There’s Their Way or the Galloway

So now we have the worst of all worlds: the prospect of some rotten new federal judges and the survival of the filibuster, which the Republicans have consented not to abolish and the Democrats pledged almost never to use.

As Senator Russ Feingold said, “Democrats should have stood together firmly Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush administration to send more nominees who lack the judicial temperament or record to serve in these lifetime positions I am disappointed in this deal.”

Since I spent my youth reading fervent denunciations of the filibuster as the tool of Southern reaction I found it beyond my powers to take the urgent advice of liberals over the past month, shed the prejudices of a lifetime and promote the filibuster to the status of progressivism’s stout bulwark.

Besides which, given the collapse of liberalism as the ideological framework for any vigorous advocacy for the better things (war on the palaces, peace to the cottages, etc.,) why should we expect Democratic nominees to the federal bench to offer any last-ditch relief? The culture that produced Douglas, Brennan and Black is long gone. Happy “accidents”, if they come at all, will come from the right in the shape of libertarians like Souter.

Rather than get drawn into the recent unseemly haggling it would a rather more honorable course for the left to attack the entire corrupt system of judicial selection from top to bottom. What possible justification can there be for a system in which all federal judges are within the gift of state delegations of the Democratic and Republican parties? Let’s have popular election of all judges.

The US Senate, on the other hand, should abandon its comical pretensions to be being a body reflecting any democratic mandate. Senators should be installed by some version of the phonebook approach. Probably the best method was the one obtaining at the former House of Lords, now destroyed by Tony Blair: incumbency by birthright, handed down the generations. Within not too many decades this simple method produced useful numbers of decent, independent-minded people. After Blair’s “reforms” the place has become a quango, meaning a creature of the government of the day.

But these are mere dreams. Can there be anything more dismal that what we do have, Democrats in House and Senate apparently brain-dead, with vacant real estate where the heart normally resides. These are times ripe with opportunity. The people hold the Republicans in derision and contempt. Bush huddles on the ledge of a 41 per cent popular approval rating, bolstered only by the fact that the Republican who not long ago towered above him in popular regard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is perched on an even lower, 40 per cent rating. The congressional Republicans’ popular standing is somewhere in the 20s.

Day by day the news gets worse for Bush. He plunges into pits of his own making, like the Schiavo case. The economy turns to rubble. He nearly lost his main prop, Laura to a coalition of the Sons of the Prophet and the Friends of Jonathan Pollard.

Yet there’s no sign of a vigorous Democratic onslaught. This last week brought us Democratic surrender in the matter of the nomination of the appalling John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN. Senator Barbara Boxer indicated Tuesday, March 24, she was lifting her hold on the Bolton nomination. Senator Chris Dodd added the same day that “there’s no desire for a filibuster”. This was the same day that Republican senator George Voinovich sent out a Dear Colleague letter assailing Bolton and urging all to vote against the man. It’s true that later there was a last spasm of resistance from a few Democrats delaying the inevitable by a week, but with the combo of Dodd and Biden, two entirely despicable legislators, leading Democratic foreign policy in the Senate, we can expect nothing but flag-wagging in Bush’s wake.

What lies on the horizon by way of a renewed Democratic party? We’re supposed to be welcoming The senatorial candidacy in Minnesota of Al Franken, a man who won’t let the words “Withdraw from Iraq now” be uttered on the Air America network? God help us. Or the other senatorial candidacy, in Vermont, of Bernie Sanders. At least Jeffords bucked his party. Sanders can’t even do that.

So it’s scarcely surprising that the recent testimony on Capitol Hill of the newly elected independent Respect MP for London’s East End, George Galloway, had every person with any snap left in their stride cavorting in jubilant satisfaction. Here at last was a man who could deploy coherent sentences of well merited, well structured and richly detailed abuse of US relations with Iraq at the nearest available representative of the Bush administration, who happened to be Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. This contemptible fellow doubtless rose that morning and gazed at himself in the mirror without the slight apprehension that in a few hours a genuine parliamentary rough-houser would give him some whacks on the back on the neck whose bruises won’t fade for many a long year.

Another man who rose from his bed presumably no less confident of the shape of the day was Christopher Hitchens, who repaired to the Hill with the plan of garnering himself headlines by confronting Galloway. He tried to do so, but ran into witheringly accurate small arms fire from Galloway, chanting “You’re a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay. Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink.”

This was the biggest thing to happen to popinjays since Hemingway defined one in Death in the Afternoon as “a writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured or well bred”, which is an eerily accurate characterization of the prose of C. Hitchens. The routed popinjay, plumage a-droop, fluttered wanly off to the offices of the Weekly Standard where Rupert Murdoch paid him to retaliate with 4,000 distinctly less memorable words, dedicated to showing Galloway to be a shady fellow, using the standard arsenal of “filthy”, “mark the sequel” and other familiar popinjabber. At that length, using Hitchens’ standards of evidence and innuendo, I reckon I could make a pretty good case for Hitchens being the Armstrong Williams of high-end punditry.

One odd bit in Hitchens’ defensive diatribe was a wail about Galloway’s “main organizational muscle” being “provided by a depraved sub-Leninist sect called the Socialist Workers party.” In a slightly earlier incarnation the SWP was the organizational homeport of the former drink-soaked Trotskyist, C. Hitchens, also of Oona King, the Blairite incumbent Galloway routed in the East End. Maybe Hitchens’s erstwhile comrades will the popinjay a ripe welcome in his upcoming tour of London with David Horowitz, assuming that outing hasn’t perished for lack of subscribers.

So Galloway showed what a man with fire in his belly can do. The Democrats have no one with that capacity. They have Nancy Pelosi, whose idea of a constructive approach to the Middle East was to tell AIPAC last week,

“There are those who contend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is absolute nonsense. In truth, the history of the conflict is not over occupation, and never has been: it is over the fundamental right of Israel to exist.

“The greatest threat to Israel’s right to exist, with the prospect of devastating violence, now comes from Iran. For too long, leaders of both political parties in the United States have not done nearly enough to confront the Russians and the Chinese, who have supplied Iran as it has plowed ahead with its nuclear and missile technology….

“In the words of Isaiah, we will make ourselves to Israel ‘as hiding places from the winds and shelters from the tempests; as rivers of water in dry places; as shadows of a great rock in a weary land.’

“The United States will stand with Israel now and forever. Now and forever.”

She must have meant arms and cash. Israel already has the water.


Nutty Professor Screams About “Plot” Against Him, Cites Troika of Evil

As an ongoing public display the ongoing mental collapse of Alan Dershowitz continues to afford us modest delight, and particular pleasure since he cites co-editor Cockburn as one of the contributory causes of his distress.

Dershowitz has been much agitated in recent years by the charge, leveled by Normal Finkelstein that he, Dershowitz, is a plagiarist. CounterPunchers will find my discussion of the issue on this site back in the fall of 2003, at

At the time there was blast and counterblast both here and in The Nation, where the letters page featured the bleats of Dershowitz and my definitive rebuttal. Since that time Dershowitz has been in an extreme state of agitation at the prospect of Finkelstein’s analysis of his borrowings from the work of Joan Peters being published in book form, first scheduled for publication by The New Press, and latterly by the University of California Press.

There hasn’t been such a commotion since the British Customs tried to keep Lady Chatterley’s Lover out of England. A book that otherwise might have been a relatively modest blip on the national radar screen has been elevated by Dershowitz’s frantic squawks to the status of a major cultural event. In his efforts at prior restraint Dershowitz even appealed to Austria’s pride, the governor of California, who presumably has more pressing problems on his mind (such as his pell-mell schuss towards single-digit public approval in California) than an impending publication of the University of California.

The last refuge of any cornered mountebank is to invoke “The Plot Against Me”, and in a curious inversion of some anti-Semitic tract, Dershowitz has now traced all his problems to an all-powerful troika, consisting of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and me.

Dershowitz’s thesis is that like some Archon of the Galaxies Chomsky croaks from his lair in the heart of darkness, “Destroy Him”. The compliant Finkelstein goes to work, and the result of his researches is then publicized by Yours Truly, with devastating effect upon Dershowitz. His life is ruined! A pleasant life formerly devoted to apologias for Israel’s barbarous treatment of Palestinians has now been cruelly subverted by the all-powerful Troika. The professor who once impressed young women in Harvard Yard with technical discussions of how best, (under judicial warrant, of course) to push scalpels under the fingernails of terror suspects now fills the air with threats of libel. Like some latter day Ancient Mariner, stopping one in three, Dershowitz posts interminable dissections of “The Plot Against Me” on the internet, dissections which could fairly be accused of partiality towards the male sex, since I recall that even before my own discussion of the Dershowitz-Peters conjunction in late 2003, the affair received detailed scrutiny on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now.

(To address only Dershowitz’s discussion of my own role, malicious inaccuracies abound. He claims falsely I was fired from the Village Voice. Though invited to return by the Voice’s then editor I had no desire to return to a publication panicked into an unfair suspension and quit. It was a sound choice and a happy day. The Nation offered me a column and a national audience. In scarce more than a decade CounterPunch had set sail!)

For our part, CounterPunch is taking the high road. Not for us the course of malice and paranoia adopted by the demented Dershowitz, who ever more closely resembles an illustration to the limericks of Edward Lear. This fall we will be publishing The Case Against Israel, by Michael Neumann. Then let constructive debate commence! On the one hand Dershowitz’s shoddy, compromised apologia for a morally bankrupt state; on the other, Neumann’s conclusive, scholarly and immaculate presentation, brilliant in its logic, unchallengeable in its carefully assembled facts.


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Our BBQ Scout from Buffalo Elicits Manly Plaudits from Texan Taste-Buds

Any discussion of barbecue usually elicits the sort of clamor you’d expect from a discussion of the nature of the Godhead at the Council of Nicaea. People have strong views on barbecue and regard any controversion of their own prejudices as by its very nature ignorant and perverse.

So, when assigning her the task of reviewing the barbecue joint of Lockhart, Texas, I warned JoAnn Wypijewski of the thunderclaps of affronted Texas pride she might expect.

JoAnn turned in her magnificent piece, “The Glory That Is Lockhart” and the perspicacity of her palate received nothing but generous acknowledgment from Texas’ jealous sons.

From John Cloud, now exiled in Silver Spring, MD, from the Lone Star State, this nostalgic capriole:

JoAnn: I just read your Lockhart piece in CounterPunch, which was briskly intelligent– make that brisketly intelligent- like everything you write.

BUT: re: “For plain beef-and beef is the ultimate in Texas barbecue…”

Well, I grew up in West Texas though most people wouldn’t know that from what they see now. But I can tell you for a fact that, in the same sort of German-Mexican amalgam that led to Lockhart, out in ranch country in West Texas the preferred meat was goat, and preferably young goat, called kid. (Sheep, by contrast, was never eaten at all, not even lamb at Easter). If you get a chance to go to my home town, Sonora-the name, by the way, was the nickname for a Mexican servant whom the wife of the town land baron clearly loved far more than her husband, so she insisted that when the village turned into a real county seat it be named “Sonora”, and so it was– well, if you get to Sonora, ask about some kid. Beef brisket and the rest are what we Sonorans ate when there wasn’t any kid available. Things may well have changed. We lived in Sonora before the US military quit buying mohair for winter uniforms, and the bottom dropped out of the local economy yet again, so I don’t know what the goat situation is like today.

But bon appetit! West Texas is also a place where there are drug store soda fountains that never entirely disappeared. Like in Fort Stockton, and Davis. You can ask for a cherry phosphate and they can make you one, a beverage that hasn’t changed in over a century. Goes great with kid!

And from Wimberley, Texas, these words from praise from a man whose very name breathes the sweet savor of the smoking pit, Joe Nick Patoski:

Very well-researched and articulated story, and I don’t offer such praise easily (I was a pit boss for Texas Monthly’s roundups of Texas ‘Cue in 96 and ’02 before I left the mag. That said, you were only 15 miles from the best barbecue in the entire state ­ Luling City Market, which blows ’em all away. I’m with you on Smitty’s and am still mad Rick Schmidt let family come between the meat and smoke. In retrospect, I think he wanted to be pushed out so he could do more volume in his new place; Nina Sells wanted him to pay for upgrading the wiring and infrastructure in the old place and he wouldn’t do it. And I used to champion Black’s mainly because I liked their sauce, but had two negative visits in a row.

And you didn’t make Chisholm Trail BBQ? Many Lockhart locals swear by it, but I think it’s because it’s cheaper than Smitty’s or Kreuz’

Anyhow, kudos and a big You Done Good on Lockhart.

Joe Nick later added,

Luling City Market is 17 miles south of Lockhart on US Hwy 183. You’d love the atmosphere ­ like Smitty’s, you have to walk into the smoking pit room to choose your meats, only this room is smaller, smokier, and a tad more cacophonic.

Nah, you did right in Lockhart by skipping Chisholm. The first time around Texas Monthly did the Top 50 in Texas ratings, one judge, Jim Shahin, listed Chisholm Trail. I made him take me there, and then I took him to Black’s. The compromise was listing both joints among the Top 50. But when I went back in 03 with a group of judges, Chisholm was greasy and lousy and Black’s just didn’t cut it, much to my disappointment. In fact, I found the brisket at Luling BBQ, a block from City Market, better than both.

I think the last BBQ issue for TM, I ate at more than 70 joints in South and Central Texas (my assigned territory), racking up about 4,000 miles on the odometer. There’s some real interesting mesquite joints in Kingsville and Pleasanton, and at least four worthy African-American joints in Houston worth a bite or three.

Joe Nick

And of course, there’s the Do It Yourself bulletin from Phil Toler:

I applaud your discriminating taste in BBQ. I grew up in Austin, (born ’49) and have dined on and cooked BBQ to a degree unknown by even many Lockhartians…I BBQ on the patio every day and have for the last 25 years. I couldn’t eat a stovetop meat dish if Julia Child were to appear from nowhere in my kitchen to prepare it. My evolution as a BBQer reflects the realities of doing it so often, but I have the reference taste in my head, and should I begin to forget, well, a trip to Blacks brings it all back. The Schmidts were always too full of themselves, in my opinion, and I don’t find their brisket all that compelling, particularly when you have to drive by Blacks to get it.

Great story…made me hungry as hell so I better go spark the barbie, mate!

Phil Toler

And later, to JoAnn from Toler again (whose spelling of the word “grille” excites CounterPunch’s darkest suspicions):

Okay, I exaggerate. There’s things that are not of this continent that I have not experienced and would willingly sit down for that are stove cooked. But since you’re a New Yorker, where I have spent many wonderous months I’ll let you in on some of my (shortcut) BBQ secrets. First, I use an electric grille. As blasphemous as this sounds, it is very efficient, but in order to achieve the groovy wood smoke it takes a revolutionary product known as smoke pellets. A company out of Pine Bluff, AK takes an astonishing array of hardwoods, from orange to black walnut to apple, and 11 others, pulverizes them, then pressure forms them into little dowels of pure hardwood essence. In a very oxygen poor container put right on the heat source, no matter what its ultimate energy input came from, it smokes like crazy for about 20 minutes, and imparts a pronounced, yet subtle flavor.

In the most general sense, the ultra long smoke sessions are utterly impractical for all but the rare occasions. The folks in Pine Bluff discovered that in the hurry up mode, there is only the foul tasting buildup of wood resins on the exterior of the meat. They found that in relatively small cookers, the key was to administer the smoke until the meat reached about 170 degrees, when it ceased to take the smoke flavors into the meat, and merely deposited them on the crust.

So, I turn on the grille, put an iron pot with a third of a cup of any blend of smoke pellets on the grate, and within 15 minutes I have optimum smoke. The meat, of course, is as far from the heat source as possible to slow the process down, but after the smoking phase is done, you can finish it in the oven and nobody is the wiser. As for prep, I’ve got another secret that is just as efficient. If you’re interested, I’ll give you all the details.


And another, from Richard Smith which I find even more unpersuasive:

Great article. Here is a recipe for peerless brisket you can make at home. Buy a HEB fully-cooked brisket, either hickory or mesquite flavor. Wrap all or a portion of it in heavy aluminum foil, carefully sealed and with fat side up, and with about 1/4 cup water per whole brisket (they are huge), less for smaller portions, added before sealing. Put in large open pan and bake in oven at 275 for three hours. Old family secret, at least 4 years old anyway. You will not be disappointed, and it reheats well in a covered dish with a bit of water, in a microwave oven. No sauce needed or wanted.

Richard Smith, Hollywood Park, TX.

Footnote: a slightly shorter version of the opening item initially appeared in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.


















Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.