Larry Beinhart: Fog Facts
Larry Beinhart is a novelist and screenwriter, perhaps best known for
his movie script, Wag the Dog. His short book, Fog Facts:
Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (2005; paperback, 2006,
Nation Books) was, as best I recall, the book I was reading when I
started posting my "current reading" list on the blog. Ever since
then I've been looking forward to posting the numerous quotes I
marked in this book, but I kept reading more books and making other
posts. I suppose one problem is that the book's binding makes it
relatively hard to keep open while I type. On the other hand, I've
read few books in the last five years that I recommend more highly,
especially if you're mostly interested in the big picture and how
it's managed to get so fuzzy for so many people.
On the idea of "fog facts" (pp. 2-3):
The idea of fog facts emerged from a series of very casual
conversations I had between tennis games with Robert Brill, city desk
editor at the Albany Times Union. I would get to the courts
full of umbrage over something that I had discovered searching the Net
that had not been reported in the mainstream media.
Rob would reply, almost invariably, "Oh, there was a story about
that three months ago."
I would go home and do a search, and sure enough, the Times had
indeed reported that Halliburton was being sued by its shareholders
for the accounting practices instituted by Dick Cheney. On page 3 of
the business section or something like that.
The things I was getting so worked up over were not secrets
uncovered by political spies and underground agents of the next
revolution. They were snippets picked up from the Wall Street
Journal, CNN, and Fox News and now brought ot my attention on a
Web site. Even if they came from Greg Palast or Al Jazeera or the
Atlantic or books by David Corn and Kevin Philips, they were
all public facts. They were in print. They had been referred to,
reviewed, and cross-referenced elsewhere.
Yet they seemed to be invisible.
Leading into a discussion of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the
Nuremberg trials (pp. 21-22):
I highly recommend the second season of the TV series
24. It's The Perils of Pauline on crack. Like crack
itself, it is neither coherent nor deep, but it is addictive.
Terrorists are about to set off a nuke in Los Angeles. The show is
called 24 because it takes place over a twenty-four-hour
period. It is urgent! Not only are the terrorists going to nuke L.A.,
the bomb is going to go off within twenty-four hours.
The most decent, ethical, thoughtful person on the whole show is
the American president. You can tell, because he's black. Imagine a
dark Colin Powell living in a thriller version of The West
Wing. He discovers a suspect. Inside his own cabinet! The suspect
will not talk. What to do? There are 10 million people in L.A., some
of them really hot movie stars and some of them really appealing
little tykes and, oh, all sorts of people.
The president not only makes the agonized decision to torture the
suspect, he cranks the dial on the pain machine with his own hand.
This is the essential paradigm in which we live once we have
accepted the necessary lie -- that the terrorists could not have been
stopped by normal means -- and have accepted the big lie -- that we
are in a War on Terror.
These lies make all things acceptable.
On Bush's political capital lesson (p. 50):
There is a story from Russ Baker. It only has a single source,
which is why it ended up on Guerrilla News Network instead of some
more "reputable" publication. Baker interviewed Mickey Herskowitz, a
professional ghostwriter who had been hired to do Bush's campaign
autobiography. Herskowitz told Baker he had met with the candidate
about twenty times to talk to him for the book:
[George Bush] said to me: "One of the keys to being seen as a great
leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief." And he said, "My father
had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out
of Kuwait and he wasted it." He said, "If I have a chance to invade
. . . if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste
it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and
I'm going to have a successful presidency."
Imagine being George Bush and watching your father, as president of
the United States, soar to unprecedented heights in the polls, then
slide and slide and be beaten by that liberal piece of trailer-park
trash, Bill Clinton.
That's a life lesson.
Whether or not the Herskowitz story is verifiable almost doesn't
matter, for it draws our attention to what the experience must have
been like and it fits with the notions both of human nature and of
Bush's actual behavior in office.
On Bush's tax cuts (p. 64):
The genius of Bush is in selling it to the voters as something
that's good for them.
Any appearance of benefits to low and middle-income people is there
to sell the programs. Whatever benefits there are will be more than
offset by increases in other taxes, the loss of services, and the
accumulation of debts that will at some point have to be paid off with
The story that tax cuts for the rich will stimulate the economy so
much that they will solve all the problems is also bogus. This was
originally, under Reagan, called trickle-down economics, one of those
inadvertently great right-wing names that really is a euphemism for
piss on the poor. Under Bush Sr., the name was changed to Supply Side
Economics; and under this Bush, it's called a stimulus package.
On deficits (p. 70):
Deficits that will, unchecked, bankrupt the country. Before that
happens, foreign investors, who have already taken a hit of as much as
40 percent on their dollar holdings, will likely get out of the
dollar, causing it to collapse, and our economy with it.
There are two questions. The first is: Why?
The most rational answer I've come across is that it's a game of
chicken to force the Democrats, when they see us driving straight to
the destruction of Social Security or the collapse of the republic, to
flinch first and recommend a raise in taxes. Then the Republicans can
call them "tax-and-spend" Democrats again. They hated that Clinton had
robbed them of the use of that epithet.
Another possibility is that bankrupting the country (or at least
the government) is intentional. The economist Paul Krugman, in his
New York Times column of March 4, 2005, wrote, "Mr. Bush
celebrated the budget's initial slide into deficit. In the summer of
2001 he called plunging federal revenue 'incredibly positive news'
because it would 'put a straitjacket' on federal spending."
Bush's remark four years earlier was little noted when it was
made. It's part of what is so peculiar about all of this. It's being
done in plain sight yet it is unseen.
Our expectations of sanity and probity make it hard for us to
believe that our leaders are recklessly senseless.
More on Bush's budgets (p. 72):
This is devious and destructive. Like playing chicken or driving
cars over cliffs, if you do them when you're over twenty-one and
you're supposed to be a responsible adult who knows the consequences,
they are pathological.
Justin A. Frank, M.D., the psychiatrist who wrote Bush on the
Couch, is perfectly willing to say that our president is exactly
that. He believes that Bush's deepest wish is to destroy, that Bush is
a sadist who takes particular delight in hurting those who need help
and compassion, and that this budget process is ultimately designed to
On Social Security (p. 122):
The Bush administration is not intent on destroying Social Security
because it doesn't work or because it won't work sometime in the
future. They're going after it because it does work and it represents
the success of a heretical sect:
Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state. If you
can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare
Stephen Moore, senior fellow, Cato Institute,
contributing editor, National Review, president of the Free
By which he means: if the most cherished and popular program can be
killed, the rest will fall.
On control (pp. 144-147):
In the eighteenth century the culture of independent artisans and
small entrepreneurs was a refreshing opposition to a jaded aristocracy
and to countries run by sycophantic ministers to decadent monarch, and
the idea of an invisible hand was roughly true.
But capitalism has matured. Like all systems, its first duty is to
itself. The Soft Machine is its security system, its enforcement arm
and its army of conquest. Like the Internet, it is a work of
unconsciously cooperative genius. Where the invisible hand guided all
the individual greedy efforts into a greater good, the Soft Machine
guides all individual efforts either into atrophy or into the greater
good of the capitalist system.
Noam Chomsky is right. Consent is manufactured in modern capitalist
democracies. Frequently there is little more significant dissent in
democracies than in totalitarian systems. The qualifiers
"frequently," "significant," and "little more" are very
significant. Soft-Machine states are vastly more comfortable places to
live in -- and especially to dissent in -- than totalitarian states
Totalitarian societies use the Hard Machine. They are called police
states. All those policemen are expensive. Police are necessary, but
the more order you can have without police, the more efficient the
society is. Just as the conquest of foreign states by business is more
economical than conquest by force of arms. Conquest by business makes
money. Conquest by force of arms always costs money.
Furthermore, the dysfunction of a police state is greater than
merely the cost of the salaries and equipment of the
constabulary. Police states are command societies. No matter how
brilliant the people at the top are, random stupidity always kicks
in. The harder the machine, the more certain it becomes that bad
decisions will be enforced and remain in force.
Inherent rigidity and its maintenance of stupidity are the primary
reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The genius of the Soft Machine is the genius of capitalism. It
accepts a certain amount of anarchy. It sorts out and controls
multiple voices with money. Multiple voices are important because the
quality of being right is, to a certain degree, random. At a given
time, it comes from logic, at another, from intuition. It might come
from faith, from dreaming, from inspiration, and sometimes just from
The Soft Machine can absorb conflicting ideas. While lots of people
in the West regard our environmental record as dreadful, it is far
superior to what happened in the old East Bloc, where the commissars
simply ordered the rivers to be dammed, the lake to be drained, and
the nuclear waste to be dumped.
The Soft Machine will readily absorb radical ideas, too, so long as
they are moneymakers, and it will turn them into profits or
souvenirs. The sexual revolution has become the multibillion-dollar
porn industry. Rap is now all bling, bling, Bohemian styles
have been the mainstay of chain stores int he mall since the birth of
the mall. Che is a road movie and a T-shirt too. Malcolm X is a
Do you fear the Soft Machien or desire its embrace? If you have an
idea, a great idea, an idea that people want, an idea that stirs
things up and changes things, the Soft Machine will pay you for it. It
will make it a product and bring it to market. Make you rich and
famous and treat you with great, if temporary, respect.
The Soft Machine has, and will use, the hard instruments of power
and rule. The Soft Machine does not give up police and military
powers. Indeed, the United States is the world leader in the number of
people imprisoned, in the employment of military force, in the
possession and use of weapons of mass destruction. But we use those
hard instruments only in the context of a consensus, however that
consensus is built or has come about.
The Hard Machine uses the hard powers of a police state to suppress
dissent and force that consensus. The mechanisms of control are
visible: midnight arrests, the secret police, the informers, the
political prisons, the disappeared people.
By contrast, you almost never see the Soft Machine as it moves to
herd us all together. Sometimes, as with the misreporting of the
election results, although you can't see it, you can see that
something must have happened.
The Soft Machine is hard to fight. [ . . . ]
You can't fight the Soft Machine. You don't want to. The Soft
Machine is you./p>
On Iraq, early in the game (p. 155-156):
If there were no WMDs, and if Saddam Hussein had no significant
links to Al Qaeda, then the justification for our invasion of Iraq is
that we made it a better place. Part of what made it a bad place was
that Saddam Hussein killed people. Sure, it's a crude measure, but if
we killed more people than he did, civilians in particular, did we
make it a better place?
General Tommy Frank[s] was asked about Iraqi casualties. He said
"We're don't do body counts." It never seemed to occur to the
producers and editors at CBS, CNN, Fox, the New York Times, and
the Washington Post or to the reporters on ground that they
should do their own body counts, impelled by logic or curiosity, in
search of a story or in search of the truth. Net searches for "Iraqi
casualties" showed a single story from the Associated Press, recycled
through several venues, that repeated the general's assertion and then
went on to say that any estimates of Iraqi casualties would be very
difficult to make. They did not make any. And that seemed to be the
end of it. There was one exception, a Web site called
Iraqbodycount.com, that appeared about six months after the invasion
and attempted to track casualties through newspaper accounts. They
were very cautious and conservative. After about a year they were up
Finally, in 2004, a research team from John Hopkins did the
equivalent of an epidemiological study. They went to Iraq and
conducted interviews and asked people how many members o their
families had died sine the war and how many had died during an
equivalent period before the invasion:
Iraqis were 2.5 times more likely to die in the 17 months following
the invasion than in the 14 months before it. Before the invasion, the
most common causes of death in Iraq were heart attacks, strokes and
chronic diseases. Afterward, violent death was far ahead of all other
International Herald Tribune, October 30, 2004
Their estimate was that 100,000 civilians had died as a result of
The researchers found that the majority of deaths were attributed
to violence, which were primarily the result of military actions by
Coalition forces. Most of those killed by Coalition forces were women
John Hopkins School of Public Heath
Public Health Center
October 26, 2004
And a triumph for the Soft Machine.
To create 100,000 corpses and never have them seen.
On lobbying, the media, and interest groups (p. 180-181):
When the media gets pressure from only one side, they will yield to
The left and the mainstream have fought many battles since the
While they are full of interest groups, from the Sierra Club to the
NAACP to NOW,t hey have not invested in anything like what David Brock
called the Republican Noise Machine: a loose but interlocked
association of a political party with youth recruitment, scholarships,
fellowships, think tanks, publishers, newspapers, and a television
This is in part because so much of what the right calls liberal and
the liberals would consider mainstream has proven itself and it seems
self-explanatory. Equal rights are good. Anybody should be able to
study any subject and enter any field. Adults should be able to have
sex with whom they want, avoid diseases, and control when they have
children. Universal education and access to higher education are
good. The success and the simple utility of Social Security, the FDIC,
the Securities and Exchange Commission, keeping an eye on the banks,
all seem self-evident. Clean air and clean water and keeping vanishing
species alive all seem like sound ideas. That science is a better basis
for biology than prayer is a choice we make every time we visit the
doctor or take an aspirin.
But it has abruptly emerged that there are a lot of people to whom
these ideas are not, in fact, self-evident. That means if we, in the
mainstream, in the reality-based community, care about those ideas, we
have to put in the effort to explain them and justify them and then to
proselytize. The idea of proselytizing practicality, realism, and
objectivity sounds strange, but in a world of theologians it becomes
necessary. [ . . . ]
I would like to suggest that the split is not between right and
left but between the faith-based and reality-based communities.
When the right attacks the liberal media, what it is really
attacking is objective media, with fact-checking.
Actually, the whole book is quotable, even if citing Mein
Kampf for tips on Big Lies is a bit depassť.
Beinhart also has a
website. Doesn't look like
it's all that up to date -- there are many weeks without a "fog fact
of the week" -- but it does add some more.