Tag Archives: Rolling Stone

“My Job In Psy-ops Is To Play With People’s Heads, To Get The Enemy To Behave The Way We Want Them To Behave.”

Michael Hastings at Rolling Stone:

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

“My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic

Mark Joyella at Mediaite:

In a story breaking overnight that’s sure to explode on cable news through the day, a report in Rolling Stone suggests the U.S. Army deployed a a specialized “psychological operations” team to target Senators in the hopes of boosting funding for the war in Afghanistan. The effort also aimed to increase troop levels, according to the magazine.The magazine reports the operation was ordered by three-star general Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who’s in charge of training forces for duty in Afghanistan. An officer who objected to the program tells Rolling Stone he was “harshly reprimanded” for resisting:

“My job in psyops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” the officer, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, told Rolling Stone.

“I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line,” he added.

Among those targeted were senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin, as well as Representative Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee, the magazine said.

Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic:

Of course, there were no actual mind-control chips involved: the things Holmes and his team were ordered to do actually seem quite dull: researching senators’ voting records, finding their “hot-button issues,” silently sitting in on meetings, and tailoring presentations to the lawmakers’ interests. In other words, the stuff public affairs officers do all day. So what’s the difference between psy-ops and PR?

First of all, it’s illegal to use propaganda on Americans, thanks to a law passed in 1948 that was meant to prevent Soviet-style manipulation of citizens. Second, using soldiers trained in propaganda on elected representatives would seem to undermine the principle of civilian control of the military. Think about it: Is it ok to use company resources to investigate your boss? Third, according to documents provided by Holmes, his superiors reordered priorities so that working congressmen took “priority over all other duties”–presumably including trying to make the Taliban and Afghan civilians like us.

And Caldwell wanted more than the typical PR stuff: He wanted Holmes’ team to give him “deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds.” Again, the general wanted to know what to “plant inside their heads.” As the military lawyer told Holmes, “[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and [information operations] works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional.”

Kelley Vlahos at The American Conservative:

To someone who has been writing about the military’s Massive Message Machine for a few years now, or as the military more politely puts it, Strategic Communications, a whopping $4.9 billion of our taxpayer money for winning hearts and minds here and abroad in 2009 alone, Michael Hastings’ latest piece, “Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators,” is no real surprise.

It could be almost funny, imagining our senators, delivered up to the Men in Fatigues upon landing in their CH-47 Chinook helicopters, like the hapless victims in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) or the hilariously MST3k-lampooned Devil Doll (1964). I prefer The Stepford Wives analogy when writing about the lawmakers and think tankers who get all goofy-eyed after spending five minutes “in the field” on the generals’ turf. They come back home spouting things like, “timelines are dangerous,” “long hard slog,” and “political will to continue,” and start green lighting budgets and blocking measures to hasten the end of the war.

It might be funny if it weren’t so true. Hastings, the Rolling Stone writer who brought Gen. Stanley McChrystal down, writes that Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops, demanded in 2009 that U.S military psy-ops be turned on visiting Senators and other “distinguished visitors” during routine CODELs (congressional delegations) to the warzone. Seems that the truth wasn’t good enough to convince the military’s paymasters that they deserved more money and time to fight it. Sadly, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Al Franken were among the “targets” for this mission, which, as the Army whistleblower who helped Hastings break the story concluded, clearly violated the law against propagandizing our own citizens. Consequently,  as I wrote about last year, both Levin and Franken fell down on the job when it came to resisting the push for the Afghan surge. In fact, it was immediately after one of these CODELs that the two senators softened their tone against the war policy.

Dave Schuler:

I don’t have a problem with military officers zealously advocating courses of action—that’s part of their job. That doesn’t extend to violations of Smith-Mundt, the U. S. law that defines the terms under which the U. S. government may engage in propaganda. If the allegations are true, it would certainly seem to me there may be a case here.

There appear to be quite a number of open questions. Does Smith-Mundt pertain to the military? Does it pertain to actions taken overseas? I believe there should be an investigation into this matter and, if it is found that the actions alleged in the article violate Smith-Mundt or other federal laws, the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

However, I find the story concerning for other reasons as well. I’ll defer to James on this but to my untutored eye the conduct that’s alleged in the article would seem to be an assault on civilian control of the military. Let me ask a question. Would it be appropriate for military officers to use the resources of an information operations unit against their higher-ups in the chain of command? That sounds like insubordination to me.

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Filed under Military Issues

Like A Rolling Stone

Michael Hastings at Rolling Stone:

How’d I get screwed into going to this dinner?” demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It’s a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris. He’s in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies – to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.

“The dinner comes with the position, sir,” says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.

McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.

“Hey, Charlie,” he asks, “does this come with the position?”

McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

On the ground with the Runaway General: Photos of Stanley McChrystal at work.

The general stands and looks around the suite that his traveling staff of 10 has converted into a full-scale operations center. The tables are crowded with silver Panasonic Toughbooks, and blue cables crisscross the hotel’s thick carpet, hooked up to satellite dishes to provide encrypted phone and e-mail communications. Dressed in off-the-rack civilian casual – blue tie, button-down shirt, dress slacks – McChrystal is way out of his comfort zone. Paris, as one of his advisers says, is the “most anti-McChrystal city you can imagine.” The general hates fancy restaurants, rejecting any place with candles on the tables as too “Gucci.” He prefers Bud Light Lime (his favorite beer) to Bordeaux,

Talladega Nights

(his favorite movie) to Jean-Luc Godard. Besides, the public eye has never been a place where McChrystal felt comfortable: Before President Obama put him in charge of the war in Afghanistan, he spent five years running the Pentagon’s most secretive black ops.

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“What’s the update on the Kandahar bombing?” McChrystal asks Flynn. The city has been rocked by two massive car bombs in the past day alone, calling into question the general’s assurances that he can wrest it from the Taliban.

“We have two KIAs, but that hasn’t been confirmed,” Flynn says.

McChrystal takes a final look around the suite. At 55, he is gaunt and lean, not unlike an older version of Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn. His slate-blue eyes have the unsettling ability to drill down when they lock on you. If you’ve fucked up or disappointed him, they can destroy your soul without the need for him to raise his voice.

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“I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner,” McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

“Unfortunately,” he adds, “no one in this room could do it.”

With that, he’s out the door.

“Who’s he going to dinner with?” I ask one of his aides.

“Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.”

Get more Rolling Stone political coverage.

The next morning, McChrystal and his team gather to prepare for a speech he is giving at the École Militaire, a French military academy. The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict. Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

When Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, he immediately set out to deliver on his most important campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led us to invade in the first place. “I want the American people to understand,” he announced in March 2009. “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He ordered another 21,000 troops to Kabul, the largest increase since the war began in 2001. Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn’t know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

Eric Zimmermann on The Hill:

On Tuesday morning, Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Bates suggested that the magazine gathered even more devastating information that could not be published.

“They said a lot of stuff to us off the record that’s not in the story, so we respected all those boundaries,” Bates told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Bates said the magazine has gotten zero pushback from McChrystal’s people.

“No. No, I haven’t heard that,” Bates said when asked whether McChrystal has claimed the magazine misquoted him. “Didn’t hear that during the course of the story. I didn’t hear that in his apology.”

Byron York at The Washington Examiner:

I just got off the phone with a retired military man, with more than 25 years experience, who has worked with Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the Pentagon.  His reaction to McChrystal’s performance in the new Rolling Stone profile?  No surprise at all.

“Those of us who knew him would unanimously tell you that this was just a matter of time,” the man says.  “He talks this way all the time.  I’m surprised it took this long for it to rear its ugly head.”

“He had great disdain for anyone, as he said, ‘in a suit,’” the former military man continues.  “I was shocked one day in a small group of people when he took [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to task in front of all of us.”

“The other thing about him is that he is probably one of the more arrogant, cocksure military guys I have run across.  That in itself is not necessarily a character flaw, but when you couple it with his great disdain for civilians, it’s a very volatile combination.”

The former military man is under no illusions about the general nature of relations between the military and the civilian leadership.  “I don’t consider this an anomaly,” he says.  “You can find examples of this going back to the founding of the republic.  Nevertheless, it is very disturbing that he would have such disdain for the civilian leadership.”

Andrew Exum:

I have been struck by the degree to which a lot of smart friends are in disagreement about what should be done about l’Affair Rolling Stan. In some ways, the argument about whether or not you dismiss Gen. McChrystal for comments made by the commander and his staff in this Rolling Stone article breaks down into unhappily familiar lines. Critics of the current strategy in Afghanistan unsurprisingly think McChrystal should be fired. Supporters of the strategy think that while the comments made to Rolling Stone were out of line, McChrystal should be retained in the greater interest of the war effort. Neither side, that I have yet seen, has acknowledged that either course of action would carry risk. The purpose of this post is to outline the risks of dismissing Gen. McChrystal as the commander of ISAF in response to the affair. This is an uncomfortable post to write. I very much admire Stan McChrystal and have looked up to him since my time in the Rangers when I fought in Afghanistan under his command. I know the man personally and worked with him last summer in an effort to analyze the war in Afghanistan and NATO/ISAF operations there. And so there may be a limit to how objective I can really be, but I’m a defense policy analyst, so I’m going to try and soberly analyze these risks without letting my admiration for McChrystal get in the way.

James Fallows:

If the facts are as they appear — McChrystal and his associates freely mocking their commander in chief and his possible successor (ie, Biden) and the relevant State Department officials (Holbrooke and Eikenberry) — with no contention that the quotes were invented or misconstrued, then Obama owes it to past and future presidents to draw the line and say: this is not tolerable. You must go. McChrystal’s team was inexplicably reckless in talking before a reporter this way, but that’s a separate question. The fact is — or appears to be — that they did it

The second step is what this means for US strategy in Afghanistan, the future of COIN, etc. But the first is for the civilian Commander in Chief to act in accordance with Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution and demonstrate that there are consequences for showing open disrespect for the chain of command.

And, yes, I would say the same thing in opposite political circumstances — if, for instance, a commander of Iraq operations had been quoted openly mocking George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Resign in protest: yes, a course of honor. But protest and mock while in uniform, no.

Jon Soltz at VetVoice:

I know something about this. In 2006, I worked with two Generals, appearing in national television ads critical of President Bush and his strategy in Iraq. Or, should I say, retired Generals. Major Generals Paul D. Eaton and John Batiste each made the painful decision to leave the military they loved, so they could speak out. To that point, they had held their tongues.


Because the order and efficacy of our Armed Forces falls apart without respect for the chain of command. Whether it’s a grunt respecting his company commander, or a General respecting the Commander in Chief, every single thing is predicated on the integrity of the chain of command. As soon as someone – especially someone as high up as General McChrystal – violates that respect, every single person under him begins to not only question the orders they’ve been given from above, but is given the signal that it’s OK to openly disagree or mock his or her superior.

And, violate that respect General McChystal and his subordinates have. Among other things, the Rolling Stone story reports first-hand that:

* McChrystal was disappointed with his first meeting with the President, and that he feels the President is uncomfortable and intimidated with military brass.

* McChrystal’s aid calls National Security Advisor James Jones a “clown.”

* Another aide says of envoy Richard Holbrooke, “The Boss [McChrystal] says he’s like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

* Bolstering that, McChrystal himself, receiving an email from Holbrooke says, “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to read it.”

* On Vice President Biden, who disagreed with the General’s strategy in Afghanistan, McChrystal says while laughing, “Are you asking me about Vice President Biden? Who’s that?”

* An aide, mirroring his boss, adds, “Biden? Did you say Bite me?”

Anyone of lower rank would be immediately dismissed if he or she said of their superiors what General McChrystal said, or what he allowed members of his team to say.

This, of course, isn’t the first time that the General has been in trouble. Following a very public campaign for his preferred strategy in Afghanistan, which included a 60 Minutes interview that challenged the President, McChrystal landed in some hot water with the President, and was told to cool it. Frankly, McChrystal got off easy.

When General Eric Shinseki testified to Congress about his opinion on the force levels needed to invade Iraq, countering the strategy laid out by President Bush and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he was forced into retirement. Shinseki, unlike McChrystal, was asked his opinion, under oath, in front of Congress. There’s a difference between that professional conversation, and personal attacks on your superiors. Shinseki didn’t lead a public campaign to air his views, either. At any rate, McChrystal was given a second shot, where Shinseki was not.

Whether he continued his insubordination purposely, or stupidly and unintentionally, isn’t an issue. The issue, here, is that it happened. Again.

Thomas Donnelly and William Kristol in The Weekly Standard:

If Stan McChrystal has to go—and he probably does—it will be a sad end to a career of great distinction and a low moment in a lifetime devoted to duty, honor, and country. But the good of the mission and the prospects for victory in Afghanistan may well now demand a new commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

While there are obvious issues of civil-military relations exposed by the general’s cringe-inducing quotes in the “Runaway General” article in Rolling Stone—and while his staff appear to be off the leash entirely, a command climate for which McChrystal is responsible—the original source of the problem is above the general’s pay grade.

So McChrystal should not be the only one to go.  Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and “AfPak” czar Richard Holbrooke should likewise either submit their resignations or be fired by President Obama.  Vice President Biden and his surrogates should be told to sit down and be quiet, to stop fighting policy battles in the press.  The administration’s “team of rivals” approach is producing only rivalry.

Max Boot at Commentary:

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

Spencer Ackerman:

You can read Gen. McChrystal’s apology in full here at the Washington Independent. No “clarification” that I expected last night after seeing the AP writeup of McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview disrespecting the Obama administration. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened,” McChrystal emailed reporters instead. “Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.” You think?

McChrystal gets called to the White House on Wednesday to direct the monthly Afghanistan/Pakistan briefing — oh, and to explain himself and see if he can keep his job. As I wrote for the Washington Independent, firing him carries its risks. There’s only a year to go before the July 2011 date to begin the transition to Afghan security responsibility and the Kandahar tide is starting to rise. It’ll be hard to fire McChrystal without ripping the entire Afghanistan strategy up, and I’ve gotten no indication from the White House that it’s interested in doing that. On the other hand, if senior administration officials are and I just haven’t picked up on it, McChrystal just gave them their biggest opportunity.

And what an opportunity. You can read the Rolling Stone profile through Politico. The amazing thing about it is there’s no complaints from McChrystal or his staff about the administration on any substantive ground. After all, McChrystal and his allies won the argument within the White House. All the criticisms — of Eikenberry, of Jones, of Holbrooke, of Biden — are actually just immature and arrogant snipes at how annoying Team America (what, apparently, McChrystal’s crew calls itself) finds them. This is not mission-first, to say the least.

In fact, you have to go deep in the piece to find soldiers and officers offering actual critiques — and what they offer is criticism of McChrystal for being insufficiently brutal. Everyone of them quoted here is a mini-Ralph Peters, upset because McChrystal won’t let them “get our fucking gun on,” as one puts it. I have a lot of respect for Michael Hastings, the author of the profile, but there are many greyer shades of on-the-ground military perspective than that, and I’ve seen them up close. But Hastings does a good and insightful job of showing that McChrystal is stepping into a diplomatic vacuum and acting as an advocate for Hamid Karzai despite Karzai’s performance in office.

We’ll have to wait for Wednesday to see if McChrystal keeps his command. My guess is he’ll stay, because now the White House knows that a chastened McChrystal isn’t going to say anything else outside of his lane to any reporter. McChrystal’s apology, emailed to me and other reporters well before the Rolling Stone story dropped, suggests that he wasn’t trying to walk away from his command in a blaze of arrogance. But it’s on him to repair his relationship with his colleagues and his bosses.

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:

My bet is that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be gone within a week or so. Defense Secretary Gates canned Admiral Fallon as Central Command chief in the spring of 2007 for less pointed remarks, so he will look like a hypocrite if he does less here in response to McChrystal dissing Obama, Biden, and the White House in a new  article in Rolling Stone.

At any rate, it may be time for a whole new team in Afghanistan. My nomination is for Petraeus to step down an echelon and take the Afghanistan command. You could leave him nominally the Centcom chief but let his deputy, Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, oversee Iraq, the war planning for Iran, and dealing with Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. But more likely is that Petraeus will ask for another Marine general, James Mattis, who is just finishing up at Jiffycom, and who had planned to retire later this year and head home to Walla Walla, Washington. Petraeus and Mattis long have admired each other. The irony is that Mattis has a reputation — unfairly, I think — for speaking a little too bluntly in public about things like killing people. I think Mattis is a terrific, thoughtful leader.

I do wonder if this mess is the result of leaving McChrystal out there too long-he has been going non-stop for several years, first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. At any rate, his comments reflect a startling lack of discipline. He would expect more of one of his captains. We should expect more of him. I know, I’ve said worse about Biden. But part of my job is to comment on these things, even flippantly sometimes. Part of his job is not to.


[Updated at 4:41 p.m.] Gen. Stanley McChrystal has submitted his resignation, Time magazine’s Joe Klein told CNN, citing an unnamed source. CNN is working to confirm Klein’s information.

UPDATE: Andy McCarthy at The Corner

UPDATE #2: Allah Pundit

Jim Pinkerton at Ricochet

Spencer Ackerman

Doug Mataconis

UPDATE #3: David Brooks in NYT

Dylan Stableford at The Wrap

The Week Magazine

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone

UPDATE #4: Conor Friedersdorf and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #5: Max Read at Gawker

Glenn Greenwald


Filed under Af/Pak, Military Issues, Political Figures

Taibbi V. Fernholz: Who You Callin’ A Sellout?

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

What’s taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.

How could Obama let this happen? Is he just a rookie in the political big leagues, hoodwinked by Beltway old-timers? Or is the vacillating, ineffectual servant of banking interests we’ve been seeing on TV this fall who Obama really is?

Whatever the president’s real motives are, the extensive series of loophole-rich financial “reforms” that the Democrats are currently pushing may ultimately do more harm than good. In fact, some parts of the new reforms border on insanity, threatening to vastly amplify Wall Street’s political power by institutionalizing the taxpayer’s role as a welfare provider for the financial-services industry. At one point in the debate, Obama’s top economic advisers demanded the power to award future bailouts without even going to Congress for approval — and without providing taxpayers a single dime in equity on the deals.

How did we get here? It started just moments after the election — and almost nobody noticed.

Tim Fernholz at TAPPED:

Matt Taibbi has done it again — written a nightmare of a story for Rolling Stone on Obama’s economic sell-out of his campaign. The piece is a factual mess, a conspiracy theorist’s dream, doesn’t even indict Obama for his real failures (which I’ll discuss in a post later today) and of course invokes the cold hands of Bob Rubin like a bogeyman at every turn. This is pernicious for a lot of journalistic reasons, but politically it’s bad for progressives beacuse conspiracy theories stand in the way of good policy analysis and good activism, replacing them with apathy and fear. Here we go:

  • Jamie Rubin. James P. Rubin is a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration and not Bob Rubin’s son. He informally helped Hillary Clinton transition into her role as Secretary of State. James S. Rubin is Bob Rubin’s son, and had a similarly unofficial role in the economic transition. Neither were on staff, on the advisory boards, or on an agency review team.
  • Austan Goolsbee “didn’t make the cut.” Goolsbee remains one of Obama’s key economic advisers and has the president’s ear from his posts on the National Economic Council and the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He skipped transition work and went to work immediately in those posts.
  • “Neither did Karen Kornbluh, who had served as Obama’s policy director and was instrumental in crafting the Democratic Party’s platform.” The reasons why Kornbluh didn’t get a job remain unclear, but she lost her influence earlier in the year while Obama campaign and she remained in Washington as his Senate Office policy director and later at the DNC, where she played an important role by crafting the 2008 Democratic platform. She currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. [Updated]
  • Michael Froman. His connection to Obama is through their time together on the Harvard Law Review, not through Rubin. He did indeed once work for Rubin, and was a member of Obama’s transition advisory board; he was not on the transition staff. His portfolio is international economic policy, he does not participate in domestic financial policymaking except in that strategic role; of late his main focus has been managing economic negotiations with China.
  • “Geithner, in other words, is hired to head the U.S. Treasury by an executive from Citigroup — Michael Froman.” Froman didn’t hire Geithner, Obama did, and the move had been expected long before Froman came on board the transition — Froman had little to do with it other than aiding in vetting. Geithner had impressed Obama while briefing him during the crisis when he was President of the New York Fed and had been a senior Treasury official during the Clinton administration. He has never worked for a bank.
  • “Jacob Lew, a former Citi colleague of Rubin’s whom Obama named as deputy director at the State Department to focus on international finance.” Lew is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, who in fact works on State Department reform and, lately, the civilian surge in Afghanistan. He is responsible for operations, not policy, and doesn’t really focus on international finance. He used to head up the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration.
  • Over at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which is supposed to regulate derivatives trading, Obama appointed Gary Gensler, a former Goldman banker who worked under Rubin in the Clinton White House. Gensler was a failure in the late nineties, but in his new post he has been fighting alongside Senator Maria Cantwell to close the loopholes in derivatives regulation that Taibbi complains about later in the piece.
  • The lone progressive in the White House, economist Jared Bernstein, holds the impressive-sounding title of chief economist and national policy adviser — except that the man he is advising is Joe Biden, who seems more interested in foreign policy than financial reform. Bernstein is certainly the most progressive economist on staff. He is also in the room and involved in all major policy debates and decisions. Biden has taken the lead on the stimulus and jobs efforts.
  • “Rubin was the man Barack Obama chose to build his White House around.” Or maybe he merely built his White House around economic policy experts who had been mid-level officials in the previous Democratic administration? To my knowledge, Rubin has not been involved with policymaking efforts.

Matt Taibbi responds:

When we went to print with the latest Rolling Stone piece about Obama’s economic hires, a couple of my sources advised me to expect some nastiness in the way of a response from Obama apologists. One jokingly suggested that there would be a waiting period to see if anyone even read the piece first, and only if there was enough negative buzz would I start getting hit with the charges of being an irresponsible conspiracy theorist, factually sloppy, and so on.

Well, weeks after the piece came out, that process is finally underway, most notably with this post on the American Prospect. And, to be perfectly honest, some of this is my own fault, since there is indeed a factual error in the piece — a minor biographical detail that identifies Bob Rubin’s son Jamie as a former Clinton diplomat. There is in fact a James Rubin who was a diplomat in the Clinton White House, but that James Rubin is not the James Rubin I’m referring to in the piece.

So I fucked up with that line — “a former Clinton diplomat” — and for that I certainly am sorry, among other things because Rolling Stone’s fact-checkers are the most rigorous in the business (much more so than any other newspaper or magazine I’ve worked for) and I think actually this was my error and not theirs, a late-stage mixup near press time.

Now, that said, it was indeed Bob Rubin’s son Jamie who worked with Michael Froman in the Obama transition team. Had it not been Bob Rubin’s son, that would certainly have qualified as a serious error, because then we’d be making an argument based upon a factual error.

But the basic argument of the article was that an enormous number of people with ties to Bob Rubin and/or other Wall Street insiders had assumed positions of responsibility in the Obama transition and White House. And Jamie Rubin is Bob Rubin’s son, and he was a headhunter for Obama’s economic hires from the first days of the transition. So the meaning here is really not significantly different. The fact that this heads the Prospect’s list of complaints says a lot about the substance of this criticism.

I’m not going to go through all of this Prospect post now, but I feel like I ought to address some of it, since it’s really an obnoxious piece of writing, worse than anything I got from the Goldman people. The “factual” issues he addresses are mostly areas in which we agree on the facts and he disagrees with me on how they should be interpreted.

Felix Salmon:

In any case, I feel that Fernholz is a bit like Heidi Moore: he’s missed the point of Taibbi’s polemical style. Taibbi is not interested in an writing an even-handed examination of Obama’s economic policies: he’s interested in writing an enjoyable screed which jumps off the page and which describes Alan Greenspan as “a staggeringly incompetent economic forecaster who was worshipped by four decades of politicians because he once dated Barbara Walters”. This stuff isn’t meant to be taken nearly as literally as Fernholz is taking it — but in any case, Fernholz’s game of gotcha comes up with precious little of real substance. Viz:

Michael Froman. His connection to Obama is through their time together on the Harvard Law Review, not through Rubin. He did indeed once work for Rubin, and was a member of Obama’s transition advisory board; he was not on the transition staff. His portfolio is international economic policy, he does not participate in domestic financial policymaking except in that strategic role; of late his main focus has been managing economic negotiations with China.

But here’s how Taibbi actually describes Froman:

Leading the search for the president’s new economic team was his close friend and Harvard Law classmate Michael Froman, a high-ranking executive at Citigroup. During the campaign, Froman had emerged as one of Obama’s biggest fundraisers, bundling $200,000 in contributions and introducing the candidate to a host of heavy hitters — chief among them his mentor Bob Rubin…

Joining Summers, Furman and Farrell at the NEC is Froman, who by then had been formally appointed to a unique position: He is not only Obama’s international finance adviser at the National Economic Council, he simultaneously serves as deputy national security adviser at the National Security Council. The twin posts give Froman a direct line to the president, putting him in a position to coordinate Obama’s international economic policy during a crisis.

Taibbi is quite explicit that Froman and Obama met at Harvard Law, and indeed claims that Froman introduced Obama to Rubin, not that Rubin introduced Obama to Froman. Taibbi says that Froman “went to work for” the Obama transition team; I think that’s probably true, even if Froman wasn’t on the formal transition staff. Taibbi also says that Froman’s role is that of international finance adviser; he never says that it’s domestic financial policymaking.

In other words, it’s worth cross-checking everything that Fernholz says against what Taibbi actually writes, because often Taibbi simply doesn’t say what Fernholz implies that he says.

All the schadenfreude over Fernholz’s attack on Taibbi is particularly weird since they seem to actually agree with each other. Here’s how Fernholz concludes:

Is it disconcerting that employees of the financial industry make a ton of money? Yes. Is it the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street problematic? Yes. Does the Administration take it too easy on the banks? Absolutely. Are White House advisers too centrist for progressive tastes? Sure. But when you try and tell that story with a lot of lies and innuendo, and misunderstand the basic policies that these people are producing, you don’t hurt them. Now anyone who criticizes the Administration will just be lumped in with Taibbi’s meandering conspiracy…

Doing the work is hard. But if you want to make a dent, you have to do it.

This is quite astonishing. Fernholz is basically saying that Taibbi is right, and that not only is he right but that he will now and henceforth utterly overshadow anyone else who’s criticizing the Obama administration from the left. At the same time, however, despite Taibbi’s astonishing ability to encapsulate and personify the entire group of people who criticize the administration, he’s not even going to manage to “make a dent”, because he’s not going about his job in an evenhanded J-school manner.

Personally, I love it that Taibbi exists, and I’m impressed that his 6,500-word screed (into which a great deal of work clearly went) in fact has very little in the way of factual errors, let alone “lies”. Yes, Taibbi is polemical and one-sided, and he exaggerates his thesis, and he’s entertaining; I daresay he’s learned a lot from watching Fox News. And no, I would never want to live in a world where everybody wrote like that. But Taibbi is one of a kind, and we can enjoy him and learn from him as such. He might not end up changing policy in Washington. But he’s doing a much better job of making the policy debate relevant to Rolling Stone’s readership than anything Tim Fernholz has ever done.

Fernholz responds:

So yesterday’s post on Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone got a bit more attention than I had anticipated, including a response from Felix Salmon that I thought was worth addressing. Salmon defends Taibbi — I’d accuse him of some logrolling in our time thanks to his appearance in the piece, but Salmon is better than that — but it’s not a very strong defense. Just to be clear, I don’t object to Taibbi’s polemic style, or his name-calling, or his lack of fealty to J-school convention. I don’t expect everybody to be familiar with my writing, but if Salmon bothered to read any of my posts about the media, he’d realize that’s the last thing I’m worried about. None of my various quibbles with Taibbi’s piece had to do with his style.

Here’s my point: Taibbi has written an article arguing that Obama has sold out his campaign-era economic populism by surrounding himself with Bob Rubin’s lackeys and giving away the farm to the bankers — “one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.” Only it turns out, though, that many of the Rubinites he identifies don’t work on the things he says they work on, or don’t take the positions he applies to them, or aren’t as influential as he thinks they are. The people he says were “banished” from Obama’s inner circle, like Austan Goolsbee, weren’t. He manages not to mention any of the populist decisions Obama has made. These things ought to raise questions.

To deal with the two examples that Salmon questioned, on the issue of Michael Froman’s role in the transition, I never say that the article doesn’t identify him properly. I’m just pointing out that if Taibbi’s writing an article about how these shadowy figures are undermining the bailouts and financial regulation, focusing on someone who doesn’t work on the bailout or financial regulation is a weird way to go about it, unless you’re just trying to identify everyone with a connection to Bob Rubin and use vague innuendo to suggest they’ve done something shadowy. Taibbi also claims that Froman “hired” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, which just isn’t true. Nor is it true that Froman and James S. Rubin were “running” Obama’s transition economics team; they also weren’t involved with the November 2008 decision to bail out Citi. On the issue of Elizabeth Warren and the CFPA inspection exemption, if you look at the interview , she specifically says that the version of the CFPA that came out of Frank’s committee is strong. That’s the version of the legislation with the exemption.

It is very telling that Taibbi never mentions the massive lobbying efforts by the financial sector to kill the regulatory reform legislation that the Administration supports — if the banks are trying to stop the bill that is supposedly so bank-friendly, suddenly the narrative can’t be a morality play. It makes for a more complicated story, but that’s the story that needs to be told. It also says something that Taibbi never mentions the Chrsyler and General Motors rescues, where the Obama Administration spent billions of dollars from the TARP fund for the express purpose of saving hundreds of thousands of jobs. Pretty populist, I’d say.

Naked Capitalism:

Taibbi assumes intent and damns the actors as a result. He writes as if Froman and Geithner openly colluded in some way to favour Citi. But you don’t need to prove intent, you only need to prove motive. I don’t care if Froman or Geithner ‘intended’ to favour Citi over other institutions; I care whether they were mentally predisposed to helping Citi and other large institutions at the expense of others because they ascribed unwarranted and disproportionate importance to them. Unfortunately, cognitive regulatory capture leads to crony capitalism just as outright corruption would do.

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:

Here is a list of the top contributors to Barack Obama’s campaign:

University of California        $1,591,395
Goldman Sachs                  $994,795
Harvard University              $854,747
Microsoft Corp                   $833,617
Google Inc                        $803,436
Citigroup Inc                     $701,290

(Open Secrets)

So Taibbi chose the 2nd and 6th largest Obama donors as examples of people who were not Obama backers.

Now that you have a general sense of the quality of the piece (if you still aren’t sure, let me mention that it doesn’t improve after that first paragraph), I can disclose what it’s about. The reason he sets the bankers in opposition to Obama in the introduction, however monstrously erroneously, is the better to shock the reader when he reveals that Obama is actually a huge ally of…wait for it… big business.

The piece is entitled “Obama’s Big Sellout.” It purports to demonstrate how the improbable (to Taibbi) alliance of Obama and Big Finance came about, through a narrative casting arch-villain Robert Rubin and vampire squid Goldman Sachs as the only bad guys that is truly too convoluted and half-baked to critique here, except to say that that Taibbi better have been high when he wrote it.

But the reason it’s worth mentioning at all is to show how even the most naive liberal observer — Taibbi’s understanding of American government would elicit a derisive laugh from the average 3rd grader — is or should be starting to notice the Democratic Party’s cozy relationship with big business.

Matthew Yglesias:

The implicit theory of political change here, that pivotal members of congress undermine reform proposals because of “the White House’s refusal to push for real reform” is just wrong. That’s not how things work. The fact of the matter is that Matt Taibbi is more liberal than I am, and I am more liberal than Larry Summers is, but Larry Summers is more liberal than Ben Nelson is. Replacing Summers with me, or with Taibbi, doesn’t change the fact that the only bills that pass the Senate are the bills that Ben Nelson votes for.

The problem here, to be clear, isn’t that lefties are being too mean to poor Barack Obama. The problem is that to accomplish the things I want to see accomplished, people who want change need to correctly identify the obstacles to change. If members of congress are replaced by less-liberal members in the midterms, then the prospects for changing the status quo will be diminished. By contrast, if members are replaced by more-liberal members (either via primaries or general elections) the prospects for changing the status will be improved. Back before the 2008 election, it would frequently happen that good bills passed congress and got vetoed by the president. Since Obama got elected, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now instead Obama proposes things that get watered down or killed in congress. That means focus needs to shift.


Kevin Drum

UPDATE #2: Rod Dreher

Daniel Larison

Ezra Klein

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Filed under Economics, Mainstream, New Media, Political Figures, The Crisis

Puff The Magic Basketball Diaries, By Henry Gibson

Gerald Howard in Slate:

I went to Jim Carroll’s wake and then to his funeral. It’s what one Catholic boy does for another. Conventionally described as a “punk poet” (although there was nothing punk in the least about his Frank O’Hara-influenced/Arthur Rimbaud-inflected verse), Jim died this past Friday of a heart attack in his apartment in upper Manhattan. They found him at his desk, and those of us who loved and admired him like to think that he was putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited novel, The Petting Zoo.

If Jim Carroll’s name means anything to you, it is probably as the author of the electrifying memoir of teenaged misadventures and heroin addiction in ’60s New York, The Basketball Diaries. It was made into a mediocre film in 1995, redeemed by a searing performance by Leonardo DiCaprio that was nevertheless deficient in one conspicuous respect: Leo did not have game, and his lame attempt to imitate the graceful All-City ballplayer that was Jim turned out to be an embarrassment. The musically inclined will remember Jim’s terrific 1980 rock album Catholic Boy, which featured that anthem of early and grisly urban demise, “People Who Died.” Cognoscenti of downtown culture knew Jim as a literary prodigy who was publishing his poems and diaries in the Paris Review in his teens. He was a fully paid-up member of New York’s hip aristocracy, Lou Reed’s peer, Patti Smith’s lover, Allen Ginsberg’s acolyte, Robert Smithson’s friend, permanently welcome in the Valhalla of Max’s Kansas City’s back room. And I had the pleasure of publishing most of his work when I was an editor at Penguin in the ’80s.


Jim Carroll was waked (in a blessedly closed casket) in a funeral home on Bleecker Street before a few dozen family, friends, and fans. The grief and loss was even thicker in the air than usual at these affairs. After the priest led us in prayers, Jim’s ex-wife, Rosemary, invited people to share their thoughts and memories. New York rock legend Lenny Kaye gave a moving mini-eulogy that touched on Jim’s gifts as a raconteur and evoked his sweetness, ending with the famous line from “People Who Died:” “I salute you, brother.” Two members of the original Jim Carroll Band, Terrell Winn and Steve Linsley, reminisced about hooking up with Jim in Bolinas, where he’d retreated to get clean, and crafting the triumph of punk sound and poetic sensibility that was the album Catholic Boy. Richard Hell marveled at the early arrival of Jim’s gifts and expressed his admiration and astonishment. I spoke of just how much fun it was to be Jim’s editor, fun being about as easy to experience in publishing these days as smoking in Mike Bloomberg’s New York, and remembered the best Fourth of July of my life, when I played basketball in the Village all afternoon, showered, got good and ripped, and saw the Jim Carroll Band tear it up at the Ritz in their first New York appearance a few days after Scott Muni had unveiled “People Who Died” on WNEW-FM.

And then Patti Smith got up, her star power dialed down, and told a simple funny story about her first encounter with Jim, who had proceeded to recite for her a long section of Whitman from memory until he … nodded … off … for about half an hour. Patti, “because I was a polite girl,” sat there patiently until Jim awoke, and then he picked up exactly where he’d left off. This perfect vignette perfectly delivered, Patti turned to the casket, laid her hand on it gently, and and said, “Jim, when you get up there, say hello to Allen, and to William, and to Gregory, and to Herbert [as in Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, and Huncke]. And to all our friends.” That’s when we all cried.

James Wolcott:

And one by one, the line is drawn through the names of those who helped make New York what it was back when what happened below 14th Street still mattered and reverberated around the world. This week brought news of the death of the poet, memoirist (The Basketball Diaries), and rocker Jim Carroll, who in his beautiful young manhood had Christopher Walken’s bone structure with a translucency all his own.


Perhaps the biggest shock in the first obituary notice I read was that Carroll was 60 years old when he died. 60 was hard to compute, so fixed was his sleeveless, slender youth in my memory, having seen him vocally blast “People Who Die” on stage at probably the same Ritz concert Howard attended in 1980. With his passing, another link to the Beats and the St. Marks poetry scene and the Warhol Factory joins the posthumous fraternity of the starry Kerouac night

Travis Nichols at Harriet The Blog

Daniel Kreps at Rolling Stone:

Carroll also contributed an untitled poem to the pages of Rolling Stone, which we have reprinted here:

It’s sad this vision required such height.
I’d have preferred to be down with the others, in the stadium.
They know the terror of birds.
I am left, instead, with the deep drone…
The urgency to deliver light, as if it
were some news from the far galaxies.

Sharon at The Back Porch News:

Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary, died today in hospital after battling cancer for several years. Read the full AP story at any of these sites: MSNBC, Yahoo or The New York Times. As someone who sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” along with my friend’s record as a pre-teen, walked out on a high school talent pageant runway to the music of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and cried to the sound of “Day is Done” just a few years ago when a member of my family was overseas in a militarized zone, I feel that a piece of my life is gone. And yet all those wonderful songs will be with us for a long time. Mary will be remembered as part of the music that shaped many of our lives.

David Browne at Rolling Stone:

Starting with their version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” in 1962 and continuing with hits like “Puff the Magic Dragon” (1963) and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969), PPM were the face of folk-pop throughout the decade. Yet the trio used their caressing harmonies to subvert from within. They placed two Bob Dylan covers (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”) in the top 10 in 1963. Paul Stookey’s and Peter Yarrow’s goatees, as well as a repertoire that included songs by Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Cotton, Tom Paxton, and the Rev. Gary Davis, brought the liberal Greenwich Village folk sound and look into the mainstream.

They carried on the folk-political continuum begun decades earlier with the Weavers — most notably in 1963, when PPM sang “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the Lincoln Memorial during the same March on Washington at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. “This was the first time I’d ever seen that many people, and they were all hoping for social change and for something good,” Travers later recalled. “It was probably the most pivot al moment of my life.”

As Stookey recalls, Travers was a major part of the group’s stance. “As an activist, she was brave, outspoken and inspiring, especially in her defense of the defenseless,” he says. “Once I was attempting to defend Ronald Reagan’s educational policy. She interrupted me with, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, do your homework!,’ turned on her heel and walked away. Need I say it turned out she was right?”

Rick Moran:

As a musical group, Peter, Paul, and Mary were polished, professional, and chose their music with the utmost care. Their manager/producer, the legendary Milt Okun saw to that. With his keen ear and unfailing sense of a commercially viable package, Okun made Peter, Paul, and Mary into a hugely popular act whose success lasted almost a decade. Okun would go on to manage other iconic folk groups like The Chad Mitchell Trio, the Brothers Four, and John Denver.

It was their rendition of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind that launched their careers. At once beautifully harmonized and featuring a driving rhythm, the song – along with their other huge hits If I had a Hammer and Where have all the Flowers Gone – became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements. It is perhaps telling that Hammer and Flowers were both written and originally sung by Pete Seeger and his 50’s era group The Weavers, who were banned in many jurisdictions for their left wing sympathies.

When you’re a kid, you don’t think much about the politics of a song. You sing it because it’s good music and stirs emotions in your breast. Today, I probably don’t agree with 90% of the politics promoted by Seeger, Travers, Baez, and the rest of the folkies from that time. But you can’t argue with the fact that they were dead right about civil rights, and I still think they were mostly right about the Viet Nam War.

I learned long ago you can love left wing writers, artists, singers, and actors by admiring the talent while ignoring the politics. Barbara Streisand is a putz about politics, but an extraordinary talented singer. Joan Didion writes achingly beautiful prose (as does John Updike), but I wouldn’t give a fig for their political opinions. That’s how I feel about Mary Travers and Peter Paul and Mary.

Bob Sassone at TV Squad:

For some reason I thought that Henry Gibson was a lot older than 73, but the character actor with the huge resume passed away from cancer at that age yesterday in Malibu.

One of the more famous TV credits on that resume was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the influential 60s comedy show that no one under 30 has ever seen. He also appeared in shows like Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, Deep Space Nine, Coach, MacGyver, Evening Shade, Sisters, Newhart, Magnum, P.I., and Simon and Simon.

More recently, TV fans know him from his many appearances as a judge on Boston Legal and his voice work on King of the Hill (he played Bob Jenkins). He was also in several movies, including Magnolia (he played Thurston Howell???), The Nutty Professor, Nashville, The Blues Brothers, Wedding Crashers, and a ton of others.

Scott Weinberg at Cinematical:

Actors like Henry Gibson generally show up 7th or 8th in the opening credits, if they show up there at all, but they excel at two things: Providing flawless support for a lead actor or a big star, and giving movie-watchers a nice comfortable vibe of “Ohhh, this guy! He’s been in a dozen flicks I’ve seen before. No idea who he is, but I’m glad to see him again.”

That was Henry Gibson. The frustrated “Illinois Nazi” from The Blues Brothers. The confused grocer in Innerspace. The goofy preacher from Wedding Crashers. He was in Nashville, The Long Goodbye, The Nutty Professor, Magnolia, and The ‘Burbs. He worked on the screen, on the stage, and in more TV shows than you’ve probably ever seen. Hell, he was even the voice of Wilbur in the animated version of Charlotte’s Web.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes at Moderate Voice:

One of Gibson’s personas on Laugh-in was ‘Henry Gibson the poet of bad poetry…’ Gibson toddled out on stage, a little Lord Fauntleroy double, dressed to seem like a man in ‘lost child’ clothing– a Nehru-ish narrow-lapeled jacket, a string of beads, and holding a gigantic flower almost bigger than his whole body.

For Gibson, dead pan and timing were the pith of his gift. And he used it well. His pacing and delivery –flat but funny– were very similar to Jack Benny’s,’ another popular comedian of that time.

But Gibson was also a subversive. Not all was played just for laughs. In the latter ‘bad poetry’ below called “Flowers,” he slams the ‘pretend peaceniks’ who had been infiltrating peaceful groups, those who are made ‘of wires’…

In the late 1960s time, a corruption of innocent flower children holding forth peace had taken place… some other groups looking about as rag-tag as the original so-called gentle peaceniks, had taken over ‘the scene.’ The ‘fake group’ were the ubër-hippies, the falsified, the lookatme-lookatme imimportant, iam, iam because i say so, people who grabbed headlines with outrage after outrage that was not based on peace. Nor on love of humanity.

These last had bombing, killing of law officers, and destroying instead of building, in mind. Henry Gibson was like a tiny David standing in the black shadow of a sudden cultural Goliath.

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One Would Think A Channel Would Have To Air Music Videos To Have A “Video Music Awards”


Something happened at the VMAs, beyond the Michael Jackson tribute and a bunch of celebrities no one over 25 has heard of acting bizarre.

Daniel Kreps at Rolling Stone:

Leave it to Kanye West to produce one of the most infamous moments in VMAs history before the 2009 show was even an hour old. It happened after Taylor Swift’s victory in the Best Female Video category for “You Belong With Me,” which beat out Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” Just moments after Swift accepted the Moonman and began her acceptance speech, West stormed the stage, taking the microphone from Swift to announce Beyoncé deserved the award.

“Thank you so much!” Swift began. “I always dreamed about what it would be like to maybe win one of these some day, but I never actually thought it would have happened. I sing country music so thank you so much for giving me a chance to win a VMA award.”

Before she could continue, West broke in. “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ll let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” Kanye shouted to a mortified Swift and the speechless audience. And as quickly as he ran onstage — MTV cut away to show Pink applauding Taylor, and when they flashed back to Swift, West already had the mic in his hand — he was off, leaving a shocked Swift in his wake.

Everyone at the Radio City Music Hall looked stunned, as the cameras captured an astonished and horrified Beyoncé still in her seat. Soon after, the audience gave a standing ovation in support of Swift. To add insult to injury, after Kanye handed the microphone back to Swift, her time was up, and MTV cut to a video featuring Tracy Morgan and Eminem. Minutes after the incident went down, MTV Chairman and CEO Judy McGrath was feverishly typing into her phone when Diddy came up for a chat. Topic of conversation? What else but West. “Like Diddy just said, ‘It’s rock & roll,’ ” McGrath commented to RS. “And the applause for [Taylor] will be louder.”

Allah Pundit:

It’s been secure for years, actually, and not just because of the infamous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” crack. This isn’t the first time he’s acted like a royal A-hole at an awards show; in fact, it’s not even the first time he’s rushed the stage during an acceptance speech to protest the winner. That happened a few years ago at the MTV Europe Awards. Even so, I salute him: In this season of political turmoil, Americans are finally united in hatred of his pure, preening douchebaggery. No small accomplishment.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I think Doom is the last hip-hop artists I’ll be following. Something about that Kanye West outburst yesterday said so much. That was really sad to see. She looked like she was genuinely happy.

Ann Althouse:

Later in the show, Beyoncé did win for her video, in a better category, Video of the Year, so it’s not as though MTV didn’t agree with West’s opinion. It just didn’t agree with principles of logic — if Beyoncé’s video was the Video of the Year, how was not the best in the lesser category of Best Female Video? — and it failed to realize that everyone watching wouldn’t understand how the divvying up of awards worked in MTV world and keep their pants on until all the Moonmen were doled out.

Kanye West, like Joe Wilson, had to say what he knew to be true right when he saw the bright, shining truth of it. Lies must be denounced as lies at the moment of their utterance. Joe Wilson could not wait until Obama had gone through to the end of his extended remarks, and Kanye West could not allow Taylor Swift to speak uninterrupted for — what was the allotted time? — one minute.

Black Book Magazine:

Congressman Joe Wilson (R) also hates Taylor Swift. And speaking of health care, the best video mashup of all of this is a beautiful 20-second clip that captures the spirit of debate in this country right now. It’s about bum-rushing; it’s not about dissent, it’s about calling attention to yourself; it’s about the inability to contain oneself at a time when decorum might otherwise prevail. No, but really, it’s just about good YouTube mashups.

UPDATE #1: Ah, yes. Now we have a tweet, an erased tweet and the President calling Kanye a jack-ass.

Chris Good in the Atlantic

Megan McArdle

James Joyner

Tom Maguire


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Filed under Music, TV

Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

Xbox Freedom:

The Fab Four have made their way into the Beatles Rock Band the Video Game and now take another entrance into gaming with this fabulous Xbox 360 Mod created and painted in tribute to the Fab Four and the new video game.

Game Guru

Josh Hathaway at Blogcritics:

It’s Beatlemania one more time and I get to be a part of it. The New Album Releases column existed before I entered the picture and I’ve pretty much held to the format used by others since taking over, but I shall, from time to time, declare a special occasion and do something different. This week is one of those occasions.

Like Brian Wilson, I sometimes wonder if I was made for these times. I do know I’ve always wished I could have been a part of Beatlemania the first time. I hate how The Beatles are always going to be a bit of a history lesson for me. The Beatles broke up three years before I was born. My mom watched them on Ed Sullivan. I was seven when John Lennon was murdered. I didn’t get to experience what it was like when The Beatles ruled the world.

There won’t be a reunion tour to recapture the glory years, but there have been a few moments when the world turned their attention back to the best thing to come from Liverpool in history. I remember watching The Beatles Anthology documentary and going to buy the first 2-CD volume of the three-volume set. It was the first time I felt like I got to be part of the phenomenon in real time, even if it was a celebration of past glories.

Lawrence Bonk:

What’s not to like? It’s “Rock Band” mixed with the Fab Four. To the uninitiated, “Rock Band” is a series of video games that has you playing along on fake instruments to popular songs. It’s similar in form to the popular “Guitar Hero” franchise but incorporates singing and drums into the mix. People go gaga for it. This Beatles version goes several steps further than usual, allowing for three part harmonies and an interactive story mode.

The game’s developers boast that they worked hand in hand with the Beatles, which is surprising considering Ringo Starr constantly asks his kids if e-mail and the Internet are the same thing. Still, the attention to detail is fairly astounding. From a virtual Ed Sullivan to psychedelic dreamscapes, this game goes out of its way to provide a sense of realism that is usually lacking from the genre.

Rolling Stone:

When The Beatles: Rock Band really clicks — when you’re pounding out “Helter Skelter” hard enough to get blisters on your fingers; when you’re loping through the bass line of “Dear Prudence”; when it starts feeling like you are, in fact, the Walrus — the experience is almost eerie. It begins to seem like the Beatles didn’t write and record these songs so much as construct them — so sturdily that they translate with absurd ease to an interactive format that was four decades away. The Beatles’ musical development lends itself oddly well to a game — the songs become both more difficult to play and more rewarding as the band’s story moves along: It’s a lot more fun to play “And Your Bird Can Sing” than, say, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

That said, unlike the Beatles’ music — and the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band games — there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Aside from the ability to sing in three-part harmony (a frippery that few users are likely to exploit), the gameplay is familiar: You hit the correct color at the proper time and score points. But thanks to richly detailed and artful graphics — highlighted by the psychedelic images that pop up once the Beatles quit playing concerts — it is the most refined music video game ever. From the Beatles’ facial expressions to the signs at Shea Stadium, there’s enough verisimilitude that it’s forgivable when no animated Eric Clapton turns up for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or when cartoon Ringo is shown playing drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (it was really Paul).

In any case, Starr may be the big winner here: Anyone who has questioned his chops will repent after failing for the 10th time to make it through “Birthday.”

But what about getting the Beatles on iTunes? Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

iPods with cameras? Maybe. iTunes with new features? For sure. iTunes with Beatles? Nope.

I’m sure that Apple (AAPL) will indeed sell the Fab Four’s music via its digital music store one day. But it’s not happening at Apple’s keynote presentation tomorrow.

The Beatles estate, Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Viacom’s (VIA) MTV will be releasing a new version of “Rock Band” that features the band’s songs tomorrow. And on the same day, EMI Music Group will release all of the band’s music on remastered compact discs.

But that’s it, a source familiar with the band’s plans tells me. For now.

Harry McCracken at Technologizer:

I’m not going to entirely discount the possibility of a surprise tomorrow until the event (which I’ll be liveblogging) ends and Paul McCartney hasn’t emerged from behind the curtain. I’m not sure why I care, since I long ago ripped the music I wanted from CD. Like most Beatles fans who have gone digital. Perhaps the band and EMI wants us to buy the music one last time on CD in these new remastered versions before it gives us the chance to purchase it yet again in downloadable form.

This whole saga is as old as the iTunes Store: It began with the news that the Beatles were suing Apple over iTunes and the lads’ Apple Corps trademark, segued into musings on whether digital Beatles were in the offing after the spat was settled, and in recent years has involved repeated rumors that a deal had already been struck and was about to be announced. After the jump, a recap of the last six years of developments.

Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone on the remastered albums:

As you probably know by now, the remastering of the Beatles catalog was carried out with the caution of translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. Happily, the results justify the obsessive care. These 14 stereo remasters — from Please Please Me (1963) to Let It Be (1970), with a two-disc Past Masters added for good measure — make the original recordings sound newly invigorated and alive, whether you’re listening on standard earbuds or a high-end system.

An enormous effort was made to stay true to the original mixes, so there aren’t going to be any easy revelations for Beatles fans. Instead, these albums sound deeper, richer and fleshed-out. The buoyancy of “Something” becomes more comprehensible when you hear clearly Paul McCartney’s nimble bass line. You knew that “Twist and Shout” featured one of John Lennon’s most visceral performances, but here you can feel his vocal cords shred. The horns on “Good Morning Good Morning” roar, driving the song in a way you may not have noticed before. Lennon and George Harrison’s guitars on “You Can’t Do That” sharpen to a gleaming edge.

One tip for deep-pocketed fans: The 12-CD The Beatles in Mono box set is more than a collector’s indulgence. The warmth and punch of early albums With the Beatles and Beatles for Sale evoke the experience of first hearing songs like “All My Loving” on the original vinyl. But in stereo or mono, these albums have finally received the treatment they deserve.

Tony Sachs at Huffington Post:

This isn’t for those music fans who pre-ordered the newly remastered Beatles CDs the instant they were offered. It’s not for the people who have double-checked their stereos to make sure they’re properly wired to capture every nuance of newly-tweaked sound. And it’s certainly not for the folks who, when they heard that the Fabs’ catalog was going to be reissued in both stereo and mono, didn’t think twice about buying both boxes.

No, this is for that small but stubborn minority of naysayers who rolled their eyes when they heard that the Beatles’ recorded legacy was being given a state-of-the-art sonic overhaul for the first time in more than two decades. “Ripoff artists,” they snorted. “They keep repackaging the same music over and over again.”

Well, you know what, naysayers? You’re wrong.

Let’s look at it by the numbers. In the CD era, EMI has released 14 Beatles albums, not counting the straight CD reissues of the original British LPs in 1987. Of the fourteen, five consist partly or entirely of previously unreleased music (Live At The BBC, Anthology 1, 2, 3, and Let It Be… Naked). Two are collections of singles and rarities that weren’t included on the British albums (Past Masters Vols. 1 & 2). Three are well-thought out, fairly comprehensive greatest hits collections (the CD versions of the classic “red” and “blue” LPs, which were originally released in 1973, and 1).

Which leaves a grand total of four questionable Beatles releases over more than a quarter century. These include:

The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, featuring the American mixes, sequencing and artwork of the early Beatles’ LPs in both stereo and mono, which American fans had been requesting for years;

Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which jettisoned the incidental music from the 1968 film in favor of more Beatles songs;

and Love, the inessential but interesting 2006 mash-up collection with absolutely stellar remixing and remastering.

And not a skimpy, ten-song compilation in the batch. By comparison, in the ’90s alone, RCA released over 50 Elvis CDs, a good chunk of ’em short collections of random hits, and Frank Sinatra’s various labels put out over 30 “new” collections of his — some essential, many pointless. The Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers has, by my count, been issued on CD a half dozen times with assorted packaging and remastering variations since the mid ’80s.

In Entertainment:

It looks like the Beatles Remastered box sets are proving very popular amongst the fans at the moment, as according to reports from latimes.com, both the mono and stereo box sets were sold out at Amazon.com, a day before their official release.

Although reports say, that the online retailer is still taking orders for individual CD reissues and they will be restocking on the box sets soon. Amazon’s sell out just proves that the band’s tradition of topping the charts is still alive after 39 years.

UPDATE: Farley Katz in the New Yorker

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Filed under Music, Technology

There’s A Lot To Say About Goldman Sachs And Everybody’s Saying It

The infamous Matt Taibbi piece in Rolling Stone.

Goldman Sachs returns volley (via NY Post):

The bank’s spokesman, Lucas Van Praag, was more pointed: “[Taibbi’s] story is an hysterical compilation of conspiracy theories,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Notable ones missing are Goldman Sachs as the third shooter [in John F. Kennedy’s assassination] and faking the first lunar landing.”

“We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance in being a force for good,” Van Praag added.

And via Felix Salmon:

Having read your piece about Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone, I wanted to set the record straight, particularly about “regulatory capture”.

Background: Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC (for agricultural futures) or exchanges (for energy/metals futures) established speculative position limits. As much as anything else, the limits are intended to prevent market imbalances that would result in failures of the ultimate settlement of the futures contracts.

The CFTC rules exempt “bona fide hedging” transactions from these spec limits. A bona fide hedging transaction was originally understood to be an actual producer/consumer who was selling or buying the underlying commodity and wanted to hedge risk of the price moving up or down. In 1991, J. Aron wanted to enter into one of its first commodity index swap transactions with a pension fund. In order to hedge our exposure on the swap, we wanted to buy futures on the commodities in the index. We applied to the CFTC for exemption from position limits on the theory that even if we weren’t buying the commodity, we had offsetting exposure (in our swap) that put us in a balanced/price neutral position. The CFTC agreed with our argument and granted exemption. By the way, each of the then Commissioners signed off, so it was hardly a secret…

The CFTC published a report in August 2008, indicating that there were few instances when entities would have exceeded spec limits, had they applied to OTC positions.

Yesterday, as you probably know, the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations issued a report on wheat futures in which they concluded that divergence between prices for actual wheat v. wheat futures is being caused solely by index investment. The Committee’s recommendation is that hedge exemptions which support indices should be phased out.

Not quite so recently, the elimination of Glass Steagall doesn’t exactly provide a robust argument for regulatory capture. And Taibbi’s bubble case doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny either. To give just two examples, even with the worst will in the world, the blame for creating the internet bubble cannot credibly be laid at our door, and we could hardly be described as having been a major player in the mortgage market, unlike so many of our current and former competitors.

Taibbi’s article is a compilation of just about every conspiracy theory ever dreamed up about Goldman Sachs, but what real substance is there to support the theories?

We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance of being a force for good.

Taibbi responds:

I’m aware that some people feel that it’s a journalist’s responsibility to “give both sides of the story” and be “even-handed” and “objective.” A person who believes that will naturally find serious flaws with any article like the one I wrote about Goldman. I personally don’t subscribe to that point of view. My feeling is that companies like Goldman Sachs have a virtual monopoly on mainstream-news public relations; for every one reporter  like me, or like far more knowledgeable critics like Tyler Durden, there are a thousand hacks out there willing to pimp Goldman’s viewpoint on things in the front pages and ledes of the major news organizations. And there are probably another thousand poor working stiffs who are nudged into pushing the Goldman party line by their editors and superiors (how many political reporters with no experience reporting on financial issues have swallowed whole the news cliche about Goldman being the “smart guys” on Wall Street? A lot, for sure).

Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it. Given all of this, I personally think it’s absurd to talk about the need for “balance” in every single magazine and news article. I understand that some people feel differently, but that’s my take on things.

Andrew Ross Sorkin documents the fight. Joe Weisenthal at Clusterstock fisks the article.

Megan McArdle

Taibbi is a gifted narrative journalist, whose verbal talents I greatly admire.  But financial meltdowns don’t offer villains, for the simple reason that no one person or even one group is powerful enough to take down a whole system.  Confronted with this, Taibbi doesn’t back away from the narrative form, or apply it to smaller questions where it is more appropriate, as William Cohan did in House of Cards.  Instead, he grabs whoever’s nearest to hand and builds them up into a gigantic straw villian, which he proceeds to bash with a handful of recently acquired technical terms that he clearly doesn’t quite understand.  It’s not that everything he says is wrong, but the bits that are true aren’t interesting, and the bits that are interesting aren’t true.  The whole thing dissolves into the kind of conspiracy theory he so ably lampooned in The Great Derangement.  The result is something that’s not even wrong.  It’s just incoherent.

Barry Ritholtz on McArdle’s assertion that there aren’t any villains:

Um, Megan, I am going to have to beg to differ with you. There were many, many identifiable villains who through their own action and inaction, helped create the crisis. There were people who remained slavishly  devoted to an outmoded and disproven ideology, which led them to decisions that were indefendable. Some people engaged in utter recklessness when it came to risk management, or such gross irresponsibility that they are not merely morally culpable, but legally also. Then there are those regulators who gave the corporate interests they supervised pretty much everything they asked for.  And of course, the people simply trying to grab a free lunch contributed mightily to the collapse.

I have 322 well researched pages that shows as much.

Goldman Sachs was but one of the 5 biggest investment banks that requested from the SEC, and received, an exemption from the net cap rules. This allowed their leverage to balloon from 12-to-1 to as much as 40-to-1.

As a nation, we need to stop pretending this is “too complicated” and start holding the responsible parties accountable . . .

McArdle responds:

There are plenty of villains around, but no group small enough to be assigned any meaningful measure of responsibility for the financial crisis.  Imagine that Goldman Sachs had, say, gone under in the 1998 financial crisis.  Imagine that Clinton or Bush had appointed someone else to the SEC from the universe of politically possible candidates.  Imagine that Suze Orman had started talking down homeownership in 2003 rather than touting it as a fabulous way to build your net worth.  What would be different now?  Nothing of any importance, as far as I can tell.

You can point to many people–thousands of bankers, tens of thousands of realtors and mortgage brokers, millions of homebuyers–who did things I really wish they hadn’t, blinded by greed and wishful thinking and arrogance.  But when the action of any one person, or firm, requires millions of counterparties taking their own stupid risks, I don’t see how you can really name them the villains of the piece.

This will not, of course, please anyone who wants me to tell them how and why we should get the bankers.  For them, the important thing is the conclusion; since we already know it, it is a trivial matter to assemble whatever evidence might help us get the bankers.    And since I am not providing them with convenient reasons to get the bankers, it therefore follows that I must be a paid hack protecting my corporate masters.

Meanwhile, Goldman blogging continues apace. Tyler Durden on Zero Hedge on Goldman 360

One second: by using Goldman 360 a client voluntarily allows Goldman to provide keystroke by keystroke data of everything the client does, even if that includes launching trades via REDI, to Goldman for the internal business purposes? The third thing everyone on Wall Street agrees on is that “internal business purposes” usually (and in Goldman’s case, almost exclusively) means proprietary trading.

Are Goldman 360 clients (in)voluntarily signing off a release to be front ran by Goldman on any portal-based trade? Could Goldman please clarify just what “internal business purposes” means in the context of this overarching disclaimer, and also whether Goldman has ever actually used 360 submitted information in the decision making process of its prop trading desk? Lucas Van Pragg: the floor is yours.

Update: several readers have presented some other Goldman Sachs and Spear, Leeds and Kellogg form documents that contain an even more crypitc warning in section 4(f) in Use Of Services:

You acknowledge that we may monitor your use of the Services for our own purposes (and not for your benefit). We may use the resulting information for internal business purposes or in accordance with the rules of any applicable regulatory or self-regulatory body and in compliance with applicable law and regulation.NOT FOR YOUR BENEFIT? I mean, come on, how more clearer does it need to get.

And today, Sydney Williams at Seeking Alpha:

Here we are once again, on the eve of another record earnings report by Goldman Sachs. Are we back to the old days, or on to something new and different?

We can safely agree that the banking crisis is officially over, as this writer and others have recently argued. Whatever we may draw from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve’s methods, they’ve worked. Confidence is restored, at least enough to allow market-savvy traders to place the kind of aggressive bets that can reap windfalls for bank profits.

Seeking Alpha:

Meredith Whitney, the well-known banking analyst, upgraded her outlook on Goldman Sachs this morning, resulting in the market as a whole making some gains.
We have to give Ms. Whitney her due. After all, she was one of the first to call attention to the problems at Citigroup and other banks, the weakness in the housing industry, and how these might affect the economy as a whole.
However, we think the market’s reaction to Whitney’s comment highlights a serious problem in our nation. Investors today pay far too much attention to quarterly (if not daily) results, and not enough to the long-term picture.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has two opinions of the Tiabbi piece. Here:

POSTSCRIPT: Someone also asked Ezra about Matt Taibbi’s takedown of Goldman Sachs in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.  I finally got around to reading it the other day, and my verdict is simple: it was terrible.  Taibbi wrote a terrific article about AIG a couple of months ago, but the Goldman piece was just phoned in, a long series of blustery assertions with essentially nothing to back up any of them.  If he wants to claim that Goldman was the wizard behind the curtain of everything from the dotcom boom to last year’s oil spike, he really needs to produce some evidence for it instead of just saying so.

POSTSCRIPT 2: I just learned that Rolling Stone didn’t actually post Taibbi’s article.  They only posted a set of excerpts, which is why the online version reads like a long series of blustery assertions with essentially nothing to back up any of them.  Unfortunately, unless you read the intro very carefully, it’s not clear that these are merely excerpts.  Instead, it just seems like a very badly written article.

So: I retract what I said for now.  I still suspect that Taibbi is considerably overstating things, trying to construct a dramatic narrative by blaming Goldman for things that are actually sins of the investment community as a whole, but I won’t know for sure until I read the entire piece.

And here:

Well, I’ve now the read the entire piece, and I apologize.  (To Taibbi, that is, not the morons at Rolling Stone, who should have either posted the whole thing or done nothing at all.)  It’s a very good takedown of the modern financial industry and well worth reading.  There are some bits here and there that I’m not sure Taibbi gets quite right, and I do think that he made a mistake in casting Goldman Sachs as the “engineer” of every bubble in the past century rather than merely an unusually big and enthusiastic member of a predatory gang that’s been ripping us off for a long time.  This gives the piece a conspiratorial air that allows Goldman to laugh it off instead of being forced to engage with it, and that’s too bad.  They — and everyone else on Wall Street — should be forced to engage with it.

Beyond that, there are undoubtedly some mistakes in the piece, as well as places where Taibbi goes unnecessarily over the top.  I’m still not sold on carbon permits being the next big bubble, for example.  But those are quibbles.  Overall it’s a striking portait of an industry — not just a single company — of almost unbounded greed and recklessness.  Worth reading.

UPDATE #2: On those profits, Michelle Malkin

Charlie Gasparino in the Daily Beast

UPDATE #3: Arianna Huffington

Pretty much Matt Taibbi’s entire blog, but here’s two posts, here and here.

Ezra Klein

Kevin Drum

Jon Stewart

UPDATE #4: Stephen Gandel at Time

UPDATE #5: More Charlie Gasparino in the Daily Beast

UPDATE #6: Dean Starkman at CJR on Taibbi

Ezra Klein on the Starkman piece

Kevin Drum on the Starkman piece

UPDATE #7: William D. Cohan in Time:

“A recent story in Rolling Stone, of all places, in which the author described Goldman as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” has been particularly troubling to him. “Oddly enough, the Rolling Stone article tapped into something,” he says in an interview. “I saw it as gonzo, over-the-top writing that some people might find fun to read. I was shocked that others saw it as being supporting evidence that Goldman Sachs had burned down the Reichstag, shot the Archduke Ferdinand and fired on Fort Sumter.” Suddenly a firm that few Americans know or understand has become part of the zeitgeist, the symbol of irresponsible Wall Street excess, the recovery from which has pushed the nation’s treasury to the brink. (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)

It’s an odd contradiction: an excelling company being reviled in a country that embraces the profit motive. And without question, Goldman Sachs under Blankfein has recalibrated, in very large numbers, its place as Wall Street’s most astute, most opaque and most influential firm. In the first and second quarters of 2009, the company earned $5.3 billion in net income, the most profitable six-month stretch in Goldman’s history. Goldman’s stock has more than tripled since its low last November, to more than $160 per share.

The U.S. unemployment rate has risen too, nearing 10%. In stark contrast, Goldman Sachs has set aside some $11.36 billion so far in 2009 in total compensation and benefits for its 29,400 employees. That’s about on pace with the record payout the firm made in 2007, at the height of the bubble. Thanks to Andrew Cuomo, the New York State attorney general, we know that in 2008, while Goldman earned $2.3 billion for the year, it paid out $4.82 billion in bonuses, giving 953 employees at least $1 million each and 78 executives $5 million or more (although Goldman’s top five officers, including Blankfein, declined a bonus).

Goldman’s riches have deflected the spotlight from what should be great story fodder: Blankfein’s personal journey from one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods to its most élite investment bank — and his astounding rise within Goldman. Instead, he has to explain Goldman’s performance — and connections — in the face of the nation’s epic financial calamity.”

Lawerence Delevingne at Clusterstock:

Somewhere, Matt Taibbi is smiling. There’s something validating about being dismissed by the top dog himself.

Bess Levin at Dealbreaker

New York Magazine:

You’re right, William. It is a crime that the American people have wasted so much time asking questions in an attempt to figure out whether the people controlling all the money in our pension plans and bank accounts are trustworthy and will not completely fuck up the system again and then run into their barricaded second and third homes with their gold bars, leaving the rest of use mewling and starving in the streets. We’re sorry, how selfish of us. Do tell us about Lloyd’s “personal journey.”

Charlie Gasparino in Daily Beast:

Paranoia might not be too strong a word to describe the mind-set. People inside Goldman tell me that some senior executives say they believe the onslaught of negative stories detailing Goldman’s manifold ties to upper levels of government, charges that it somehow fraudulently profited from the subprime crisis, and now the press about the firm’s record earnings is so out of proportion to reality that the coverage contains an element of anti-Semitism—subtly playing off the racist myth of a conspiracy of Jewish bankers controlling the world for their own benefit. (Goldman was founded by a Jewish immigrant, and after years of being run by Gentiles Jon Corzine and Hank Paulson, is once again run by a Jew, Lloyd Blankfein.)

Blankfein, I am told, isn’t paranoid but really concerned about being placed in an untenable position for any CEO who needs to retain talent. If he doesn’t pay his people, many will simply jump ship to other firms—including private-equity firms—that will. If he does, he faces endless negative coverage about how Goldman is making its partners rich at the expense of taxpayers who bailed out the firm last year.

This quandary has resulted in some very serious discussions at Goldman to attempt to spin the bonus issue in the best possible (or least damaging) way. The Daily Beast has learned that Goldman is considering “a menu” of options: One possibility is to pay the vast majority of the bonus in stock. On Wall Street, executives receive a combination of stock and cash, with the cash portion comprising 65 percent of the total bonus. Goldman may just flip that around.

John Cook at Gawker:

Goldman Sachs is taking the whole “bloodsucking squidmonster” thing pretty seriously. CEO Lloyd Blankfein is losing sleep over how to pay out $11 billion in taxpayer financed bonuses without catching hell from anti-Semites like everybody. Heavy weighs the crown.

CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino reports in the Daily Beast that Blankfein is “obsessed” with the hits that Goldman’s image has taken after getting a $10 billion capital injection from taxpayers and $13 billion out of the AIG bailout. He’s “looks like shit” because he’s so worried about what’s going to happen in bonus season, when he has to distribute that $11 billion bonus reserve. He’s looking for a “brand manager” to rescue the firm’s image, and Goldman insiders say that anyone who’s royally pissed off that Goldman is simply harvesting taxpayer money as profits and handing it out to its obscenely wealthy (and occasionally pedophilic) employees in the form of bonuses really just hates Jews

Bess Levin at Dealbreaker:

Two things are troubling in Charlie Gasparino’s latest story on Goldman Sachs, which has apparently been freaking out over how it’s going to manage the 85 Broad haters come bonus season, when Lloyd Blankfein is expected to make it rain golden showers. The first is that you might get the mistaken impression Chaz is an anti-Semite. This could not be further from the truth. Charlie loves Jews. Some of his best friends are Macabis and since I’ve known him he always takes the time to inquire “how the dreidel spinnin’s goin’, Heeb girl” come December. So please, people e-mailing us, get off CG’s ass for the description of current Goldman management below.

UPDATE #8: Dave at The League on Taibbi


Filed under Economics, The Crisis

For All Of Us Old Enough To Remember “Thriller…” Update: Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Michael Jackson has apparently had a heart attack.


LA Times


Allah Pundit

He wasn’t breathing when the paramedics got there and he’s in “really bad shape” in the hospital according to a family member. Apart from feeling instinctive human sympathy for his suffering, I’m not sure how to react. He’s super famous — yet mostly famous at this point for being a walking freak show. He’s had a tough life psychologically — but might very well also be a child molester. In a sense this is huge news, yet in another sense I’m not sure why anyone would much care these days. I’ve completely lost my news bearings!

Stand by for (hopefully happy) updates.

Update: A sentiment we can all hopefully agree upon: “Thriller” was a simply dynamite album.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jack and Jill Politics

UPDATE: TMZ reporting that Michael Jackson has died. He was 50. This is up right now at Huffington Post as well.

Newsday reporting he has died as well.

UPDATE #2: LA Times reporting that he is in a coma.

Sully‘s got “I’ll Be There” up with a RIP

James Joyner pointing out TMZ is the only one saying he has died.

UPDATE #3: LA Times confirming MJ has died.

NBC News confirms

UPDATE #4: CBS, ABC, and AP confirming.

UPDATE #5: Ann Althouse

Rolling Stone

Rod Dreher:

Jackson was without question one of the most important figures in popular music history, and to my mind, absolutely one of the saddest

Joel Achenbach:

Not long ago I showed my kids a YouTube video of Michael Jackson demonstrating the moonwalk, circa 1983. Like that talent scout said of Fred Astaire: “Can dance a little.”

My kids never knew Jackson at his peak, when he was the most popular entertainer on the planet, and millions of copies of “Thriller” flew out of the record stores. It wasn’t as good an album as “Off the Wall,” which got heavy rotation at the dance parties at my college, but when “Thriller” came out, music videos were the rage, and everything came together to propel MJ to the highest level of the business — what you might call the Elvissphere.

What a rough life, though. He never knew a normal childhood. His personal travails, legal problems involving accusations of child molestation, plastic surgery obsessions and other eccentricities turned him into a punch line.

So maybe some people forgot over the years just how great he was. He was amazing at the age of 10, when he was singing “ABC.” But he was even better in his early 20s, when he had Quincy Jones producing him in “Off the Wall” and “Thriller.”

He lived to be 50 years old. But maybe he was always really 10. He never seemed to know how to live life as an adult. For now, we’ll put all that aside, and think of him at the height of his power — singing and dancing so well he seemed to defy the laws of physics. I’m pretty sure there’s never been anyone else like him.

UPDATE #6: Michelle Malkin:

His adult life was marred by lurid molestation charges, endless displays of bizarre behavior with his three children, plastic surgery horrors, and financial mayhem.

But he was a musical genius in his early days before he succumbed to Hollyweird and that’s what I’ll choose to remember. So sad — the corruption of innocence, the talent squandered, the celebrity gone wild.

Doug J.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has reposted a post from a few days ago on Michael Jackson:

Thriller came out at an interesting time. Bands were really losing out, as folks figured out they could do replace a horn section with a keyboard. There’s this sense now that anything that came out of the disco era, and the post-disco era is essentially awful. As a kid, I had some of that. We nominally hated R&B and thought of hip-hop as the harder, “truer” form. Later we came to see hip-hop as the child of funk and soul, and 80s R&B as a corrupted, corporate, step-child.This is obviously simplistic, and not only do I not subscribe to it now. (Marvin’s “Give It Up” is classic.) I don’t know how much I subscribed to it then. (Dig the Lisa-Lisa clip below.) But the question is where does Mike fit into all of that? It’s easy to dismiss  him, just on the basis of his success, and the qualitative decline of his later work. That second part is true of almost any musician, though.

Spencer Ackerman

UPDATE #7:  Digby:

I was traveling the world in the 1980s and it didn’t matter where I went, from Paris to Mayan jungles, Thriller was playing. It was inescapable, the soundtrack to the era.

Michael Jackson was a legend and a casualty, his life both charmed and tortured. I’m not sure how he could have ever grown old. RIP.

Ezra Klein

Michael Jackson’s “Bad” was the first album I ever cared about. I used to hear it coming from my older brother’s room. Here’s to you, Mike

Jesse Walker in Reason

Megan McArdle

Andrew Sullivan:

There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age – and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.

UPDATE #8: Ta-Nehisi

Peter Suderman at TAS:

There isn’t a lot to say about Michael Jackson. His life was a multi-billion dollar pop-culture freakshow — sad and entertaining and amazing and frightening all at the same time. He revolutionized pop music. Then he revolutionized celebrity weirdness. I like to think his contribution to the former was greater than his contribution to the latter, but I’m not quite enough of an aficionado to say for sure.

Dennis Dale in TAC:

Michael Jackson was not the first superstar, but he may be the first to publicly renounce personhood itself in favor of renown. Michael Jackson didn’t lose his individuality, he discarded it as a hindrance to celebrity. What was always unnerving about him was the absence behind the mystique. He did not start out as a “personality”, real or fabricated; there was never anything there to begin with beyond the remarkable talent. Through the years I’ve become convinced that the absence of personality, and eventually the grotesquerie that was offered in its place, amplified that talent. We never got to know him, even as we watched him grow up. It wasn’t just that he was private–lots of celebrities are “private”–it’s that he deliberately crafted a persona without personhood. He cobbled together a few cliches he found romantic–the eternal child as a result of being robbed of childhood, the lonely genius, the besieged eccentric–all bathetic in their self-pitying grandiosity. Michael Jackson made himself into a comic caricature of egomania.

He refused even to accept the limits of nature, treating his physical body as if it were as malleable as his public persona. Had he been less delusional, and perhaps more ably befriended by those around him, he might have been made to see that neither of these things were very much within his control. Michael Jackson, in his repeated disfigurement under the knife, took on the vanity of the nation. In this, his most ridiculed aspect, that which is considered most “abnormal” about him, he is in fact most like us. He was, if anything, a pioneer in the realm of plastic surgery. When he started out on his gruesome way, the practice was far less common than it is now. Michael took on our vanity the way Christ takes on our sins.

Jonah Goldberg:

I know that Michael Jackson wasn’t convicted of the despicable crimes he was accused of. And that’s why he never went to jail. Three cheers for the majesty of the American legal system. But in my own personal view, he wasn’t exonerated either. Nor was he absolved of his crimes because he could sing, moonwalk, or sell 10 million records. (Though many of us suspect the money and fame he made from those things is precisely what kept him out of jail).

And, while I merely think he was a pedophile, I know he was not someone responsible parents should applaud, healthy children emulate, nor society celebrate.

And while we’re at it, his relatively early death wasn’t “tragic.” He was one of the richest people in the world. He spent his money on perpetual childhood and he was perpetually with children not his own.

Meanwhile, in the last ten days, we’ve seen or heard of remarkable people who’ve given their lives for freedom in Iran. We’ve heard of innocents killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the last decade, America has lost thousands of heroes in noble causes and thousands of innocent bystanders who were denied the simple joys of life through no fault of their own. Those deaths are tragic, and we’re hard pressed to think of more than a handful of names to put with the long line of the dead. If anything, Michael Jackson’s life, not his death, was tragic.

Sullivan has a round-up:

Hua Hsu in The Altantic:

Different versions of Michael Jackson had already died years ago. Sometimes he had reinvented himself and found his way back toward his fan’s good graces, sometimes he had only grown more illusive and erratic-seeming. It’s trite and predictable to say all this, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Jackson was one of the last figures of our time who could, in his very presence, describe the possibilities of pop. He wasn’t just the King–he was the entire domain, the rules and regulations, the dream-horizon of the citizenry, the place where the land met the heavens. Jackson was one of the first (and last) artists whose new videos, tours and albums were actual, global events, as when he debuted his “Black or White” video in 1991 after an episode of The Simpsons. This was the cultural history of the pre-digital age: simultaneity, mass worship, millions sitting in front of their TVs at the exact same moment. (The closest analogue now: millions around the world, sitting in front of their computers, carefully recomposing Michael’s Wikipedia entry the moments after his death was made official.)

John McWhorter:

This quality of his was such that his career was likely over long ago. Thriller was perhaps the last moment when hit pop music for people beyond tween-age could be so basically innocent and unprobing of the individual soul. Even back then, part of the charm was the arrangement – his vocal skills acknowledged, Jackson didn’t write or orchestrate that opening vamp to “Billie Jean” nor did he create the dense festival of sonic joys under “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),”which are certainly part of the reason I have now purchased Thriller three times.

But even by Bad in 1987, Michael’s crotch-grabbing in the video of the title song was a “bad” move indeed. It was fake – looking more like Diana Ross every year, he looked about as plausible taking a page from increasingly popular rappers as Bonnie Raitt would have. It wasn’t him – at a time when pop was more and more about exploring the self. As time went by the hit singles were fewer and farther between. “Scream” from the HIStory album in 1995 was the last song of his that got around in any real way.

Six years later when Invincible never really rang the bell in the old way, Jackson interestingly cried racism (against Tommy Mottola). But if anything, the problem was that by then the question as to his own blackness was decidedly abstract. Or at least, he wasn’t “real” as it was put by then. By 2001 black rappers were all over the pop charts with cuts about themselves, in da club, in da car, in da hood, in da honeez, all up in dat bizness, whatever – rap is all about the “I” as some more literary-minded aficionados have it.

UPDATE #9: Robert Stein

Now, amid all the outpouring of grief over a figure who meant so much to millions, there is the reality that Michael Jackson, emaciated and worn out, was dreading a comeback tour of his own and reportedly told fans after a recent rehearsal, “I don’t know how I’m going to do 50 shows…I need to put some weight on. I’m really angry with them booking me up to do 50 shows. I only wanted to do ten.”

Now, celebrity vultures like Jesse Jackson and Deepak Chopra are stirring the publicity pot for new autopsies and investigations of doctors who were prescribing the multiple pills that Michael Jackson, like Elvis, was using to try to sustain a life that had spun out of control.

Those who remember the joy he brought into their lives will not be consoled by the search for someone to blame for losing him. The cynic may have been right after all. When the book closes on such lives, the careers remain, complete and intact.

Hua Hsu in Foreign Policy

For Americans, Michael’s death has become a referendum on how culture used to be, on a time when you either watched it live or heard about it thirdhand the next morning. Older generations came home from wars, buried Kennedy and King, heard the Sex Pistols for the first time, lived through 1968 and 1979. We gasped when Michael got torched during that Pepsi commercial. We carefully studied the moonwalk. The Internet is flooded with stories of 30-somethings who watched “Black or White” after The Simpsons nearly 20 years ago.

But Americans also gave up on Michael many versions ago, jettisoning him sometime in the 1990s. The absorption of Nirvana and Dr. Dre into American pop instilled a chauvinism against anything that seemed overproduced or choreographed. As Michael’s own scandals ensnared him, he began to seem like a castoff, a former icon best remembered as part of the past. This is when he became the property of the rest of the world, where the winds of fashion weren’t quite so finicky, where he was everywhere yet nowhere, a ubiquitous cipher. “You are not alone,” he told everyone, at the same time.

The reason Michael mattered — continues to matter — is because he was one of the first truly international stars. Not just transatlantic, not just big in Japan: He was global. The obvious effect was economic. Michael opened markets around the world; he made the world safe for MTV (after first making MTV safe for nonwhite performers, it should be said). He sold records and sold-out tours everywhere. He was, by most accounts, a gracious guest and a kind ambassador.

Rod Dreher:

Here’s a pretty jaw-dropping insider’s account of Michael Jackson’s last months and years. He comes off as a kind of Howard Hughes figure, a drugged-out skeleton being controlled by vampires. Except he was a gay drugged-out skeleton being controlled by vampires, according to this account. Interestingly, the journalist who wrote the piece, a guy who spent years within the Jackson world, said he started out believing Michael had molested those boys, but ended up thinking that he had been falsely accused, and that he (MJ) had idiotically made it very easy for his accusers by failing to see why it was creepy to share his bed with somebody else’s children.

E.D. Kain at The League:

Watch as the pop-beatification process begins.  I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic.  I just haven’t had a change of heart now that he’s dead.  I don’t know if he was guilty or not, but my gut, for what it’s worth, certainly tells me that he was.  That’s not fair, I know, but I can’t help it.  And beyond that, I’m also pretty certain he was a miserable person, whose sadness had withered him from within.

In some cases death is a mercy.


Filed under Music

With Ears Wide Shut


Blogosphere Does Not Want!

Powerline A.D: “Who The Hell Wants A Creed Reunion Anyway?”


Andrew Winistorfer: “Creed Announce Reunion and Album, Even God Isn’t Vaguely Interested.”


Marianne Dowling lists other reunions that are not asked for. Also: “Aside from contracting swine flu or unknowingly chowing down on a chicken salad sandwich left out in the sun, I can’t think of a better way to upset my stomach than a Creed reunion.”


But TBogg wins, of course

Frankly, the locusts and the oceans of blood will be a relief

By: TBogg Wednesday April 29, 2009 8:59 am

digg it


Worldwide economic depression, massive unemployment, swine flu pandemic, terror planes in the skies of New York,  and now this.

Either God is testing us or he is dead


If you want the straight story, here’s the Rolling Stone link:


UPDATE: Jonah Weiner in Slate

And on the Slate piece, Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and Scott Lemieux

UPDATE #2: Off we go a’#slatepitches. The Slate article on #slatepitches by Juliet Lapidos.


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Filed under Music

Pig in a Blanket, Pig in a Factory

What’s the cause of the Swine Flu? Liberal and environmental blogs are wondering if it isn’t pig farms. The rumors abound in Mexico and the BBC is reporting this: “The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is sending a team to Mexico to investigate rumors that people had been falling ill last month near intensive pig farms.”


The Washington Independent is reporting this:


And has a previous post concerning the same issue:


The links are provided in the Washington Independent piece. There was a post in Grist, with this as the nut graph: “Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company website.”


Biosurveillance has a timeline:


A post from my DD, with info concerning Smithfield:

“Chalk up another disaster for globalization and its environmental race to the bottom. Founded in 1994, Granjas Carroll is the Mexican joint venture of two large agrobusinesses – Agroindustrias Unidas de México and Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world. The company’s annual revenues top $12 billion USD. The company’s growth has been spectacular. Between 1990 and 2005, Smithfield Foods grew by more than 1,000 percent. In 1997 it was the nation’s seventh-largest pork producer; by 1999 it was the largest. Today, it accounts for 25% of hog production in the United States. Its growth however is tied to increased US pork exports. Trade agreements have contributed significantly to the phenomenal growth of US pork exports. US exports of pork and pork products have increased over 450 percent in volume terms and value terms since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 and the Uruguay Round Agreement in 1995. ”


A story from 2006 published by Rolling Stone, about Smithfield, the pork industry and the environment:


A post on Tapped about the situation:


We’re waiting for a post from Rod Dreher. But if you find anything else, let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: Tristero:


UPDATE #2: Via TPM, a piece on the push of this story by the blogs in Colombia Journalism Review:


UPDATE #3: Matt Y. has a post up on this subject:


And he links to Grist’s Merritt Clifton, who says the “evidence isn’t in:”


UPDATE #4: More from Daphne Eviatar.

UPDATE #5: Tristero has a new post up.

UPDATE #6: Corby Kummer at The Atlantic

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Filed under Environment, Food, Public Health