Facts and Feces

Rewrite history with the Register! Its fun!

When I imagine working on the Register's editorial page, I think of alchemists—the Renaissance "scientists" who believed it was possible (as they put it) to "conglutinate" objects, to turn one thing into another. I think specifically of the story of Leonard Turneisser, who in 1677 is reported to have "turned an Iron Nail heated in the fire, and immersed in Oyl, into Gold; done at Rome the 20th day of November after Dinner."

The Register'seditorial writers are alchemists too, though they work not in lead and gold but in feces and facts. And they do so for the narrowest ideological purposes.

Take Steven Greenhut's item on George W. Bush's trip to Eastern Europe and Russia. Writing May 12 on the paper's blog, Greenhut attacked a National Public Radio commentator who "seemed aghast" that "Bush had actually criticized the Yalta agreement, which consigned much of the East to communist slavery. The president said, correctly, that the United States was part of 'one of the greatest wrongs of history.' Tough words, but essentially correct. Who would argue that communist domination of Eastern Europe was not a horrific wrong? So why get so upset when the president says so?"

There's so much wrong in those few words that sensible people hardly know where to begin. But start with the Yalta accord, signed by Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt just weeks before Hitler ate cyanide and shot himself in the head, effectively ending the Second World War. Yalta guaranteed "the right of all peoples" liberated from fascism "to choose the form of Government under which they will live" in order that "all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want." Eventually, of course, the Soviets reneged, and, as Churchill himself put it a year later, "an iron curtain . . . descended across the Continent." But at the treaty's signing he was so pleased that he was, an aide later recalled, "drinking buckets of Caucasian champagne which would undermine the health of any ordinary man."

So, first, there's Greenhut's straw man: the NPR commentator, Daniel Hamilton, a European specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., didn't say that communism is good. In fact, he sounded pretty anti-communist. He agreed with Ronald Reagan, who, "not known for being soft on communism, was very adamant, saying that any interpretation of Yalta that suggests that the United States agreed to division of spheres of influence is absolutely wrong. He pointed out at that time that the agreement was to permit free and fair elections . . . and that in his words the Soviet Union, you know, broke its agreement."

And that leads to our second point: there's a difference between deliberately selling out Eastern Europe and being party to a contract later broken. But that distinction is apparently lost on some conservatives. And that's why intelligent Americans, and not just Hamilton, are aghast: because the president is either ignorant of recent history or a liar. And the same goes for Greenhut.

What's eating Greenhut (and Bush) is Roosevelt. FDR still haunts American conservatives; it was to stop the wildly popular Democrat that Republicans amended the Constitution to limit presidents to two terms. They didn't pause there, of course: at the Registeryou'd swear Roosevelt was tanned, rested and ready for '08; Greenhut's colleague, John Seiler, recently likened Roosevelt to Hitler and called him "Franklin 'D. for Dictator' Roosevelt."

But the deliberate misinterpretation of Yalta—the alchemization of a treaty into a sellout—remains a powerful weapon in the conservative war on liberalism. Thus in Latvia on May 7, we have Bush, a man who couldn't find his way to Vietnam, accusing Churchill and Roosevelt of "appeasing or excusing tyranny" at Yalta. Who in the hell is this guy—and what are they snorting at the Reg—toquestion the integrity of history's greatest freedom fighters? (Will Swaim)

* * *

On that same day, the Reg seized on a Fluor corporation announcement to bash state government. On May 10, Fluor, an international engineering and construction firm, announced it would move its headquarters from Aliso Viejo to Dallas. "Chairman and CEO Alan L. Boeckmann said the move was not based on tax incentives or cost-of-living expenses or the business climate in California," the Reggie'seditorial correctly noted. Then the editorial writers dropped the hammer: never mind what Boeckmann says of his own motives, "the Fluor move is another wake-up call that this state had better start treating its businesses and citizens better by taking major actions to reduce taxes, build roads and make it easier to build housing."

We could point out that reducing taxes and building roads aren't necessarily consistent goals—new roads may require more taxes. More housing might clog those new roads as quickly as they're built. Those kinds of Registercontradictions we've grown to love. It's when the Registerputs words in the mouths of experts that I want to kill someone.

So when the Reguses the Fluor announcement as evidence of the "state's hostility to business," you go to Fluor and you ask: Who's telling the truth about your relocation? You or the Register?

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