Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The shining city on the hill

From the Times: Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

This article dovetails nicely with an essay of Wendell Berry's I was just reading this weekend. Called "Christianity and the Survival of Creation," it just happens to be available online. A transcript of a speech Berry gave at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville (and one can only imagine how it went over there), it's subtle and sharp, generous and savage all at the same time:
I want to begin with a problem: namely, that the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world and the uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction are now established clich├ęs of the conservation movement. This is a problem for two reasons.

First, the indictment of Christianity by the anti-Christian conservationists is, in many respects, just. For instance, the complicity of Christian priests, preachers, and missionaries in the cultural destruction and the economic exploitation of the primary peoples of the Western I hemisphere, as of traditional cultures around the world, is notorious. Throughout the five hundred years since Columbus's first landfall in the Bahamas, the evangelist has walked beside the conqueror and the merchant, too often blandly assuming that their causes were the same. Christian organizations, to this day, remain largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and of its traditional cultures. It is hardly too much to say that most Christian organizations are as happily indifferent to the ecological, cultural, and religious implications of industrial economics as are most industrial organizations. The certified Christian seems just as likely as anyone else to join the military-industrial conspiracy to murder Creation.

But the second reason "[t]he conservationist indictment of Christianity is a problem ...[is] because, however just it may be, it does not come from an adequate understanding of the Bible and the cultural traditions that descend from the Bible."

In other words, Berry is attempting to save Christianity from Christians, which I have always believed a noble (if quixotic) goal.

I'm afraid the Journal of Religion and Society report is preaching to the (un)converted. I doubt it will be mentioned in many pulpits this Sunday in my adopted, extremely red, priest-ridden (or at any rate preacher-ridden) home state. It would be nice to think a few priests and preachers will grapple with the tough questions Berry raises, but I have my doubts.

Very lengthy post I know, but I can't help quoting still more of Berry's speech, as it is one of the best indictments I've read of the disconnect between Christianity and whatever debased funhouse mirror version of Christianity informs this especially dark period of the American experiment:
Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into Heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the economists that "economic forces" automatically work for good and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that "progress" is good, that it is good to be modern and up with the times. It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of Creation. For in these days, Caesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities, and nations. He is a contradicter of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world. He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?

The religion of the Bible, on the contrary, is a religion of the state and the status quo only in brief moments. In practice, it is a religion for the correction equally of people and of kings. And Christ's life, from the manger to the cross, was an affront to the established powers of his time, just as it is to the established powers of our time. Much is made in churches of the "good news" of the Gospels. Less is said of the Gospels' bad news, which is that Jesus would have been horrified by just about every "Christian" government the world has ever seen. He would be horrified by our government and its works, and it would be horrified by him. Surely no sane and thoughtful person can imagine any government of our time sitting comfortably at the feet of Jesus while he is saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cole and collective punishment

Juan Cole is one of the few bloggers who give a good name to the medium. "Informed Comment" indeed. It's a bold thing to name your blog, but Mr. Cole backs it up every time he sits at the keyboard.

It's been frustrating to me to watch him argue against a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, although with characteristic generosity he has often offered up posts from writers who argue just that.

Today, Cole seems to have turned. In this post, he's at least arguing for getting the ground troops out. (To me, it's unclear if he still makes the distinction between that and complete withdrawal.) His reasons, as always, are myriad and convincing.

I have not always paid as much attention to what's going on in Iraq as I should. I guess we can all say that. Recently, I've been trying retroactively to figure out what has happened since the second Bush invaded Iraq. It's not easy.

I've come to the conclusion that, at least for the past year or so, for whatever reason, U.S. military leaders seem to be using the playbook of the very dimmest and most contemptuous and vindictive colonial occupiers. In campaigns like Fallujah and now Tal Afar, U.S. and Iraqi forces are involved in hideous campaigns of collective punishment, a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (Cole points out something I had missed the first time around, that the president himself ordered the horrific assault on Fallujah.)

This is a story that has not been covered in any way in the mainstream press. In Tal Afar, as in Fallujah, the media blackout is complete and, as Cole points out, draconian.

To repeat, Juan Cole says:
Let's get them out, now, before they destroy any more cities, create any more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, provoke any more ethnic hatreds by installing Shiite police in Fallujah or Kurdish troops in Turkmen Tal Afar. They are sowing a vast whirlwind, a desert sandstorm of Martian proportions, which future generations of Americans and Iraqis will reap.

The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.

Six billion bullets

From the Independent:

US forces have fired so many bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan - an estimated 250,000 for every insurgent killed - that American ammunition-makers cannot keep up with demand. As a result the US is having to import supplies from Israel.

A government report says that US forces are now using 1.8 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition a year. The total has more than doubled in five years, largely as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as changes in military doctrine.

... John Pike, director of the Washington military research group GlobalSecurity.org, said that, based on the GAO's figures, US forces had expended around six billion bullets between 2002 and 2005.

In Vietnam, the United States military dropped 7 million tons of bombs--basicallly a 500-pound bomb for every man, woman and child in the country. I always thought that was a hard "fun fact" to top, but I think our current insane military venture is coming close. Now we're looking at a bullet for every man, woman and child on the planet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Yessssssss!

Sharon Olds responds to an invitation from Laura Bush with panache:

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

Sincerely,

Sharon Olds

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cindy Sheehan Unplugged in NY

Been re-watching Eyes on the Prize for the past few weeks. This sort of behavior by police was fairly typical—in the Deep South, in 1964! I only hope this creepy action by the NYC police gets the attention it deserves.

From the Times:

Detective Czartoryski said the police had taken the "appropriate action" in response to a lawbreaker.

But many people attending the event, dozens of whom yelled accusations into the faces of the more than 20 police officers who blocked them from following Mr. Zulkowitz, interpreted the arrest as a demonstration of citywide disdain for free speech, referring to last year's arrests of protesters at the Republican National Convention.

"This is what's been happening for the last couple of years," said Daniel Starling, the co-chairman of the Green Party chapter in Manhattan, who attended the event yesterday. "Every time we try to hold a demonstration, they arrest us."

The crowd of New Yorkers had waited more than an hour to catch a glimpse of Ms. Sheehan, who was thrust into the national spotlight in August when she sought a meeting with President Bush by camping out for days near his ranch in Crawford, Tex. Though soft-spoken, Ms. Sheehan has not shied away from controversy, opening her New York visit on Sunday night in Brooklyn by accusing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of failing to challenge the Bush administration's policies in Iraq.

Ms. Sheehan, who did not mention Ms. Clinton yesterday, urged her supporters in Union Square to continue pushing to end the war in Iraq. One supporter, Lien Corey, a 51-year-old Manhattan resident who was living in Vietnam during the war there, said that Ms. Sheehan had become a larger-than-life figure who represents the sentiments of many people across the country. "She's beyond herself now, she's a symbol," Ms. Corey said. "She's a catalyst, and we all unite behind her."

The Village Voice adds this:

"Since when can't you talk out here in Union Square?" demanded an Upper West Side social worker who identified herself as Quha, who said she'd taken her lunch break to hear Sheehan because she has a 20-year-old son who is considering enlisting. "I've seen everyone and their mother come out and speak nonsense out here in this park, and for them to shut down Cindy Sheehan is just not right."

"They came in like gangbusters. It was really ridiculous," said Margaret Rapp, a retired teacher from Inwood who added that she planned to file a complaint after an officer forcibly shoved her in the chest. A mother of a 19-year-old, she said she'd come to hear Sheehan because she lost her fiancee during the Vietnam War. "This is very close to home. There is a chord that Cindy hits among people that have lost people in this war and other wars, or who have draft age children like me. We're scared to death."

Notes from Underground paints the most thorough (and ugliest) picture of the police action:
As Cindy was speaking, a large platoon of police massed behind from the interior of the park, then formed a circle behind her, the speakers' area and a few dozen people who were deployed in an arc behind her. Overall, about 200 people were in attendance, with the crowd steadily increasing in size as the rally progressed. As the police formed their arc just behind, the men and women immediately behind Cindy linked arms. A captain made a cutting motion at his throat, signalling he wanted no more free speech. He waited about 30 seconds, then the police moved in. They didn't dare arrest Cindy, but they immediately moved in and grabbed zool, the event's organizer and one of the main organizers of Camp Casey-NYC, pulling him away and arresting him. I do not believe anyone else was arrested; at least I didn't see any other arrests. I was nearby, and there was no hesitation on the part of the police in specifically targetting zool.

The police also took the microphone and sound system. The crowd shouted "Shame! Shame!" at the police and asked what they were so afrraid of, but made no response. There was a moderate press presence, even a bit of corporate media there, although the only television crew covering the rally was RTV from Russia.

No warning of any kind was given, and this was a permitted rally. Other than the captain making his cut motion, 30 seconds before forcibly breaking up the rally, there was no warning, verbal or in any other fashion. The police had massed perhaps three or four minutes before moving in. Until then, the rally had gone smoothly, starting just after 2 p.m. as scheduled. Cindy and the rest of the caravan arrived sometime after 2:30; the rest of the rally was comprised of speakers from the caravan. Many groups were in attendence besides Camp Casey-NYC, including Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, the Troops Out Now Coalition, the No Police State Coalition and the Green Party, among others.

As several people confronted the police in the minutes following the arrest of zool and the stealing of the sound equipment, a woman from the caravan said they had done more than 100 events in 51 cities, and nothing like this had ever happened to them.
Fifty-one cities, and the Big Apple gets the black eye. Unbelievable.

"Not a way of life at all"

Norman Solomon continues to be one of the few writers to steadily hammer away at the assumptions underlying our crazy militarist oligarchy. Today, he has another go at the "warfare state" and quotes Eisenhower, who sounds like a radical in comparison to politicians today:
"Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Proportionality and unintended consequences

The UK, unlike the U.S., has a history of a terror threat. (Now we COULD consider the Klan and innumerable lynchings and bombings as terrorism, but for now let's not). And they have a history, recognized by many, of making the terror threat worse. Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, draws parallels between the IRA and Islamist terror.
Once deep in a bomb crater, stop digging. It is time to learn the lessons of Iraq - and remember those of tackling the IRA. It is all about proportionality and unintended consequences. Even if the intention is good - ridding the world of Saddam or trying to stop bombers murdering tube travellers - any action that makes the threat worse is a mistake. Labour is keen on what works; Iraq has made the world more dangerous and these anti-terror laws risk the same.

Bad responses to IRA bombs prolonged that terror. Mass internment on the flimsiest of evidence radicalised a generation, seriously limiting intelligence from informants. Most attempts to quell terror made things worse by disproportionate action taken in anger.

Islamist killers took terror to a new level on 9/11, but catching and deterring perpetrators needs the same techniques. Never forget the IRA murdered publoads of ordinary people and came within a splinter of slaughtering the prime minister and cabinet. Ordinary Muslims may detect an elemental horror of dark-skinned bombers that strikes a deeper fear than Irish Catholics. Why else yet more draconian action?

Clarke's move to jail for up to five years anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" terrorist attacks is as daft as it is dangerous. Consider how we tolerated the endless Irish glorification of terror. Neither giant street paintings celebrating the gun and bomb nor IRA killers in berets and sunglasses shooting guns over the coffins of "martyrs" had the army charging in. Nor did police raid pubs in Kilburn to arrest maudlin old men indoctrinating wide-eyed youngsters in deathless songs such as this:

Just before he faced the hangman,
In his dreary prison cell,
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he wouldn't tell
The names of his brave comrades,
And other things they wished to know:
"Turn informer or we'll kill you!"
Kevin Barry answered "No!"

Incidentally this song and many similar can be found on the BBC's history site; will it be prosecuted too? Lawyers are stumped as to what genuinely dangerous act of glorification wouldn't already be caught under the law against incitement to violence.

Similarly, why is it only when confronting the Islamist threat in the 2000 Terrorism Act that it became a legal duty to inform on possible terrorists? Under this law the brother of the British suicide terrorist who murdered many in Israel is this week being retried after a trial where the jury couldn't decide whether to convict. But the law never forced the Irish to inform. Perhaps it was recognised that any Irish family informer would be tarred and feathered, kneecapped or killed. But why are we putting a higher expectation on Muslim families, equally in fear? It seems as if we fear these new terrorists as more alarmingly alien, less one of us, though Catholic and Islamist bombs have the same effect. The IRA was undoubtedly the more organised enemy, so probably more lethal. Or is it just that politicians need to be seen taking "new" action, despite perfectly good existing laws?

Nor is it clear why Islamist terrorist suspects have to be held without charge for three months, when the Prevention of Terrorism Act for the IRA allowed one week. Police inefficiency is legendary: once they know they have three months, an investigation will lose its urgency. Intelligence "evidence" is even more notoriously bad; many Muslims will be arrested on slender or useless information only to be released three months later, seething with indignation. So let the evidence be collected before arrest. Even if it does take expensive surveillance, it is a price worth paying. This is not about the abstract rights of terrorists. It is about what works in protecting citizens without stirring worse terror. This is about proportionality and unintended consequences.

Read the whole article...

Or maybe Bush will just invade Venezuela instead


Amy Goodman, God bless her, scores the coup of a pretty lengthy interview with Senor Chavez. Hugo says the U.S., in Operation Balboa, has plans to invade Venezuela. If that should come to pass, the U.S. will be in "embarked on a 100-year war."

I do really like Hugo's idea of moving the United Nations out of New York.

Hey, he's a politician, and he's played rough in the past, but at the very least he's paying lip service to the idea of spreading his country's oil wealth around.


Also, the Globe and Mail has an account of Chavez wowing the crowds in New York. Interestingly, the Times hasn't seen fit to spare a reporter to cover Hugo's appearances in Manhattan.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The U.S.-Iran chess game

I don't really know who's winning. My ongoing fear is that at any time the U.S. can just go ahead and bomb Iran and its ex post facto justifications will enrage the world but be explained away by the mainstream media.

As an antidote to the Times' account of Ahmadinejad's speech at the UN on Saturday, which takes as its premise that Iran is a defiant pariah country, a "problem" to be solved by the western world led by the U.S. (when in fact Iran has always complied with its obligations under the NPT and the U.S. has not), I'd suggest this strangely titled article ("Neocrazies foiled") by Gordon Prather, who points out the following basic facts which seem to have slipped the notice of the Times and the rest of the mainstream media:

Iran (for example) has an inalienable right to buy a turn-key uranium enrichment facility and, if the financial details can be worked out, Russia (for example) "shall" sell it to them.

But, since the early 1980s, Iran claims its inalienable right to acquire nuclear technology has been subjected to an "extensive and intensive campaign of denial, obstruction, intervention and misinformation."

Mostly by – or at the behest of – the United States.

1. Valid and binding contracts to build nuclear power plants were unilaterally abrogated;

2. Nuclear material rightfully purchased and owned by Iran was illegally withheld;

3. Unjustified and coercive interventions were routinely made in order to undermine, impede and delay the implementation of Iran's nuclear agreements with third parties; and

4. Unfounded accusations against Iran's exclusively peaceful nuclear program were systematically publicized.

So Iran began keeping secret the details of its nuclear-related programs, which, in nearly all cases, were not required to be disclosed under its Safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

In particular, Iran was not obliged to report to the IAEA the acquisition or manufacture of any number of gas-centrifuges, nor the construction of associated facilities, until shortly before introducing "special nuclear materials" into them.

But, in October 2003, after seeing what Bush and Blair did to Iraq on the pretext of destroying Iraq's non-existent nuke programs, Iran began negotiations with France, Germany and the United Kingdom [EU/E3] with the explicit expectation of obtaining – at a minimum – assurances from the Europeans that Bush and Blair would not do unto them what they had done unto Iraq.

Iran signed and immediately began full implementation of an Additional Protocol to its IAEA Safeguards Agreement, providing a detailed account of its previously secret nuclear activities, virtually all of which had been carried out in full conformity with its rights and obligations under the NPT.

Iran also began a voluntary temporary suspension of its Safeguarded uranium-enrichment activities as "a confidence building measure."

Friday, September 16, 2005

More on Tal Afar

Some news from Tal Afar, courtesy of Dahr Jamail's Iraq dispatches:
While the US military claims to have killed roughly 200 “terrorists” in the operation, reports from the ground state that most of the fighters inside the city had long since left to avoid direct confrontation with the overwhelming military force (a basic tenet of guerrilla warfare).

... In Tal-Afar, the propaganda spewed by the US military (and Iraqi “government”) was that the operation was to fight terrorists coming into Iraq via Syria. If that were true, why did the US military remove troops from the border with Syria who were supposed to be preventing infiltration by foreign fighters? Instead of guarding the border, as they should, they engaged in the operation against Iraqi Sunni Turkmen. Working in unison, the US military launched the heavy-handed attack with the “authorization” of Prime Minister Ibrahm Jaafari, the leader of the Shia Dawa Party. Jaafari even went so far as to venture to Tal-Afar on Tuesday to visit troops and have his photograph taken.

... Correspondents with Azzaman media in Tal-Afar miraculously made it into the city and reported that residents are disputing reports that US and Iraqi soldiers have killed scores of “insurgents.” Like Fallujah, these residents of Tal-Afar are reporting that most of the people killed were civilians who had no place to go so they chose to stay in their homes. People also stayed because they feared persecution at the hands of the Peshmerga and Badr Army.

I recently interviewed an Iraqi man from that area at the Peoples’ UN conference in Perugia, Italy. He told me, “Most people in Mosul and Tal-Afar would rather be detained by the Americans now, because they know if Iraqi soldiers or Iraqi police detain them they will be tortured severely, and possibly killed. This gives you an idea of how bad it is with these Iraqi soldiers, even in the shadow of what the Americans are still doing in Abu Ghraib.”

As for “foreign fighters,” one of the Azzaman correspondents quoted a resident of Tal-Afar as saying, “We used to hear (from news reports) of the presence of some Arab (foreign) fighters in the city, but we have seen none of them.”

... And another of my friends in Baghdad wrote me recently, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t email you the previous days…the situation in Tal-Afar has become so much worse for the people. It is terrible what is going on there and nobody can say anything because as usual the military operation is still going on and they are trying to keep all the media out. They have also started another operation in another area of Al-Anbar province and they will soon start one in Samarra.”

Read the whole article...

And as regards the last point, there's this from AP:

“After the Tal Afar operation ends, we will move on Rabiyah (on the Syrian border) and Sinjar (a region north of nearby Mosul) and then go down to the Euphrates valley,” al-Dulaimi said.

“We are warning those who have given shelter to terrorists that they must stop, kick them out or else we will cut off their hands, heads and tongues as we did in Tal Afar,”[Iraqi Defense Minister Sadoun] al-Dulaimi said, apparently using figurative language.
I like that "apparently" at the end, don't you? Incredibly reassuring.

Details, details

Over the past few days, try as I might, I never did find any mainstream reporting that described what actually happened in Tal Afar during or after U.S. air strikes. As I noted in an earlier post, the Washington Post reporter, given a chance to describe the trashing of Tal Afar with weeks of air strikes, chose instead to focus on Fight Club antics of bored U.S. troops.

For Tal Afar, I give up for the moment on finding real news, but I cling to this notion (one that might well be wrong): what the U.S. did to Falluja last year, they're doing to Tal Afar this month. If someone has proof to the contrary, I'd be glad to hear it. So I'm looking into accounts of Falluja and assuming Tal Afar is proceeding in a similar fashion. My goal is to find concrete details of what these medieval sieges (with air support) are really like.

With the use of some creative and you might properly call leading Google strings, I was able to find this piece, using the terms "falluja" and "scream." I was looking for the Madeline Bunting piece cited earlier. I stumbled upon this, from a U.S. soldier writing under the name of hEkLe:
As the evening wore on and the artillery continued, a new gruesome roar filled the sky.

The fighter jets were right on time and made their grand appearance with a series of massive air strikes. Between the pernicious bombs and fierce artillery, the sky seemed as though it were on fire for several minutes at a time. First, you would see a blaze of light in the horizon, like lightning hitting a dynamite warehouse, and then hear the massive explosion that would turn your stomach, rattle your eyeballs and compress itself deep within your lungs. Although these massive bombs were being dropped no further than five kilometers away, it felt like it was happening right in front of your face.

At first, it was impossible not to flinch with each unexpected boom, but after scores of intense explosions, your senses became aware and complacent towards them.

At times, the jets would scream menacingly low over the city and open fire with smaller missiles meant for extreme accuracy. This is what Top Gun, in all its glory and silver screen acclaim, seemed to be lacking in the movie’s high budget sound effects.

These air-deployed missiles make a banshee-like squeal, sort of like a bottle rocket fueled with plutonium, and then suddenly would become inaudible. Seconds later, the colossal explosion would rip the sky open and hammer devastatingly into the ground, sending flames and debris pummeling into the air.

And as always, the artillery--some rounds were high explosive, some were illumination rounds, some were reported as being white phosphorus (the modern-day napalm).

Occasionally, on the outskirts of the isolated impact area, you could hear tanks firing machine guns and blazing their cannons. It was amazing that anything could survive this deadly onslaught. Suddenly, a transmission came over the radio approving the request for “bunker-busters.” Apparently, there were a handful of insurgent compounds that were impenetrable by artillery. At the time, I was unaware when these bunker-busters were deployed, but I was told later that the incredibly massive explosions were a direct result of these “final solution”-type missiles.

I continued to watch the final assault on Falluja throughout the night from atop my humvee.

It was interesting to scan the vast skies above with night-vision goggles. Circling continuously overhead throughout the battle was an array of attack helicopters. The most devastating were the Cobras and Apaches with their chain-gun missile launchers.

Through the night vision, I could see them hovering around the carnage, scanning the ground with an infrared spotlight that seemed to reach for miles. Once a target was identified, a rapid series of hollow blasts would echo through the skies, and from the ground came a “rat-a-tatting” of explosions, like a daisy chain of supercharged black cats during a Fourth of July barbeque.

More artillery, more tanks, more machine gun fire, ominous death-dealing fighter planes terminating whole city blocks at a time...this wasn’t a war, it was a massacre!
Read the whole piece, and check out GI Special, where it originally appeared....

Tal Afar: WTF? Part deux

Or is it part one?

A year ago Madeline Bunting wrote a piece in the Guardian called "Screams will not be heard." Take a look. Substitute Tal Afar for every mention of Falluja.
There's a repulsive asymmetry of war here: not the much remarked upon asymmetry of the few thousand insurgents holed up in Falluja vastly outnumbered by the US, but the asymmetry of information. In an age of instant communication, we will have to wait months, if not years, to hear of what happens inside Falluja in the next few days. The media representation of this war will be from a distance: shots of the city skyline illuminated by the flashes of bomb blasts, the dull crump of explosions. What will be left to our imagination is the terror of children crouching behind mud walls; the agony of those crushed under falling masonry; the frantic efforts to save lives in makeshift operating theatres with no electricity and few supplies. We will be the ones left to fill in the blanks, drawing on the reporting of past wars inflicted on cities such as Sarajevo and Grozny.

The silence from Falluja marks a new and agonising departure in the shape of 21st-century war. The horrifying shift in the last century was how, increasingly, war was waged against civilians: their proportion of the death toll rose from 50% to 90%. It prompted the development of a form of war-reporting, exemplified by Bosnia, which was not about the technology and hardware, but about human suffering, and which fuelled public outrage. No longer. The reporting of Falluja has lapsed back into the military machismo of an earlier age. This war against the defenceless will go unreported.

The reality is that a city can never be adequately described as a "militants' stronghold". It's a label designed to stiffen the heart of a soldier, but it is blinding us, the democracies that have inflicted this war, to the consequences of our actions. Falluja is still home to thousands of civilians. The numbers who have fled the prospective assault vary, but there could be 100,000 or more still in their homes. Typically, as in any war, those who don't get out of the way are a mixture of the most vulnerable - the elderly, the poor, the sick; the unlucky, who left it too late to get away; and the insanely brave, such as medical staff.

Nor does it seem possible that reporters still use the terms "softening up" or "precision" bombing. They achieve neither softening nor precision, as Falluja well knew long before George W Bush arrived in the White House. In the first Gulf war, an RAF laser-guided bomb intended for the city's bridge went astray and landed in a crowded market, killing up to 150. Last year, the killing of 15 civilians shortly after the US arrived in the city ensured that Falluja became a case study in how to win a war but lose the occupation. A catalogue of catastrophic blunders has transformed a relatively calm city with a strongly pro-US mayor into a battleground.

One last piece of fantasy is that there is unlikely to be anything "final" about this assault. Already military analysts acknowledge that a US victory in Falluja could have little effect on the spreading incidence of violence across Iraq. What the insurgents have already shown is that they are highly decentralised, and yet the quick copying of terrorist techniques indicates some degree of cooperation. Hopes of a peace seem remote; the future looks set for a chronic, intermittent civil war. By the time the bulldozers have ploughed their way through the centre of Falluja, attention could have shifted to another "final assault" on another "militant stronghold", as another city of homes, shops and children's playgrounds morphs into a battleground.

The recent comment of one Falluja resident is strikingly poignant: "Why," she asked wearily, "don't they go and fight in a desert away from houses and people?" Why indeed? Twentieth-century warfare ensured a remarkable historical inversion. Once the city had been the place of safety to retreat to in a time of war, the place of civilisation against the barbarian wilderness; but the invention of aerial bombardment turned the city into a target, a place of terror.

What is so disturbing is that much of the violence meted out to cities in the past 60-odd years has rarely had a strategic purpose - for example, the infamous bombing of Dresden. Nor is it effective in undermining morale or motivation; while the violence destroys physical and economic capital, it usually generates social capital - for example, the Blitz spirit or the solidarity of New Yorkers in the wake of 9/11 - and in Chechnya served only to establish a precarious peace in a destroyed Grozny and fuel a desperate, violent resistance.

Assaults on cities serve symbolic purposes: they are set showpieces to demonstrate resolve and inculcate fear. To that end, large numbers of casualties are required: they are not an accidental byproduct but the aim. That was the thinking behind 9/11, and Falluja risks becoming a horrible mirror-image of that atrocity. Only by the shores of that dusty lake in Dreamland would it be possible to believe that the ruination of this city will do anything to enhance the legitimacy of the US occupation and of the Iraqi government it appointed.


The United Nations

Cartoon by Steve Bell, the Guardian

Above: Steve Bell at his best.

Below: The president, in search of a hall monitor, asks Condi for permission to get away from all those talking foreigners....
Editor and Publisher has the latest....

And meanwhile, even staunch Bush allies like Australia's John Howard and Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, are expressing disappointment in U.S. refusal to even talk about disarmament, insisting instead on focussing on keeping countries like North Korea and Iran out of the nuclear club.

I think the U.S. media generally enables Bush and Bolton's insane posturing with the constant focus on Iran and the wild and dubious accusations manufactured by dodgy think tanks whose track record on hidden nuclear programs leaves a lot to be desired.

You hear much talk about nonproliferation, but more rarely do you hear the whole phrase "nonproliferation and disarmament." The idea, in case the world has forgotten, is that nuclear powers agree to reduce and eventually eliminate their still shockingly large stockpiles in exchange for the committment of non-nuclear powers not to, er, proliferate.

Even Ronald Reagan, by the end of his reign, came around to accepting the wisdom of aiming for a disarmed world. Bush and Bolton think they know better and have reneged on all previous U.S. disarmament committments (with nary a peep from Congress). And now Rumsfeld is talking about a new generation of nuclear weapons and "preventative" nuclear war. The Bush administration has been a disaster in so many ways. It's hard to think of where it's done greatest damage. This is the area that frightens me most.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tal Afar: WTF?

cartoon: Khalil Abu Arafeh, Alquds, 9/12/05


Writing in the Dissent Voice, Mike Whitney says:
The siege of Tal Afar follows a familiar pattern of brutal American incursions into densely populated areas under the pretense of fighting terrorism. It is a ritual that is repeated endlessly despite the dismal results. The Pentagon seems to prefer these grand displays of military strength to anything that might produce a political solution. It brings to mind the old saw, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again: expecting a different result.” This appears to be the guiding principle of the Defense Department with Tal Afar serving as the most recent example.

In the present case, a city of 250,000 has been almost entirely evacuated following weeks of artillery bombardment, aerial bombing raids, downed power lines and water systems, and house-to-house searches.
There's bound to be a great deal of coverage in the mainstream press of a major military operation such as this, isn't there? Isn't there?

CNN.com has this report. It quotes a muy macho major general named Rick Lynch, who says "The rats know we are closing in on them." It talks about "nutritional aid" for the families who've been displaced because, just guessing, U.S. and Iraqi forces knocked their homes down. And it takes at face value Lynch's boast that "at least 141 terrorists had been killed and 236 captured since the operation began on August 26."

But Mike Whitney says otherwise:

There’s very little to discuss about the botched siege of Tal Afar. The assault follows the same basic blueprint of jackboot tactics we’ve seen in similar acts of American aggression. Tens of thousands of lives were disrupted and possibly ruined through forced evacuation, massive property damage has been sustained throughout the city, the mayor resigned in protest of the invasion, the public is more polarized than ever, 152 people were killed in the bombing with countless others detained indefinitely, the resistance fighters escaped unscathed, and the Red Cross reports that the offensive has created a humanitarian crisis that is beyond their limited resources.

In other words, the entire operation was an utter failure.
In the Washington Post Wednesday there was a story about Tal Afar but its focus was a jarringly breezy account of "good-natured" fights among U.S. troops to blow off "unspent aggression." Uh, yeah, interesting story. Real hard-hitting reporting there.

But, ahem, what about the people who live in Tal Afar? Where are the pictures of what remains of the city of 250,000 after days of sustained bombing? Might not that be a subject worthy of exploration?

The same reporter, Jonathan Finer, had a much better story Tuesday that raised huge questions about whether the U.S. forces have even the slightest clue about who is a terrorist and who is not.
A masked teenager in an Iraqi army uniform walked slowly through a crowd of 400 detainees captured Monday, studying each face and rendering his verdict with a simple hand gesture, like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of gladiators.

A thumb pointed down meant the suspect was not thought to be an insurgent and would be released by U.S. soldiers. A thumb pointed up meant a man would be removed from the concertina wire-encased pen, handcuffed with tape or plastic ties and taken by truck to a military base to be interrogated.

Well, at least the "insurgents" selected in this fashion are sure to be treated well in the ever-so-humane Iraqi prison system. Juan Cole sums it up aptly:
So Kurds and Shiites are beating up on Sunni Turkmen allies of Sunni Arabs. That is what is really going on. The number of foreign fighters appears to be small, and US troops that had been guarding against infiltration on the Syrian border were actully moved to Tal Afar for this operation. It is mainly about punishing the Sunni Turkmen for allying with the Sunni Arab guerrillas.
I struggle mightily to find a reason for campaigns like Fallujah and Tal Afar. Americans aren't exactly overwhelmed with information from these assaults, but Iraqis know all too well what's going on. More Iraqi towns are in for the same treatment. Google as I might, there are no pictures from the current Tal Afar campaign that I can find. How long will it be until someone smuggles out a video like this one from Fallujah?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Iran trap

The conventional wisdom is that a wounded beast is most dangerous. Would the Bush administration, seemingly on its knees, dare to start another major military confrontation? For Scott Ritter, the answer is yes, definitely.

Here he takes a long look at the bizarre three-sided dance involving the U.S., the EU-3, and Iran.
The real purpose of the EU-3 intervention - to prevent the United States from using Iran's nuclear ambition as an excuse for military intervention - is never discussed in public.

The EU-3 would rather continue to participate in fraudulent diplomacy rather than confront the hard truth - that it is the US, and not Iran, that is operating outside international law when it comes to the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.

In doing so, the EU-3, and to a lesser extent the IAEA, have fallen into a trap deliberately set by the Bush administration designed to use the EU-3 diplomatic initiative as a springboard for war with Iran.

... European diplomats concede that there is little likelihood that the Security Council will impose sanctions on Iran, given the intransigence on the part of Russia and China.

However, they have lulled themselves into a false sense of complacency by noting that given the situation in Iraq, and now in the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the US military is so overstretched that any talk of the Bush administration implementing a Plan C is out of the question.

What the Europeans - and the member nations of the EU-3 in particular - fail to recognise is that the Bush administration's plan for Iran does not consist of three separate plans, but rather one plan composed of three phases leading to the inevitability of armed conflict with Iran and the termination of the theocratic regime of the mullahs currently residing in Tehran.

These three phases - the collapse of the EU-3 intervention leading to a referral of the Iran matter to the Security Council, the inability of the Security Council to agree upon the imposition of economic sanctions against Iran, and the US confronting the Security Council over its alleged inability to protect American national security interests - lead inevitably toward military confrontation.

... Since the result of any referral of the Iran issue to the Security Council is all but guaranteed, the push by the EU-3 to have the IAEA refer Iran to the Security Council, while rooted in the language of diplomacy, is really nothing less than an act of war.

The only chance the world has of avoiding a second disastrous US military adventure in the Middle East is for the EU-3 to step back from its policy of doing the bidding of the US, and to confront not only Iran on the matter of its nuclear programme, but also the larger issue of American policies of regional transformation that represent the greatest threat to Middle East security and stability today.

Dick Cheney getting a face lift

It's an image I wish I never had to ponder.

Mind you, that's not the focus of Nora Ephron's piece, but she mentions the idea, and it will haunt me for days, I'm afraid.

What she does say is pretty interesting. Where, indeed, was Dick?

Like the curious incident of the dog that didn’t bark in the famous Sherlock Holmes story, Cheney’s the missing person in this event, and one has to wonder why. If he were a woman, I would guess he’d been busy recovering from a face-lift, but he’s not. So I can only suppose that something has gone wrong. Could the President be irritated that Cheney helped con him into Iraq? Oh, all right, probably not. Could Cheney – and not just his aides -- possibly be involved in the Valerie Plame episode? Is Cheney not speaking to Karl Rove? Does the airplane/bicycle incident figure into this in any way? And how is it possible that the President is off on vacation and the Vice President is too? Not that it matters that much if the President is on vacation; on some level, the President is always on vacation. But where was Cheney?

Just asking.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"A troublingly belligerent idealization of historical ignorance"

It's thirdhand wisdom and a couple of days late for the 9/11 anniversary, but it's wisdom all the same.

Normon Solomon quoting Joan Didion on the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when intelligent discussion gave way to something else over the course of a couple of weeks.
In the wake of 9/11, [Didion] later wrote, "these people to whom I was listening – in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle – were making connections I had not yet in my numbed condition thought to make: connections between [the American] political process and what had happened on Sept. 11, connections between our political life and the shape our reaction would take and was in fact already taking. These people recognized that even then, within days after the planes hit, there was a good deal of opportunistic ground being seized under cover of the clearly urgent need for increased security. These people recognized even then, with flames still visible in lower Manhattan, that the words 'bipartisanship' and 'national unity' had come to mean acquiescence to the administration's preexisting agenda…."

A lot of media coverage was glorifying people who died and/or showed courage on Sept. 11, 2001. "In fact," Didion contended, "it was in the reflexive repetition of the word 'hero' that we began to hear what would become in the year that followed an entrenched preference for ignoring the meaning of the event in favor of an impenetrably flattening celebration of its victims, and a troublingly belligerent idealization of historical ignorance."
Although Solomon doesn't cite the Didion work he's quoting, it's Fixed Opinions, or The Hinge of History (note: a New York Review of Books subscription is required). There's much more in this piece that's interesting. It's an article from January 2003 based on a lecture from November 2002, and as such it' s old news, but important to consider because it takes a cold hard look at how the intelligentsia, such as it is/was in this country, got sucked into Bush's vision thing and forgot, for a few critical YEARS, our history, in fact forgot (or refused to recall) what history was.
California Monthly, the alumni magazine for the University of California at Berkeley, published in its November 2002 issue an interview with a member of the university's political science faculty, Steven Weber, who is the director of the MacArthur Program on Multilateral Governance at Berkeley's Institute of International Studies and a consultant on risk analysis to both the State Department and such private- sector firms as Shell Oil. It so happened that Mr. Weber was in New York on September 11, 2001, and for the week that followed. "I spent a lot of time talking to people, watching what they were doing, and listening to what they were saying to each other," he told the interviewer:
The first thing you noticed was in the bookstores. On September 12, the shelves were emptied of books on Islam, on American foreign policy, on Iraq, on Afghanistan. There was a substantive discussion about what it is about the nature of the American presence in the world that created a situation in which movements like al-Qaeda can thrive and prosper. I thought that was a very promising sign.
But that discussion got short-circuited. Sometime in late October, early November 2001, the tone of that discussion switched, and it became: What's wrong with the Islamic world that it failed to produce democracy, science, education, its own enlightenment, and created societies that breed terror?"

The interviewer asked him what he thought had changed the discussion. "I don't know," he said, "but I will say that it's a long-term failure of the political leadership, the intelligentsia, and the media in this country that we didn't take the discussion that was forming in late September and try to move it forward in a constructive way."

I was struck by this, since it so coincided with my own impression. Most of us saw that discussion short-circuited, and most of us have some sense of how and why it became a discussion with nowhere to go. One reason, among others, runs back sixty years, through every administration since Franklin Roosevelt's. Roosevelt was the first American president who tried to grapple with the problems inherent in securing Palestine as a Jewish state. It was also Roosevelt who laid the groundwork for our relationship with the Saudis. There was an inherent contradiction here, and it was Roosevelt, perhaps the most adroit political animal ever made, who instinctively devised the approach adopted by the administrations that followed his: Stall. Keep the options open. Make certain promises in public, and conflicting ones in private. This was always a high-risk business, and for a while the rewards seemed commensurate: we got the oil for helping the Saudis, we got the moral credit for helping the Israelis, and, for helping both, we enjoyed the continuing business that accrued to an American defense industry significantly based on arming all sides.

Consider the range of possibilities for contradiction.

For those with NYROB subscriptions, read on...

The view from Iraq

The above photo, which I have published before, is by Chris Hondros of Getty Pictures. It's part of a heartbreaking, horrifying photo essay "A shooting after nightfall" on crisispictures.org (note: image deleted 11/27/07 at the request of Getty Images Legal).

The incident pictured, in which this little girl's parents were killed by an American patrol in Tal Afar, happened in January.

Googling images from the current U.S. engagement in Tal Afar turned up nothing recent.

From Baghdad Burning:
E. looked at me wide-eyed that day and asked the inevitable question, “How long do you think before they bomb us?”

“But it wasn’t us. It can’t be us…” I rationalized.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s all they need.”

... It has been four years today. How does it feel four years later?

For the 3,000 victims in America, more than 100,000 have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands of others are being detained for interrogation and torture. Our homes have been raided, our cities are constantly being bombed and Iraq has fallen back decades, and for several years to come we will suffer under the influence of the extremism we didn't know prior to the war.

As I write this, Tel Afar, a small place north of Mosul, is being bombed. Dozens of people are going to be buried under their homes in the dead of the night. Their water and electricity have been cut off for days. It doesn’t seem to matter much though because they don’t live in a wonderful skyscraper in a glamorous city. They are, quite simply, farmers and herders not worth a second thought.

Four years later and the War on Terror (or is it the War of Terror?) has been won:

Score:
Al-Qaeda – 3,000
America – 100,000+

Congratulations.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Lest we forget....


This country* is still in the hands of madmen.

From the Washington Post:
The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Ah, those "known enemy stockpiles" -- like those in Iraq? If the U.S. had "taken them out," who would have known they never existed?

Armscontrolwonk discusses Bolton, the UN, and Jack Straw's request that Condi "rein in" the man with the hideous moustache here.
_______________________
* Inventor of nuclear weapons, only country to deploy nuclear weapons (on defenseless civilian populations), and currently in possession of an active arsenal of around 10,000 nuclear weapons. Also, in the process of pissing on any prior committment to disarmament. And where does DU fit into the discussion?

Friday, September 09, 2005

To be fair...

... it's not ALL his fault. But I've never seen a truer caption either, so I can't resist posting the image that will appear on a thousand blogs by the end of the day:

I was sort of waiting for Naomi Klein to weigh in on the Katrina catastrophe and bring to bear her perspective on disaster capitalism -- how war, tsunami, and now a hurricane represent a huge payday to the usual (corrupt, wealthy, connected) suspects at the expense of the intended recipients of aid.

And the vultures--and their friends in high places--have trouble containing their glee at the opportunities a catastrophe can offer. In "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," written in the wake of the tsunami, Klein wrote:

In January Condoleezza Rice [who notoriously called 9/11 an "enormous oppportunity"] sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as "a wonderful opportunity" that "has paid great dividends for us." Many were horrified at the idea of treating a massive human tragedy as a chance to seek advantage. But, if anything, Rice was understating the case. A group calling itself Thailand Tsunami Survivors and Supporters says that for "businessmen-politicians, the tsunami was the answer to their prayers, since it literally wiped these coastal areas clean of the communities which had previously stood in the way of their plans for resorts, hotels, casinos and shrimp farms. To them, all these coastal areas are now open land!"

Disaster, it seems, is the new terra nullius.

The Katrina aftermath might be different. Here she warns the poor residents of New Orleans that they stand to be victimized all over again when the aid money finds its way into the pockets of developers and gentrifiers:
There are already signs that New Orleans evacuees could face a ... brutal second storm [similar to the one faced by post-tsunami Sri Lankan refugees]. Jimmy Reiss, chairman of the New Orleans Business Council, told Newsweek that he has been brainstorming about how "to use this catastrophe as a once-in-an-eon opportunity to change the dynamic".

But what if, she wonders...

Here's a better idea: New Orleans could be reconstructed by and for the very people most victimized by the flood. Schools and hospitals that were falling apart before could finally have adequate resources; the rebuilding could create thousands of local jobs and provide massive skills training in decent paying industries. Rather than handing over the reconstruction to the same corrupt elite that failed the city so spectacularly, the effort could be led by groups like Douglass Community Coalition. Before the hurricane this remarkable assembly of parents, teachers, students and artists was trying to reconstruct the city from the ravages of poverty by transforming Frederick Douglass Senior High School into a model of community learning. They have already done the painstaking work of building consensus around education reform. Now that the funds are flowing, shouldn't they have the tools to rebuild every ailing public school in the city?


And for those seeking to brace themselves for the torrent of misinformation sure to come, just to keep things straight, here is a nice summary of Eight Big Lies About Katrina from mediamatters.org:

1. Bush: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees"

2. Chertoff strained credulity in defense of Bush, claimed levee breaks and massive flooding came as a surprise -- more than 12 hours after local media reported them

3. Brown: "We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day"

4. Chertoff: "Apparently, some time on Wednesday, people started to go to the convention center spontaneously"

5. Chertoff pointed fingers: "New Orleans officials and the state officials ... called for the Superdome to be the refuge of last resort"

6. Chertoff falsely minimized federal government's role in Katrina response as subordinate to states

7. Wash. Post, Newsweek, Gingrich falsely claimed that Blanco did not declare a state of emergency

8. Gingrich falsely claimed that Nagin could "have kept water pumped out" of city had he ensured that pumps worked


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Um. what country are we in again?

UnfairWitness catalogues numerous occurances of the unspeakable practice of the U.S. military escorting (white) foreigners to safety, while leaving the (black) Americans to their own devices in "hellholes with no food or water."
The US Military is supposed to "protect" who, now? Foreign nationals over Americans? Is this a "class thing," "race thing" or something even more evil than we can bear to contemplate? What possible reason could there have been to treat ANY of the people left in New Orleans differently? Weren't the Americans at least equal to Brits and Aussies? Was it that the foreign nationals had diplomats looking out for their interests? If so, what does that say about who was looking out for the interests of Americans?

Anyone? Any righties want to take a shot at explaining why Americans were kept, starving and dying in the NOLA camps at gunpoint, as foreigners were "smuggled" out to the Hyatt and evacuated ahead of them?

A matriarch for our time

As was said of Barbara Bush, the wife of the first president Bush, in another, uncannily similar context: Stupid Fucking Cow!

Editor & Publisher
reports that Mrs. Bush has this to say about the scenes of despair in the Houston Astrodome:
"What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."
The other context in which the American Marie Antoinette spoke her mind just a little too clearly? The eve of the Iraq war, where she said:
"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths...? It's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that."
To which David Rakoff responded (as quoted on radosh.net):
Mrs. Bush is not getting any younger. When she eventually ceases to walk among us we will undoubtedly see photographs of her flag-draped coffin. Whatever obituaries that run will admiringly mention those wizened, dynastic loins of hers and praise her staunch refusal to color her hair or glamorize her image. But will they remember this particular statement of hers, this "Let them eat cake" for the twenty-first century? Unlikely, since it received far too little play and definitely insufficient outrage when she said it. So let us promise herewith to never forget her callous disregard for other parents' children while her own son was sending them to make the ultimate sacrifice, while asking of the rest of us little more than to promise to go shopping. Commit the quote to memory and say it whenever her name comes up. Remind others how she lacked even the bare minimum of human integrity, the most basic requirement of decency that says that if you support a war, you should be willing, if not to join those ninteen-year-olds yourself, then at least, at the very least, to acknowledge that said war was actually going on. Stupid fucking cow.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Remembering Rehnquist

From Common Dreams, Dec. 2, 2000:
Lito Pena is sure of his memory. Thirty-six years ago he, then a Democratic Party poll watcher, got into a shoving match with a Republican who had spent the opening hours of the 1964 election doing his damnedest to keep people from voting in south Phoenix.

"He was holding up minority voters because he knew they were going to vote Democratic," said Pena.

The guy called himself Bill. He knew the law and applied it with the precision of a swordsman. He sat at the table at the Bethune School, a polling place brimming with black citizens, and quizzed voters ad nauseam about where they were from, how long they'd lived there -- every question in the book. A passage of the Constitution was read and people who spoke broken English were ordered to interpret it to prove they had the language skills to vote.

By the time Pena arrived at Bethune, he said, the line to vote was four abreast and a block long. People were giving up and going home.

Pena told the guy to leave. They got into an argument. Shoving followed. Arizona politics can be raw.

Finally, Pena said, the guy raised a fist as if he was fixing to throw a punch.

"I said 'If that's what you want, I'll get someone to take you out of here' "

Party leaders told him not to get physical, but this was the second straight election in which Republicans had sent out people to intellectually rough up the voters. The project even had a name: Operation Eagle Eye.

Pena had a group of 20 iron workers holed up in a motel nearby. He dispatched one who grabbed Bill and hustled him out of the school.

"He was pushing him across a yard and backed him into the school building," Pena remembered.

Others in Phoenix remember Operation Eagle Eye, too.

Charlie Stevens, then the head of the local Young Republicans, said he got a phone call from the same lawyer Pena remembered throwing out of Bethune School. The guy wanted to know why Charlie hadn't joined Operation Eagle Eye.

"I think they called them flying squads," Stevens said. "It was perfectly legal. The law at the time was that you had to be able to read English and interpret what you read."

But he didn't like the idea and he told Bill this.

"My parents were immigrants," Stevens said. They'd settled in Cleveland, Ohio, a pair of Greeks driven out of Turkey who arrived in the United States with broken English and a desire to be American. After their son went to law school and settled in Phoenix, he even Americanized the name. Charlie Tsoukalas became Charlie Stevens.

"I didn't think it was proper to challenge my dad or my mother to interpret the Constitution," Stevens said. "Even people who are born here have trouble interpreting the Constitution. Lawyers have trouble interpreting it."

The guy told Stevens that if he felt that way about it, then he could take a pass.

There was nothing illegal going on there, Stevens said.

"It just violated my principles. I had a poor family. I grew up in the projects in Cleveland, Ohio."

Operation Eagle Eye had a two-year run. Eventually, Arizona changed the laws that had allowed the kind of challenges that had devolved into bullying.

Pena went on to serve 30 years in the Arizona State Legislature. Stevens became a prosperous and well-regarded lawyer in Phoenix and helped Sandra Day O'Connor get her start in law.

The guy Pena remembers tossing out of Bethune School prospered, too. Bill Rehnquist, now better known as William H. Rehnquist, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States...

Read the whole article...

Thank God


People of the Gulf Coast, rest assured. All your problems are behind you. Rummy's here.

Next on the scene, Paul Bremer!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Are we seeing everything we should be seeing?

CJR wonders. According to NBC photojournalist Tony Zumbado, we aren't seeing the half of it.
[MSNBC reporter Alison] Stewart mentioned that many of the images Zumbado had shot of the dead and dying "couldn't" be run on the air. Zumbado added that there was much more footage that he could have shot but did not, precisely because he knew it would never make it on the air.

.... Obviously, no one wants to view, say, the death rattle of an infant perishing from dehydration. But if the nightmare unfolding right now at the convention center is the result of negligence, or even of triage being practiced by government responders, and if a little graphic film might arouse both those responders and the larger citizenry, is not that a public service?

Someone, or several someones, made the decision to leave those people dying at the convention center to their own devices. Should the television press let those persons off the hook -- in order to spare a queasy public from graphic images?

We know our own answer to that question.

Meanwhile...

... back in Iraq.

A question: Is 56 dead bystanders an acceptable price to pay for one rather dubious hit on a "known terrorist"?

Earlier this week, U.S. forces killed 56 civilians with three airstrikes, and thought it was worth crowing about—because a man with the not especially unique name of Abu Islam was among the women and children and innocent bystanders who got in the way of the "precision" bombs.

Al-jazeera recounts a U.S. statement—"At approximately 0220 GMT, two bombs were dropped on a second house in Husayba, occupied by Abu Islam, a known terrorist." Al-jazeera adds an important qualifier missing from the official statement: "Abu Islam is an alias used by several fighters."

The L.A. Times reports this interesting detail: "Residents set the death toll for the bombings at 56, and said U.S. warplanes also attacked rescuers attempting to extract survivors from the debris."

Antiwar sentiment is growning here, and that is of course a positive, but one has to wonder about the lack of reaction to an atrocity of this magnitude—a neglect that was apparent even before Katrina pushed this story off the front pages.

Playing politics


It's the classic response of a bully. When intimidation doesn't work, when the bully is being called out, the bully pleads ... persecution.

So the ruthless, make-no-excuses, go-for-the-jugular Bush administration, for whom everything is an issue of political power, whines that criticism of its cataclysmic failures—both before and after the levees broke—is nothing but Bush's opponents "playing politics."

Fortunately, many mainstream edit pages have roused themselves from their Dubya-era slumbers to realize that the evil clowns in power (and their pathetic, less-than-useless Democratic enablers) are uncaring, reckless, arrogant and incompetent. This still doesn't excuse major newspapers from their studious avoidance of dealing with a Bush-made disaster even more horrible in the Persian Gulf, but perhaps it's a start.

Editor and Publisher has a nice roundup of fed-up editorial page commentary, including this rather to-the-point piece from the Philly Inquirer:
"I hope people don't point -- play politics during this period." That was President Bush's response yesterday to criticism of the U.S. government's inexplicably inadequate relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Sorry, Mr. President, legitimate questions are being asked about the lack of rescue personnel, equipment, food, supplies, transportation, you name it, four days after the storm. It's not "playing politics" to ask why.

It's not "playing politics" to ask questions about what Americans watched in horror on TV yesterday: elderly people literally dying on the street outside the New Orleans convention center because they were sick and no one came to their aid.

The rest of America can't fathom why a country with our resources can't be at least as effective in this emergency as it was when past disasters struck Third World nations. Someone needs to explain why well-known emergency aid lessons aren't being applied here.

This hurricane is no one's fault; the devastation would be hard to handle no matter who was in charge. But human deeds can mitigate a disaster, or make it worse.

For example: Did federal priorities in an era of huge tax cuts shortchange New Orleans' storm protection and leave it more vulnerable? This flooding is no surprise to experts. They've been warning for more than 20 years that the levees keeping Lake Pontchartrain from emptying into the under-sea-level city would likely break under the strain of a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 4.

So the Crescent City sits under water, much of its population in a state of desperate, dangerous transience, not knowing when they will return home. They're the lucky ones, though. Worse off are those left among the dying in a dying town.

The questions aren't about politics. They are about justice.