Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Empire Building, Neocon Style
Excerpts from Harold Meyerson's column in the Post: Bush's Next Preemptive Strike
George W. Bush is focusing now on his legacy. Duck. Run. Hide.
Some of his legacy-building, I'll allow, is commendable, if overdue -- most particularly, his efforts to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he ignored for seven long years. But the linchpin of Bush's legacy, it appears, is to make his Iraq policy a permanent fixture of American statecraft.
On Monday, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a declaration pledging that their governments would put in place a long-term political and security pact sometime next year. "The shape and size of any long-term, or longer than 2008, U.S. presence in Iraq will be a key matter for negotiation between the two parties, Iraq and the United States," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House official in charge of Iraq war matters, said at the briefing unveiling the agreement.
What Bush will almost surely be pushing for is permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, enshrined in a pact he can sign a few months before he leaves office. And here, as they used to say, is the beauty part: As far as Bush is concerned, he doesn't have to seek congressional ratification for such an enduring commitment of American force, treasure and lives.
"We don't anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress," Lute said. The administration is looking to sign a status-of-forces agreement, which requires Senate ratification if it's classified as a treaty but not if it's classified as an executive agreement. One need not be able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx to guess which of those classifications the Bush White House will go for.
But if Bush tries to lock the next president into permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, he may also be locking in a Democrat as the next president. Ironically, just when events on the ground in Iraq aren't looking as disastrous as they did six months ago, Bush's efforts to make the U.S. presence permanent would drape the necks of the Republican presidential and congressional candidates with one large, squawking albatross.
Is the president personally going to profit from this after his term is over ? Don't ask.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Hate, Love: Four-letter Words
Immigrants who are making this country their home in large numbers are not blameless either. Some of them readily adopt long-standing fallacies about other communities.
The noose (Image)
- FROM the 1880s to the 1960s, at least 4,700 men and women were lynched in this country. The noose remains a terrifying symbol, and continues to be used by racists to intimidate African-Americans (who made up more than 70 percent of lynching victims).
Die Kunst der Fugue, BWV 1080 (The Art of the Fugue)
Musica Antiqua Köln
Saturday, November 24, 2007
A Fresh Wind Down Under
- Mr Howard, who had been bidding for a fifth term in office, conceded the national election and accepted it was "very likely" he would also be defeated in his Bennelong constituency.
- Mr Howard had found himself on the wrong side of public opinion on the Kyoto protocol and the war in Iraq, our correspondent said. Many people also seemed to be simply tired of Mr Howard after 11 years of his rule.
"Down came a jumbuck to dri-ink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he stuffed that jumbuck in his tucker-bag
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me"
--From Australian National Song "Waltzing Matilda", 'Banjo' (A.B.) Patterson, c. 1890
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Heading toward 5th year of the war in Iraq
The number of casualties has dropped. Fewer soldiers and Iraqis are losing their lives and limbs. That is reason to rejoice.
I feel that it is appropriate to repeat what I wrote last year:
- Tomorrow, as Americans gather to celebrate this great holiday, there will be many homes in which the shadow of the war in Iraq will be present. Families will think of their loved ones serving in Iraq; some will try to cope with the memories of the dead, and others think of caring for the injured.
- Those of us who have not been directly affected by the war must not forget them and the hundreds of thousands of hapless Iraqis caught in the turmoil.
|Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle|
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is comfortably free of the strident religious and/or militaristic overtones that give the other holidays their soft emanations of uneasiness.
At Christmas, for instance, we are required to deal with the divinity of Jesus -- I know some of you folks have made up your minds about that one, but not me -- and on the Fourth of July we must wrestle with the question of whether all those simulated aerial bombardments represent the most useful form of nationalism available.
At Thanksgiving, all we have to worry about is whether we can wholeheartedly support (a) roasted turkey, (b) friends and (c) gratitude. My opinions on these matters are unambiguous; I am in favor of them all. I understand that there's another story attached to Thanksgiving, all about a meal that may not have happened at all and certainly didn't happen on the fourth Thursday of November. (Check the New England weather reports. Does it sound like a good day for alfresco dining?)
Thanksgiving provides a formal context in which to consider the instances of kindness that have enlightened our lives, the moments of grace that have gotten us through when all seemed lost. These are fine and sentimental subjects for contemplation.
First, there are the public personalities, artists and entertainers and philosophers, who have been there when they were needed, whether they knew it or not. Let us think kind thoughts about Nancy Pelosi and Helen Mirren, Barbara Lee and Frank Gore, Al Gore and David Milch, David Simon and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tom Stoppard and Keith Olbermann, Jennifer Egan and Peter Carey, Van Morrison and Clarence Fountain, Don Asmussen and Judith Martin, Duncan Black and Joshua Micah Marshall, Dan Savage and Masi Oka -- this is my partial list; feel free to create your own.
And the teachers, the men and women who took the time to fire a passion for the abstract, to give us each a visceral sense of the continuity of history and the adventure of the future. Our society seems determined to denigrate its teachers -- at its peril, and at ours. This is their day as well.
Even closer. Companions. We all learned about good sex from somebody, and that person deserves a moment. Somebody taught us some hard lesson of life, told us something for our own good, and that willingness to risk conflict for friendship is worth a pause this day. And somebody sat with us through one long night, and listened to our crazy talk and turned it toward sanity; that person has earned this moment too.
And a moment for old friends now estranged, victims of the flux of alliances and changing perceptions. There was something there once, and that something is worth honoring as well.
Our parents, of course, and our children; our grandparents and our grandchildren. We are caught in the dance of life with them and, however tedious that dance can sometimes seem, it is the music of our lives. To deny it is to deny our heritage and our legacy.
And thanks, too, for all the past Thanksgivings, and for all the people we shared them with. Thanks for the time the turkey fell on the floor during the carving process; for the time Uncle Benny was persuaded to sing "Peg o' My Heart"; for the time two strangers fell in love, and two lovers fell asleep, in front of the fire, even before the pumpkin pie.
And the final bead on the string is for this very Thanksgiving, this particular Thursday, and the people with whom we will be sharing it. Whoever they are and whatever the circumstances that have brought us together, we will today be celebrating with them the gift of life and the persistence of charity in a world that seems bent on ending one and denying the other. Thanks. A lot.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Tolls of War: PTSD and Blake Miller, the Marlboro Man
Am I to blame for his Private War? - Luis Sinco
- Sometimes in the night, I hear a grenade launcher belching rounds. Or maybe it's just Miller gunning his Harley. He's roaring over Foggy Mountain, the wind blowing by, cleansing his thoughts. Blake, son, I know it sounds crazy, but my mind always takes me back to that distant rooftop in Falluja, where I snapped your picture. I think of that sunrise, bright and warm, and how lucky we were to see it.
Desertion Rate Climbs
WASHINGTON - Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Religious Fundamentalists - Islamic and Christian
Our Friends, the Saudis
"An appeal court in Saudi Arabia has doubled the number of lashes and added a jail sentence as punishment for a woman who was gang-raped."
The victim was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack.
When she appealed, the judges said she had been attempting to use the media to influence them. The attackers' sentences - originally of up to five years - were doubled.But the victim was also punished for violating Saudi Arabia's laws on segregation that forbid unrelated men and women from associating with each other. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man.
Fundos Ascendant in Egypt
- Rights groups have criticised Egypt for forcing converts from Islam and members of some minority faiths to lie about their true beliefs in official papers.
- Egyptians over 16 must carry ID cards showing religious affiliation. Muslim, Christian and Jew are the only choices.
In Iran, the Mullahs Ban a Garcia Marquez Novel
The latest novel by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez has been banned in Iran - but only after censors noticed its title had been sanitised.
The book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was published in Farsi as Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts.
The first edition of 5,000 had sold out before the authorities realised.
The novel tells the story of a man who wants to mark his 90th birthday by sleeping with a 14-year-old virgin in a brothel and ends up falling in love.
Iran's culture ministry said a "bureaucratic error" had led to permission being granted for the book's publication, the Fars news agency reported. The official responsible had been sacked, Fars said.
The book sold out within three weeks of arriving in Iranian bookshops.
But the book angered religious conservatives who drew the authorities' attention to its original title and content.
"Bigotry is the sacred disease."
Friday, November 16, 2007
John McCain's Shameful Descent
- Rhymes with Front Runner
- "That's an excellent question" normally doesn't make the list of utterances that can get a candidate in trouble on the campaign trail. But this presidential campaign isn't what anyone would call normal.
- John McCain gave that anodyne response Monday at a "town hall" event in South Carolina when an elegant woman, of patrician bearing, posed this question about a possible Democratic nominee: "How do we beat the [expletive]?"
|The expletive in question is a highly derogatory word used by rappers to describe the scantily clad women who gyrate in the background of racy music videos. It's the word that former first lady Barbara Bush was hinting at when someone asked her opinion of Geraldine Ferraro and she replied, "I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."|
Blackwater USA and the Brothers Krongard
O Brother, Who Art Thou?
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, November 15, 2007; A02
"I am not my brother's keeper," Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the State Department's inspector general, testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday.
As Cookie surely must know, that excuse hasn't worked since Genesis. But it was a fitting contribution to the modern-day Cain-and-Abel tale that unfolded before lawmakers' eyes in the Rayburn Building. In this case, the players weren't Cain and Abel, but Cookie and his brother Buzzy. Biblical scholars believe the first fratricide was committed with an ass's jawbone, but the weapon in this case was a uniquely Washington cudgel: the conflict of interest.Cookie, under fire for allegedly quashing probes of the infamous Blackwater security contractor, began his testimony by angrily denying the "ugly rumors" that his brother, former CIA official Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, is on Blackwater's advisory board. But during a recess, Cookie called Buzzy and learned that -- gulp -- the ugly rumors are true: His brother is on the board.
When the lawmakers returned, Cookie revised and extended his testimony. "I had not been aware of that," Cookie told the congressmen. "I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater."
Thursday, November 15, 2007
A Man, his Doll, and a Town with a Big Heart
Photo Credit: Jeff Vespa- Yahoo.com
Monday, November 12, 2007
The Devil and Alaska's Republican Legislators
The Washington Post (Karl Vick)
- "On another tape, Pete Kott, the former Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, crowed as he described beating back a tax bill opposed by oil companies. 'I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie," Kott said. "Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil'."
- Officially, the scandal has remained confined to Juneau, where Alaska lawmakers had grown so accustomed to operating under the presumption of impropriety that several of them embroidered ball caps with the letters CBC, for "Corrupt Bastards Club." (An Anchorage coffeehouse now offers Corrupt Bastards Brew.) But with signs that the investigation is brushing against Alaska's lone congressman, Don Young (R), and its longtime and venerated senator Ted Stevens (R), residents of the Last Frontier are experiencing a rare spasm of soul-searching.
This is going to enliven many cocktail parties in Washington, DC, and elsewhere:
The probe has delivered low humor as well as bad behavior. In one exchange the FBI captured by wiretap, Allen handed a sexual potency pill and a sleeping pill to Kott -- who later phoned, confused and upset, after mixing them up.
"Sometimes you try to come up with an exaggeration to make a point," said Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat. "It's hard to do that here."
Ah, the travails of the Grand Old Party!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Televangelists Facing Scrutiny
Excerpts from CBS46.com News Atlanta, Nov.6, 2007
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent letters Monday asking media-oriented ministers around the country to provide documents detailing their finances by Dec. 6.
They include Joyce Meyer, one of America's wealthiest and most powerful TV preachers who has built a $124-million-a-year empire headquartered in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton.
A 2003 series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed her lavish lifestyle and blunt fundraising pitches.
"I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Grassley said in a statement.
"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls-Royces.
"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."
Grassley's letter asked Meyer to provide his staff with documents detailing the finances of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, including the religious group's compensation to Meyer, her husband and other family members, as well as an accounting of their housing allowances, gifts and credit card statements for the last several years.
Among other things, the letter asked for a "detailed accounting" of all her and her husband's expense-account items, including clothing and cosmetic surgery, information about any overseas bank accounts and deposits, and the tax-exempt purpose of items at her ministry's headquarters, such as a $23,000 marble-topped commode, a $30,000 conference table and an $11,219 French clock.
Federal law grants churches tax-exempt status and excludes them from reporting requirements, but prohibits their leaders and founders from dipping into the organizations' accounts for their own personal use. Expenses of any tax-exempt organization are supposed to further the cause or goals of that entity.
Grassley's staff and other ministry watchdogs said that media-oriented ministries, once known simply as televangelists, are now a billion-dollar industry with little to no oversight from an overburdened IRS.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Kucinich battles to Impeach
- Grounds for Impeachment (American Bar Association)
- ...............the Constitution specifies that high government officials may be impeached for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." What precisely constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors" is, however, uncertain because the courts have not specifically defined or interpreted the term, unlike other constitutional clauses. Treason and bribery are very serious offenses against the state, and most experts agree that offenses encompassed within "high crimes and misdemeanors" are similarly serious. ("Misdemeanors" is a constitutional term that does not have the current meaning of an offense less serious than a felony.)
Honor killings, a phrase that stands above other atrocious ones like "friendly fire" and "collateral damage".
Helena Smith writes in The Guardian about the Turkish film, "Bliss".
Turkey is not the only country where women are shot, stabbed, strangled and maimed in the name of honour. But it is the first one to really tackle the taboo issue up close. The artistic interest comes in the wake of increased coverage of honour killings by the Turkish media and a vast array of government-backed education programs. Suddenly even universities are encouraging students to highlight the issue in doctoral theses.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Three Score Years and Ten, Plus a Few More
--Norman Maclean (Notes written as a possible foreword to Young Men and Fire, December 4, 1985)
What do you mean to do--
Wait,and let Time go by
Till my change come."--"Just so,"
---Thomas Hardy "Waiting Both"
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Pakistan's Uneasy Autumn
Seven justices of the supreme court who defied PCO are reported to be under house arrest. Pro-Musharraf Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar has been named as chief justice.
Musharraf quotes Abe Lincoln
New York Times
Speaking in English, General Musharraf began his discussion of Lincoln as follows:
“I would at this time venture to read out an excerpt of President Abraham Lincoln, specially to all my listeners in the United States. As an idealist, Abraham Lincoln had one consuming passion during that time of crisis, and this was to preserve the Union… towards that end, he broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary power, he trampled individual liberties. His justification was necessity and explaining his sweeping violation of Constitutional limits he wrote in a letter in 1864, and I quote, ‘My oath to preserve the Constitution imposed on me the duty of preserving by every indispensable means that government, that Nation of which the Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the Nation and yet preserve the Constitution?’”
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Season of Falling Leaves
It was while researching the word patjhar that I found Qurratulain Hyder and her book of short stories Patjhar ki Awaaz -- Sound of Autumn (Falling Leaves) which won India's Sahitya Akademi award in 1967. Wonderful stories. Qurratulain Hyder died on August 21, 2007, at the age of 81.
Azra Raza's tribute to Qurratulain Hyder in the August 27th issue of 3quarksdaily is a must read for those who want to pursue writings of the great author.
The winds that blow--
Ask them, which leaf of the tree
Will be next to go !
--Soseki (translated by Harold Henderson)
Images of Fall
Friday, November 02, 2007
The United States and Torture
The True Purpose of Torture
The Guardian - Saturday May 14, 2005
Guantánamo is there to terrorise - both inmates and the wider world
I recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event honouring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world's most famous victim of "rendition", the process by which US officials outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US interrogators detained him and "rendered" him to Syria, where he was held for 10 months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.
Arar was being honoured for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organisation. The audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were unable even to mention the honoured guest by name, as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were right: the tenuous "evidence" - later discredited - that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?
In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, "not a single person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so." Fear of being the next Maher Arar.
The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: you are being watched, your neighbour may be a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear on to a plane bound for Syria, or into "the deep dark hole that is Guantánamo Bay", to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.
But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the defence department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo - pictures of men in cages, for instance - at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why the Pentagon approved a new book by a former military translator, including the passages about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but prevented him from writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentinians describe as "knowing/not knowing", a vestige of their "dirty war".
'Obviously, intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of unlawful methods," says Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "On the other hand, when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible."
And the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an ACLU court challenge to section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih Hassan, president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor in Michigan, describes this new climate. Membership and attendance are down, donations are way down, board members have resigned - Hassan says his members avoid doing anything that could get their names on lists. One member testified anonymously that he has "stopped speaking out on political and social issues" because he doesn't want to draw attention to himself.
This is torture's true purpose: to terrorise - not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more importantly, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist - the individual prisoner's will and the collective will.
This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: "Perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill-treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualisations obscure the purpose of torture ... The aim of torture is to dehumanise the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities."
Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But there's a problem: no one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool -least of all the people who practise it. Torture "doesn't work. There are better ways to deal with captives," CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate intelligence committee on February 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced "nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques". The army's own interrogation field manual states that force "can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear".
And yet the abuses keep on coming - Uzbekistan as the new hotspot for renditions; the "El Salvador model" imported to Iraq. And the only sensible explanation for torture's persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. "As a way to control them," she replied.
Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to social control, nothing works quite like torture.