanders actually supported him. And that means that roughly 12 percent of them voted for Trump over Clinton.

Now 12 percent sounds like a lot. But it actually isn’t. Sure, in a ridiculous race like 2016, just a few votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could have turned the election. But I don’t think we can blame Sanders voters generally.

Clinton-McCain Voters

As political scientist John Sides points out in an article in The Washington Post, far fewer Sanders voters voted for Trump in 2016 than Clinton voters voted for John McCain in 2008. Did you get that? Let me repeat: far more Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama than Sanders voters in 2016 refused to vote for Clinton.

How many more? According to polls, 24-25 percent of Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama. So double. That’s pretty amazing.

Conservative Sanders Voters

But let’s return to the “Republicans voted for Sanders” idea. Sides presents some evidence that even if Sanders supporters weren’t Republicians, there were a number of conservatives in his coalition. It makes sense. There were people who would simply never vote for Hillary Clinton. So in the primary, they voted for Sanders.

For example, only 35 percent of the Sanders-Trump voters voted for Obama in 2012. Compare this to 95% for Sanders-Clinton voters.

What are we to make of this? I think it is clear. There was a small but important fraction of Sanders support that came from people who were conservatives and so just didn’t like Clinton. Some were Republicans and independents, but mostly they were simply conservative Democrats. They were never going to vote for Clinton, and had Sanders won the primary, most of them wouldn’t have voted for him in the general election. Most important: the vast majority of Sanders supporters will support whoever the Democrats nominate.

#NeverBernie

Just the fact that so many Clinton supporters went for McCain in 2008 should be enough to put a halt to all the #NeverBernie nonsense. But there is another, much more troublesome, way of looking at it. It could be that roughly a quarter of the Democratic Party (its more conservative members primarily) simply don’t support the party if it nominates someone considered too liberal. Or just “not who I want.”

Note that for all the screaming about Bernie Sanders not being loyal to the Democratic Party, he has been. He campaigned often and well for Hillary Clinton. He’s told his supporters not to harass his opponents. And he has said that he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is.

Not that I think any of this will matter. For a lot of Democrats, Sanders is simply “the bad child.” Everything that is bad will be taken as confirmation that Sanders is horrible and everything that is good (in as much as it is acknowledged at all) will be taken as an exception.

What if Sanders Became President?

This brings up something very concerning. I believe that if Sanders became president, he would get the same kind of support that Labour has shown Jeremy Corbyn. Most of the party will provide him with lukewarm support while a notable fraction will actively undermine him. And then he’ll be accused of alienating the party.

The truth of the matter is that there are liberals who would rather see Trump get another term than allow Sanders to become president. And God knows, they have their reasons. We all have our reasons, even if they will look pretty weak as we watch Trump start his sixth year in office.

The truth is that I would have liked it if Sanders had formally joined the Democratic Party in 2016 and stayed in. I find his claims to independence and socialism annoying. But I don’t think it would have mattered. There is just a set of people who will always hate him just as there is a set of people who will always hate Hillary Clinton.

I’m not looking forward to this upcoming election. And if Democrats don’t watch out, we’ll have a repeat of 2016 — one way or another. And I can’t even feel good about the obvious hypocrisy of many in the Democratic Party. They’ve already shown who they are.

But there’s time to realize what I’ve been saying for years: there are two alternatives in the coming election. And that’s it. I noted in 2016 that people who thought there was no difference between Clinton and Trump were delusional. And in 2020, people who can’t choose between Sanders and Trump are equally delusional.

And if Sanders Loses?

On the other side, pretending that Sanders is some kind of villain probably will cause him to lose. But at what cost? One idiotic #NeverBernie person tweeted:

We know how many Dems support Sanders: millions. We also know that if the vast majority of Sanders supporters hadn’t supported Clinton in the general election, she would have lost profoundly.

But this tweet shows that in this particular echo chamber, people just “know” that Sanders supporters don’t matter. But they do.

In their scorched-Earth approach to Sanders, the #NeverBernie brigade threaten the entire Democratic Party. No one needs to like Sanders if they don’t want to. But it would be really helpful to the party if they didn’t act so stupidly.

So let me say it: all Bernie Sanders supporters are critically important. And they are welcome by the vast majority of party members. That’s because the vast majority of them are party members. I don’t remember all this fuss when the Democratic Party marched to the right for three decades.

Odds and Ends Vol 24

Odds and EndsThere are lots of things on my mind these days. In fact, two of the sections below were going to be full articles. (It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which ones.)

But as serious as some of these issues are, three of them also come with a lot of humor. Humor seems more and more the only way to process political events — especially with Republicans constantly gaslighting us.

Ilhan Omar and her Pro-Israel, Anti-Jewish Detractors

Jonathan Chait has been one of the most hysterical critics of Ilhan Omar. But after all his claims of antisemitism, I thought it was interesting that he said the following:

Is the Democratic Party going to normalize dual-loyalty accusations as part of the Israel debate — not directed against Jews per se but against American Zionists?

Note that Omar never said anything about dual-loyalty, but let’s leave that aside. What’s interesting here is that it is no longer about antisemitism; it’s now about anti-Zionism.

Chait himself has said that he’s getting soft on support of Israel because of the behavior of its hard-right government. Somehow, that’s okay but Omar’s beliefs are not. (This is typical of Chait: anyone to the left of him is an extremist.) That in itself is interesting.

But his comments destroy an important myth among the chattering class: that they make any distinction between being against Jews and being against Israel. This is something that Chait shares with many on the right, although those on the right are generally pro-Israel and anti-Jewish. The charge of antisemitism is just a club wielded to attack anyone who isn’t a booster for Israel. And this tactic only makes real antisemitism worse.

Facts Don’t Care About Ben Shapiro’s Feelings

I have a visceral hatred of Ben Shapiro that goes well beyond his vile beliefs. Mostly, it is that he is the ultimate snowflake while being completely intolerant of others’ vulnerabilities. In order for him to admit racism against, say, blacks, Shapiro requires overwhelming evidence over years. But when it comes to himself, one needs only give him the wrong look to start him screaming, “Antisemitism!”

There’s nothing new about this. What’s annoying about Shapiro is what’s annoying about conservatives generally. We see this with the constant complaining about “political correctness.” Student’s not wanting bigots speaking at their school? Political correctness! Outrage at sports figures kneeling during the national anthem? Simple patriotism — in fact, there should be a law against that!

Ben Shapiro’s comments about Ilhan Omar show what a snowflake he is. And I would accept it if he would show one-tenth of the concern for different oppressed groups. This meme shows what’s going on.

Ben Shapiro Antisemitism Hypocrsy

Brad DeLong Embraces the Left — Kinda

In a Zack Beauchamp interview with neoliberal economist Brad DeLong, he says that it is time for the old guard of the Democratic Party to allow the younger, most leftist, members lead. It’s gotten a lot of coverage. But most people miss what he’s actually saying.

He’s not saying that the New Democrats (and don’t kid yourself — they are still powerful within the party) should roll over to the left. Rather, he’s saying that there is no point in even trying to work with the Republicans. In fact, he said one thing that warmed my soul:

Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George HW Bush’s foreign policy. And did George HW Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.

Of course they didn’t! As John Dean explained over a decade ago, the Republican Party is authoritarian. They aren’t not against the Democrat because of their policy; they are against the Democrats because they aren’t Republicans.

So all DeLong is saying is that neoliberals should form a coalition with leftists. And in a sense, this is radical because there are a lot of Democrats who have looked at the way many in the Labour Party have sabotaged Jeremy Corbyn and thought, “Good idea!” So DeLong’s awakening is a good thing.

Just the same, as Mike Konczal responded, The Failures of Neoliberalism Are Bigger Than Politics. Although neoliberal policy hasn’t failed as utterly as conservative policy has, it has nonetheless failed in terms of helping ordinary workers.

#NeverBernie

Speaking of Democrats who would rather Republicans win than elect someone too far to the left:

#NeverBernie

Now I understand: some in the Democratic Party have what seem to them to be substantive criticisms of Sanders. I’m not going to litigate that here, but my experience is that the anti-Sanders hysteria is the result of online echo chambers. People can believe whatever they want about Sanders.

When I came upon #NeverBernie on Twitter, I responded as modestly as I could:

Overall, the response was positive. But I did get an interesting response, “And are you telling the Bernie people that too??” I have, of course. And she would have known that if she had simply read the headline of my article.

My point is not about Bernie Sanders, per se. My point is that there are a lot of Democrats who support Bernie Sanders. These are people who overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. (And note: Sanders supporters appear to have abandoned Clinton less often than Clinton supporters abandoned Obama.)

So is it really a good idea for the Democratic Party to vilify dependable Democrats who just happen to like Bernie Sanders?

Obviously, I don’t think so. These #NeverBernie people are doing exactly what they themselves (rightly) complained about Sanders supporters doing in 2016.

This skit isn’t nearly so funny now:

Brazil’s New President

Back on 25 Feb 2019, Brazilian actor José de Abreu announced that he was the president of Brazil. He is making fun of both Brazilian president Bolsonaro and Venezuelan opposition leader and — according to hypocritical and evil countries like the US — the “real” president, Juan Guaidó.

José de AbreuRight after this announcement, someone changed the Wikipedia entry for Brazil’s president to “disputed.” This is great because that’s what Wikipedia did the moment that the US decided that it could say who controls the Venezuelan government.

The thing is, Abreu has a stronger claim than Guaidó — at least when it comes to the validity of the current presidents. It is often reported that Maduro’s election was invalid because the opposition didn’t run. But it didn’t run because it chose to boycott the election. Maduro didn’t stop it from voting. And there is every indication that it could have won.

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, only won because Lula da Silva was wrongly imprisoned and then forbidden from running. Polls indicate that he would have won in a landslide.

Of course, the US won’t take Abreu seriously for the same reason they don’t care about the imprisonment of da Silva: they aren’t the right kind of leader — the kind that gives away all its resources to corporations.

Fact-Checking Trump’s State of the Union Address

This is from last year, but it’s very funny and insightful. If only our regular media outlets were this good.

See you all later!

Why “Solsbury Hill” Still Works

Peter GabrielNot another song post! Sorry. It just turned out that way.

My favorite Peter Gabriel song is “Solsbury Hill.” There have been other songs of his that I’ve liked more, but “Solsbury Hill” is the song that continues to engage me.

Lyrics

Part of this is just the lyrics. Despite being very “literate,” I don’t usually pay attention to lyrics. It’s only after a long time that I can get past the much more profoundly moving music to note them.

But in the case of “Solsbury Hill,” the lyrics are so clear and musically connected that I followed them from the start. What’s more, the refrain says it all:

“Hey!” he said. “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home!”

There is obvious religious subtext here. But it’s deeper than that. Acceptance is a great thing. Recently, I became accepting of losing my biggest client. I knew if it happened, it was going to be painful. But my relief in accepting it was so profound that the future looked easy. And my client is still around. Things are going well.

That’s a relatively trivial example, of course. And acceptance isn’t always a good thing. For example, a sudden improvement in the mood of a depressed person can be an indication that they have decided to kill themselves. In general, I think that’s a bad thing. But it isn’t always. And we all should work on accepting death.

Music

I bring up the song now, however, because it has an interesting rhythm.

It’s said to be in 7/4 time with a bit of 4/4 at the end of the chorus. What this means is that it has the same 7-beat patterns over and over with a 4-beat pattern during the refrain.

But this is not quite true.

The song alternates 3/4 and 4/4. Yes, 3 + 4 = 7. But consider Pink Floyd’s “Money”:

It’s in 7/4 time. It is built on that irresistible 7-beat bass line. You can divide it into 3-beat and 4-beat sections. And although the 4-beat section would work on its own, the 3-beat section would not. It really only works as a 7-beat line.

“Solsbury Hill” is very clearly a three-beat section and then a four-beat section.

Notice both the repeated guitar and synth/flute phrase: they are three beats and then four. In the case of the synth/flute, it is 3 beats and then a whole note.

This is key to what make the song work. This switching causes the listener to yearn for some kind of resolution. There is a feeling that things aren’t quite right. And then, on the refrain, it resolves with two measures of 4/4. And it is done with the same lyrics that define the song:

“Hey!” he said. “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home!”

Why It Works

This is an exquisite musical orgasm. But it is brief. Almost as soon as it happens, we are dragged back to that nagging 7/4 section.

I think this is key to why I continue to yearn for this song. It’s about acceptance both lyrically and musically. It’s about resolving conflict. And it doesn’t just show it; it takes us through an actual journey of acceptance and resolution.

The Search for a Decent Version of “The First Cut Is the Deepest”

Cat Stevens“The First Cut Is the Deepest” was a huge hit song for Rod Stewart in 1977. It reached #21 on the US charts but stayed at #1 for four weeks in the UK. But even if you haven’t heard that one, you must have heard some version of it. Singers love it. I’m pretty sure every pub band knows it.

But there’s something interesting about the song. It was brilliantly written by Cat Stevens (Steven Demetre Georgiou, Yusuf Islam) back in 1965. Yet I have yet to find a version that I really like.

PP Arnold

Before Stevens could release a version of the song, it was recorded by PP Arnold. In 1964, she became a background singer and dancer for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. She was just 18 years old — already with two children. Two years later, she quit the band and went solo. She was in the UK at the time and her career has been focused there.

The following year, she released the first version of “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” Supposedly, she paid Stevens £30 for the song, but I doubt that means anything other than the right to record it first. Stevens would still get royalties.

The version is good. Arnold has a great voice. But the production leaves me cold. It’s produced by Mike Hurst who goes full Phil Spector Wall of Sound in the chorus. That’s especially true with the background vocals, that destroy the strength of Arnold’s voice.

Norma Fraser

That same year, reggae singer Norma Fraser released a version. Bob Marley asked her to join her band, but she remained solo even though she recorded with him, Peter Tosh, and just about everyone else in the reggae scene. She was part of the Studio One stable, which pretty much says it all.

Her version of “The First Cut Is the Deepest” is fine. But I’ve never found reggae to be able to milk all the emotion from a song. And that’s what I’m looking for in the song. It appears to be what most producers are looking for too — hence the common over-production of the song.

This is a simple version and, frankly, one of my favorites.

Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens didn’t manage to get the song out until the end of 1967 on his second album, New Masters. Like Arnold’s recording, this version is produced by Mike Hurst. And it’s better. the chorus isn’t overwhelming (although I could do without the strings, which become unbearable toward the end). The lead guitar is also annoying. And Cat Stevens just doesn’t have a very compelling voice at this point in his career.

Still, it’s listenable.

Love Affair

On Love Affair’s debut album, The Everlasting Love Affair, they recorded “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” It features a horn section in the chorus. I rather like it. It’s no wonder it didn’t become a hit. (Love Affair released a very good version of “Everlasting Love.”)

Keith Hampshire

The song has been recorded too many times to mention. But the next notable version was by Keith Hampshire in 1973. (It was recorded in 1971.) That was three years after Stevens conquered the world with Tea for the Tillerman. I love Hampshire’s voice, but I hate this version. It was produced by Bill Misener but is Phil Spector all the way. It’s worse than “The Long and Winding Road” — pretty much the gold standard in over-produced, sentimental trash.

I suppose it triumphs a bit just because of Hampshire’s voice. But even if Spector wasn’t a murderer, he belongs in jail.

Rod Stewart

This version has the advantage of being recorded in 1976 (released in 1977). This is after the British invasion and everyone trying to sound like Phil Spector. It’s still the time of the singer-songwriter, so the production of this song gets that treatment. So it’s not as annoying as most of the 1960s versions.

Just the same, it’s pretty anemic. Despite the swelling string section, the chorus always feels like a letdown. But Stewart was always chasing the current top-40 sound, so it isn’t surprising that this version of the song doesn’t hold up.

Papa Dee

I wasn’t aware of this version of the song. Papa Dee is a Swedish musician — kind of soul with some rap although he does straight reggae too. He’s really good. He doesn’t do the song quite the way I would prefer, but it works better than any other version I’ve heard.

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow released a cover of “The First Cut Is the Deepest” because of course she did. It is a solidly inoffensive cover of the song. It’s basically just an update of the Rod Stewart version with predictable results (mega-hit). I don’t find it compelling. And really, Crow’s affected voice has not worn well.

Maybe It’s the Song

Maybe I’m wrong to think that “The First Cut Is the Deepest” is a great song. After all, some of the best musicians of the last 50 years have recorded it without my liking it. And I’ve heard tons of other versions and they are all derived from one of the above.

I see two problems with all the versions of the song. First is that with a line as great as “the first cut is the deepest,” I think it should have an edge. The second is that the chorus should attack. Most all the versions are too “nice” and they depend upon the production to make the chorus work.

Now I wonder if it isn’t that I just love that line. It deserves a more appropriate song, I’m afraid — Maybe written by Dee Dee Ramone or Iggy Pop or Nick Cave.

Çatalhöyük and Human Nature

Çatalhöyük

When talking politics, I seem forever to be told that my egalitarian ideas just don’t work. This usually takes a simple form. “Socialist can’t work because ‘Stalin’!” But then I dig down into people’s thinking. It is all the same: humans naturally depend upon incentives. If people can’t become rich they won’t work. This kind of argument shows just how much mainstream economics has poisoned our society. There is nothing “natural” about modern society.

Çatalhöyük represents a stable and successful egalitarian system. So why don’t capitalists engage with it as an example of socialism?

Look at the history of humans. Through most of our time on Earth, we have lived in extremely egalitarian communities. Paleolithic cultures (small nomadic groups) had very little hierarchy — especially regarding gender. It was only during the Neolithic (when humans lived in non-nomadic settlements) that hierarchy began to rise. At first, this seems to have been the result of increased fertility. Women spent more time pregnant. But specialization meant that a religious class could rise up. This ultimately destroyed the traditional egalitarian and democratic basis of earlier societies.

(That’s right Virginia, the Greeks didn’t invent democracy.)

But there is at least one Neolithic city that remained egalitarian. And it did so for roughly 1,800 years. Çatalhöyük. It was founded 9,500 years ago in southern Turkey. At its peak, it had a population of 10,000 people. It’s remarkable for a number of reasons. As I’ve discussed before, the people developed farming after the city was settled. This is the opposite of what archaeologists had long thought was always the way Neolithic cities came into being.

Economic Egalitarianism at Çatalhöyük

What’s most notable about Çatalhöyük, however, is the absence of “great houses” — temples and so on. This isn’t because they lacked religion. The houses are littered with religious objects. And different houses have different levels of religious iconography. But the people who had higher levels of religious status did not have higher levels of economic status.

This is remarkable. It’s almost as though the people of Çatalhöyük thought that all people should have the necessities of life. Their people didn’t have to hunt around the garbage heaps to find food. Indeed, there were no poor people.

Ian Hodder is the current head of excavations at Çatalhöyük. In the following half-hour video, he provides an overview of what we know about the city:

I’m not saying that Çatalhöyük was some kind of utopia. But it is an example of people forming what seems very much like an anarcho-communism system. And they didn’t find it necessary to allow their most productive members of society to live in large houses inside fences. Somehow, everyone managed to get by without roaming police to incentivized economic policy.

Stalin vs Capitalism

Recreated Çatalhöyük Home
Recreated Çatalhöyük Home

One thing most Americans forget about the Soviet Union is that it started in an economic hole. Russia was a very poor country. Under Stalin, the people became richer at a faster rate than Americans did. I’m not saying this justifies the brutality of Stalin. But why do we focus on it when apologists justify capitalism in the same terms? “Yes, millions starve each year because of capitalism, but it is justified because of all the poor people who get pulled out of poverty!”

If the justification for capitalism is that it “works” then there is nothing to criticize Stalin about, right? I personally have a problem with both. But capitalists pretty much never engage with the problems of the system. And when they do, they simply brush away all the deaths associated with it. In these arguments, capitalism never fails. When there is a failure, it is because capitalism isn’t being done right. The fact that capitalism has never been “done right” is not engaged with.

Çatalhöyük as Socialism Example

Çatalhöyük represents a stable and successful egalitarian system. So why don’t capitalists engage with it as an example of socialism? I think it is the same reason they always rush to Stalinism: they don’t know of any other socialist system. The entire basis of their critique of socialism is based on Cold War propaganda.

Counterarguments

But if these people did defend against the troubling example of Çatalhöyük, I know roughly the lines of their argument. They would say that this is just one city and the model would not scale up to the world. But that begs the question. Humans have invaded all parts of the world — creating untold environmental damage — because of capitalism. Do we really need 7+ billion people on this planet?

Çatalhöyük was not some isolated city. It traded far and wide. It was a major exporter of pottery.

But I still don’t see how this model does not scale up. It’s not like Çatalhöyük was some isolated city. It traded far and wide. It was a major exporter of pottery.

“Ha!” I hear the capitalists say. “It was involved in trade so it wasn’t socialism!” I am constantly shocked at how ignorant people who defend capitalism are. Markets are not a thing that capitalism created. Capitalism is simply a system in which people can own infrastructure and thus make money for doing nothing. (It doesn’t speak well of the defenders of capitalism that they are economically ignorant about the very systems they defend and attack.)

An Example Nonetheless

But Çatalhöyük is a good example of socialism regardless of any holes that can be poked in it. That is because it shows that there is nothing natural about the social Darwinian model of human behavior. Humans live good lives without being incentivized by huge profits.

Today, we assume that people won’t work unless they are constantly under threat of living on the streets. This is what Paul Ryan was getting at when he said, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency and dependence.” Why did he think this? It isn’t based on evidence. It is just something everyone “knows” in modern America.

Çatalhöyük proves this is not true. The fact that we have trained generations of humans to live awful, meaningless, competitive lives doesn’t make it natural. And it also provides hope. We can untrain people. We can allow them to see the truth. Humans are social animals. We take care of each other. We don’t need the promise of millions of dollars to go to work.