Monday, July 31, 2006

Who's Dr. Evil and who's Mini-Me in all this?

Justin Raimondo makes a good case for Shrub being Mini, but Tony Karon has a persuasive argument that Israel is fighting a proxy war for Washington. They both might be right. The bottom line is that the "special relationship" encourages each partner to do crazy things it wouldn't do outside of the folie a deux. Here are excerpts from Karon's article:
Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said a curious thing Saturday: Israel has recognized reality and is ready for a cease-fire in Lebanon, Nasrallah claimed, but it is the U.S. that insists that it fight on.

... Listening the millenarian rubbish pouring out of the mouths of Bush and Blair last Friday about this being a fight led by the U.S. and its allies for a “new Middle East” of freedom from tyranny blah blah there was also a sense that this skirmish had been appropriated by the U.S. for its wider global war, and Iran, of course, is its prime target right now — with Hizballah being identified as an Iranian asset that could be destroyed....

I’ve always maintained that the “pro-Israel” position of the Bush administration, formulated and influenced by hardline American Likudniks (whom, it must be said, are hardly representative of mainstream Israeli thinking) is actually fundamentally bad for Israel. Its infantile, aggressive maximalism precludes Israel from doing what it will take to live at peace with its surroundings, instead demanding a confrontational approach in keeping with Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” in which Israel’s survival depends on crush and humiliating the Arabs. Bush may talk the language of “Arab liberation,” but his contempt for Arab democracy is plain — just look at his response to the Hamas election victory. His administration appears to be dedicated to a remaking of the Middle East on America’s terms through violent social engineering. The depth of their failure in Iraq appears not to have deterred them from another adventure in Lebanon, this time using Israel as their agent of “change.” And if hundreds of Lebanese children are killed in Israeli air strikes, they’re just victims of the “birth pangs of a New Middle East.”

... So, not only is Hizballah going to emerge stronger, having survived the onslaught and therefore have a substantial hand in shaping the cease-fire that will follow — and politically, while the Administration may have been hoping the Israeli campaign would turn Lebanese against Hizballah, the opposite has occurred: A poll last week found that a solid 70 percent of Lebanese, across the board, supported Hizballah’s capture of the two Israeli soldiers that started the current confrontation...

Not surprising, also, 86 percent of Lebanese in the same survey don’t believe the U.S. is an honest broker. And frankly, the Lebanon debacle will have sealed America’s fate in Arab eyes for a generation: When the next al-Qaeda attacks come on U.S. soil, I don’t expect there’ll be much hand-wringing or denial in the Arab world, blaming the Mossad for something they didn’t want to believe Arabs were capable of and so forth. And media outlets wanting to run “Why do they Hate Us?” specials can probably start writing them already.

... But it also seems clear that Israel’s own position is weakened. It has once again aroused the hatred of the Arab world, and the disdain of much of the international community for its plainly excessive response, all in pursuit of reestablishing its “deterrent” capacity — but if Hizballah is left standing, and indications are that it will be, that deterrent capacity itself will have been undermined. And Israel will have to pay a diplomatic price too, being forced back into internationally supervised peace discussions with a view to settling the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders, as Brent Scowcroft, of the grownup Bush administration so forcefully argues.
And War in Context, quoting the Washington Post, points out that Condi got the news about Qana in an odd way:
Rice did not learn of the attack until midmorning, during one-on-one talks with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a meeting room on the 10th floor of Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel. She was "reiterating our strong concern" about civilians killed during the hostilities, she said later. But Peretz did not mention the attack, nor had Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni over breakfast.

Rice found out via e-mail. It came from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch got the message and interrupted the meeting to tell her, U.S. officials said.

Rice was "sickened" by the report, a close aide said. "What is this?" she asked Peretz.

Israel was looking into it, Peretz responded, according to U.S. officials. Peretz said he would get back to her. The meeting ended within 15 minutes.
Now that's a "special" relationship.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Plus ça change

And to those countries who claim we are using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: "you're damn right we are!"
—Israeli UN ambassador Dan Gillerman, July 18, 2006

Israeli politicians have claimed the only people left in southern Lebanon are terrorists. But the group of 65 people who huddled for safety in one of the larger buildings on Saturday night were mostly children and pensioners.
The Telegraph
The Angry Arab, As'ad AbuKhalil's blog, is the one indispensible source of news, analysis, and (entirely appropriate) rage, bitterness, and sarcasm about the devastation in Lebanon.

Today, in one of his many reflections on this weekend's war crime at Qana, As'ad notes that Robert Fisk "wrote [the following] before Qana":
And having seen the cadavers of so many more men and women, I have to say--from my eyrie only three miles from the Israeli border--that the compliant, gutless, shameful refusal of Bush, Rice and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara to bring this bloodbath to an end sentenced many hundreds of innocent Lebanese to death. As I write this near the village of Blat, which has its own little list of civilian dead, it's quite clear that many more innocent Lebanese are being prepared for the slaughter--and will indeed die in the coming days.
Prescient, yes, but how difficult for one who has seen all that Fisk has seen? (Not to take anything away from him and his great work.) My search on the terms "Fisk + Qana" turned up a column from April 1996, one about an equally, if not more, repulsive massacre by the Israelis, that took place in the same town.

Qana has the dubious distinction of having been the site of two appalling Israeli slaughters of civilians.

A couple of quotes from the 1996 Fisk column:
It was a massacre. Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this.

In front of a burning building of the UN's Fijian battalion headquarters, a girl held a corpse in her arms, the body of a grey- haired man whose eyes were staring at her, and she rocked the corpse back and forth in her arms, keening and weeping and crying the same words over and over: "My father, my father." A Fijian UN soldier stood amid a sea of bodies and, without saying a word, held aloft the body of a headless child.

"The Israelis have just told us they'll stop shelling the area", a UN soldier said, shaking with anger. "Are we supposed to thank them?" In the remains of a burning building - the conference room of the Fijian UN headquarters - a pile of corpses was burning. The roof had crashed in flames onto their bodies, cremating them in front of my eyes. When I walked towards them, I slipped on a human hand...

... Israel's slaughter of civilians in this terrible 10-day offensive - 206 by last night - has been so cavalier, so ferocious, that not a Lebanese will forgive this massacre.
That was Fisk's take on the 1996 atrocity. Let's hope that no one forgets--or forgives the Qana atrocity of 2006.

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Terrorism from the air has been tried and found wanting"

A few generalizations about "air power"--bombing, strafing, and firing rockets--America's (and Israel's) preferred method of warfare:
1. It's murder.

2. It's barbarous.

3. It almost always achieves the opposite of its primary goal, the "breaking of the will" of an enemy—civilian—population.

(Japan's 1937 bombing of Chinese civilians moved a U.S. Army officer to observe in the Saturday Evening Post, "Terrorism from the air has been tried and found wanting"—but of course that was before Americans discovered how good they are at bombing.)
These three easily observable and verifiable facts are pretty much hiding in plain sight in the Air Power Nations (basically the U.S. and Israel, and to a lesser extent Russia and the UK), and it's to our collective shame that we don't try harder to look at the barbaric devastation caused by our air forces.

In "The Middle East and the Barbarism of War from the Air," Tom Englehardt takes a hard look at the myths, blindnesses, and horrors lurking behind the banal phrase "air power." Englehardt, in his earlier essay "Icarus (armed with vipers) over Iraq opened my eyes to the writing of Sven Lindqvist, whose A History of Bombing is a book everyone should read, along with James Carroll's House of War—both heartbreakingly excellent on the weird psychology, lies, deceptions and flat-out evil behind bombing.

I love this parenthetical anecdote:
(When Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the UN in February 2003 to deliver his now infamous speech explaining what we supposedly knew about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, UN officials -- possibly at the request of the Bush administration -- covered over a tapestry of [Picasso's "Guernica"] that happened to be positioned where Powell would have to pass on his way to deliver his speech and where press comments would be offered afterwards.)
Englehardt puts Israel's merciless pummelling of Lebanon into context, and how that fits into past aerial atrocities:

Now, with the fervent backing of the Bush administration, another country is being "remade" from the air -- in this case, Lebanon. With the highest-tech American precision-guided and bunker-busting bombs, the Israelis have been launching air strike after strike, thousands of them, in that country. They have hit an international airport, the nation's largest milk factories; a major food factory; aid convoys; Red Cross ambulances; a UN observer post; a power plant; apartment complexes; villages because they house or support the enemy; branches of banks because they might facilitate Hezbollah finances; the telecommunications system because of the messages that might pass along it; highways because they might transport weapons to the enemy; bridges because they might be crossed by those transporting weapons; a lighthouse in Beirut harbor for reasons unknown; trucks because they might be transporting those weapons (though they might also be transporting vegetables); families who just happen to be jammed into cars or minivans fleeing at the urging of the attackers who have turned at least 20% of all Lebanese (and probably many more) into refugees, while creating a "landscape of death" (in the phrase of the superb Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid) in the southern part of the country. In this process, civilian casualties have mounted steadily -- assumedly far beyond the figure of just over 400 now regularly being cited in our press, because Lebanon has no way to search the rubble of its bombed buildings for the dead; nor, right now, the time and ability to do an accurate count of those who died more or less in the open.

And yet, of course, the "will" of the enemy is not broken and, among Israel's leaders and its citizens, frustration mounts; so threats of more and worse are made and worse weapons are brought into play; and wider targeting fields are opened up; and what might faintly pass for "precision bombing" is increasingly abandoned for the equivalent of "area bombing." And the full support system -- which is simply society -- for the movement in question becomes the "will" that must be broken; and in this process, what we call "collateral damage" is moved, by the essential barbaric logic of air power, front and center, directly into the crosshairs.

Read the whole essay...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Next: Bottled air!

The genius of capitalism has managed to take virtually every element of the commons (that which, by right, belongs to everyone), package it, and sell it back to consumers at a ghastly markup.

This particular version of winner-take-all capitalism takes things even further, granting giant multinationals and their armies of lobbyists absolutely free access to the "resources" in the commons. These days the idea of collecting royalties from the oil companies for drilling in public lands is not even on the table in Washington, although it was a hot issue in the Carter years. (You'd think this is typical Bush/Cheney thievery of the public coffers, but you'd be wrong—chalk that jaw-dropping giveback, the "Federal Oil and Gas Simplification and Fairness Act," to friend of the common man Bill Clinton).

Water is the latest staple of human existence to have morphed into a commodity. Here Larry Lack, a Canadian author, explains a few poorly understood facts about the bottled water industry, which has grown fifteenfold in the years 1990 to 2003, in spite of the fact that bottled water's no better, and no safer, than tap water:
Aside from its usefulness in remote areas during disasters and emergencies, bottled water is an entirely needless affectation. The fears about the safety of public water supplies that its purveyors play on are exaggerated nonsense. But the enormous global bottled water industry built on these false fears undercuts public water, disfigures landscapes and exposes trusting bottled water consumers to serious health risks.
The ordinary consumer who pays out for bottled water pays a premium somewhere on the order of 240 and 10,000 times the price of tap water! "Surprisingly," notes Lack, "despite all the current outrage over the price of gasoline, most North American consumers are casually forking over more for bottled water – about a buck a quart – than they are for gas."

And this in spite of the fact that "as much as 40 per cent of [the bottled water] sold in North America is simply municipal tap water run through filters and treated with minerals or other additives."

Rigorous Intuition, the disorienting, addictive, often creepy blog from "cautiously pessimistic" Canadian novelist Jeff Wells, cites a book called Watershed: The Role of Fresh Water in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, published in 1995, to make a pretty convincing case that the Israelis are more than a little bit interested in diverting the waters of the Litani to quench the thirst of their water-poor country. (As Watershed points out, as far back as 1919 Chaim Weizmann wrote to David Lloyd George that Lebanon “is a well watered region . . . and the Litani River is valueless to the territory north of the proposed frontiers . . . . It can be used beneficially in the country much further south.”)

Wells also suggests that the experience in the Middle East might be something we in North America might come to share sooner than we'd like:
How will nations behave when they're dying of thirst? America's giant Ogallala aquifer could go dry in two decades. Sooner or later, we'll find out.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Read it

I've always been so impressed by the young Iraqi blogger who writes Baghdad Burning. Her writing, even in the worst of times, is always vivid, and usually remains against all reason sarcastic, lively and buoyant. Recent events in Iraq—some affecting her personally, others as one of millions of enraged Iraqis—have driven whatever optimism or equilibrium or stoicism from her writing, leaving this:
Rape. The latest of American atrocities. Though it's not really the latest- it's just the one that's being publicized the most. The poor girl Abeer was neither the first to be raped by American troops, nor will she be the last. The only reason this rape was brought to light and publicized is that her whole immediate family were killed along with her. Rape is a taboo subject in Iraq. Families don't report rapes here, they avenge them. We've been hearing whisperings about rapes in American-controlled prisons and during sieges of towns like Haditha and Samarra for the last three years. The naiveté of Americans who can't believe their 'heroes' are committing such atrocities is ridiculous. Who ever heard of an occupying army committing rape??? You raped the country, why not the people?

In the news they're estimating her age to be around 24, but Iraqis from the area say she was only 14. Fourteen. Imagine your 14-year-old sister or your 14-year-old daughter. Imagine her being gang-raped by a group of psychopaths and then the girl was killed and her body burned to cover up the rape. Finally, her parents and her five-year-old sister were also killed. Hail the American heroes... Raise your heads high supporters of the 'liberation' - your troops have made you proud today. I don't believe the troops should be tried in American courts. I believe they should be handed over to the people in the area and only then will justice be properly served. And our ass of a PM, Nouri Al-Maliki, is requesting an 'independent investigation', ensconced safely in his American guarded compound because it wasn't his daughter or sister who was raped, probably tortured and killed. His family is abroad safe from the hands of furious Iraqis and psychotic American troops.

It fills me with rage to hear about it and read about it. The pity I once had for foreign troops in Iraq is gone. It's been eradicated by the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, the deaths in Haditha and the latest news of rapes and killings. I look at them in their armored vehicles and to be honest- I can't bring myself to care whether they are 19 or 39. I can't bring myself to care if they make it back home alive. I can't bring myself to care anymore about the wife or parents or children they left behind. I can't bring myself to care because it's difficult to see beyond the horrors. I look at them and wonder just how many innocents they killed and how many more they'll kill before they go home. How many more young Iraqi girls will they rape?

Why don't the Americans just go home? They've done enough damage and we hear talk of how things will fall apart in Iraq if they 'cut and run', but the fact is that they aren't doing anything right now. How much worse can it get? People are being killed in the streets and in their own homes- what's being done about it? Nothing. It's convenient for them- Iraqis can kill each other and they can sit by and watch the bloodshed- unless they want to join in with murder and rape.

Buses, planes and taxis leaving the country for Syria and Jordan are booked solid until the end of the summer. People are picking up and leaving en masse and most of them are planning to remain outside of the country. Life here has become unbearable because it's no longer a 'life' like people live abroad. It's simply a matter of survival, making it from one day to the next in one piece and coping with the loss of loved ones and friends- friends like T.

It's difficult to believe T. is really gone… I was checking my email today and I saw three unopened emails from him in my inbox. For one wild, heart-stopping moment I thought he was alive. T. was alive and it was all some horrific mistake! I let myself ride the wave of giddy disbelief for a few precious seconds before I came crashing down as my eyes caught the date on the emails- he had sent them the night before he was killed. One email was a collection of jokes, the other was an assortment of cat pictures, and the third was a poem in Arabic about Iraq under American occupation. He had highlighted a few lines describing the beauty of Baghdad in spite of the war… And while I always thought Baghdad was one of the more marvelous cities in the world, I'm finding it very difficult this moment to see any beauty in a city stained with the blood of T. and so many other innocents…

Infallible. Unbelievable.

Yes, this guy—always right. Rigggggghhhhhttttt.

Steven Bradbury, head of the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, under questioning from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on whether the President’s interpretation of the Hamdan case was right or wrong, said this:
“The President is always right.”
Watch it here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

An early clue to the new direction

I stumbled across this zealous and joyful appreciation of A Hard Day's Night today, and thought, "Damn, joy, something I don't usually feel lately!" One of the times I did come close to that joyful feeling was the week this winter my five-year-old son and I watched and rewatched A Hard Day's Night. He even picked up on liverpud slang in a weirdly intuitive way.

Anyway, this person's name is Emily Ponder, and she loved AHDN and wants to share her love.
A Hard Day's Night is a brilliant film. It has everything. It has boys cute enough to drive boatloads of girls completely batshit insane, screaming till they get so hoarse that when they come home their parents are like, “Oh hey Otis Redding, what’s up? You haven’t seen Jenny, have you?” And I'll just tell you now so you can stop wondering: Once our scientists get their priorities straight and finally build a goddamn time machine that can take me somewhere into the vicinity of the 1963-64 Beatles, if my striking good looks and trademark wit aren't getting me any closer to what's underneath those dashing round-collared suits, then flipping the hell out crying, running around, screaming, and generally acting like I'm on the way to the electric chair sounds like a decent Plan B to me. The movie is also is off-the-charts hilarious, just a goldmine of priceless one-liners and slapstick gags, drawn up and crafted on the shoulders of a kind of persistent subtextual melancholy, now mockingly contemptuous, now wistfully escapist, which lends a great complexity of tone to this star vehicle, and helps steer it safely past Charming Piece Of Merchandising and on towards Best Movie Of All Time.

But there are two other major factors nailing that gas pedal to the floor, which I want to say more about here:
1)It is masterfully directed by Richard Lester -- innovatively, interestingly, stylishly, and beautifully shot and cut to do justice to its subject.
2)It features the greatest film music ever.

I hope #2 was already obvious to you all, but the two are so inseparably intertwined that I feel obliged to hammer it home. When The Beatles pulled up to the table, Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Elvis, and everyone else just threw down their cards and went home. Game the fuck over. Simple as that.

For me there is an ineffable but undeniable kind of spark, or charm, in the early Beatles, the kind that brings an instant grin to my face and an instant hand to the volume knob when I hear the opening of, say, “Please Please Me.” If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you may stop reading now and go stand with the others under the sign that says SORRY, AWESOMENESS IS LOST ON ME to receive your complimentary cup of prune juice and a Bright Eyes album. At the core of the movie’s instantaneous appeal is a similar feeling of exhilarating insubordination, a joyous middle finger held right up in the face of any and all forms of The Man (and in this film, they are legion) standing in the way of Pure Beatle Fun. And Lester’s direction has a beautiful spontaneity, joining the reckless innovation of 60’s New Wave and verite with the anarchy of silent slapstick and surrealist film, which is more than capable of carrying that feeling visually. The handheld camera movements, the bizarre angles, the aerial shots, the slow and fast motion, the animated proof sheet photos, the cuts in time with the music, the self-reflexive shots of the cameras and monitors, all of it. A Hard Day’s Night isn’t just colored by or about that spark, that spirit in the music. It is of a piece with it, stylistically as well as thematically.

Reading that over while cutting and pasting I realize Ms. Ponder didn't really get into the verbal wit of that movie as much as she might have. So I searched and found this complete transcript of the film's dialogue. Pretty much every line is here, presented rather weirdly without saying whose line it is. Weird, but kinda cool.

Here is the brilliant sequence where George stumbles into the office of the youth marketeer (one of the many genius smaller roles in AHDN). There's a very hot secretary in this scene, the marketeer, and George :
I've got one.

I think so.

Yes, he can talk.

No, and I think you ought to see him.

All right.

Come on.


You don't see many of these nowadays, do you?

Come on.

Simon, will this do?

Not bad, dolly, not really bad. Turn around, chicky baby.

He's a definite poss. He'll look good alongside Susan.

This will be quite painless. Don't breathe on me, Adrian.

I'm terribly sorry, but there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding.

You can come off it with us.

Don't do all the old adenoidal glottal stop and carry on for our benefit.

I'm afraid I don't understand.

-My God, he's a natural.

-I told them not to send real ones.

They know by now, the phonies are much easier to handle.

Still, he's a good type.

We'd like you to give us your opinion on some clothes for teenagers.

By all means, I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality.

Not your real opinion. You'll learn it.

-Can he read?

-Of course I can.

I mean lines. Can you handle lines?

I'll have a bash.

Give him whatever it is they drink, a cokerama?


At least he's polite.

Show him the shirts. Adrian.

You'll like these.

You'll really dig them. They're fab and all the other pimply hyperboles.

I wouldn't be seen dead in them. They're dead grotty.


-Yeah, grotesque.

Make a note of that word and give it to Susan.

It's rather touching, really.

This kid is trying to give me his utterly valueless opinion...

...when I know that within a month...

...he'll be suffering from a violent inferiority complex...

...and loss of status because he isn't wearing one of these nasty things.

Of course they're grotty, you wretched
nit! That's why they were designed.

-But that's what you'll want.

-I won't.

-You can be replaced, chicky baby.

-I don't care.

And that pose is out too, Sunny Jim.

The new thing is to care passionately and be right wing.

Anyway, if you don't cooperate, you won't meet Susan.

And who's this Susan when she's at home?

Only Susan Campey, our resident teenager.

You'll have to love her. She's your symbol.

You mean that posh bird who gets everything wrong?

I beg your pardon?

The lads frequently sit round the television and watch her for a giggle.

Once we wrote these letters saying how gear she was and all that rubbish.

She's a trendsetter. It's her profession.

She's a drag. A well-known drag.

We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.

-Get him out of here.

-Have I said something amiss?

He's mocking the program's image.

-Sorry about the shirts.

-Get him out!

You don't think he's a new phenomenon, do you?

You mean an early clue to the new direction?

Where's the calendar?

No. It's all right. He's just a troublemaker.

The change isn't due for three weeks yet.

All the same, make a note not to extend Susan's contract.

Let's not take any unnecessary chances.

Another arrest for show...

... meanwhile, let's let Osama go!

From Raw Story, the less than shocking news that the "aspirational" (that word again) terrorists behind the "Holland Tunnel Plot" were, in the words of Phillip Girardi, "not professionally trained terrorists ... and had no resources with which to carry out the operation they discussed."

Other than that, pretty gol danged dangerous.

And, no, no, no, the arrest had nothing at all to do with the closing of Alec Station, the CIA's Osama Bin Laden unit!

And the Leftcoaster asks, isn't it ironic that "someone inside the White house has blow[n] the cover off an active investigation, and reveal operational details less than two weeks after the same administration blasted the New York Times for reporting on a story that was already known?"

Even the Times, usually reliably somnolent in the face of Homeland Security shenanigans, notices something crucial missing in this and the Miami-based Sears Tower "plot": The two cases, it opines, "are inspiring a new round of skepticism from some lawyers who are openly questioning whether the government, in its zeal to stop terrorism, is forgetting an element central to any case: the actual intent to commit a crime."

And read here for Alexander Cockburn's account of the Sacramento "terrorism" trial this spring that not only lacked a crime but an aspiration as well:
What actually emerged in the trial, where both [Hamid and his father Umer Hayat] were fortunate to have good lawyers, was the usual saga of FBI chicanery. It became very clear from videotapes of the FBI's questioning that the men have very poor English. Their native tongue is Pashto. They understood little of what they were being asked and were mostly concerned with pleasing their interrogators. In the words of one courtroom reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, "they gave many answers that had been previously suggested by the agents--who did most of the talking."

In spite of the good lawyers, Hamid, a simple man who picks cherries for a living, faces up to 39 years in prison.... FBI agent James Wedick has called the Sacramento trial the "most derelict and juvenile investigation" he had ever seen the FBI put its name to.

Read all about Wedick and that ludicrous trial in this excellent L.A. Times piece, "The agent who might have saved Hamid Hayit."

The Sacramento proceedings have set the bar pretty high for show trials of overblown terrorist threats. Here's betting the prosecutions of the "Liberty Seven" and the Holland Tunnel plotters will clear that high bar with ease.

Say it ain't so, Zizou

But for Buffon's spectacular deflection of Zidane's hard header in the first period of extra time, it would have been a different story.

That story, the narrative of the 2006 World Cup, was until that point looking to be the saga of the French No. 10's glorious exit from international soccer. But no. Somehow, Buffon got his fingers on the ball and tipped it over, and minutes later came The Head-butt. Zidane's exit turned out to be a tad less than glorious.

I don't quite believe FIFA's denial of having reviewed the play with video, but that's that. The bottom line is that Zizou let himself be suckered into retaliating. He had a history of responding to verbal provocation. Not that it's a sporting thing to do, but a smart, cynical opposing player in a Winner Take All game might be expected to see if he could push such a player's button at a key time.

The dogged Italian defense, spectacularly tenacious (if occasionally thuggish), clever and opportunistic in coming forward at key times, was not quite as interesting a story as the ascension into heaven of Zidane. But that's the Story of the World Cup we're left with. Hats off to the Azzurri. And Zizou still rocks.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Aspirational" terror follies

No weapons or explosives were found when FBI agents raided a warehouse where the men lived and trained, with one senior official describing their plans as "aspirational" rather than "operational."—The Telegraph

From the Miami New Times, a funny/sad piece on the Sears Tower "terrorists" the feds nabbed/entrapped in Miami JUST coincidentally when the national media was in town to cover the Heat's NBA title. Here's what happened at the press conference:

At 11:30 a.m., about 30 minutes after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finished his news conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta took the stage in Miami. Behind him stood two dozen local and federal officials, including Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Police Chief John Timoney, and Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne. A slender man with thinning brown hair and Dumbo-like ears, Acosta addressed the media with a drawl that implied authority. The seven Miami men, Acosta said, hoped that their attacks would be — in their words — "just as good or greater than 9/11."

Of course, according to the eleven-page indictment distributed at the news conference, the group didn't have any weapons or explosives. And their al Qaeda contact — to whom they allegedly pledged allegiance and asked for $50,000 in funding — was in fact a federal informant.

These guys weren't even being scouted for the al Qaeda farm league. But many of the reporters just didn't seem to get it.

"Was al Qaeda on its way to responding? What kind of feedback did they get?" a female reporter asked, successfully screaming over her colleagues.

"I'm sorry — I don't understand," Acosta replied.

"They asked for money. They asked for weapons. What kind of feedback did they get from al Qaeda?"

Acosta replied that, uh, well, no, al Qaeda was never actually contacted.

"How did they get the $50,000 [from al Qaeda]?" another female reporter queried.

"I'm sorry?" Acosta replied, again baffled by the question.

"You mentioned $50,000," the reporter said.

Acosta replied again that, uh, well, no, al Qaeda was never actually contacted.

Absurd, of course, but sad, really — the clear-cut and incredibly clumsy entrapment notwithstanding, I won't be surprised to see the "Liberty Seven" pay a huge price for letting themselves be talked into a big scheme by an FBI agent.

And of course, irony of ironies, this is MIAMI, where you can't throw a rock without hitting a different sort of terrorist....

No reasonable person doubts that Miami is the terrorist capital of North America. But its resident and reigning terrorists are not indigent black dreamers dependent on helpful federal agents to furnish them with boots and rental cars to case their purported targets. The real terrorists in Miami are well armed and well heeled Cuban exiles, responsible for hundreds of murderous provocations over the last four decades, and endorsed by every president, Republican and Democrat alike over that time. Orlando Bosch, one of the principals involved in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner with 73 innocent civilians aboard, including Cuba’s entire Olympic fencing team lives openly in Miami after receiving a presidential pardon from the first President George Bush.

Hundreds of other local residents are active participants in dozens of organizations which make up the logistic, financial and political sinews of these officially tolerated terrorist networks. And make no mistake about it, these networks are officially tolerated because their targets are Cuban civilians, leftish dissenters within the Cuban American community and the occasional outsourced mercenary gig. Luis Carilles Posada, who the FBI has also linked to the deadly bombing of the Cuban airliner, also boasts of having a hand in the Washington DC assassinations of former Chilean ambassador to the US and his American co-worker.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Rolling the dice ... with our lives

Tom Englehardt, assessing Stephen F. Cohen's The New American Cold War, discusses the gambler's—and more important, looter's—mentality behind Dubya-era America's amazingly reckless adventures.

Bush foreign policy, such as it is, Englehardt argues (convincingly), is basically a series of efforts to destabilize crucial regions, to" put the strategically most significant and contested regions of the planet 'in play' ... always assuming in every destabilization situation that the chips would fall on their side of the gaming table, and that, if worse came to worse, even chaos would turn out to be to their benefit."

As bad as this is (only bad enough to kill us all), the Bush administration's biggest "bet"—that global warming might not be as bad as they say (0r at any rate we'll be long gone by then)—makes its risky military posturing look trivial.

Before the eyes of much of humanity, between November 2001 and March 2003, the Bush administration decided to demonstrate its singular strength by playing its destabilization trump card and setting in motion the vaunted military power of the United States. To the amazement of almost all, that military, destructive as it proved to be, was stopped in its tracks by two of the less militarily impressive "powers" on this planet -- Afghanistan and Iraq.

Before all eyes, including those of George, Dick, Don, Paul, Stephen, Condi, and their comrades, we visibly grew weaker. While the Bush administration was coveting what the Russians called their "near abroad" -- all those former SSRs around its rim -- and were eagerly peeling them away with "orange," "rose," and "tulip" revolutions, its own "near abroad" (what we used to like to call our Latin "backyard") was peeling away of its own accord, without the aid of a hostile superpower. This would once have been inconceivable, as would another reality -- up-and-coming economic powers like China and India traveling to that same "backyard" looking for energy deals. And yet a destabilized planet invariably means a planet of opportunity for someone.

In fact, Iraq proved such a black hole, so destabilizing for the Bush administration itself that its officials managed to look the other way while China emerged as an organizing power and economic magnet in Asia (a process from which the U.S. was increasingly excluded) and Russian energy reserves gave Putin and pals a new lease on life. Now, administration officials find themselves stunned by the results, which are not likely to be ameliorated by floating a bunch of aircraft-carrier task forces menacingly in the western Pacific.

In one of his recent commentaries, historian Immanuel Wallerstein pointed out that the "American Century," proclaimed by Time and Life Magazine owner Henry Luce in 1943, lasted far less than the expected hundred years. Now, the question -- and except for a few "declinist" scholars like Wallerstein, it would have been an unimaginable one as recently as 2003 -- is: "Whose century is the twenty-first century?" His grim answer: It will be the century of "multi-polar anarchy and wild economic fluctuations."

If you think about it, the single greatest destabilizing gamble this administration has taken has also been the least commented upon. A couple of years back "global warming" was largely a back-page story about tribal peoples having their habitats melted in the far north or finding their islands in danger of flooding somewhere in the distant Pacific. It was all ice all the time and if you didn't live near a glacier or somewhere in the tundra, it didn't have much to do with you -- and certainly nothing whatsoever to do with those nasty hurricanes that seemed to be increasing in strength in the Atlantic as were typhoons in the Pacific.

Now, global warming is front-page stuff and you don't have to go far to find it. Alaska isn't just melting any more, we are. Lately, a plethora of major stories and prime-time TV news reports have regularly talked not about the north, but about the planet "running a slight fever from greenhouse gases," or undergoing unexpectedly "abrupt" climate change, or of the U.S. itself having its warmest years in its history -- something reflected even in local headlines (For N. Texas, it's warmest year on record). And yet in our media the Bush administration still largely gets a free pass on the subject. No major cover stories are yet taking on the ultimate destabilization gamble of this administration, the fact that they are playing not just with the fate of this or that superpower or set of minor powers, but with that of the human race itself.

The willingness of the President and his officials to bet the store on the possibility that global warming doesn't exist, or won't hit as ferociously as expected, or soon enough to affect them, or will be solved by some future quick-fix still isn't thought of as real front-page news. In other words, their maddest gamble of all, next to which the destabilization of Iran or Russia dwindles to nothing, receives little attention. And yet, based on their track record, we know just what they are going to do -- throw those dice again.

For George W. Bush and his top officials, taking the long-term heat on this probably isn't really an issue. They have the mentality not just of gamblers but of looters and in a couple of years, if worse comes to worse, they can head for Crawford or Wyoming or estates and ranches elsewhere to hunt fowl and drink mai tais. It's the rest of us, and especially our children and grandchildren, who will still be here on this destabilized, energy-hungry planet without an air conditioner in sight.