Monday, December 28, 2009

Expert commentary on the domestic ramifications of the terror attack last week.

Postscript: This is it for 2009, a hideous year indeed. Quick recap is in order. General Motors tanked, celebrities dropped like flies, Iran massacred its people (no particular order obviously). To a happy new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

As the decade draws to a close, analysts and commentators are spewing out retrospectives left and right, drowning in remember-when and wasn’t-that-crazy stories. Instead, here I think it may be appropriate to recollect that ten years ago saw the advent of a film that ushered in the surrealistic absurdity we all lived through: “The Matrix,” most remembered for its ad-hoc philosophy and pioneering cinematography techniques. What it ought to be remembered for is how presciently it describes the current situation of our culture, indeed the world situation.

This may appear to be a stretch, but follow this line for awhile: mysterious agents are after a man who is unwittingly living what he considers a normal life, only for him to find out that things are not what they seem. He is introduced to “the desert of the real,” a truly frightening place. All of the civilized aspects of our existence amount to a fabrication, he finds, a cynical fraud to keep people in a cocooned, atomized state. How all of this can be rendered into a clear-eyed look back over the last decade, the discordant first notes of the young epoch, must be centered on how, through ubiquitous punditry and a break-up of the older modes of this information age, we have been witness to the construction of our reality.

No, we are not in pods; our lives are not simulacra. It is telling that the first reaction so many had to the first major event that heralded a dark era was that it appeared cinematic, the antithesis of real. So did the beginning of our adventurism abroad, set off like a video game, void of the suffering that followed sure enough. Another image, a flooded city, televised rioting, disorder. Upheavals across the planet came into our consciousness as mediated images, a construct. In a nation where about ten percent holds a passport, it was as real as it got.

To close this out comes “Avatar,” in which a mercenary, colonialist power travels to a poorly-understood, far-off land to steal its resources. Say what you will about Iraq, but the theme of misadventure and hubris has been thick in the air for so long that it is difficult to disentangle noble intentions from the blood on the ground. It is interesting that at the beginning and end of this ten-year span we have seen two sci-fi flicks that well capture the mood.

And so we face the second decade of the twenty-first century: unpredictable, likely fraught with hazard. Let us keep our heads.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thoughts on Israel-Palestine

I do not wish to criticize anything Israel does that I would not criticize if, say, the United States, my own government, were to do the same in similar circumstances. To do so would mean engaging in moral hypocrisy. Yet the notion that it is okay if Israel does x because the US has also done x is kind of childish, even corrosive. The same standards of behavior must apply—all the more so because in both cases we are talking about democracies where the people are supposed to have a voice and authorities are supposed to be accountable to the people.

Standards of critique need to apply likewise. I am no less American for vehemently criticizing and opposing many things my country does; the same goes for a country that by virtue of my citizenship I am a patron and by virtue of my heritage is my birthright. It is very easy to defend Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, militant or not, under the rubric of our American “war on terror” mindset, simply because many of us feel we face similar barbarism. But I cannot help but feel that in the final account we, Americans and Israelis, condemn ourselves if we refuse to look into the mirror. I really believe that if the tables were turned, and the fortunes reversed, we would see things very differently. With military dominance, or religious fanaticism, comes a very strong tendency to dehumanize abroad and to despise those who oppose the worship of force within.

The status of Jerusalem is a case-in-point. It is wrong for the Jews and Arabs to each claim all of it as their own, and they must find a way to share it or end they doom themselves to endless strife. The confiscation of East Jerusalem is disgusting, and I will make no apologies for saying so. How would we react if the PA kicked out thousands of Jewish residents from their homes in the name of security and demography? According to HaMoked (The Focus), an Israeli human rights group, “government statistics it had obtained showed a leap in the number of Palestinians who had their Jerusalem residency status revoked by the Israeli Interior Ministry in 2008,” reported Isabel Kershner in the Times today. “Official statistics for previous years … showed that 8,558 Palestinians had their Jerusalem residency rights revoked in the years 1967 through 2007.” In the Post, Howard Schneider reported that 89 of them “appealed the revocation and retained their residency,” according to the Interior Ministry. Schneider concludes that this episode “highlight[s] the demographic complexities of a city that Israel claims as it ‘undivided capital’ but that Palestinians feel should also form the capital of a future Palestinian state.” In 2008 alone, Israeli authorities revoked residency rights for about 4,500 Arabs, which is approximately half of the number whose residencies were taken away since ’67.

The capital of my country, Washington, is about 38 percent white; Jerusalem is about 38 percent Arab. Imagine how anyone would react to the news that the City Council, or the Federal Government no less, regularly evicts residency rights for white D.C. residents because of “demographic problems” and claims the entire city as the “undivided capital” of the Black people? I am explicitly saying that what the Israeli state is doing in this case is racist, and therefore indefensible. Further, every embassy in the world, including the United States, that has contacts with Israel houses them in Tel Aviv. Only Israel recognizes a claim to all of Jerusalem, which has the highest rates of wealth inequality and the highest levels of religiosity in the entire country. By contrast, Tel Aviv is a secular, liberal cosmopolitan place that is probably seen by many Israelis they way many Americans see NYC: a self-contained bubble, not the “real world.”

(Coming up: a review and analysis of the new book, One State, Two States, by historian Benny Morris.)

P.S.: Here, from the Journal of Palestine Studies, is a collection of source material for the E. Jerusalem situation (in the wake of the 1967 war).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Much of my so-called work here of late is aggregating what is already in the ether. One of the bulletins worth repeating is that the Center for Responsive Politics has found that 44% of our Congress is composed of multi-millionaires.

The people at GQ also have an interview up with Scott Horton, who has done a lot of work uncovering the ongoing US drone strikes into Pakistan.

NASA reports that it found at least several gallons worth of water on the Moon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twenty years ago this week, the Iron Curtain came down and millions of people were liberated from Soviet tyranny. It was an end to intercontinental paranoia and fear of nuclear annihilation at the hands of ideological fanatics. It is good that we all now inhabit this utopian end of history in which the Free World has nothing more to fear from totalitarianism.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Former Marine captain and State Department Foreign Service official Matthew Hoh resigned yesterday over his disillusionment with the Afghan War. On Sept. 10 he had written, “I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan.… I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end,” as reported by Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post. “‘I’m not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love,’ Hoh said.… ‘There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed,’ he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A month ago I interviewed that radical gadfly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known to many in the establishment as persona non grata (transcript below):


AC (me): My brother, actually, wanted me to ask about—he identifies on the right of the spectrum—he wanted to know, so I wrote down his question which was, Right now with the way our country is divided on many domestic issues, his example being the health care debate, and he was wondering why someone who identifies as a ‘conservative’ is considered ‘wrong’ or ‘completely misinformed’ or ‘morally inferior’ to others and why someone who identifies as a ‘liberal’—who gives what’s considered the ‘liberal opinion’—is given credibility or…

NC: By who?

AC: By, well, in his opinion the press—or the media, or liberal commentators.

NC: ‘Liberal’ in the United States means highly conformist, highly supportive of state and corporate power but mildly critical—however to the right of the population on many issues. That’s what’s called liberal. What’s called ‘conservative,’ which has absolutely nothing to do with traditional conservatism, is even farther to the right. Okay, so that’s the way the terms are used. From that point of view, yeah, the press is liberal and it would criticize people it doesn’t agree with.

AC: Right.

NC: I criticize both of them, regard them as both right-wing. But I can’t really answer the question, I mean they’re criticizing it because they think it’s wrong. I think they’re all wrong, and I think the population is right. Let’s take the health care debate.

AC: Okay.

NC: Polls have been taken for decades on health care. As far back as you go, a considerable majority [of those polled] have favored a national health care system. That’s not even on the agenda.

AC: The so-called public option?

NC: That’s, they’re not calling for a ‘public option,’ they’re calling for a national health care system, like every other industrial country has. We’re the only industrial country that doesn’t have a public health care system. Now the way they—they work differently. I mean, some of them are kind of like Medicare for the whole population. Some of them have worked through private companies but tightly regulated by the government, like Switzerland. And there’s a couple of other options. So that’s every other industrial country. We’re the only country in which health care is a partially market system, privatized. And there’s a consequence: we have the worst health care system in the industrial world. It has twice the per capita costs of any other and it has some of the worst outcomes. And that’s even with 50 million people without it at all. So sure, it’s the worst system around, it’s the only privatized market-oriented system. It has very severe rationing—contrary to what people claim. Health care is rationed by wealth. So, I’m doing fine, I get great health care. On the other hand poor people can’t get anything. So there’s very tight rationing by wealth. It’s not total, like what George Bush said, Well after all, anybody can go to the emergency room. Yeah, he’s right; anybody can go to the emergency room. Go sometime, see what it looks like. Yeah, they sit there forever and finally get some very quick treatment, often wrong, not because the doctors are…

AC: Overburdened.

NC: It’s wildly overburdened. I mean I’ve had experiences, the—so yeah, it’s possible but it’s the worst system around. We’re the only country in the world where the government is barred by law from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations. The result is that drug prices are way higher than anywhere else. And people have been opposed to that. It has been off the agenda, and still is.

AC: Weeks ago I heard that Washington had struck some sort of deal with the drug companies… some $80 billion.

NC: That was a joke. What actually happened is Obama made a secret deal—we don’t know the details—with the drug companies saying that he would not tolerate any form of government negotiation of drug prices. So we’re gonna stay off the spectrum of industrial countries and in return they said they would give him a little gift, you know [crosstalk] incidentally 85 percent of the population objects to that, they think we ought to negotiate. But 85 percent of the population—just don’t care, don’t matter because both political parties are way to the right of them.

AC: Is there an ideological basis for why—not just on that issue—but on so many issues we’re off the spectrum?

NC: It’s a very business-run society. Almost every society is mostly business-run because concentration of economic power has a big influence on society, of course, but the United States is extreme. It’s an unusually business-run society. It shows up in all sorts of ways.

AC: When Obama was elected last November, there was obviously a lot of talk about, you know, he’s going to change the political culture, he’s going to do all sorts of things. But what seems to have happened instead is he is been a conciliator to the…

NC: Not a conciliator, he’s just what he’s always pretended to be: a centrist Democrat.

AC: So why is all this—recently for example in my hometown there was a couple of weeks ago a pretty sizeable demonstration on the Capitol and they claimed they were opposing record levels of government spending [and] taxation, and there were other elements that were just…

NC: First of all, it’s not ‘record levels of government spending.’ Their hero, Ronald Reagan, is the one who shifted the country from a creditor country to a debtor country. He left [office] with a huge debt. He laid the basis for the tremendous financial crisis, the housing—savings and loan crisis just happened a little bit after he left but it was his crisis. He was, he was ultra-protectionist. He was the most protectionist president in postwar history, doubled protectionist barriers. And he believed in a very powerful state which intervenes radically in the economy and the world, but for the benefit of the wealthy. Okay, that’s the hero. Well, there was a huge propaganda campaign about him and most of the people demonstrating probably don’t even know any of this, but it’s easily determinable. That’s the point of propaganda.

AC: Right, to…

NC: As for the people themselves, they probably do feel, I think everything they say they feel. But the United States is—another respect in which the United States is very far off the spectrum of democratic societies is attitude toward taxes. So take, say, April 15th.

AC: Right.

NC: In a democratic society, that would be a day of celebration! It would be a day in which we’re coming together to contribute to policies which we formulated for our benefit. So that’s celebration. In the United States it’s regarded as a day of mourning. It’s a day in which some alien force…

AC: Is going to come down…

NC: Is going to come and steal our hard-earned money. That shows how effectively the propaganda system has driven the very concept of democracy out of people’s minds. We think of the [unintelligible; crosstalk] it’s built into us…

AC: It’s no longer our—our government, but the government.

NC: It’s the government, it’s a robber, it’s an alien force.

AC: Yeah.

NC: Now there’s been an endless—I mean, we have a very class-conscious business community. The business world in the United States is Marxist, strictly Marxist. They’re very class-conscious; they use the terminology! They say…

AC: [Like] vanguard?

NC: No, it’s not that, they say We have to be concerned about the rising power of the masses. I mean, they’re on the opposite—they’re values are inverted, but they use the same framework, vulgar Marxist framework, except they’re on the other side. So ‘we gotta beat back the masses,’ and one of the ways of doing it is make them despise the government. However, that’s quite nuanced because we, the business class, we want a powerful state…

AC: To protect us…

NC: A nanny state for us—that’s why we like Reagan, because he believed in a very powerful state but for the rich. So we’ve got to get everyone else to hate the government because they’re going to associate the government with, you know, giving away—Reagan again, it’s a perfect example—giving away [money to] black women riding in Cadillacs to the welfare…

AC: ‘Welfare queens.’

NC: Right, okay, that’s perfect for the business classes.

AC: There is a rising media star who is whipping up a lot of populist—they call it populist—fervor, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Glenn Beck…

NC: Yeah.

AC: And my brother watches his show, he’s quite enamored of, I mean he disagrees with him on some things, he respects him—and he seems to, in my view, seems to target or claims to target state and corporate power, against…

NC: That’s right.

AC: …the bail-outs for Wall Street and—but he also seems, in my opinion, to be a kind of very demagogic [laughs].

NC: Well I don’t, I think he’s on television…

AC: Yes.

NC: I don’t see him but I listen to talk radio…

AC: He also has a radio show.

NC: You know I also listen to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage…

AC: [laughs] Michael Savage is the worst!

NC: See, I think they’re very interesting. I’m sure Glenn Beck is the same. They’re very similar to early Nazi propaganda. It has—they are appealing to a population which has real grievances. I mean they’ve been shafted for the last 30 years. You know, a typical person who calls in, you know ‘I’m a white Christian, working, God-fearing American, I’ve done everything right and my life’s in ruin. My, you know, culture…’

AC: ‘We want our country back’ is what…

NC: ‘We want our country back,’ okay, and they’ve got an answer. Now the answer happens to be insane, including Glenn Beck. But it has an internal logic to it. So if you kinda put out of your mind what the real world is and imagine yourself in the situation of this person—decent, hard-working, God-fearing, gun-loving person—listening to this answer is, ‘Everything has been taken over by rich liberals. They run the government, they run the corporations, they run the media, they don’t care about us. We’re a fly-over people’ or something; ‘all they do is live on the…’

AC: ‘Bicoastal—’

NC: ‘…east coast or the west coast and don’t care about us ordinary Americans and they’re robbing us to give everything away to illegal aliens and to poor people’ and—okay, that’s an answer. The answer happens to be lunatic but it’s an answer. And they’re not hearing any other answer. They’re not hearing the answer because, look, that’s the effect of the kind of neoliberal economic system that Reagan symbolized, which was designed to punish you and to enrich a small sector of very wealthy people and to eliminate the manufacturing base of the country in favor of financialization. So, sure you’re suffering from it, but they’re not hearing that answer, ’cause the so-called liberal press won’t give them that answer, ’cause they’re too far to the right to give them that answer. So therefore the only answer they’re getting is Limbaugh, Beck and other forms of total lunacy which have an internal logic. I can see why people believe it, if you suspend your knowledge of the world you can believe it. It’s given with great conviction and absolute certainty…

AC: It seems they believe it themselves.

NC: You know I suspect that, Limbaugh looks pretty intelligent, I suspect he’s a total cynic but some—Michael Savage probably believes it, judging by his tone. Maybe Glenn Beck does.

AC: Is there any, what—

NC: Nazi propagandists believed it. They had an answer too. They were talking to a similar group of people, and they were telling them, ‘Well, the problem is the Bolsheviks and the Jews.’ Okay, that had an internal logic, they probably believed it. And we know what happened.

AC: Well, what I—another thing I was thinking about and writing is… one target of theirs is the educational system, which they describe as a form of indoctrinating the youth of America to oppose the capitalist order, to—

NC: You go to school?

AC: I graduated—

NC: Did they teach you to oppose markets, capital and business—

AC: There were a couple of professors…

NC: I doubt if there was one. Did you have one professor who ever said anything like [crosstalk] it’s standard talk show business. It’s completely lunatic, but it has an internal logic.

AC: But what I notice is that in your writing, you’ve written often about the ways in which education serves an indoctrinating function…

NC: It indoctrinates you to the right, to accept corporate capitalism as so obvious you don’t even question it—you never studied or heard, I’m sure I never heard that corporations are totalitarian institutions which are granted rights that go beyond the rights of human beings, you were never taught that. You could read it, you know, in a book on the history of corporate law but that’s certainly—you were taught that they were benevolent, that they try to do things for, to give things to us and so on. You were taught that the media are fiercely independent and courageous, that the state is noble and maybe makes mistakes but all of its causes are noble—uh, that’s what we’re taught. Sure, it’s indoctrination, but the opposite of what they’re saying. But I think, I kind of respect these people. I think their position is understandable. It’s lunatic, but understandable. And they’re not hearing any other answer.

AC: And they’re organized.

NC: And they’re organized, and so were the Nazis. And I don’t mean [to make] the comparison lightly. Germany was the most civilized country in the world in the 1920s. It was the peak of the arts, the sciences… vibrant lively, ten years later it was the absolute pits of human history. And these are some of the reasons; and you can see that in the United States. Another fact about the United States that’s different from Germany is throughout its history the United States has been a very frightened country. It’s easy to generate fear in the United States, of the most crazy things. Take Reagan, again. When Reagan got up and announced that, he’d declared a state of national emergency because—because of the threat to the security of the country posed by the government of Nicaragua, which has troops two days away from Texas. Now in any sane country we would have collapsed in laughter. Not in the United States.

AC: Why do we give that such credence? Is it the cult of the presidency?

NC: It’s a deep yellow streak down the back of American culture. It’s a very cowardly, frightened culture. And it always has been. I mean that’s why they can whip up fear—you know, drugs, Saddam Hussein, Nicaragua, anyone. And I suspect it comes from the fact that we’ve conquered everyone. If you’re the backyard—the schoolyard bully, you’re scared. Yeah, you can beat up those little kids but who knows, maybe they’ll turn on you. And that’s our history. We have destroyed everyone.

AC: What are the prospects, even in the supposed ‘Age of Obama’ of ‘change’ and ‘hope,’ what are the prospects for a—some kind of transformation of American values?

NC: It’s up to people like you. ‘Change’ and ‘hope’ is a joke. Obama is a creature of the advertising industry. They read polls—

AC: Slogans.

NC: They know that 80 percent of the country thinks that we’re going on the wrong direction, okay the slogans are ‘change’ and ‘hope.’ In fact those were McCain’s slogans too but he didn’t do it as well. This is all kind of like television ads, you don’t pay any attention to ’em. To change the country will require the kinds of things that—actually it happened in the last 40 years. It is a lot more civilized than it was 40 years ago.

AC: So that’s hope for the future.

NC: I mean look at women’s rights, civil rights, concern for the environment, opposition to aggression—all the things that Beck is screaming about, you know those are things that’ve actually happened, and made the country much better, and civilized. It’s because of people like you, activists.

AC: With respect to the environmental movement, what I’ve noticed of late over the past few years is how they’ve—how they have been able to commoditize everything [as] ‘green’ as a way of making a slogan…

NC: Yeah, business is going to leap onto anything. Anything it can make money on, it’ll be ‘green’ so they’ll sell it.

AC: It’s a way of capturing the public mood, which is there, and making it ‘Just buy this and you’ll be…’

NC: That’s—I don’t blame them, that’s what they’re supposed to do.

AC: Right.

NC: They’re supposed to make money. They’re not supposed to be nice people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting — as society has, at much greater expense, for public education, health care, scientific advancement and cultural preservation, through varying combinations of philanthropy, subsidy and government policy. It may not be essential to save or promote any particular news medium, including print newspapers. What is paramount is preserving independent, original, credible reporting, whether or not it is profitable, and regardless of the medium in which it appears.”

— Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson, yesterday

Full report can be found here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On a temporary hiatus until some things clear up.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Welcome to America, 2009. Thanks are due to Alan Fike.
Some context for the supposed anti-spending, anti-taxation demonstration yesterday in DC. Key quote (emphases mine):

[Glenn] Beck peddles a message that’s been around since America was born: They’re taking your country away. They—the non-white races, the immigrants, the urbanites, the communists, the elites—are stealing the country from nice, simple white Christians. They’re taking what rightfully belongs to us, to Real Americans.

This basic, gut-level fear of loss, fear of tribal obsolescence and irrelevance, is all the 25%-and-shrinking right has left. It has been overwhelmed by its most paranoid, bigoted elements. Not activists, not online petitioners, but U.S. senators and Republican thought leaders say the president wasn’t born in the U.S.; that he wants to kill old people; that he is not fit to speak to school children. They are banging drums and chanting just outside the campfire circle of rational civic discourse. Their din makes it impossible to think, to plan, to govern. They can not lead, but in their twisted fear they can prevent the rest of us from going anywhere either.

Our civic immune system has grown weak. There are no filters, no longer shared standards of evidence, truth, or decency. The poison courses unhindered through the body. Nothing, no matter how factually insane or morally repugnant, can be repelled.
A great send-off to an underrated, long-running TV show that taught us all the simple virtues of a small town called Arlen. Yep.
Right on.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time to get our facts straight, people. President Obama hit one for the bleachers last night, and the G.O.P. revealed its true face with Rep. Heckler from the First Secession State. Embarrassing and sad, yes, but instructive. Hopefully we can be adults about this.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A suddenly more innocent time, when we thought that Will Ferrell and Tina Fey could change this country.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Robert Scheer seems to agree. Afghanistan is his war now and his campaign promise was to end it, eventually, after much pointless sacrifice in blood and treasure. Why do we think we can do what the British and Russians failed to do?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The newspaper of record reports today, with a few substitutions of my own (let me know if notice anything discrepant):

A new report by the top commander in South Vietnam detailing the situation there confronts President Johnson with the politically perilous decision of whether to deepen American involvement in the eight-year-old war amid shrinking public support at home.

The classified assessment submitted Monday by Gen. William Westmoreland, who took over American and ASEAN forces in Vietnam in June, did not request additional American troops, American officials said, but they added that it effectively laid the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks.

While details of the report remained secret, the revised strategy articulated by General Westmoreland in recent public comments would invest the United States more extensively in Vietnam that it has been since American forces helped topple the Diem government following the Tonkin incident in 1964. Taking a page from the 1967 strategy shift in Laos, he has emphasized protecting civilians over just engaging guerrillas.

For Mr. Johnson, who has already ordered an additional 210,000 troops to Vietnam this year, the prospect of a still larger deployment would test his commitment to a war he did not launch even as it grows more violent by the month.

He already faces growing discontent among his liberal base, not only over the war but also over national security policy, health care, civil rights and other issues.

An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Johnson’s entanglement with a Vietnamese government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. Multiplying allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the result are final.

The latest tally, with nearly half of the polling stations counted, showed President Pho Ngo Karzai leading with 45.9 percent against 33.3 percent for his main opponent, Abdullah Nguyen, Reuters reported.

But the White House left open the possibility that Mr. Johnson would send more troops. “There’s broad agreement that for many years, our effort in Vietnam has been under-resourced politically, militarily and economically,” George Christian, the White House press secretary, said Monday. He went on to use the words “under-resourced” and “under-resource” six more times during his daily briefing.

The report comes after a sharp escalation of violence in Vietnam, where more American troops died in August than in any month since the beginning of the war.

The military announced Monday that two American soldiers died in separate attacks involving homemade bombs, bringing the total killed last month to 510, according to the official tally. The number of such attacks has nearly quadrupled since 1966, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The situation in Vietnam is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,” General Westmoreland said in a statement…

Mr. McNamara said Monday that despite the “gloom and doom” that has characterized recent discussion, Vietnam today is a “mixed picture.”

He said he would consider any troop requests in the coming weeks, but told the UPI that he was concerned about “the implications of significant additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Vietnam, whether the Vietnamese will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner, and how do you differentiate those.”

Shortly after taking office Mr. Johnson ordered 170,000 more combat troops and 40,000 more advisers to Vietnam, and once they all arrive the American force there will number 680,000. As the ASEAN commander, General Westmoreland also has 400,000 additional foreign forces available to him, but some of their home governments have placed restrictions on how they can be used.

General Westmoreland wants a large expansion of Vietnamese security forces and an acceleration of their training, according to American commanders. The Vietnamese government currently has about 134,000 police officers and 82,000 soldiers, although many of them are poorly equipped and have little logistical support.

Under the strategy described by General Westmoreland and other commanders in recent weeks, the overriding goal of American and ASEAN forces would not be so much to kill Vietcong guerrillas as to make ordinary Vietnamese feel secure, and thus isolate the guerrillas. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance.…

With polls showing falling support for the Vietnamese war, critics in Congress have grown increasingly vocal in calling for withdrawal.

Congressman Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, returned from Vietnam last week and said that despite the capable Americans now there, he was pessimistic about the chances of success and did not even know how to define it.

“I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we’re getting sucked into an endless war here,” he said in an interview.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An ongoing issue is US codification of and complicity in torture, and efforts to make a reckoning for it that has finally started arriving in fits and starts. A long-awaited report came to light (Aug. 24, by the CIA’s Inspector General). In a remarkable turn, the Attorney General of the United States decided to investigate CIA brutality in connection with the voluminous documentation of “abuse” of detainees captured in some fashion during the last eight years or so. Critics may argue that targeting low- to mid-level operatives in a clandestine agency carries less political weight, less risky, than prosecuting people who decided policy at the Office of Legal Counsel, which is under the AG’s purview.

Several things capture my interest so it is hard to narrow it down and stay focused on one thing at a time. Indeed, these days a lot of things appear interconnected and, upon closer inspection, actually are, even if those webs of connections end up tenuous.

Questions: who is going to be investigated? Will there be prosecutions? How much will actually come to light, given the use of “state secrets” protections? Given what we already know, what will more information actually uncover? Will it become political ammunition or lead to better transparency and an end to the abuses (crimes, in layman’s terminology)?

Why has it taken so long for the C.I.A. to be prosecuted for its crimes? I think the usage of “crime” is acceptable if we define criminal acts are those that are unlawful. The biggest question then becomes, Does international law have any force? do our own laws? The NYT reports, “The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.” (my italics)

We can, for now, safely assume that a democratic country needs a clandestine service to do its dirty work, the kind that does not necessitate public deliberation — or awareness. But for some reason, national security is such a potent drug that even normally staid concepts like the rule of law (not rule of reckless arrogant men) gets distorted into a bizarre shape. Our representatives refuse to place the detainees at Gitmo into their home districts, never mind the multitudes of US prisoners already jailed in them. The subtext is that Americans are not capable of Qaeda-like brutality. Refuting that assumption ought to be unnecessary.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It has been a few weeks since anything has captured my interest to the point at which I wanted to delve into it, uncover what can be laid bare, and report. At the moment, in this trendy Brooklyn neighborhood, a lot of things are happening. But this was never a personal journal; instead I wanted to give context for the discoveries that do merit note.

Michael Massing, in the latest New York Review of Books, observes that digital media need not spell doom for the traditional norms (sometimes ignored) of integrity and accountability and the commitment, stated but less often practiced, to “fact-checking.” Instead, he writes, we are at a fateful crossroads, a hinge point. Massing approvingly cites the work of Clay Shirky, who observed much along the same lines. The latest Columbia Journalism Review is also full of seasoned observers who seem to cohere along a practical solution: charge for access. Before that can be explored, first it is necessary to bemoan the fact that print and Web journos feel respectively like dinosaurs and the small mammalian critters that herald the evolutionary future, for good or bad.

One paradox that is not-so-often pundited captures the issue of journalism “as content,” as a “monetizable” product that is one part original reporting, which involves depth, expertise and field work, and another part soulless aggregation of the reportage. It is paradoxical for the same reason it is so ubiquitous: all of the time the dispatches of real observers are linked, disseminated and repackaged; all of the time the predominant majority of consumers heavily depend on being fed constantly-updated information, which can entirely bypass the very working people without whom the news cannot arrive in the very medium that is “corroding” the old models.

There is a lot of buzz around the topic of erecting pay walls, for example, which contains positives and negatives. On the plus, it generates more revenue for the providers than can be supplied by ads. On the other hand, millions of people expect information to be free. A key assumption is that quality journalism is integral to democracy. Yet that very democratic impulse represented by the internet is challenging the institutions that are supposed to foster informed decision-making. What the current climate may lead us to is highly specialized super-niche markets in which microaudiences pay for content suited to them. To survive the major media entities will have to go much more local, just to differentiate themselves. The idea of a mass media may soon disappear in the process.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Barack Obama expressed regret for appearing to side with a victim of racial profiling, and personally called the police sergeant in question to apologize for suggesting that the Cambridge Police Dept. had acted on any racial assumptions. (Henry Louis Gates, the famed Harvard scholar, was arrested about two weeks ago under the charge of “disorderly conduct” after a burglary call had been made by a neighbor who saw, around midday, two men jimmying a door—it was Gates’ house, his key wasn’t working—and Gates allegedly called the cop a racist among other minor details, reportedly involving the cop’s “mama”; it has just been disclosed that the 911 caller did not describe the men as black, though prompted to classify by race by the station.) In an effort to downplay any appearance of controversy, the president reiterated that he had poorly chosen his way of framing the issue. Gates—his nickname is “Skip”—is said to be a personal friend.

“Look, I want to be clear on this,” Obama declared, in an imaginary conference he never made. “What I should have said is that all of this ‘post-racial’ discourse is, frankly, bullshit. There are undoubtedly structural barriers to Black advancement in the United States, even today, and for those who make it to prestigious positions of influence and privilege like my buddy Skip at times find that institutional or systemic forms of racism has surmounted the older, explicitly interpersonal forms that seem more obvious, especially to white Americans.” Obama cleared his throat. “What I should have expressed is that this whole episode is just a small indicator of a much larger social problem we still face…”

The president paused to vocally mull his thoughts over for what the press corps described as an uncomfortable half-minute.

“Look,” he continued. “I’m conflict averse. ‘No drama Obama.’ Some could call that cowardice, you know, that I’m backtracking on principle and defending ‘the Man,’ by which I mean the correctional complex that disproportionately dragnets Blacks in this country, but I am just trying to say that the issue is not whether the Cambridge PD acted professionally or ethically. These men and women are just agents of law enforcement, working at the surface of a much more complex superstructure of racial injustice.”

He would be shot within the hour, and the perpetrator would likely be among the thousands of terrified white Americans who stocked up on guns and ammo since he rode a wave of popular revulsion against the last incumbents. But Obama is anything but stupid and, therefore, would never say anything like this. One can only hope that he, in private moments, thinks along these lines—if he really is the humane and sensible reformist people thought he was.

It is terribly upsetting and disappointing, but alas not too surprising, that the president found himself incapable of exerting clear moral leadership for fear of upsetting (mostly irrelevant, still feral) political forces, even in the face of clear realities. To recapitulate, he wants to avoid a “racial controversy,” but that is odd considering the lack of controversy among social scientists about the de facto apartheid-like conditions many Blacks face in these United States with respect to extravagant entitlements like decent housing, health care and education.

Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project reported in 2007 that “nearly half of African American children born to middle-class parents in the 1950s and ’60s had fallen to a lower economic status as adults, a rate of downward mobility far higher than that for whites” (Alec MacGillis, “Neighborhoods Key to Future Income, Study Finds,” Washington Post, 27 July 2009, p. 6). In the new Pew study, we read,

Two out of three black children born from 1985 through 2000 [ages 9-24] were raised in neighborhoods with at least a 20 percent poverty rate, compared with just 6 percent of white children, a disparity virtually unchanged from three decades prior. (my emphases)

The 2009 report was written by Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at NYU.

This is supplemented by Glenn Loury, an economics and social sciences professor at Brown, who argues that the correctional system, known somewhat euphemistically as criminal justice, also stacks the deck (“Obama, Gates and the American Black Man,” New York Times, 26 July 2009). Combined with an utter dearth of respectable economic opportunities, conditions are bleak. Over the “last 30 years,” Loury writes, “a historically unprecedented, politically popular, extraordinarily punitive and hugely racially disparate mobilization of resources for … the institutions of domestic security” has disproportionately fallen on the shoulders of the undesirable underclass of our society.

Loury specifically points to “racial and class segregation in our cities; inadequate education for the poor [mostly vocational track if anything—Ed.]; and the collapse of the family as an institution in some communities.” The family-values argument can be deployed by racist whites and “Uncle Tom” blacks, but there is still merit in it to the extent that a family is a more or less stable and cohesive social unit. What the Civil Rights movement accomplished, through the effort and sacrifice of thousands and the work of decades, was the abolition of an unjust legal structure that denied equity, advancement and dignity to millions of ostensible citizens.

What evidently has not changed is the de facto realities of black Americans, not as Americans who can fully share the economic opportunities given to most of their white counterparts, but as an exploited and subjugated stratum of entertainers (ranging from “magical Negroes” to minstrels), sports players and gangbangers—the third option the only real remaining possibility for those dwelling in the ghettoes, which originated as liberal-minded social engineering projects. These are under near-total surveillance (a “ghetto bird” is a police helicopter, for example). Then there is the threat of gentrification, which serves the purpose of “development.”

We do not live in a “post-racial” age. The complexion of our first biracial president will remain symbolic if the actual conditions most Black Americans face persist in their current form. In Miller-McCune magazine, Ryan Blitstein cites the research of Arline Geronimus, who investigated why blacks and other minorities seem to age faster and seem more prone to disease than whites. Blitstein recounts that “Black residents of high-poverty areas … are as likely to die by the age of 45 as American whites are to die by 65” (“Weathering, The Storm,” p. 49). Geronimus’ “weathering framework” posits that “environmental pollution, high crime, poor health care, overt racism, [and] concentrated poverty” are better explanations for the disparity than innate differences (p. 50).

Needless to say the scholarly community has, in some quarters, blacklisted her and denigrated her reputation. Blitstein records that, fairly soon, Geronimus ran into the root of the problem: racism, in its structural, dominating social form, as opposed to the image of white-hooded thugs screaming “nigger.” Geronimus sees racism as “a fundamental cause of health disparities” because it leads to policies that contain “even middle-class blacks in crime-ridden, environmentally poisonous neighborhoods” (p. 53).

Jonathan Mahler chronicled the obliteration of the black middle class in Detroit, which Blitstein described (p. 57) as “a sort of urban reservation for black Americans.” Mahler observes that as the auto industry, a lifeline for black advancement following the exodus from the South, has crumbled so too have the prospects for a decent life. He writes that the atomization of social life, a lack of real community, has contributed to the decline (“G.M., Detroit and the Fall of the Black Middle Class,” New York Times Magazine, 28 June 2009; full article here).

Race and class form a tight nexus of social problems in America, and it is difficult to disentangle them. But the talk that we all have somehow transcended race as a cultural factor of enormous force, even today, is naive and dangerous because it conceals the savage inequalities that exist in our land and does harm to actual advancement by making white liberals feel better about themselves.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A credible Iran portal, for the latest developments not only political but cultural, can be found here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Billionaire cleric Rafsanjani stumps for Mousavi at Tehran University. My coverage of what has been happening in Iran has been negligent, of course due to other events. But it is still worth discussing, as things appear to be dynamic again after a frightening lull following the massive display of force and brutality against the demonstrators. Above, in the embed: the latest victim, an (as of now) nameless woman. It is remarkable that in such a stridently patriarchal society women have been at the forefront of many of the protests.

News roundup: Iraqi authorities have decided to put a tighter lid on the movements of US forces, in an apparent effort to enforce their sovereignty, probably as a political show for the people who apparently do not want to be kept safe by a foreign power. It would be sensible if the same applies for Iran, whose fighters the US has often cast as foreign to the region, implying it is naturally our backyard.

Walter Cronkite, the legendary television newsman who recognized the folly of the war in Vietnam (Robert McNamara, its troubled architect, passed last week), is dead at 92. This appears to be a fitting coda to the transition the craft of journalism itself is making, step by step, toward a new medium and style. He was a giant of broadcasting and one of my heroes.

The other day, the Democratic-led Senate slapped organized labor in the face by stripping a key provision of the Employee Free Choice Act, namely the section that guarantees a free choice vis-à-vis arbitration (if a simple majority of workers wish to unionize, they simply check a card). For mainstream liberals the enemy is usually the G.O.P., but they ignore their enemies among their own ranks at their peril. Labor unions have captured bankrupt auto manufacturers, endangered health benefits, and a denied life-line. This is a triumph for the Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking of money matters, on that same day it was reported that JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have emerged as the last titans standing on Wall St., which “underscores how the government’s effort to halt a collapse has ... set the stage for a narrowing concentration of financial capital” (Graham Bowley, New York Times) The largest banks have reported exorbitant profits, as well, but lending remains a trickle, posing a thorny “political problem” (Binyamin Appelbaum, Washington Post).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bernard Madoff’s new inmates in Butner, North Carolina include:

Omar Abdel-Rahman, the terrorist known as the “Blind Sheik” who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and former Adelphia Commmunications [sic] Chief Executive Officer John Rigas… former U.S. Naval Intelligence Analyst and convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard; former Colombo crime family boss Carmine Persico; and Russell Weston, the perpetrator of a 1998 U.S. Capitol shooting that left two U.S. Capitol Police officers dead.

Honestly, though, why is the former chief of Nasdaq being roasted on a spit while other traders and financiers who were probably complicit in similar schemes, less audacious perhaps and more legalistic, have wholly escaped punishment or any sort of accountability? One could argue that the deregulation of derivatives, pushed by Larry Summers and Paul Volcker, among others, caused more damage than Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. But for now, though it is speculative, one could make that argument.
Free Press has been cooking up new business models for journalism, and are even considering “micropayments” to bolster Internet news content. The Wall Street Journal originally tried out that scheme, only to recently make it free for the public. Google is an ambiguous villain in this picture, and it’s certainly a force that cannot be ignored. This is going to take some time.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Good move, Aussies. Perhaps my country should follow suit. Bottled water, in my opinion, has always been a terrible idea, in terms of waste and unsustainability, in addition to the fundamental unfairness of paying good money for something that should be free to the entire human race. Compounded to that is the picture of (at least) a billion or so people in the world who lack something as basic as clean drinking water while Westerners like us have the luxury of bottling it up and selling it at a profit.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Declaration of Independence, as translated by H.L. Mencken in 1921. Happy Fourth.

Monday, June 29, 2009

After six years of military occupation, US forces have finally handed over sovereign control to the Iraqis of their major cities, including Baghdad. Prime Minister Maliki is said to declare tomorrow National Sovereignty Day. Two huge issues remain: the status of Kirkuk, the oil-rich Kurdish-dominated city in the north, and the Embassy in the Green Zone. I do not have any prescriptions, as I am not one to issue or advocate policy, nor am I in any position to do it. All that my capacities can lead me to do is try to report what appears to be happening, with respect to Iraqi affairs and whatever else. The troops have been over there for a long time, and it is good that we have really begun to let the Iraqis take back their own country, which is something that should have taken place immediately after the overthrow of Saddam.
The Beeb reports today that “Israel has approved the construction of 50 new housing units in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank,” a decision that “came hours before Defence Minister Ehud Barak was due to fly to the US.” This follows the snub by Netanyahu to George Mitchell and his non-offer to the Palestinians of quasi-statehood. This is all either deliberately provocative or simply unreasonable. In either case the US government ought to rethink its special relationship, and soon. Words are nice but actions speak louder.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Western journalists have been more or less banished from Tehran for the time being. Michael Slackman reports from Cairo:

Iran’s government said Sunday that it had arrested Iranian employees of the British Embassy, while the police in Tehran beat and fired tear gas at several thousand protesters who joined a demonstration at a mosque in support of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi.

This is said to be an escalation between the Iranian authorities and Britain (which incidentally played a major role in the 1953 MI-6/CIA coup against Mossadegh). The United Kingdom has been accused, on the basis of no evidence, of instigating the demonstrations of the past two weeks.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A ribald look at our news media complex from across the Pond.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Religious fanaticism and worship of force equals this.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dreyfuss anticipates “the next explosion,” following the current lull as Baseej have stamped out much of the recent unrest with swift incredible brutality. Hope is still there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What we know about Iran can be cleverly packaged into convenient dichotomies. Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University, breaks it down:

Highly educated, pro-Western and progressive Iranians are … placed on Mir Hossein Moussavi’s side, while backward villagers and urban poor are on Ahmadinejad’s. The fact that in North America and Western Europe, usually unveiled and fluently English-speaking women are brought to speak on behalf of the women demonstrators further intensifies the impression that if women are veiled or do not speak English fluently then they must be Ahmadinejad supporters.

This is a deeply false dichotomy that projects a flawed picture to the outside world. It is predicated on the spin that a very limited pool of expatriate academics are putting on a movement that is quite extraordinary in Iranian political culture, one whose full dimensions have yet to be unpacked.

…Moussavi is universally known as a hard-core socialist in his economic platform and a social reformist in his politics. Mehdi Karrubi is far to Moussavi’s right in his economic neo-liberalism and social conservatism. Mohsen Rezaie, meanwhile, is even more to the right of Karrubi in his social conservatism but to his left in his economic platform.

What above all challenges the reading of this event as a middle-class revolt against ‘uncouth radicalism’ is a crucial statistic that professor Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, one of the most reliable Iranian economists in the U.S., provides in the same set of responses that The New York Times solicited from experts. ‘Young people ages 15-29,’ Salehi-Isfahani reports, ‘make up 35 percent of the population but account for 70 percent of the unemployed.’

The overwhelming majority of the people pouring into streets of Tehran and other major cities in support of Moussavi are precisely these 15- to 29-year-olds. How could this then be a middle-class uprising if the overwhelming majority of those who are supporting it and putting their lives on the line are in fact jobless 15- to 29-year-olds who still live with their parents — who cannot even afford to rent an apartment, let alone marry and raise a family and join the middle class in a principally oil-based economy that is not labor-intensive to begin with?

Another crucial statistic that Salehi-Isfahani does not cite is the fact that more than 63 percent of university entrants in Iran are women, but only 12 percent are part of the labor force. That means that the remaining 51 percent are out of a job, and yet the most visible aspect of these anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrations is that women visibly outnumber men. How could jobless men and women be participating in a massive middle-class uprising against their ‘uncouth’ leaders?

If we were to look closely at Moussavi’s campaign commercials, his social and economic platforms since he entered the race, and the presidential debates with all the other candidates, we see that a sizable component of his supporters are indeed university students, young faculty and the urban intellectual elite — such as filmmakers, artists and the literati.

But the fact is that a major constituency of Moussavi is also the urban poor and particularly the war veterans who have no respect for Ahmadinejad, believing he had an inglorious war record, but are full of unsurpassed admiration for Moussavi because of his role as a fiercely dedicated prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).

Conversely, there is a significant segment of the traditional middle class, the bazaaris, that is in fact the beneficiaries of Ahmadinejad’s economic policies of governmentally subsidized commodities and services, and thus supports him.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The heart-rending news of the martyrdom of yet another group of protesters to the recent fraud in the elections put our nation in shock and sorrow. Shooting at the people, militarizing the city, scaring the people, provoking them, and displaying power are all the result of the unlawfulness we’re witnessing today. How surprising it is that the people who instigate all this, accuse others of these very events.” — Mir Hossein Mousavi, referring to Iranian state media that has branded the opposition movement as terrorist

Juan Cole has more information on the events yesterday.
It is interesting to see the nexus between the Old Guard in Iran and its neoconservative sympathizers in my country.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Supreme Leader Khamenei spoke, declaring Ahmadinejad the rightful winner and the protests illegitimate. Things appear to be getting to a head, as Tehran continues to explode, according to the news accounts, and there are also dispatches about acid being sprayed from security helicopters overhead the demonstrators. The other meme that is developing is that Mousavi is not interested in fundamental change. But it is too soon to see all of this clearly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

An even more basic question for Joe Klein: Why does anyone still take Wolfowitz and Krauthammer seriously?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Still in Teheran, Roger Cohen points out the rather obvious:

I don’t doubt that his [Ahmadinejad’s] piety, patronage and populism secured him many millions of votes. He personifies a defiant nationalism, symbolized by Iran’s nuclear program. But a genuine victory with almost two-thirds of the vote would not require the imposition of near-martial law to secure it.

Wired reports that Twitter may not be the medium de rigeur, much noise to the contrary notwithstanding.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The groundswell waves of democratization and popular activism in the West during the late 60s-early 70s have spread to the industrializing Mideast. It is a different time, but oddly resonant. So that leads me to this.

Andrew Sullivan keeps the coverage going.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time says it is not so simple:

We're told that a young and restless Facebook generation has arisen in Iran, text-messaging and Twittering away at the fabric of a conservative clerical rule that it is no longer willing to accept. Ranged against it are the dogged defenders of a decrepit regime that has outlived its purpose, surviving only through brute force and its ability to convince the unsophisticated, mostly rural poor folk in their ragged suits and black chadors that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is their champion against corrupt politicians and the treacherous intellectuals and amoral rich kids who support them.

Obviously these are stereotypes — and highly misleading ones at that.
Robert Dreyfuss reports that, according to former Iranian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi, it really was rigged:

A coup d'etat? They've already made one! They've created a dictatorship, in fact. Do you know that last night the security forces occupied the offices of many newspapers, to make sure that their reporting on the election was favorable? They changed many headlines. They fixed the election.

The Guards are taking over everything, including many economic institutions. The ministry of the interior is increasing its control in all the provinces.

We have information that Ahmadinejad is thinking about changing the Constitution to allow the president to serve more than two terms, to make his presidency more or less permanent.

The revolution is being twittered.
The Green Revolution?

Monday, June 15, 2009

From Roger Cohen, our man in Tehran:

As dusk comes, people gather on the roofs of their apartment buildings and the haunting sound of “Allah-u-Akbar” — God is great — and “Death to the dictator” echoes across the megalopolis.

The Iranian yearning in these cries is immense, a measure of all that was not delivered by the 1979 revolution, when the same cries went up and liberation was promised.
Juan Cole: 100,000 people in the streets. Photo montage here.

It is difficult to keep up; such is the nature of this medium. I wonder how other revolutions would have looked like had blogging existed then...
From Independentista, 25 June 2005:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mayor of Tehran and reported hard-liner, defeated alleged reformist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in yesterday’s run-off election. Marred by accusations of fraud, Ahmadinejad’s victory (a big surprise) is observed to "complicate" U.S.-Iranian relations — in the words of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Iranian Interior Ministry’s figures give Ahmadinejad nearly 62% of the vote and Rafsanjani 36%, with the official turnout of 60%.

Moussavi is not under house arrest. According to CNN:

Reformist Mir Hossein Moussavi, whose claims of fraud in Friday's vote have fueled three days of unrest and prompted authorities to launch a probe, was cheered through Tehran's streets as he apparently drove to meet thousands of supporters.

The crowd is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
As a reporter, I know that my observations are supposed to be impartial, but in the case of the Green Revolution that is currently underway in Iran, I cannot refuse to take sides: my sympathies and hopes lie with the students who are trying to change the regime, as they are being savaged in the streets and attacked in dormitories. Moussavi appears to remain under house arrest, and Khamenei indicates that he wants some kind of recount or investigation into alleged (and highly likely) fraud and intimidation. In his latest speech, Bibi Netanyahu said not one word about the students and their good fight, but instead the same tired hash about the threat from Iran. If by Iran he means the old theocratic thugs, he would be correct. But a new Iran is emerging, slowly and fitfully for sure, but it is happening, live. More as it develops.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

According to virtuoso pollster Nate Silver, the election may not have been rigged after all.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hopes have been quickly dashed to bits in Iran. Tehran rigged the polling; riots in the streets have been brutally put down. Ahmadinejad will have a second term.

Andrew Sullivan has done an excellent job covering the events as they unfold: here, here, here, and here.

James Spencer reports that the toll may have neared 100 arrested.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In the wake of economic turmoil for which many Iranians attribute to the disastrous rule of Ahmadi-Nejad, and the historic opening that the US has offered, the 30-year-long reign of the Islamic Republic appears to be drawing toward a fateful shift, away from the rigidity of the recent past and toward a Khatami-like reformation in its politics toward the West, its own grappling with social values, and its place in the region.

The challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, is a former premier. And the incumbent is a clownish demagogue who has borne so many parallels with our own preceding leader that many commentators have seen echoes of the Obama campaign in that of Moussavi, who has tapped into the energy and organizational acumen of the youth (who comprise the strong majority of the population).

Iran has a long way to go, and so does my own country, although we have more formally democratic institutions and do not vet our candidates by a board of theologians (one could argue about the Republican primaries in certain states). Four years ago, the forces of reaction were victorious in both Iran and the United States. Now, after so much, maybe the tides are finally shifting, if just by a bit, one small step toward a better place for these two nations to repair relations after the mutual bitterness and suspicion of the recent past.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An update on the madness of Von Brunn, who remains in custody (and alive).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

From the Washington Post LiveChat, now:

Arlington, Va.: Is this indicative of a larger problem? It seems like far right wing violence is occurring fairly often lately, or is that just the media making it bigger than it is?

Heidi Beirich: This is not a media phenomenon. We have had two incidents involving cop killings by anti-government extremists, two white supremacist plots against the president and a guy in Maine was actually found, after his wife shot him, to have had the components of a dirty bomb in his home, according to the FBI. There was also a racist rampage by Keith Luke in Massachusetts that involved rape and murder of African immigrants. So these are real things that are sadly occurring.
The shooter has been identified as James von Brunn, alternately aged 88 or 89 according to different press accounts, with reported links to neo-Nazi groups. This ghost of the ghastly past, in a flash, scandalized the area. Ironically, my thoughts centered this morning on the opinion piece that Michael Gerson wrote about denial of the Nazi Holocaust. This violence is denial made incarnate.

The security guard has been confirmed dead.

This is what we should anticipate, nor should it engender surprise; still shocking, but what the CIA would call blowback. Above: another gem from Mr. Fish, terrible and true beyond ink-stained words.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

The March 14 coalition has prevailed in Lebanon, dealing a blow to the Hezbollah-led bloc. Good news for US and Israeli interests and those of moderate Lebanese. Perhaps his widely-lauded appeal in Cairo is doing the trick. Or it is simply an internal matter to Lebanon. Either way, as elections in Iran come up later this week, we will all see which way the winds are blowing throughout the Mideast. In Europe, however, the polls are swinging decisively to the rightist parties, according to news reports.

ALSO: Good development in Pakistan.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Friday, June 05, 2009

The other day the NY Times reported that a highly confidential nuclear report had been leaked, detailing in its 267 pages the locations of every single atomic facility in the United States, which was only hitherto seen by the IAEA. Experts quoted agreed that no serious breach of security had been dealt, but in this reporter’s opinion it is a very impressive (in the negative sense) disclosure. The news report did not provide the link, surely their prerogative as a responsible conveyor of news and not state secrets.

But I was curious at this point, so I went ahead and emailed Steven Aftergood, who releases a bulletin called Secrecy News with the Federation of American Scientists. It was a simple request: is the report available online, and where can one find it. To my surprise, he gave me a hyperlink and I downloaded the whole thing, completely unredacted. It’s a stunning document, and quite disturbing. Maybe Iran should disclose its own inventory and then we’re on the up-and-up.

It is indicative of the information environment we have today that such an important document can be so easily accessed. I didn’t even have to file a FOIA request, which surely would have been rejected had the document not already been declassified, for reasons that remain obscure. With such universality that the Internet provides, it is extremely difficult to make sure that “the wrong hands” don’t get a hold of this kind of information. The document shows the actual addresses of our nuclear fuel stations and processing/enrichment plants, even with maps.

The aim of journalism is to get the public’s right to know in line with the state’s right to protect the public from those who would use knowledge that may be in the public interest into the very private interest of malevolent individuals and organizations. It’s a fine line, for sure, and the best strategy may be to approach it case-by-case. In this case, I think it was correct for the Times and other news organizations to not include the link that is still readily available to any fifth-grader with a dial-up anywhere in the world. For that reason, my decision here to omit Aftergood’s email address, much less the link he gave me, are strictly on a need-to-know basis. And to be honest, I’m not sure I need to know.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Some good moves from the State Department about Tiananmen. Hopefully we will not lose our most-favored-nation status and their holding of Treasury bonds for a simple call to recognize that a massacre took place.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An excellent question in the wake of the Tiller case: would it be okay for the advocates of untrammeled executive power to fight terrorism at the price of due process if anti-abortion extremists were detained and tortured? Doubt it.
The big news stories are that General Motors, for now, is a bankrupt and nationalized corporation; an extremist pro-lifer murdered a late-term abortion doctor; and an Air France flight may or may not have plunged to a terrible fate over the Atlantic from an electrical storm. I want that audacity of hope thing again, and that promise of change. Folks on the Randian right, like Glenn Beck among others, are very good at rallying people for a common cause. Why must the left-liberal-progressive groups remain so fractured, reliant too much on the latest dictates from the administration? Why is citizen action on the right so predominant, and left-of-center energy so passive?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Choe Sang-Hun, in the New York Times, reports today that N. Korea is warning that it will deliver a “powerful military strike” on its neighbor to the south if any of its ships are intercepted by US naval forces, adding that Pyongyang “no longer feel[s] bound by the armistice” that ended the hellish Korean War over a half-century ago. It is clear that Kim Jong-il is a man of his word, and the situation appears quite dire, though not yet immediate; in range are American forces in the Pacific and on the peninsula and, of course, Seoul and other population centers in S. Korea itself. The “homeland” will not likely be in the cross-hairs, for the near future. Still very grim. More as it develops.
Iran has restored access to Facebook. Phew. Now it just needs to restore parliamentary democracy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Former SWAT officer Kirk Black is an American hero. Featured in today’s New York Times (Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “U.S. Captain Hears Pleas for Afghan Detainee,” A1), this man—in defiance of draconian command procedure that nearly cost him his livelihood—made sure that an Afghan captive could contest his detention after Black had realized that there was no evidence to justify the imprisonment of that civilian, Gul Khan, at the fearsome Bagram AFB.

People like this in our military make our country great, in my opinion, because, according to the report (which is backed up by extensive corroboration), Capt. Black recognized something that should be obvious to much more people who pepper our media commentary with their nonsense: indefinite detention, on questionable grounds and in murky circumstances, can create more headaches. Black was quoted as saying, “Lock a guy down for 22 hours a day”—and it must be understood that this our standard operating practice—“and you are creating a criminal.”
Iran has blocked off access to Facebook, a not so subtle attempt to rig the wheels ever more favorably for Ahmadinejad and his chances at the upcoming polls. North Korea, the remaining evil cadet in the axis, has detonated an atomic weapon (again). Pakistani refugees continue to flood from Swat and the Lower Din as their army battles an entrenched Taliban. General Colin Powell, to the certain dismay of some, is remaining loyal to the Republican banner; the party has left him, not the other way round.

More random news roll-ups as they happen. Time for a little shut-eye.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A good tip for liberals still clinging to hope: Instead of waiting from On High for social change, go ahead and make him do it. He is a servant of the people, not its savior.

If this sounds negative and not audacious enough, perhaps it would be wise to face up to the very real institutional boundaries any center-left figure must confront; or the difficulties, and absurdities, that stare down reasonable demands like, say, shuttering a torture camp or ending the occupation of a foreign country.

The worst of it is when supposed allies make their own excuses and seem to have shit for brains, only concerned about their precious seat and their next poll. This spans both parties. Putting Obama into office was just the first step, not the last. He cannot do it alone, nor should he; such opens the door to overreach and abuse. What we need is a broad-based coalition of citizen action groups that are principled, not reactionary and progressive, not regressive. It will take time, which is always in short supply.

Normally what I like to do here is put up clippings from the news reporting belt or do media analysis of my own, but I think it made more sense at this time to set out what seems to be shaping up and how we can still control things, and not merely let the System take care of it, in our names.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Above: typical blue-blood New Englanders enjoying the Long Island Sound. Further comment would be superfluous.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Are you kidding me, Eric Holder? It is going to take a generation to undo all of this damage.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A grain of salt due Internet polling notwithstanding, this seems like a good sign that the American people are still awake.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The law-breakers in the predecessor’s administration ought to be prosecuted. It is incredible to me why a call for enforcing the law of the land is considered solely the stand of the political left. It is also maddening that pseudo-progressive Obama is not willing to do this, or even “investigate.” But there is no need for a commission. All of the evidence proving that crimes were committed is on the public record. It’s in open sight, and the fact that “law and order” pseudo-conservatives are wailing and screaming about vengeful leftists seeking to contribute to our nation’s security by paring down the torture-surveillance-unitary executive policies is very sad. These authoritarians have no principle but power and the privileges of dominating the discourse that that power had bestowed to them. God forbid we get attacked again; that would be the end of whatever self-respecting Republic we have left. For now, I’m holding onto a residual of hopeful feeling that someday justice will be done to the people who injured my country, and that the man I elected as an ostensible agent of change will not only see our high ideals and our security as a false choice — but will also recognize that the choice between leaving the unforgivable and indefensible recent past behind us and prosecuting the bastards is a total no-brainer.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here we have it: sycophantic, reprehensible, and completely dishonest. Kudos to the students who tried to hold her feet to the fire.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bob Herbert is right: “This is an insanely violent society, and the worst of that violence is made insanely easy by the widespread availability of guns.”
For the first time I am genuinely impressed by something Maureen Dowd wrote.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It is official: Condoleezza Rice was a war criminal, too. They are talking about the torture of Abu Zubaydah, to whom she readily assented in 2002. And if there is any more doubt that our government legally codified torture as an anti-terrorist and intelligence-gathering method, we also have this.

Monday, April 20, 2009