Reading Glenn Greenwald’s columns is a singularly depressing experience

But this is nearly always because he’s hit the nail directly on the head. Today, in a piece titled “The military/media attacks on the Hastings article,” Greenwald dissects the curious antipathy of mainstream journalists towards a reporter, Michael Hastings, who actually does his job. The job in question is, of course, to hold those in power accountable for their actions and to question their often vague and opaque descriptions of what are often very disturbing actions taken in the name of “national security” or some other (similarly Orwellian) newspeak.

One of my favorite parts of Greenwald’s piece is this passage he borrowed from The Atlantic, which quoted Hastings as follows:

Look, I went into journalism to do journalism, not advertising. My views are critical but that shouldn’t be mistaken for hostile – I’m just not a stenographer. There is a body of work that shows how I view these issues but that was hard-earned through experience, not something I learned going to a cocktail party on…K Street. That’s what reporters are supposed to do, report the story.

Strange, isn’t it, that this type of journalism is considered suspect by many prominent reporters? And by strange, I mean very scary.

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But they started it: a few thoughts on partisanship and when it’s OK to point a finger

For the last year or two, several of my friends and I have fashioned a mini-tradition out of emailing political articles to each other. As often as not, these email chains die on the vine, with nary a reply in sight. But the occasional subject will touch a nerve, prompting a barrage of reply emails with all the requisite jousts and parries.

The most recent addition to the series was sent by Ben* with the subject line, “Sometimes, I just hate politics…” The email linked to a YouTube video posted by the Wisconsin GOP in which Democratic politicians denouncing hateful rhetoric from the right were juxtaposed against footage of liberal protesters engaging in identical behavior. To Ben, the hypocrisy was nauseating: even the specter of a recent assassination attempt, far from halting the partisan bickering, instead served as a catalyst for more of it.

Unable to resist the bait — and I use the word “bait” loosely here, as that was not Ben’s intention — I responded, arguing that “equating Hosni Mubarak signs [used by public-sector employees in Wisconsin]…with, say, bringing guns en masse to town hall meetings is a bit of a dubious analogy.” I concluded with the estimate that “realistically, at least 75% of [the hyperbolic rhetoric] is coming from the (very far) right.” Continue reading

Book review: Diatribe, by Amer Chaudri

Diatribe, by Amer ChaudriIf nothing else, the Great Recession has worked wonders for the publishing industry. One can find virtually any perspective on the crisis — the big banks caused it, Bush’s policies facilitated it, Obama’s aggravated it, and so on — and, accompanying each viewpoint, a plethora of books devoted to its promulgation.

Amer Chaudri, a longtime employee of Citibank, falls into the big-bad-banks camp. His book, Diatribe: A Scathing Journey into the Heart of the Financial Corporate Culture (and Related Digressions), represents a Main Street stab at understanding Wall Street profligacy.

I’ve read several books and countless articles, over the past year or two, on the financial meltdown of 2007-2008. Some do a better job than others of navigating the complex world of derivatives trading, regulatory negligence, and underlying psychological factors. In Chaudri’s case, storytelling emerges as his vehicle of choice for the castigation of an industry. Continue reading

A tale of two countries: Egypt, America, and the strangling of democracy

Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, begins with the immortal phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And so it remains today. Nothing in the intervening century and a half, from the publication of Dickens’ Tale to the 2011 wave of protests rocking the Arab world, has changed the immutable veracity of that simple paradox.

Instead of two cities, however, I’m thinking of two countries. Let’s start with a simple thought experiment. One month ago, imagine if someone had predicted that, in Tunisia and Egypt, massive protest movements would emerge ex nihilo to shatter the status quo; that these movements would, furthermore, contain no traceable elements of radicalism or Islamism in any form; that, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which the West has feared for so long, would at least initially linger in the shadows and allow the secular and leaderless crowds to lead the way; and that, finally, the demands of the protesters would remain eminently reasonable and, most significantly, democratic. Such a prognosticator would have been mocked relentlessly.

As it turns out, this has all taken place over the course of the last several weeks. And the American response? To hesitate, to triangulate, to hedge its bets according to the ever-shifting political winds, and — finally and most heartlessly — to work furiously behind the scenes to orchestrate a return to the pre-January 25 status quo while halfheartedly trumpeting the Egyptian revolution in the public sphere. Continue reading

Two random observations on the Egyptian revolution

1) Did anyone else notice that essentially no pro-government attackers in Tahrir Square posted on Twitter, which was dominated entirely by anti-Mubarak sentiment? And that, furthermore, this seems to have been the case in Tehran in 2009 as well? Is one of the prerequisites for supporting a repressive regime that you can’t have the slightest idea how to use social networking?

2) As violent and disturbing as these clashes were, it’s a bit ironic to imagine what the American version would look like. Those Egyptians didn’t have access to guns. Now picture Times Square awash with New Yorkers, Californians, Texans, and Alaskans all vying for space and using guns, not stones, to mark their territory. ‘Twould be an ugly sight.