Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Saturday, November 29, 2003
 
Matt Taibbi's True Colors

For years now, I've turned to The Nation mostly for its terrific cryptic crosswords. But they also print articles, and, from following a Clark list, I learned that the current issue of the mag features a remarkably pointless pile of drivel allegedly concerning Wesley Clark, and written by one Matt Taibbi. Although the best part of the magazine, the puzzles, regrettably, don't seem to be available online. Even more regrettable, the drivel is.

The article suggests that Taibbi's wholly negative view of Clark and his supporters comes from his observation of the campaign; in fact, it goes back several years. Through the late 90s, Taibbi lived in Moscow where he co-edited and helped write an English language magazine called The eXile. The eXile was, to put it mildly, opposed to the war in Kosovo. In his writing Taibbi was an open apologist for some of the most notorious crimes of Slobodan Milosevic and his associates. Taibbi wrote a long article implying that the January 15, 1999 massacre of Albanian civilians at Racak never happened. The evidence of a massacre at Racak is extensive; according to Human Rights Watch, which took extensive testimony from survivors:

Precisely how the twenty-three men were killed by the police on the hill outside of Racak remains somewhat unclear. But witness testimony, as provided here, and the physical evidence found at the site by journalists and KVM monitors, makes it clear that most of these men were fired upon from close range as they offered no resistance. Some of them were apparently shot while trying to run away.

Journalists at the scene early on January 16 told Human Rights Watch that many of these twenty-three men also had signs of torture, such as missing finger nails. Their clothes were bloody, with slashes and holes at the same spots as their bullet entry and exits wounds, which argues against government claims that the victims were KLA soldiers who were dressed in civilian clothes after they had been killed. All of them were wearing rubber boots typical of Kosovo farmers rather than military footwear. It is possible that some of these men were defending their village in the morning and then went to the Osmani house once they saw the police entering the village. However, they clearly did not resist the police at the time of their capture or execution.

The massacre at Racak plays a prominent role in the indictment of Milosevic and his cronies for crimes against humanity. But Taibbi claims it was all a con job. To support this fantastic charge he offers no study of the evidence, but simply an examination of the resume of one witness, an American diplomat named William Walker who, as an official of the Kosovo Verification Mission of the OSCE, was among the first foreigners to enter Racak after the atrocities. Mr Walker, it seems, was previously stationed in Central America during the Contra War and related conflicts of the 1980s. Therefore, he is obviously CIA, proving clearly that the Racak massacre must have been a CIA trick. If Mr Walker were the only witness, that would be an ad hominem argument, but at least an argument. But since Walker 's statements were backed by many statements of survivors and other international observers, his own background is simply irrelevant.

The first armed NATO intervention in Yugoslavia took place at the end of August, 1995. The primary cause was the Srebrenica massacre which took place the preceding month, but the immediate spark was an artillery attack on the Sarajevo market that caused over 100 civilian casualties. Another Taibbi article suggests that this attack was staged by the Bosnians, as a plan to obtain NATO support by murdering their own people and then framing the innocent Serbs.

Despite its moral posturing about Serb ethnic cleansing, NATO itself has provided air cover for the same kinds of atrocities it now accuses the Serbs of committing. In 1995, NATO planes, responding to what many now suspect was a Bosnian-government-staged massacre of Muslim civilians, attacked and crippled the Bosnian Serb army with punishing air assaults.

It is true that this claim has been made by such as Radovan Karadzic, not the most credible of sources, but good enough for the Nation. But it was categorically rejected by the UN (see paragraphs 438 - 441 of link) for good reasons, as discussed by Richard Holbrooke ("To End A War", ch 6). It is known that five shells were fired. Four failed to detonate, so analysis of their impact permitted a clear identification of the point of origin, which was in Serb-controlled territory. For the Bosnians to have fired the fifth and fatal round, it would have been necessary for the Bosnians to have known ahead of time exactly where and when the attack would come, in order to disguise their own shell as part of it.

Taibbi's further complaints against NATO ranged from the openly racist ("The Serbs are one of the tallest, most beautiful European tribes. Somalis, too, are tall and elegant, as are the Tutsi, who actually call themselves `The Tall People.` Why are the most beautiful tribes being wiped out by the squat and ugly?") to the highly personal ("Until a few weeks ago, Western men in Moscow could always count on being given special attention by that most precious of God's creatures, the Russian dyevushka.... Not now. Thanks to the NATO airstrikes, the White God has become the White Devil. All bets are off.... The days of E-Z sex and multiple partners in a consequence-free environment are over, thanks to America's sexually-demented president. Now, dyevs don't swallow. They just spit. All because your stupid country had to go 'n' bomb the Serbs.")

The general practice, rather conspicuous above, of going the extra mile to be as offensive as possible was a habit of Taibbi and The eXile. One Taibbi essy, under the title "God Can Suck MY Dick", says:

After 9/11, I'm certain: every last person who believes in God should be swept off the streets, captured with big nets, thrown into maximum-security institutions, and forced to knit oven mitts and play Lite-Brite with each other until their deaths.

Despite what you may think, God people are not just incredibly stupid. They're dangerous. They make possible every kind of human idiocy. Why? Not just because they tend to be zealots who try to force their point of view on other people (indeed, most religions consider non-believers lost or damned); not just because they do things like level the World Trade Center or strap dynamite to themselves and walk into abortion clinics to kill teenage girls they don't even know. No, the big problem with God people is that they make patent absurdities a central fact in the lives of entire populations, so that if anyone by chance wants to live a reasonable life, he has to do so in private, apologetically, like a man walking half bent-over through a crowded subway car because he has an erection in his pants.

Some of The eXile's outrages, such as the above piece, at least make a point. Others are adolescent transgressions of the worst kind, offensive for the sake of being offensive, without actually saying anything interesting, or making any noticable satiric point, or even being tastelessly funny. Certainly after a taste of The eXile, it is unsurprising that Taibbi adopted the persona of a porn director for his 'research' into the Clark movement.

As for the article itself, there's little to say. There are few facts to debate; Taibbi deals mainly in pointless anecdotes and personal opinions. He begins by looking deep into the eyes of various candidates. In the eyes of Kucinich, he finds limpid pools of sincerity consistent with Kucinich's standing as the writer's chosen favorite. In Lieberman, he finds humor - perhaps the gentleman from Connecticut also finds it clever to pick out random strangers and talk to them about having sex with their mother's corpse. In Clark he sees nothing, although the nothing seems to resemble a turtle, and there's a picnic basket in there somewhere. See, it's a metaphor, and if you're too clueless to understand, just do what Matt would do: read the article over again, changing every noun to 'penis'.

Matt then goes undercover to attend meetups with Clark supporters, who make valiant attempts to be polite to him although he is telling bizarre lies that they probably see through. As a result of this daring investigation, he is in a position to report that Clarkies want to defeat Bush and consider that more important than memorizing every detail of Clark's platform. Not many reporters could dig up this discovery in a month or so of research - most would take more like 5 minutes.

Taibbi is at pains to challenge Clark's bona fides as an anti-war candidate. "It is not easy to explain how a man who voted for Reagan and Nixon, was a speechwriter for Al Haig, worked in the Ford White House alongside Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and was a passionate supporter of the Vietnam War could become a darling of the liberal antiwar crowd. Thirty-five years ago, hundreds of thousands of people took angrily to the streets, universities were taken over and a sitting President was hounded from the White House because of people like Wesley Clark.... [N]o person who found the Iraq war morally repugnant could have gone on television and talked sunnily about how this or that weapon was ravaging Iraqi defenses. I remember watching Clark on CNN, and at one point he was actually playing with a model of an A-10 tank-killer airplane, whooshing it back and forth over a map of Iraq, like a child playing with a new toy on Christmas morning. A person who was genuinely opposed to the war as wrongful killing would be sick even thinking about such a thing." True, Clark is opposed to fighting the wrong war for the wrong reason in the wrong way, but that isn't good enough for Matt. Any true anti-war man would be opposed to all wars - except for those fought by tall and beautiful tribes to eliminate the unpleasantly short and ugly.

Taibbi also drops broad hints that Clark's 'true colors' involve some sort of military-electoral coup. Clark is compared variously to Caesar, Cincinattus, and Nixon. And what does the would-be dictator like to eat? Napoleons - hint, hint.



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