Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli citizens might ponder the following words from Shakespeare [The Merchant of Venice] that I have slightly altered:

‘I am a Palestinian. Hath not a Palestinian eyes? Hath not a Palestinian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…the villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.’

-- Tariq Ali
Members of Iran’s small Jewish community staged a demonstration outside of the United Nations’ office in Tehran, to protest the Israel Defense Forces’ operation in the Gaza Strip.

The official Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported that community members, alongside Jewish parliamentarian Siamak Mara-Sedq, urged Israel to do its part to return quiet and security to the region.

The chairman of Iran’s Jewish Union, Rahmatullah Raafi, said the community had come out in support of the Palestinian people.

“We are here to express out support and sympathy for the Palestinian nation,” he said, adding that Muslim nations could rise up as a single large force against Israel. He also said that the victors of the current conflict were the residents of Gaza.

Israeli sources familiar with the Iranian Jewish community suspect that the demonstration was organized by the government in Tehran, and does not represent that actual stance of Iranian Jews.

Some 25,000 Jews still live in Iran. Many have visited Israel, where a large percentage of the community has immigrated in the past 30 years. Still, others prefer to remain in Iran. There are rarely reports of the community suffering from antagonism or aggression from their neighbors or from the government.

-- Ha’aretz

Monday, December 29, 2008

...we see a small and ugly truth emerging: Our southern cities have been hit by dozens of missiles, while Gaza sustained hundreds of dead. Almost half of them are civilians; almost half of them are the graduates of a police course who have nothing to do with Qassam rockets.

-- a pseudonymous writer in Yediot Aharonot

It is no truth at all if you ignore it or pretend it cannot be so!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Israel and its Arab antagonists have gone to war again. No, that’s not it. In a valiant defense of its citizens, Israeli forces have neutralized Hamas terrorist rocket launchers and other terror infrastructure. No, that can’t cut it. So how to make sense of it all?

For me, this is a replay of 2006, when Israel warred against Hezbollah, in the process killing about 1,000 Lebanese and wrecking much of the south of that country. It was horrifying, saddening, and quite maddening as well. Now the target is a similarly extremist group in an even more embattled piece of real estate. So far, at latest count, something like 270 Gazans have been killed out of a total population of 1.5 million. After the ceasefire ended many had a dread feeling something big was going to happen. Not for me: it was after the events that had preceded that by several months, like closing the crossings that blocked off international humanitarian aid, denying access to all foreign correspondents, etc.

Once again, this writer needs to attempt to take on an impartial, balanced approach and try to piece together the facts, but that proves difficult because my tribal allegiances are quite clear. Does my Jewish identity prevent me from looking at this situation with a clear head and clear conscience? The events of the last couple of days have constituted a huge propaganda victory for Hamas and other “Islamic resistance” movements the world over and, of course, throughout the entire Arab world. That said, Israel has the right to protect its citizens, as does any state. But when does “defense” stretch into oblivion? When does protection of people’s lives, much holier and sacrosanct in places like Sderot and Ashkelon (and, of late, Ashdod) than in Gaza City and other wards, mutate into a hideous exemplar of collective punishment?

Here are the facts, as best as can be ascertained: since 2006 (again, that year) Gaza has been under a state of siege and Israel proper — in a certain radius from Gaza — has been subjected to incessant rocket fire, by the hundreds if not thousands, from these Hamas militants, who were duly elected into power by the Gazans themselves in the January elections. There had been maybe a few Israeli casualties from these “rockets,” in reality makeshift cylinders with some explosive but no guidance system and they cause little physical harm except psychological distress and terror. The people of Sderot have suffered, there is no doubt; but how can it be denied that the people of Gaza have also suffered, indeed suffered a hundred times more?

Good reporters don’t, and cannot, “take sides.” More often than not, they will take pains to present as even-handed a picture, as neutral a picture, as possible. They will say things like: “In response to Hamas terrorist actions against Israel, the Israel Air Forces have commenced operations to take out Hamas; incidentally, nearly 300 casualties.” If one strays from that style, one becomes either an IAF spokesman or a Hamas apologist, and obviously that’s bullshit. Allow me to explain.

It is indisputable that Hamas is committed, by its charter, to destroy the Israeli state, especially by terroristic means like the obscene suicide bombings, which have thankfully ceased but may resume should things get worse. It is also not in dispute that since 2006, but probably earlier, a humanitarian crisis has befallen Gaza and the agent, regrettably and painfully, is Israel. The aim was clear: punish the people for electing Hamas into power, in a democratic election. The methods of punishment have been varied: closures of the main crossings, control of the borders so as to allow military incursions at will and with impunity, the use of sonic weapons to terrorize the population and, lastly, clearing out the foreign correspondents and international humanitarian aid. Only now has it morphed to an explicit stage: massive bombardment.

Isaac Luria, a representative of the pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, also writes of the conflict about the conflict: “I felt immediate pressure from friends and family to pick a side. Did I think that Israel’s actions were fully justified or disproportionate? Did Hamas bring this on itself by firing rockets and provoking Israel or are the strikes an act of aggression against a people trapped in misery and poverty? Couldn’t I see who’s right and who’s wrong?” Luria concludes by saying, “Israel has a special place in my heart. I lived there last year while my wife was studying to be a rabbi. But I recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.”

Shortly before the flare-up, Nathan Jeffay, writing in The Forward, observed that the ceasefire that was broken right up to the bombings, both sides were left militarily strengthened, sharpening their knives: “For Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza after winning a 2006 election there, the cease-fire was a chance to stockpile its arsenal, increasing the number and capability of its rockets. On December 21, two days after the cease-fire ended, Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, reported to Israel’s Cabinet that it believes Hamas now has rockets that can reach a 25-mile radius from Gaza. This would mean they could hit the outskirts of Beersheba, Israel’s fourth largest city. It also brings the port city of Ashdod into range.”

Jeffay quoted Eyal Zisser, “a terrorism expert at Tel Aviv University,” who said, “Gaza is the only place in the Arab world where Islamists are in power, and they have shown themselves able to rule and to successfully negotiate and benefit from a cease-fire.” Jeffay adds that “the lull gave the army a chance to practice its range of possible responses to Hamas rockets, from targeted killings to a full-scale operation in Gaza. Security experts say it was a period of intense preparation. ‘The [Israel Defense Forces] will have prepared intelligence and used the chance for the training of troops,’ said Ely Karmon, former adviser to the Defense Ministry and senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.”

In the London Review of Books, Sara Roy wrote, also before the operation (“Cast Lead”), that “Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt.” After describing the economic strangulation at considerable length and detail, Roy noted: “The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored. … How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza’s children — more than 50 per cent of the population — benefit anyone? International law as well as human decency demands their protection. If Gaza falls, the West Bank will be next.” It is superfluous to add that Sara Roy is the child of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.

Developments are changing constantly. As of “press” time, Ha’aretz reports that Israeli Arabs are demonstrating, burning tires and Israeli flags. Not surprising, but a potential powder-keg: one-seventh of Israel’s population is Arab. This could quite possibly turn into another intifada if the bloodbath continues. Gideon Levy, one of the sharpest editorialists in the Israeli press, wrote immediately after the attacks started, “Once again, Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom. What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country.”

Israel will doubtless suffer further attacks against its own citizens if words from people like Levy are ridiculed or ignored, the necessary, at times painful, voices of dissent that put a worthy nation on the right track if, and more often when, it goes perilously astray.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Life intercedes. Scratch the mention of Staten. Maybe next time.
My sporadic postings are a sign to come of activity here for the near future: on break, in Connecticut and then Staten Island (through rest of the week), then back home but, otherwise, cannot guarantee regular insights or comments for the forseeable future. There might be a year-end recap or something like that down the pipe for the 31st but that is about all I can manage right now. Not than I am busy per se, but not of a bloggy mind lately.

Monday, December 08, 2008

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

“There’s room at the top they are telling you still/But first you must learn to smile as you kill, if you want to be like the folks on the hill.”

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

— John Lennon (Oct. 9, 1940 – Dec. 8, 1980)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

“At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

— a sign in Olympia, Washington Legislative Bldg., soon found lying in a ditch after it was removed

Link to the story here.

As a mostly secular, agnostic Jew with (non-Hollywood) kabbalistic leanings, there is much I sympathize with there: no afterlife, an appreciation and awe of and for the wonder and beauty of the world and nature, and an understanding that the myths and superstitious practices and traditions that are a part of all religious belief can harden the hearts of humanity and trap their minds. But by that very token an atheistic look at the world, in my view, is very bleak, and does not have any space — a needed one — for a deeper understanding of the spiritual world and what it can offer.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I clipped this photo off of CNN yesterday, apparently an anti-Pakistan demonstration quite recently in Mumbai.

Look at this man’s rage. I understand it, but given the current realities it is also worrisome. Because it reminds me of some of the feelings I felt and saw right after 9/11, and I remember well the hate-driven crimes, hundreds of them, in the atrocities’ wake because of that very real, explicable rage.

These truly are frightful, horrid times to live in, to see the kind of barbarity we were all witness to, directly or not, last week.

“We are very angry. We saw blood and mayhem for three days. I heard the gunfire all night. The fear has now turned into rage. Anger is a good thing; it shakes us out of our indifference and inaction. We stand up and demand answers from our leaders.

“The collective anger of a population is a powerful force. But as a young and outraged citizen of India, I am afraid of the direction our anger is taking. When all fingers point toward Pakistan, I am filled with a sense of dread. It is chilling to hear two nuclear powers use the language of war.”

— from a letter to the editor of the New York Times, written Nov. 30 and published Dec. 2, by Devika Narayan

Sunday, November 30, 2008

“Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again,” he said.

— an anonymous Mumbai mortician on the special treatment for the Israeli victims

Here is a message from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), which is a “twenty-year-old civil rights group that advocates ‘for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and for a positive, constructive relationship between American Muslims and their representatives’” (via John Nichols):

MPAC expresses its condolences to the Jewish community and the various other communities whose members were involved in the tragic series of terrorist attacks in recent days. MPAC has sent letters of condolences to the Indian embassy, and encourages people of all faiths and nationalities to stand together against those who seek to divide our communities.

Media reports indicate that more than 150 people have been killed in the attacks. Those responsible for these brutal and immoral attacks should be swiftly brought to justice. Islam considers the use of terrorism to be unacceptable for any purpose.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

The madness in Mumbai is hard to put into a simple posting, reactions and thoughts. I remember well in July 2006, when the city was last attacked by fanatics. The events of the past few days are clearly much worse, in scope and scale. It is just too horrible what some people are capable of doing to other human beings, their own flesh and blood. Only animals are capable of doing what those mad marauding murderers did, truly. There is not much else to say about it, for me at least. It looks like the commandos are fighting off the remaining perpetrators, and there was something about a Chabad house.

I hope you all had a great and wonderful Thanksgiving. There is a lot we take for granted in life, like life itself and the joy it brings every day, lest we forget. And the simple things we think are as certain as the sun rising the next morning. All for now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I’m starting to see that the Left is already articulating a useful challenge for Obama to affect real change, the kind we were supposed to believe in, if not the beginnings of anxieties that Obama is simply going to govern as Clinton 2.0, with a few cosmetic tweaks — not too unreasonable if his cabinet picks are any indication. Michael Albert makes a good point: “…moderately redressing insanity isn’t what progressive Obama supporters meant by ‘change we can believe in.’” Katrina vanden Heuvel concurs, adding that the president-elect is a “centrist” and a “pragmatist,” both obviously true, almost to the point of dullness. If anyone is expecting anything radical or really transformative, exhale very, very soon because you will pass out before long from holding your breath. I think that these leftist voices should not worry too much; the election three weeks ago is still a major victory, by no means the end of the struggle but a good start. After all, center-right is preferable to hard right, which is what we’ve had for so long. The discussion brings to light a cold fact: there is no organized Left in the United States, aside from marginal writers and associations. Only a sustained, principled movement of people is going to affect change, not one man in the White House.

Before I write a book here, Happy Thanksgiving. There is still plenty to give thanks for, concerns and fears and dreads and doubts aside.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

To the President-elect: Your posting on your latest video for your economic recovery plan says “Of the people, By the people,” so wouldn’t the logical inference mean a bold plan to nationalize the entire financial sector and put it under public ownership? I’m still waiting. (Don’t make promises you cannot or will not keep.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Do it, Obama. Do it now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

“… the last of the last.” Honor our veterans today.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Once the self-congratulation is over, and we all sober up, there will come soon the time when we will awake to the realization that there is so much to do, so many problems to address, so many issues to confront, so many promises to keep. My hope is that the youth of this country who helped propel Obama to the White House will not fall into complacency, but instead — with “Yes, we can” as the rallying cry — really work to make this country the land it should be, to not betray our founders, to fulfill our birthright and hold our newly ascendant leadership accountable to the people.

There is no denying the historicity of this week. Let there be no denying the power of the American people to do the needed work that will make this nation a light unto others, and a decent place in which to live, and to build on the successes of social movements at home and abroad so that our own hopes and dreams can become the ways and means for the population at large. We shall pay “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” as was written in our Declaration of Independence. The world is watching. One man cannot do it alone, and we must not have any illusions that powerful forces of resistance and reaction await him in the corridors of power in Washington.

Above all, let us constructively critique, challenge, and push the new president to do right by us and, by virtue of our empire, the entire world.

(Image courtesy Patrick Moberg.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We did it, America. It is still so hard to believe, but it happened.

Barack Hussein Obama will be the 44th president of the United States. I am so proud to be a citizen of this land. (Photo courtesy Andrew Sullivan.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Because it should not matter. (Courtesy the Daily Dish via Dan Savage via Queerty via MollyGood via Gawker.)

Monday, November 03, 2008

“It is now indisputable that the president and vice-president of the United States engineered a de facto coup against the constitution after 9/11, declaring themselves above any law, any treaty, and any basic moral norm in their misguided mission to rid the world of evil. ... If I were to give one reason why I believe electing Barack Obama is essential tomorrow, it would be an end to this dark, lawless period in American constitutional government.”

— Andrew Sullivan, today

We leave that era behind tomorrow. So will begin the task of clearing away the wreckage and trying to make even basic progress. Perhaps it is not a hope in vain that the world will forgive us someday, for the damage we have done to ourselves and to the world.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The nation’s major newspapers have endorsed Obama by a margin of 240 to 114.

The nation’s college newspapers have endorsed him 63 to one.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A quick note on the rhetoric: according to present-day G.O.P. platitudes (expressed in latest advertising), “spreading the wealth” = government “handout.” Roll footage of welfare mothers and food stamps and you get the message. In reality, which is not where the Republican Party leadership, communications directors and campaign chiefs operate by any objective measure, any form of taxation by necessity spreads the wealth. The question is in which direction: upward or downward? In 2001 and 2003, as is common knowledge, we saw radical redistribution of wealth for the wealthiest 1 and .1 percent of Americans (what’s called “socialism for the rich”). That wasn’t a handout; instead it was billed as an “economic stimulus” plan. Likewise the recent corporate welfare plan was mostly termed a “bailout” or even a “rescue” package.

As many writers have pointed out, the Republican Party is not “anti-government,” just opposed on philosophical grounds to the functions of government that happen to serve the general public. So anything, however mild, that deviates from the script is attacked as foreign, “socialist,” “Marxist,” etc. From the standpoint of the reactionary right, which lest we forget has been a dominant force in our politics for about thirty years, what Obama is talking about is socialist. But it’s not the case that right-reactionaries — a.k.a. the prevailing majority of the Republican leadership and nearly its entire “base,” far out of mainstream American opinion — are really against socialism per se. They see no issue with socializing the risks and costs of the financial sector, for instance, or with nationalizing the banks. On the other hand, making things like health insurance more socialized is completely outrageous (not even Obama goes that far, given the lack of an organized Left in our political culture).

Back to these “handouts.” There is also a racial code at work, which should be not at all surprising. One of the many positive aspects of American society today is that we have progressed enough that explicit race appeals can no longer be made by any viable, major party or political platform. Hence the need for code, like “handout,” which conjures the picture of freeloading, shiftless blacks subsisting on their government check. The ghost of Lee Atwater remains, in the form of Rove protégé Steve Schmidt who has contributed to the annals of unprincipled nastiness in politics, breaking all sorts of records. With “spread the wealth,” we are demanded to think of the Soviet Union (somehow). Taxes are social policy and they’ve been that way since at least as far back as the first graduated code back in the Progressive Era, championed by radical socialists like Theodore Roosevelt — incidentally he’s McCain’s hero, so according to the prevailing (il)logic McCain is a socialist himself. The assumption buried in the discourse around this issue is that giving a handout to the wealthiest tiny fraction of the country “creates” wealth and that doing the same thing for the “lower brackets” is just throwing money away, “spreading” it uselessly and swearing allegiance to Lenin.

The premises of this entire campaign are absurd, no one is asking critical questions in the “mainstream,” the press is tongue-tied in their rhetoric of equanimity and forced “even-handedness” (i.e. objectivity), and the people as usual pay the price when they will get the government they pay for next week. I hope it isn’t McCain, and if it’s Obama I wish he will do the humane and sensible thing and not go down the triangulation road. His supporters have bought into his promises of “fundamental change,” and we will all see if he will (or can) really deliver, and what that change will mean. It won’t be a revolution, but perhaps this can be a useful first step toward a better America that lives up to its founding creed and the needs of its people.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

— George Santayana (1905)

Monday, October 13, 2008

From Roger Ebert’s column in the Oct. 2 Chicago Sun-Times:

I know that I sound just like a liberal, but at this point in history I am sick and tired of giant corporations running roughshod over decent people -- cutting their wages, polluting their work environment, denying them health care, forcing them to work unpaid overtime, busting their unions and other crimes we have never heard George Bush denouncing while he was cutting corporate taxes. I am sure lower taxes help corporations to function more profitably. Why is that considered progress, when many workers live in borderline poverty and executives have pissing contests over who has the biggest stock options? But enough. I have “Flash of Genius” to review.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

This is downright trippy.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. …

“Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men. … [T]here must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. …

“[T]here must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money… If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline… I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.…

“We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty of old and young alike. … We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. … They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. … In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us.”

—President Franklin Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Update #2: “Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents,” reported the New York Times on Sept. 25 (Mark Mazzetti, “Bush Aides Linked to Talks on Interrogations”). “Current and former officials have said that the C.I.A. began using harsh interrogation methods on Mr. Zubaydah in Thailand weeks before the Justice Department formally authorized the interrogation program in a secret memo dated Aug. 1, 2002. ... A fierce dispute erupted between the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. during the spring and summer of 2002, as F.B.I. officials objected to the harsh treatment and ultimately withdrew from Mr. Zubaydah’s interrogation.” The papers, given to the paper by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have not been posted on the NYT website. In related news, William Glaberson, Times correspondent at Gitmo, reported that prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld stepped down:

The defense lawyer in the case, Maj. David J. R. Frakt of the Air Force Reserve, said Colonel Vandeveld ‘could no longer continue to serve ethically as a prosecutor.’ He said Colonel Vandeveld had had disputes with his superiors about whether to give him information that might help the defense. The chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence J. Morris of the Army, said Colonel Vandeveld had asked to leave the prosecutor’s office for personal reasons and said, ‘there are no grounds for his ethical qualms.’ The dispute is the latest to stir up the war crimes system here, which has been plagued with prior defections from the prosecution office, judicial rulings that there was unlawful command influence over some cases and assertions of political influence from a former chief prosecutor.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

As you can plainly see, Barack Obama wants to raise your taxes. Not.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Zubayda story update: the American Psychological Association, in an 8,792 to 6,157 vote (59 to 41 percent), decided Sept. 17 “to prohibit consultation in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or so-called black sites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency overseas” (Benedict Carey, New York Times, A23). The decision “may help to settle a long debate within the profession” over the fact that APA-affiliated psychologists, such as Mitchell and Jessen, “have helped military and C.I.A. interrogators evaluate detainees, plan questioning strategy and judge its psychological costs.”

The APA’s “ethics code, while condemning a list of coercive techniques adopted in the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism campaign,” Carey adds—adopting their terminology, if I may add, such as coercive and anti-terrorism, “has allowed some consultation ‘for national security-related purposes.’” What are these purposes related to national security? We never find out. But, again, one must ask: What could conceivably be considered to be related to national security by this administration, in any possible, law-bending and law-breaking way? Everything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) exits after a rousing speech at The College of Wooster, Sept. 17, 2008; out of a town of 26,000 (Wooster, Ohio, the seat of Wayne County, which has voted Republican in every election since 1964) about 4,500 people were in attendance. (Photo courtesy Heather Hunt)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes we can.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Come on, Ohio.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It is a strange serendipity to have Senator Biden come to your campus (Sept. 17, Wooster, Ohio, my college town—hopefully it will get media play) and, on the randomizer, hearing this:

“Now the senator came down here
Showing ev’ryone his gun,
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son.
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn't it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.”

As it happens, the College Dems distributed free tickets. No word yet on any wedding ceremonies (unless we’re talking about Bristol and Levi Johnston).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On this date almost 3,000 of our countrymen were murdered in the name of God by a fanatical organization that persists, spread like a cancer because we reacted to those attacks by wielding a sledgehammer against a nest of hornets. Where do we go from here? Several facts must be put forward at the outset: (1) much of the Islamic world has seen our actions as a war against their religion, (2) our actions around the world have made us less safe and have failed to destroy the Qaeda threat, and (3) there has thankfully not been an attack on American soil in seven years. The second and third seem to contradict, but both are true.

It may be worth recalling the words of Jean-Marie Colombani, who wrote an editorial entitled “Nous sommes tous Américains” (“We are all Americans”) in the Sept. 13, 2001, issue of Le Monde. “How can we not feel … deep solidarity with this people and this country, the United States, which we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and thus our solidarity.” My apologies for the translation, which is entirely the result of plugging the French into a Web applet, with the help of my own reading. “In the eyes of the American public and its leaders, Islamism, in all its forms, may be appointed as the new enemy.” The hijackers had “a barbaric logic of a new nihilism” that the “grand majority of Muslim believers” abhor and reject, Colombani added. The “madness” of the extremists “is never a force that can remake the world.”

By December 7, 1948, the attack on Pearl Harbor had been avenged; the hole in the ground remains in so many symbolic ways an open wound yet to heal, its perpetrator yet to be brought to the light of justice. To the memory of the living and the dead: Never forgive, never forget.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Here we go again. (Ike is now a Category 3 storm.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

“In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president.”

— Sen. John McCain

Country First™!

Monday, September 01, 2008

As the first military commission trial at Guantanamo began this past July, after years of simmering intramural feuds and administration stonewalling, I was privileged to speak with one of the attorneys for Abu Zubaydah, allegedly al Qaeda’s “number three” official. I wanted to know how the case was going, who Zubaydah is, and about the military tribunals that the responsible men and women in Washington have set up before the world. The attorney, a gruff-sounding but amicable fellow named George Brent Mickum, spoke with me by telephone.

“The security classification is top secret,” Mickum said. “Anything that I’ve learned through my client I can’t tell you.” Apparently, I had asked about some of the specifics of the case, specifically what Mickum knew about the CIA’s involvement. Late last year, a controversy erupted over an incident in late 2003, when staffers at our Central Intelligence Agency destroyed several incriminating videotaped interrogations of Zubaydah. But if it were really true that our G-men were waterboarding him, it wouldn’t have been the first time Zubaydah knew brute force at the hands of mysterious captors. Much is also mysterious about him. In his testimony before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) in March 2007, of which I obtained an unclassified transcript, Zubaydah drew a distinction between military and civilian targets and claimed to oppose Bin Laden’s tactics, which he viewed as reactionary.

Abu Zubaydah, an alias for Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn Tariq among 35 others, “was severely injured in 1992 when he was fighting Afghan communists,” Mickum said, “hit with a mortar shell.” This is confirmed by several other sources, including the transcript of the CSRT hearing; in various accounts, he was greviously wounded by gunfire and shelling in Faisalabad, Pakistan. It is also alleged that Zubaydah is mentally ill. It almost approaches the absurd to extract actionable intelligence from a physically and mentally compromised figure such as Zubaydah, but the Kafkaesque nature of Gitmo and the entire extralegal superstructure of the “war on terror” defies empirical minds. “None of this makes any sense,” Mickum said with some exasperation. “The government does what it does and justifies it after the fact.”

A lot of information is already on the public record. Much of the supporting material in Mickum’s petition to get his client the writ of habeas corpus overlaps with mine, including Katherine Eban’s illuminating report in Vanity Fair. In it, Eban describes how, like the subjects in Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments, interrogators thought they had the imprimatur of respected scientific authority on their side.

Eban tells the story of how the CIA took over from the FBI’s successful “rapport-building” and substituted terror and domination for actual intelligence. This was done by using a program called SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) that trains soldiers to withstand torture at the enemy’s hands, and “reverse-engineering” these torture techniques—lifted wholesale from the Communist Chinese—to be used on detainees captured by the US military. Referring to the Chinese torture tactics manual, Mickum explained: “We have adopted it lock, stock and barrel. All we did was translate it into English and change the title.”

Zubaydah was the first Qaeda suspect to be captured and became the test case for an international system of CIA-run “black site” dungeons and the attendant methodology of medieval cruelty masked by 21st-century rhetoric of a “new kind” of war against barbarians plotting against us from caves. “Torture was the modus operandi,” said Mickum. “There were no limits.” Indeed, throughout the copious literature spelling out in macabre detail all of the legalistic wrangling, it is apparent that — scared witness of an impending terror attack — interrogators around the world in the archipelago of CIA detention camps (“black sites”) were intent on getting whoever they could capture to say anything. According to Mickum, “They were desperately afraid that there would be another attack, [and] desperately felt they needed to get intel.” The operative rule was to “extract pieces of information from the lowliest guy and then fill in the picture of who our enemy is.” Geneva protections were obstacles to the approach, therefore ignored.

In Jane Mayer’s much-acclaimed book, “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals” (2008), the reader is treated with the sheer scale of depravity and lawlessness that has characterized every major aspect of this administration’s approach to fighting terrorism. Zubaydah “would set the precedent for the abuse of U.S.-held prisoners, transforming U.S. practices starting with the CIA, but eventually spreading through the U.S. military, too” (p. 140). Abu Zubaydah himself “had left fingerprints all over Al Qaeda operations for years.” According to the 9/11 Commission report and other sources, Zubaydah ran two training camps for his “defensive jihad” and had conflicts with Bin Laden, whose agenda was more fanatical.

What is most noteworthy about all of the escapades is the role of the medical profession, chiefly psychologists, in helping legitimate torture and other coercion — even methods known to produce nothing but bullshit — to extract valuable and actionable intelligence, ostensibly to save lives. As Eban records, “Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on contract to the C.I.A.,” adding that the “central role” belonged to James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Both had been versed in the SERE methods. “We are proud of the work we have done for our country,” Eban quotes them as saying in a joint press release. Eban quotes Steve Kleinman, described as “an Air Force Reserve colonel and [an] expert in human-intelligence operations,” as declaring somberly that Mitchell-Jessen “have caused more harm to American national security than they’ll ever understand.”

In a serious attempt to find out the identity of Zubaydah and his actual role, I spent long hours amassing information and putting together the pieces. The end-result seems to be a study in contradictory claims, but more or less a clear picture emerges. According to a BBC News profile, Abu Zubaydah “had used at least 37 aliases” — another one of which was Abd Al-Hadi Al-Wahab — “and was considered a master of disguise.” His shape-shifting repute is repeated elsewhere. The top source for Zubaydah’s notoriety as a world-class terrorist is Ahmed Ressam, “an Algerian witness,” who alleged that Zubaydah was the “chief recruiter” for al Qa’ida, and that he was behind “a thwarted plot to bomb hotels [in Jordan] during millennium celebrations” (hereafter “the millennium plot”).

An Associated Press dispatch also relied upon Ressam’s testimony, which again alluded to Zubaydah’s role as a recruiter and middle-management operative. We also read of Zubaydah’s “combat skills and organizational talent that pushed him to the top ranks” of Osama bin Laden’s global criminal enterprise. Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 12, 1971, he “developed a unique talent in mortars and other heavy weaponry” and “was apparently named bin Laden’s second deputy in 1995, responsible for screening recruits and devising terrorist plans” on a logistical basis. He was not a policy-maker; he was simply tasked to carry out the wishes of Bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Yet, for some reason, Zubaydah “doesn’t appear on the FBI’s list of top wanted terrorists.” “Jordanian military documents” also allege that Zubaydah “recruited Raed Hijazi,” who was himself “named as a recruiter of suspects in plots to bomb U.S. Embasses in Paris and Sarajevo.”

Also, the AP reported that Zubaydah “is believed to have been a field commander for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed”; his co-operative was a man named Khader Abu-Hosher, another Palestinian. Along with Jordanian tourist hotels, other targets of the foiled millennium plot were Israeli draws like the “site on the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was believed to have been baptized.” “In September 2000,” Zubaydah “was found guilty of conspiracy to carry out terror attacks in Jordan” and “sentenced in absentia to 15 years of hard labor.”

A lengthy report in Time magazine put forward a rap sheet connecting Zubaydah with someone named Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti who, after “three months of psychological interrogation tactics … finally broke down” and, “according to a secret CIA summary of the interview, al-Faruq confessed that he was, in fact, al-Qaeda’s senior representative in Southeast Asia.” The Time report breathlessly continues, “Then came an even more shocking confession: according to the CIA document, al-Faruq said two senior al-Qaeda officials, Abu Zubaydah and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, had ordered him to ‘plan large-scale attacks against U.S. interests in Indonesia, Malaysia, (the) Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia.’ … Fearing an attack could come at any moment, al-Faruq’s interrogators relayed his revelations to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center [hereafter “CTC”] in Langley, Va. … Al-Faruq’s threatened attacks never occurred.”

Abu Zubaydah was captured almost by accident, with the crucial aid of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency — for a price. “On the outskirts of Pakistan’s militant tribal area” in a city called Faisalabad, Mayer wrote that ISI “officers had noticed had noticed a caravan carrying several exceptionally tall burka-clad women who turned out to be male Islamic extremists in disguise. … For a bribe, their driver gave away their destination. This enabled the U.S. government to mount a major surveillance operation on their neighborhood. In the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, translators and analysts among the agency’s 38,000 employees pored over every fragment of electronic information vacuumed by enormously powerful eavesdropping equipment trained on the spot, until they could pinpoint what they believed was a nest of top Al Qaeda suspects” (p. 140).

“In the predawn hours [around 4 AM] of March 28,” Mayer continued, “dozens of armed CIA, FBI, and Pakistani law-enforcement and intelligence officers raided a shambling compound on the suburban outskirts of Faisalabad, taking Zubayda by surprise along with some twenty-five other suspected Al Qaeda followers, including one with a valid Arizona driver’s license. In an attempt to escape, Zubayda leapt from the roof to that of a neighboring house, where a gun battle ensued before he dropped twenty-five feet to the ground. By the time it was over, Zubayda had been shot in the thigh, stomach, and groin. A Pakistani doctor told [novice CIA officer John] Kiriakou that he’d never seen anyone with such egregious injuries survive. In truth, Zubayda had nearly slipped into sepsis in the back of a pickup truck where, unrecognized, he had been piled with several other wounded suspects after the gunfight. An agent with a flashlight identified him just in time to rush him to the hospital for resuscitation” (pp. 140-41).

“Zubayda left behind computers, cell phones, computer disks, phone books, and two Western-style bank cards for accounts in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He also left behind a voluminous personal diary—in all, there were nearly 10,000 pages of potentially invaluable intelligence. Adding urgency, according to Kiriakou, were the remnants of a bomb that he and two other men had been building on a table, along with plans for what appeared to be an attack on a British school in Lahore. … What put Zubayda in CIA custody was not toughness, it was money. The Pakistani intelligence service bought the original tip leading to his whereabouts with a small bribe to the taxi driver. Afterward, the CIA bought Pakistan’s help for a much larger sum. A CIA source involved at the time disclosed, ‘We paid $10 million for Abu Zubayda.’ [$25 million, according to Mickum] He said the money went to the ISI” (p. 141).

“The FBI took him first to Faisalabad’s Allied Hospital and then to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, 170 miles to the north,” wrote al Qaeda expert Jason Burke, in the Observer. From there “he was whisked by the CIA to Thailand where he was housed in a small, disused warehouse on an active airbase,” according to ABC News investigators Brian Ross and Richard Esposito.

After a few days of FBI interrogations in which “phenomenal” information was divulged (Mayer, p. 156), CIA-contracted military psychologists John Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen arrived with their SERE program, angered and frightened the FBI agents and completely destroyed any chance of getting at valuable information. Zubaydah was stripped naked, put in a cage, waterboarded repeatedly. “Once healthy,” Ross-Esposito wrote, Zubaydah “was slapped, grabbed, made to stand long hours in a cold cell, and finally handcuffed and strapped feet up to a water board under after 0.31 seconds he begged for mercy and began to cooperate.” His insanity worsened; he remains in prison without charge. On the bright side, he ID’d Jose Padilla, the suspected “dirty bomber,” gangbanger and U.S. citizen (ibid, p. 155).

Burke described Zubaydah as Bin Laden’s “most influential henchman,” “an apparently mild-mannered … bespectacled, slim-shouldered Arab” who “is trained in every weapon from kalashnikovs to heavy mortars to truck bombs” and possessed “a reputation for efficiency and ruthlessness.” In Burke’s account, Zubaydah was indeed a dangerous terrorist, “linked to British Islamists accused of being al-Qaeda operatives” and, from 1996, “was appointed ‘chief of operations’ … [of] the camps where thousands of volunteers flocking to bin Laden’s [jihadi] banner from across the Islamic world were to be trained.” Burke also cited Ressam, the captured Algerian terrorist. The 9/11 Commission report also leans heavily on Ressam’s testimony, perhaps coerced.

“The government has tried to suggest that all Islamic militants are al Qaeda,” Mickum said. “That’s ludicrous. Most of the camps were for defensive jihad, defense of Afghanistan and Kashmir.” In his testimony, Zubaydah concurred: “…if an aggressor or invader invades Muslim lands, no matter where, then it is every Muslim’s duty to defend the land against the invader.” He referred to Russia and Serbia as examples of aggressors against Muslims (Verbatim Transcript of CSRT Hearing for ISN 10016, Oral Statement, p. 9).

The story of Abu Zubaydah, a thirty-something schizoid who acted as a go-to intermediary and middle-man for logistics but not proven to have done operational planning on a terrorist attack, is in reality a story about ourselves and how we have acted around the world in the name of fighting barbarism. “I think we oversold [Zubaydah’s] value — the administration did — to the American public,” commented Ron Suskind, the author of “The One-Percent Doctrine” and “The Way of the World,” his latest. Abu Zubaydah is “psychologically imbalanced, he has multiple personalities. And he was not involved in various events that we thought he was involved in. During various bombings in the late ‘90s, he was not where we thought he would be.”

“Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered,” Suskind said.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The past is prologue. (Gustav nears landfall.)

Mayor Nagin has ordered a total evacuation, saying Gustav is much more powerful than Katrina. If FEMA once again fails, may God protect the people of New Orleans. (Above: the French quarter, courtesy Matthew Hinton/Agence France-Presse)

Friday, August 29, 2008

A moment of silence.

(Above, the Lower Ninth ward in 2008; courtesy In the Loop)
Sure to be buried underneath the ensuing avalanche of post-Speech commentary from the chattering heads of CNN and other outlets will be a tempered but iconic note of support from a seemingly unlikely source: GOP defector Susan Eisenhower. Here’s what her grandfather, a Republican president who presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, said 47 years ago, about the time Obama was born:

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

“Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Why can’t Obama say this? Was Eisenhower really a man of the so-called radical left, as our political culture would have it today?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

“John was a wild man. He was funny, with a quick wit and he was intelligent. But he was intent on breaking every USNA regulation in our 4 inch thick USNA Regulations book. And I believe he must have come as close to his goal as any midshipman who ever attended the Academy. John had me ‘coming around’ to his room frequently during my plebe year. And on one occasion he took me with him to escape ‘over the wall’ in the dead of night. He had a taxi cab waiting for us that took us to a bar some 7 miles away. John had a few beers, but forbid me to drink (watching out for me I guess) and made me drink cokes. I could tell many other midshipman stories about John that year and he unbelievably managed to graduate though he spent the majority of his first class year on restriction for the stuff he did get caught doing. In fact he barely managed to graduate, standing 5th from the bottom of his 800 man graduating class.

“… I can verify that John has an infamous reputation for being a hot head. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced first hand. Folks, quite honestly that is not the finger I want next to that red button. … He is not a moderate Republican. On some issues he is a maverick. But his voting record is far to the right. I fear for his nominations to our Supreme Court, and the consequent continuing loss of individual freedoms, especially regarding moral and religious issues. John is not a religious person, but he has taken every opportunity to ally himself with some really obnoxious and crazy fundamentalist ministers lately. I was also disappointed to see him cozy up to Bush because I know he hates that man.”

—Phillip Butler on John McCain, a fellow classman at the U.S. Naval Academy and a fellow P.O.W., explaining why he will not vote for him this November

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

End this war.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Search your feelings.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It’s a shame that the New York Times didn’t publish Sen. McCain’s editorial response to Sen. Obama’s OP-ed last week. You can read the reprint on CNN here. If the Times actually put it to press, maybe a good number of people—especially these so-called moderates and independents who, supposedly, gravitate toward the phony “maverick”—could see just how extreme McCain’s prescriptions really are, and how shallow his understanding of the situation actually is.

“Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy,” McCain declares. The progress in question is the certifiable decline in rampant insane violence. Yes, that is partly due to the troop “surge” begun in 2007. To his credit, McCain also mentions—without naming it—the “Awakening Councils” of Sunni Iraqis, another US-led initiative. Going unmentioned is the crucial factor of the Mahdi army’s Iraq-Iran brokering of ceasefires that happened around the same time. And, needless to say, enough ethnic cleansing was going on in Baghdad and elsewhere that by necessity there is less violence. But, because this is about political expediency, it’s all you, Mac, and your courageous stand for the Surge.

“No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges.” Okay, then why no mention of the gargantuan embassy we are constructing in Baghdad, or the Status of Forces Agreement? “The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback” if we withdraw, warns McCain. I don’t think this even merits much comment aside from repeating the fact that Qaeda fighters were not in Saddam’s Iraq until we launched the invasion five years ago. Iran “stag[ing] a comeback” in Iraq? Sorry, but that’s retarded. Iraq and Iran fought a bloody war for a decade. If Sadr is the radical, he’s also fiercely nationalist and his forces—Badr brigades and others—would repulse any Persian attempt to “conquer” once the vacuum appears following our departure.

I’m no expert, and Obama’s nakedly opportunistic efforts to put a progressive cloak on moves toward the “center” (e.g. right wing, the “responsible” imperial manager role) like his predecessor frighten and dismay me (see cartoon above), but it’s a very dangerous prospect to put into office yet another figure who doesn’t seem to know shit about something with such high stakes. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going to see a midnight screening of The Dark Knight. Hopefully it will live up to and exceed expectations. Very psyched. But also it might be a bummer, considering.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fuck Comcast. What a disgrace.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

When asked if he felt that it was more difficult to run against Mr. Obama because of the sensitivities of race, Mr. McCain responded wryly: “I’d like to make a joke, but I can’t.”

C’mon, Mac, let’s hear it!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The president of our United States is a Communist. Happy Fourth!

Friday, June 27, 2008

I like to study memes and conventions and assumptions in our social reality, and I often take the radical critique. It borders on condemnation at times. I see nothing wrong with this and think, instead, that there’s a lot of value to it. But that’s because there is something deeply wrong with me. I don’t think everything is okay. I’m not going to pretend it’s all good, and I’m not going to live not caring what other people think. It’s because I’m not sane. I’m not a mainstream American. But I am a patriot. The people who call and style themselves as patriots are among the most unthinking, callous people on the planet, of any nation. People of the personality type that cares for nothing more than power and domination are a threat to any country’s welfare and future.

As for my patriotism, love of country is not fear of foreign lands and peoples. Fear of the irrational kind projected onto a concern for national domination is the cancer of our times. It is, to use the proper lexicon, jingoism. A barbarian wearing the clothes of a patriot is not a patriot; it only adds insult to injury when the hated decent people who work for patriotic values and ideals are thrown a traitor’s rags and a tyrant’s crown. There are nationalists in our midst, totalitarian to the core, who despise the Enlightenment and everything it represents, our civil liberties and the constitutional pillars of our democratic republic included.

To the decent, humane, enlightened people of my country, I ask this: are you willing to defend your homeland? We revere veterans of military service in far-off lands, at the half-chained service of interests that see their human needs as little more than the logistical matters of ordnance and ammunition. We hate today’s official satan. America “has no permanent enemies,” to quote the current secretary of state. Indeed our enemy is always changing; yesterday it was Sunni dead-enders, today it is Shiite triumphalists. Yesterday it was Khomeini, today Saddam; yesterday, Qaddafi, today Noriega. And on and on all the way back. What is truth when you cannot find your friends? Or what is justice when you find a new enemy at every corner? We need to take a good hard look in the mirror. I already dread what we’ll see, if we care to open our eyes. Happy July Fourth. Let the bombs burst in air.

Monday, June 23, 2008

“I’m an outsider by choice, but not truly. It’s the unpleasantness of the system that keeps me out. I’d rather be in, in a good system. That’s where my discontent comes from: being forced to choose to stay outside.”

“Scratch any cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”


Friday, June 13, 2008

R.I.P. Tim Russert.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

“The right questions were asked. I think there’s a lot of critics—and I guess we can count Scott McClellan as one—who think that, if we did not debate the president, debate the policy in our role as journalists, if we did not stand up and say, ‘This is bogus,’ and ‘You’re a liar,’ and ‘Why are you doing this?’ that we didn’t do our job. And I respectfully disagree. It’s not our role.”

—David Gregory, NBC News correspondent, 9 June 2008 (as quoted by Scott Ritter, here)

The “right questions” are those, as Gregory implies, that do not question the basic assumptions behind the enterprise; that would be irresponsible. Journalists are not supposed to “debate the policy” or, God forbid, debate the Commander in Chief. Forgive me if I cannot help but picture Pharaoh’s scribes.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

“We cannot say with certainty whether Mr. Bush lied about Iraq.”

New York Times, 6 June 2008 (June 2008!)

What an irresponsible, ultra-liberal newspaper. (The report from the Senate selective-intelligence committee here.)

From the “minority opinion” — written by Orrin Hatch, Saxby Chambliss and Chris Bond, a fine trio of dissenters: “Ultimately, these [Senate] reports reveal a dubious agenda of vainly trying to prove the often quoted, but false, absolutely partisan, slogan, ‘Bush lied and people died’” (p. 166). They’re right: over 4,000 Americans are still alive, safe with their families, in one piece — and not one dishonest word ever escaped the President’s mouth.

They’re very right. Far-right, one could say.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Kick ass! If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal. There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!”

— President Bush, as quoted by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (ret.) in his new tell-all memoir Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, shortly after insurgents in Falluja murdered, hacked and strung up four contractors in April 2004 (Sanchez cited by Michael Abramowitz, in the Washington Post, 2 June 2008, A11); Falluja was extensively bombarded and invaded that November (including the use of white phosphorous), an assault that wiped out hundreds of civilians and ended any hope of pacifying Iraq

Monday, May 26, 2008

“At the risk of repeating myself, this is the crucial difference between patriotism and nationalism: patriotism is love of one’s country and defensive, while nationalism is expressed typically through contempt and fear of other nations and a will to power over other nations. The Iraq war was made possible by a propaganda campaign by the government, the exploitation of public fear and anger, the warmongering of nationalists and the twisting of patriotic sentiment into support for a war of aggression by casting the war dishonestly as one of self-defense.”

Daniel Larson

Saturday, May 24, 2008

If such real-early polling can be relied upon, given that the general election is only, oh, about half a year away, it appears that 11 states are in play and that, if held today, Obama would quite likely beat McCain very, very narrowly. Remember, Obama is that radical Black nationalist Islamic fundamentalist far-leftist right? (More like super-centrist corporate-friendly pacifier... oh now I sound like Paul Street!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Every so often you encounter some real gems. Keep these in mind for Memorial Day:

“Americans know in their gut that, as pathological and silly as Americanism can be, it’s knit into the fabric of all our lives, so much so that even staunch critics of America have absolutely no desire to jump out of America’s skin. No American really wants to replace America. They just want a better America, a more truly American America.”

James Poulos

“What kind of culture defines ‘maturity’ as the time when young men and women sacrifice principle to prudence, when they pledge allegiance to the boss in the name of self-promotion and ‘realism’? What kind of culture defines adulthood as the moment when the self goes underground? One answer might be a military one. The problem is that while unthinking loyalty to one’s commanding officer may be necessary in war, it is disastrous outside of it. Why? Because loyalty, by definition, qualifies individualism, discouraging the expression of individual opinion, recasting honesty as a type of betrayal. Because loyalty to power, rather than to what one believes to be true or right, is fatally undemocratic, and can lead to the most horrendous abuses.”

Mark Slouka

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

“Although there has been a great deal of discussion of the problems that await Obama among white men should he win the Democratic nomination, this analysis suggests that while McCain certainly has a strength among this group, it is no more of a strength against Obama than it would be against Clinton. Clinton’s slight advantage among blue-collar white men is offset by Obama’s advantage among white-collar white men.

The bigger issue appears to be Obama’s problems among white women, when compared to how Clinton would perform among this group. Obama loses to McCain by nine points among white women, while Clinton wins by three points. Clinton does better than Obama among both blue-collar and white-collar white women.

All in all, although both Democrats are to a degree handicapped against McCain among white voters, Clinton would perform better than Obama in a general-election matchup among non-Hispanic whites. Combining white voters of both genders, the current analysis shows that McCain wins over Obama among whites, 53% to 38%, and beats Clinton by a considerably smaller 51% to 42% margin.

It is important to note that Obama runs about as well vs. McCain as Clinton does, and both Democrats currently maintain a slight advantage over McCain in general-election trial heats. So any weaker relative performance for Obama vs. McCain among a demographic group (such as white women or lower-educated voters) is made up for by a stronger relative performance among another group (such as blacks or higher-educated voters).”

— Gallup, today

Sunday, May 11, 2008


“I wonder if Obama’s and [Ron] Paul’s amazing web success is a harbinger of a more libertarian and self-empowered political culture — because the web does not reward obedience, submission, or authoritarianism. It saddens me a great deal to see conservatism in America increasingly lean toward top-down, authoritarian, fear-based politics. In its best incarnation, conservatism is about self-government, individual freedom and hope-based politics. It’s about trusting people, not corralling them. In this, the web is the right’s natural ally, and it’s a very telling sign of American conservatism’s decadence that it doesn’t get the Internet as effectively as others.”

— Andrew Sullivan, 9 May 2008

Sullivan is my favorite conservative commentator and thinker, pretty much by far; these days it seems “conservative” has become practically synonymous with belligerence and douchery. So it’s good to see such a decent and intelligent voice.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

C’mon, you ungrateful Araboushim! Dance and celebrate!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Amid the flurry of news about the North Carolina/Indiana primaries, there is a whole world out there: over 20,000 are dead in Burma from a cyclone. Maybe you missed it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

“Every Palestinian is a militant because everyone (sooner or later) wants Israel off their land, out of their lives, and forgotten like a horrible dream. It is for this reason that they are all equal targets: none of them is intelligent enough to understand that their land isn’t their land, their lives are not their lives, and their horrible dream is their present and future. Have no pity on those who don’t get it.”

Jennifer Loewenstein (clearly a self-hating Jew!)

Friday, May 02, 2008

MoveOn can be disrespectful at times. I personally think that, for some reason, a carrot just might be totally useless as leader of the free world.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

“…nothing in the region would be so difficult to solve except for the underlying cause of the unrest and dissension that exists there—that is, the Arab-Israel quarrel. This quarrel seems to have no limit in either intensity or in scope. Everybody in the Moslem and Jewish worlds is affected by it. It is so intense that the second any action is taken against one Arab state, by an outsider, all the other Arab and Moslem states seem to regard it as a Jewish plot and react violently. All this complicates the situation enormously.

As we began to uncover evidence that something was building up in Israel, we demanded pledges from Ben-Gurion that he would keep the peace. We realized that he might think he could take advantage of this country because of the approaching election and because of the importance that so many politicians in the past have attached to our Jewish vote. I gave strict orders to the State Department that they should inform Israel that we would handle our affairs exactly as though we didn’t have a Jew in America. The welfare and best interests of our own country were to be the sole criteria on which we operated.”

President Eisenhower (November 2, 1956)

What an anti-Israel extremist. [Sighing sarcasm.]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I don’t trust you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Remember our suffering. Not theirs, at our hands. Sorry if I am bitter.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

“Palestinians will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” (Matan Vilnai, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense, 29 February 2008)

Due to cutoffs in fuel, the UN refugee relief agency cannot deliver food to one million Gazans. There are about 1.5 million people living there. (I feel so ashamed.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A few uncomfortable facts from the Land of the Free™: we have the highest incarceration rate on the planet. We imprison more of our population than any other country. Over half of inmates in federal prisons in 2006 are there for drug offenses. These data come from a report in today’s New York Times, mirroring the earlier work in February of the Pew Center for the States which found that for the first time in US history over one in 100 American adults are in prison or jail. Proud to be an American...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Pesach!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Finally, some recognition of a global disaster. (Yet once again the focus is on the threat of political volatility and not the more basic humanitarian problem of millions facing starvation.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

“Citizens of a country that maintains a military subjugation in its backyard that is no less cruel than that of the Chinese, and by some parameters even more so, and against which there is practically no more protest here, have no justification in denouncing another occupation. … The Palestinians are not as nice as the Tibetans in the eyes of the world. But the Palestinian people deserve exactly the same rights as the occupied Tibetan people … there is no difference between a Tibetan and a Palestinian — they both deserve the exact same freedom. … There is also no point in asking which occupation is crueler, the Chinese or the Israeli. The competition is harsh and bitter. The Chinese killed and imprisoned more Tibetans, in Lhasa there is less freedom of expression than in Nablus, but in general, the extent of Israeli repression in the territories is much greater today than Chinese repression in Tibet. Nowhere in the world today is there a region more besieged and confined than Gaza. And what is the result? The world calls to boycott the occupier in the case of China, while absurdly, with regard to the Palestinians, the world is boycotting the occupied entity, or at least its elected leadership, and not the occupier. This, it seems, has no parallel in history. … Is there any other way to describe this, except a double standard?”

— Gideon Levy (in Ha’aretz, 13 April 2008)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why is the worldwide crisis in food prices considered a nonevent by every major US news outlet? According to the Google news aggregator, only the BBC, Voice of America, AP and the Sydney Morning Herald gave it any coverage. Checking the CNN homepage; it’s another horse race story about Clinton and Obama, this time on their “faith.”

Maybe this is premature; I’m going to check the New York Times. The top story in their world news page reads that the National Security adviser of the United States “said foreign leaders would be more effective influencing China with… ‘quiet diplomacy’”—let Beijing immolate a few dozen more Tibetans, we don’t want to spoil the celebration. Okay, here’s a bulletin closer to the mark; it addresses the riots in Haiti over “rising food prices”. But no big picture. Maybe when millions of Americans are in danger of starvation our media will take note that there is a problem.

NOTE: So apparently I missed this but the main page still has Hillary-Barack at the faith forum as their top story.

Friday, April 11, 2008

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut (from “Requiem,” in his final book A Man Without a Country, p. 137 [2005 hardcover edition, Seven Stories Press]):

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
“Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do.”

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.

And this wonderful bit of prose earlier on that only grows more haunting and, well, painfully honest and eloquent (from chapter 9, pp. 98-101):

“It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the U.S. Constitution.

“But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d’état imaginable.

“I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: ‘C-Students from Yale.’

“George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

“To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete’s foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr. Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, and published in 1941. Read it!

“Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.

“PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

“And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he’s against gay marriage.

“So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

“They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin’ day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t give a fuck what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!”

An American patriot left us one year ago today. You will always be remembered; God help us if we don’t.

p.s. Last month, an ABC reporter asked about two-thirds of the population opposing the war and whether that should matter; the Vice President of the United States answered, “So?” The reporter, Martha Raddatz, followed: “So, you don’t care what the American people think?” Arrived this contemptuous remark in reply: “No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls” (editorial in the Battleboro Reformer of Vermont, “They don’t care”)