Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 12: The New Atheists - Celebrity Crusaders for Empire

Bill Maher and Sam Harris on HBO's Real Time

On this week's episode of Citations Needed, Adam and I discuss the particular breed of liberalism known as “New Atheism,” with guest Luke Savage.

While the New Atheist movement is hardly a monolith, it has at its core features of liberal chauvinism, anti-"political correctness," “science,” secularism, and a general deference to U.S. foreign policy consensus. Its most well-known champions, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Maajid Nawaz, Bill Maher, and the late Christopher Hitchens, were and remain major features in mainstream liberal discourse – from television shows on HBO to major podcasts to writings featured everywhere from The New York Times to The Guardian to The Daily Beast.

For years, however, leftists of all stripes--anti-imperialists, socialists, progressives--have expressed concern over this brand of liberal chauvinism, its out-sized place in the media and its ability to turn the U.S., and white Americans in particular, into The Real Victims™ ; its ability to offend the religious while championing boilerplate National Security consensus and imperial wars abroad. It seemed vaguely provocative but who was it really offending? And, more importantly, who was it serving?



The Guest


Luke Savage is a Toronto-based writer, co-host of the Michael and Us podcast, and a regular contributor to Jacobin and Current Affairs. His analysis of the New Atheist phenomenon and its most recognizable endorsers includes 'New Atheism, Old Empire' (Jacobin, 2014) and 'The Hollow Courage of Bill Maher' (Jacobin, 2017)


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Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here’s the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook.

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Want More?

For further reading, show notes, a periodic newsletter, and more exclusive content, please visit our Patreon page and sign up to support the show!


***

Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our Production Consultant is Josh Kross. The theme is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

*****

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 11, Part II: The Deficits Racket - Racist Media as Barrier to Government Spending


If broad government programs are so popular, why don’t we just vote them into existence?

One of the primary barriers to democratic socialism - or spending, in general - is racist media coverage and racist attitudes about how government programs are administered. In this episode of Citations Needed, we explore how media-fueled racism and means-tested nickel-and-diming makes radical change that much more difficult.

This episode features our producer Florence Barrau-Adams filling in for me.



The Guests


Sean McElwee is a policy analyst at Demos focused on how racism affects public policy, the impact of voter turnout on policy, and how economic inequality affects democracy. His writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Politico, New York and Boston Review. Follow him @SeanMcElwee.

Noël A. Cazenave is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. His most recent book is Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language. Professor Cazenave is also the author of The Urban Racial State: Managing Race Relations in American Cities, Impossible Democracy: The Unlikely Success of the War on Poverty Community Action Programs, and co-author of Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card against America’s Poor. His current book project is tentatively entitled Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism.

***

Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here’s the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook.

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Want More?

For further reading, show notes, a periodic newsletter, and more exclusive content, please visit our Patreon page and sign up to support the show!


***

Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our Production Consultant is Josh Kross. The theme is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

*****

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Boot On The Ground: Shameless War Hawk Feels the Burns on Vietnam While Calling on Trump to Attack Iran

This is Max Boot, someone no one should ever listen to.

Media analyst (and, full disclosure, my Citations Needed podcast co-host) Adam Johnson has brilliantly written on the ubiquitous trope in the American press "that the US military always goes to war reluctantly—and, if there are negative consequences, like civilian deaths, it's simply a matter of bumbling around without much plan or purpose."

This common theme is seen time and again in headlines warning against the United States absent-mindedly or accidentally "sliding," "sleepwalking," "stumbling," being "pulled" or "trapped" or "sucked" or "dragged" or "drawn" into confrontations across the globe, from Syria to Afghanistan to North Korea. A Washington Post headline from August even insisted: "We won't go to war with North Korea on purpose. But we might by accident."

One of the most recent offenders is chronic militarist Max Boot, who took to the pages of Foreign Policy last week to suggest Donald Trump tune into the new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary series on Vietnam to educate himself on the consequences of bad decision-making. The piece, using Vietnam as a cautionary tale, is exactly what you'd imagine it to be. Boot frets that Trump is "risking a repeat of one of the mistakes that ensnared America in the Vietnam War," and suggests Trump watch Burns' series "to see what can happen when the U.S. acts too aggressively and thereby stumbles into a ruinous war."


And here's Boots version of history, with the United States being - as always - both noble and hapless in equal measure:
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson committed himself to defending South Vietnam from North Vietnamese aggression. At the same time, he authorized a covert campaign known as OPLAN 34A to send South Vietnamese commandos on raids into the North supported by the U.S. military. Johnson had no idea that in so doing he would be goading North Vietnam into a war with the United States. But that is just what happened.
See? Benevolent America is "committed to defending" our allies against enemy "aggression." So, the United States "supports" various military actions. And then - whoopsie! - the U.S. is suddenly at war. How ever did that happen?!

Boot continues to spin his yarn:
One of Johnson’s covert attacks took place at midnight of July 30, 1964, with South Vietnamese naval commandos raiding two North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin while the destroyer USS Maddox was steaming 120 miles away. There was no direct connection between the commando raid and the Maddox’s intelligence-gathering patrol, but the North Vietnamese did not know that. On Aug. 2, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the Maddox without doing any damage.
Then on Aug. 4, another North Vietnamese attack was reported on the Maddox and its sister destroyer, the Turner Joy. The two destroyers fired 372 shells and at least four depth charges while reporting that they had dodged multiple torpedoes and enemy gunfire. Yet American pilots overhead could not see any enemy ships. It later became obvious that the second attack had not really happened. But by then Congress had passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving Johnson a blank check to wage war against North Vietnam. The eventual result: nearly half a million U.S. troops in South Vietnam, with 58,000 of them coming home in body bags.
Of course, Boot makes literally no mention of the millions of Vietnamese and others murdered in Southeast Asia by Americans. He also skips over the part where, even at the time, the American leadership wasn't positive anything had actually happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, not merely "later" on. President Johnson was told at the time, according to Burns' own documentary, that an attack on the Turner Joy was "probable, but not certain." Hardly an authoritative analysis upon which to go to war. Yet, Johnson and his top cabinet secretaries had already prepared a Congressional resolution to increase American military involvement in Vietnam. Journalist I.F. Stone, at the time, was questioning the official narrative of "unprovoked attacks" and "retaliation." And two Senators voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution due to their disbelieving the White House's version of events.

So, warning against escalating rhetoric with North Korea, Boot urges "containment and deterrence" and hope for the rule of Kim Jong-un to eventually simply collapse. He thinks that plan might just work, "as long as we don't stumble into an unnecessary and calamitous conflict first because of our president's macho posturing."

Boot's track record of advice is troubling. He is an unrepentant advocate of invading Iraq. In 2006, he wrote in the Los Angeles Times that, when it comes to Iran, "we need to think about a tougher approach to regime change." Five years later, in the same paper, he openly called for "a bombing campaign" against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Of course, he's also the guy who in 2009 scolded those making comparisons to Vietnam with regard to the ongoing American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, he wrote:
Iraq was difficult, but hardly an irretrievable disaster and certainly not a Vietnam-size disaster. After six and a half years of war, the United States has lost over 4,300 service personnel in Iraq--a sobering and substantial figure but still 13 times fewer fatalities than we suffered in Vietnam. Just as important, all indications in Iraq are that we are winning.
Boot, who prides himself a military historian, is determined to rewrite history so it suits his preferred, undefeated American Empire fantasy. Indeed, he's even claimed that, "in Vietnam between 1968 and 1972 we did more or less win," lamenting, "but we failed to stick it out."

Perhaps most egregiously, Boot makes this claim, totally (deliberately) ignoring the killing fields presided over by U.S. troops for a decade: "We now know that America's defeat was a tragedy for the people of Southeast Asia."

Boot finger wags at the fatalists in the press who don't trust in U.S. imperial dominance. "Rest assured," he wrote in 2009, "a history of being consistently wrong has not deterred all those Boomers who came of age in the 1960s from once again evoking the specter of you-know-what to warn against involvement in Afghanistan."

He's not money,
and he doesn't even know it.
While Boot advises against "goading" a constantly threatened nuclear-armed state into confrontation, a non-nuclear state is apparently fair game.

Boot's Foreign Policy follow-up to his recent North Korea/Vietnam article is one in which he suggests Donald Trump keep the United States committed to the Iran Deal, while simultaneously "attack[ing] the [Iranian] regime."

Boot beseeches the same president whose "over-the-top bellicosity" so concerns him and who is "far too erratic to be predictable" to - as is the eternal neocon refrain - "take other steps to check the growth of Iranian influence." So, despite knowing that "Trump's impetuosity and ignorance, his saber-rattling could easily spiral out of control, in both Iran and North Korea, leading America into one or more wars that nobody wants," Boot argues for increased anti-Iran aggression anyway to stop Iran's so-called efforts to "Lebanonize" both Iraq and Syria.


The Shia Crescent garbage is recycled here, of course, with Boot collapsing on the fainting couch while claiming, "Iran is now on the verge of controlling a land route running all the way from Tehran to Beirut — the new Persian Empire." Arming more militias and, uh, "moderate rebels" is apparently the answer (I mean, hey, what could go wrong?) and forming more mercenary groups to do Boot's bidding. The rest of Boot's plan is just as asinine - half-baked fantasies about partial Syrian regime change and blowing off the obvious absurdity and murderous colonial consequences of "deepen[ing] American involvement in both Syria and Iraq, carrying risks of increased casualties and effectively committing the United States to a dreaded role in nation-building."

Anything Boot can do to keep American boots on Middle Eastern ground, he'll do.

And, of course, his "history of being consistently wrong" won't be a deterrent.

*****

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 11, Part I: The Deficits Racket - The Single-Payer Propaganda War


The idea that the United States is "running out of money" and have to "tighten our belts" is a common trope in American media; the premise that the US government is like a household that must balance its books is largely taken for granted by liberal and right-wing outlets alike.

But is this premise correct? Is it true that the United States is over-budget and ready to explode with insolvency? Where does this conventional wisdom come from and whom does it benefit?

On this and next week's episodes of Citations Needed, we seek to answer some of the questions. In Part I: Single-Payer Propaganda War, we examine the primary talking points against single-payer healthcare and other big government programs and how to combat them with guest Stephanie Kelton.



The Guest

Stephanie Kelton is a professor at Stony Brook University and former Chief Economist for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. She served as Economic Advisor to the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign and is currently a Fellow at The Sanders Institute and Chair of Board Economists for Peace and Security.


***

Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here’s the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook.

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Want More?

For further reading, show notes, a periodic newsletter, and more exclusive content, please visit our Patreon page and sign up to support the show!


***

Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our Production Consultant is Josh Kross. The theme is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

*****

Monday, September 25, 2017

Citations Needed News Brief: Morgan Freeman vs. Putin Almighty


On the latest Patrons-Only Citations Needed News Brief, Adam and I look at the embarrassing launch of a new Red Scare group called the Committee to Investigate Russia (CIR). Their inaugural video features an extremely earnest Morgan Freeman fear-mongering about the Russian "attack" on Amurica and the necessity to now "save democracy."

The CIR Advisory Board boasts at least four hard-right, pro-Iraq War, pro-torture Bush flunkies, alongside other assorted neoconservative ghouls. And also Rob fucking Reiner, for some weird reason. Oh right, because for lifelong Clintonites, any excuse to absolve the 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate of responsibility for losing the most winnable election of all time will receive full-throated support.

The whole thing is a shameful mess of propaganda.



If you want to check it out, head over the our Patreon page and sign up to support the show. You'll get all the exclusive content!

***

Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.


*****

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 10: Ableism and the Ethics of Calling Trump “Crazy”

Rolling Stone ran an article by Matt Taibbi called, "The Madness of Donald Trump," accompanied with this artwork by Victor Juhasz.

"Insane." "Crazy." "Batshit." "Totally fucking nuts."

Trump's mental health and cognitive capacity is the subject of much speculation, joke-making, and earnest concern. But how should the subject be approached by the media?

On this week's episode of Citations Needed, we explore the ethics of diagnosing mental health from afar, the conflation of mental health issues with moral turpitude, the negative effects of the media's nonstop stigmatizing of "insanity," and how to balance all of the above in the face of the undeniable and unique threat to the planet posed by the American president.



The Guests

Dr. Dean Burnett is a doctor of neuroscience, and moonlights as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian. He lectures at Cardiff University and is also the author of The Idiot Brain.




s.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California, with a journalistic focus on social issues, particularly gender, prison reform, disability rights, environmental justice, queerness, class, and the intersections thereof.



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Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here’s the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook.

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Want More?

For further reading, show notes, a periodic newsletter, and more exclusive content, please visit our Patreon page and sign up to support the show!


***

Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our Production Consultant is Josh Kross. The theme is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

*****

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 09: Liberal Media Throws #J20 Activists Under the Bus


The Hashtag Resistance warms up to rightwing ghouls David Frum and Evan McMullin while ignoring anti-Trump protesters facing 80 years in federal prison.

In the wake of Trump’s unexpected win, the “Resistance” to Trump displayed by many in liberal media has been a toxic combination of gratuitous smears of left activists and ignoring their existence altogether. As over 200 people — including several journalists — face decades in prison for being in the proximity of window-breaking the day of Trump’s inauguration, the silence from those nominally charged with opposing Trump is deafening.

If you can donate to the #J20 legal defense fund, do it here.




The Guest

Sam Menefee-Libey is a longtime grassroots organizer and trainer with experience working on a broad spectrum of economic and social justice issues, including anti-oppression, education and environmental justice. Sam is currently a member of the Dead City Legal Posse, working on behalf of #J20 arrestees.


***

Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here’s the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook.

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Want More?

For further reading, show notes, a periodic newsletter, and more exclusive content, please visit our Patreon page and sign up to support the show!


***

Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

*****

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 08: The Human Rights Concern Troll Industrial Complex

Samantha Power

The concept of human rights has served as the underlying moral foundation of the United States’s role in the world since the end of World War II.

The conceit that the U.S. has been a dedicated and earnest promoter of “freedom”, “democracy,” and “human rights” throughout the world — even if, at times, a “flawed” one — is a defining narrative, largely taken for granted by major media. But how accurate is this assumption? What do we mean when we talk about “human rights”? What abuses are highlighted and which aren’t? Where do labor rights fit into the broader discussion of human rights?

On this episode of Citations Needed, along with our guest Glenn Greenwald, we attempt to parse some of these complex questions and how they fit into a broader discussions of soft power and war.



The Guest

Glenn Greenwald is a co-founding editor of The Intercept. He is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. His most recent book, No Place to Hide, is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to co-founding The Intercept, Glenn’s column was featured at The Guardian and Salon. Along with Laura Poitras, Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. The NSA reporting he led for The Guardian was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

***

Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here’s the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook.

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Want More?

For further reading, show notes, a periodic newsletter, and more exclusive content, please visit our Patreon page and sign up to support the show!

***


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

*****

Monday, September 4, 2017

Citations Needed, News Brief: Harvey, Climate Change and Snitch Reporters


On this Citations Needed News Brief, we discuss the media's fear of covering Harvey in the context of race, class, and the manifest threat of climate change.

We are joined by Katherine Krueger of Splinter News to talk about journalist narcs and the criminalization of survival.



*****

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Alan Dershowitz Invented a Scary Quote to Fear-Monger About Iran


Alan Dershowitz is a liar.

This is not news, of course. His shoddy scholarship and penchant for plagiarism is well-documented. His relentless and tedious self-promotion, let alone his obsession with celebrity - others', as well as his own - is crude, shameless, and pathetic. His virulent Islamophobia has led him to advocate on behalf of torture and in favor of the Muslim ban. He's defended Trump adviser and white nationalist Steve Bannon and Trump himself on the issue of obstruction of justice. In his unwavering crusade to defend Israeli apartheid and advocate for a military assault on Iran, Dershowitz will sink to whatever depths he can suck breath long enough to reach.

His anti-Iran propaganda not only routinely consists of a catalog of lazy tropes, but, in order to justify his alarmist proselytizing, he also just makes shit up. This goes quite beyond the common political and media practice of deliberately misreading or mistranslating things Iranian leaders say; indeed, Dershowitz's bottomless mendacity includes the manufacturing of supposedly sinister sounding quotes by Iranian politicians.

Earlier this year, in a commentary first published by the hawkish, neoconservative Gatestone Institute - and syndicated in right-wing outlets like Fox News and the Jerusalem Post - he did just that.

In the article, The Dersh used the hyped-up threat of North Korean nukes to fear-monger about Iran and argue that Congress empower the sociopathic, know-nothing commander-in-chief of the United States to launch a first-strike against Iran if it crosses certain "red lines." He also insists that "Congress should now enact legislation declaring that Iran's reaffirmation that it will never 'develop or acquire nuclear weapons' is an integral part of the agreement and represents the policy of the United States," despite the fact that Iran already regards that commitment as long-standing state policy, fundamental to the 2015 accord, and merely a reiteration of its obligation as an original signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Nevertheless, to make his flimsy case, Dershowitz relies on psychoanalyzing Iranian leaders and determining that - presumably because they're Muslim, are unsupportive of Israeli colonization and occupation in Palestine, and he doesn't like them - they aren't trustworthy and don't regard international agreements they've negotiated, signed, endorsed, and complied with as "legally binding."

Iran is "in the process of upgrading" its missile capability, Dershowitz claims, "and making them capable of delivering a nuclear payload to our shores." This is literally untrue. He also declares that Iran's "fundamentalist religious leaders would be willing to sacrifice millions of Iranians to destroy the 'Big Satan' (United States) or the 'Little Satan' (Israel)," adding for good measure that "[t]here is nothing more dangerous than a "suicide regime" armed with nuclear weapons."

This is a neocon canard about Iranian leadership - the 'martyr-state myth' - which holds that the "mad mullahs" of Tehran are both genocidal and suicidal, so eager to bring about Armageddon and so blindingly hostile to the United States and Israel that they will instigate a nuclear apocalypse, guaranteeing the deaths of millions and ensuring the complete annihilation of all Iranians, in order to reach their maniacal goals and reap the heavenly rewards. This concept is totally asinine, born of Orientalist bigotry, yet has held sway over the weak minds of Iran hawks for at least a decade, either as a genuine belief or merely a cynical rhetorical device.

To drive his point home, however, Dershowitz relies on his favorite anecdote about former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died this past January. Here's what he writes:
The late "moderate" leader Hashemi Rafsanjani once told an American journalist that if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, they "would kill as many as five million Jews," and that if Israel retaliated, they would kill fifteen million Iranians, which would be "a small sacrifice from among the billion Muslims in the world." He concluded that "it is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
Dershowitz has referenced this story numerous times before to argue that Iran and its "suicidal leaders" pose an "existential and immediate" threat to Israel. It surfaces in both Preemption, his 2006 book dedicated to justifying war crimes, which The Guardian aptly described as "dangerous, muddled nonsense," and his 2015 book, The Case Against the Iran Deal, an extended and recycled whine against successful diplomacy.

Dershowitz, a cable news fixture, trotted out the same claim during a CNN debate about Iran on February 25, 2015, insisting that Rafsanjani "said if Iran gets nuclear weapons and bombs Israel, it will kill 3 million to 5 million Jews. Israel will retaliate to kill 10 million to 20 million Muslims, and the tradeoff would be worth it because it would destroy Israel and it would leave Islam untouched."

An excerpt for Dershowitz's The Case Against the Iran Deal
He also referenced the same tale in a March 23, 2010, commentary in the Wall Street Journal in which he predictably likens Iran to Nazi Germany and President Barack Obama to Neville "Appeasement" Chamberlain.

Dershowitz's lies flow from the very beginning of the op-ed. "There are several ways in which Iran could use nuclear weapons. The first is by dropping an atomic bomb on Israel, as its leaders have repeatedly threatened to do." In fact, Iran has literally never threatened to do anything remotely like this, especially because - again - they've always maintained that their internationally safeguarded, civilian nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-producing purposes only. Even if one doubts Iranian intentions, claiming they've made nuclear threats when they've done precisely the opposite for decades is pathetically dishonest.

Then, to provide a seemingly credible example of the maniacal nature of Iranian officials, it's time for the Rafsanjani anecdote again. This time around, Dershowitz wrote:
Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran, boasted in 2004 that an Iranian attack would kill as many as five million Jews. Mr. Rafsanjani estimated that even if Israel retaliated with its own nuclear bombs, Iran would probably lose about 15 million people, which he said would be a small "sacrifice" of the billion Muslims in the world.
It's a damning story, no doubt, showcasing a callous leader with genocidal thoughts and little regard for human life.

But here's the thing: it's not actually true.

There is no record of a Rafsanjani statement of this kind. Not in 2004, not ever.

However, there is a 2001 Rafsanjani speech that has been routinely misread and manipulated by pro-Israel, Iran hawks to make Iranian policy sound causally genocidal.

On December 14, 2001, former president Rafsanjani delivered the traditional Friday sermon at Tehran University. It was the last Friday of Ramadan and the celebration of Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Iran, an official day of solidarity with Palestinians.

During the speech, Rafsanjani described Israel as an "outgrowth of colonialism and a multi-purpose colonial base," supported by both "the Americans and Britain," along with the United Nations and some "Islamic and Arab governments." Because "the survival of Israel depends on the interests of imperialists and colonialists," he said, "they have arranged it in a way that the balance of power favors Israel."

Speaking directly to the longstanding policy of ensuring Israel's overwhelming military superiority in the Middle East - what is known in U.S. foreign policy as Israel's "qualitative military edge" - Rafsanjani explained:
From a numerical point of view, it [Israel] cannot have as many troops as Muslims and Arabs do. So they [the United States and Great Britain] have improved the quality of what they have. Classical weaponry has its own limitations. They have limited use. They have a limited range as well. They have supplied vast quantities of weapons of mass destruction and unconventional weapons to Israel. They have permitted it to have them and they have shut their eyes to what is going on. They have nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles and suchlike.
If one day … Of course, that is very important. If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.
No comparative calculations of millions dead. No mention of a billion Muslims. No mention of an Iranian nuclear weapon. No mention of Israeli retaliation to an Iranian nuclear attack.

When read in context, Rafsanjani's point is clear. Far from issuing a threat against Israel, he articulates the motivations behind ongoing Western support for Israeli aggression and for guaranteeing Israel's sole possession of a nuclear arsenal in the region. It is a hypothetical posed to explain U.S and British efforts to maintain a gross power imbalance in the Middle East in service of their own interests. Beyond this, at no point does Rafsanjani suggest Iran will produce or obtain non-conventional weapons, let alone threaten to actually use them.

In fact, Rafsanjani is on record stating the very opposite. When he was president, Rafsanjani forcefully and repeatedly denied that the Iranian government had any interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. "We're not after nuclear bombs and we won't go after biological and chemical weapons," he said on March 23, 1997. In 2004, the very year Dershowitz claims Rafsanjani "boasted" about obliterating millions of human lives, Rafsanjani declared, "I absolutely offer the world the assurance that Tehran is not after nuclear arms."

So where did Dershowitz get all that "15 million vs. 5 million" crap? His bad information can be traced directly to a 2004 column by Suzanne Fields in the right-wing The Washington Times. Fields refers obliquely to the Rafsanjani speech cited above, but omits almost all of the actual words, in favor of creative paraphrasing that extrapolates creepy mathematical rhetoric to embellish, exaggerate and exploit the Iranian leader's point.

Here is Fields' version of this tall tale. See if you can spot the similarities to Dershowitz's own subsequent accounts:
In 2001 Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran, speculated that in a nuclear exchange with Israel his country might lose 15 million people, which would amount to a small “sacrifice” from among the billion Muslims worldwide in exchange for the lives of 5 million Israeli Jews. He seemed pleased with his formulation.
Dershowitz apparently took Fields' word as gospel and ignored the primary source reporting on Rafsanjani's speech. In his his writing, Dershowitz turned Fields' propagandistic editorializing and complete misreading of Rafsanjani's quote into the quote itself.

Not only does Dershowitz conflate Fields' 2004 column with Rafsanjani's 2001 speech, he somehow imagines that Rafsanjani "boasted" directly to Fields, the "American journalist" he references, instead of addressing an assembled audience at Tehran University. Indeed, the word "sacrifice" never appears in the Rafsanjani speech, let alone in reference to what either Iran or "the Islamic world" would endure in order to annihilate Israel. That appears to be a flourish of Fields' invention, yet another attempt to link the concept of "martyrdom" with state policy, one picked up and repeated with relish by Dershowitz.

Alan Dershowitz is not merely a sloppy or biased researcher, cherry-picking and manipulating information to serve his ideological goals. He is not merely a serial plagiarist; he is a fabricator of evidence in a never-ending case for war against those who, by either their anti-imperial doctrine or mere inconvenient existence, dare challenge American and Israeli policy.

By virtue of his notoriety and self-promotion, however, Dershowitz still enjoys nearly limitless access to cable news platforms, where he continues to spout his nonsense. His editorials and books are still published without even the most cursory oversight of fact-checking by his editors and publishers.

Alan Dershowitz is a full-scale propagandist, for whom facts are irrelevant and lies remain the currency of his celebrity.

*****

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 07: BDS & The Moral Narratives of Colonization


In Episode 7 of Citations Needed, we explore how the media discusses the issue of BDS and the broader topic of Palestinian liberation.

What are the stakes? Who are the smear artists? What are the similarities with past apartheid boycotts? We discusses these topics and more using a pro-apartheid 1989 Christian Science Monitor op-ed as our guide.



The Guest

Steven Salaita previously held the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut. Author of six previous books, he is a regular columnist for Electronic Intifada and a member of the Organizing Committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).



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Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Citations Needed, News Brief: Charlottesville, The ACLU, and the Moral Limits of 'Free Speech'


In a new Citations Needed News Brief, Adam and I discuss Charlottesville, the ACLU, and the moral limits of 'free speech' with George Ciccariello-Maher, Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies at Drexel University.




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