Saturday, May 29, 2010

As an aid fleet approaches Gaza, Israel vows to block it. Laila el-Haddad writes movingly about what Gaza suffers under the siege, the Weisglass "diet" that is simultaneously supposed to make non-cooperation intolerable for Palestinians, but not be a humanitarian disaster. As The Wall Street Journal puts it, "Israel Prepares to Fend Off Ships Heading to Gaza." Yes, "the only democracy in the Middle East" is also the only country that has to "fend off" humanitarian aid. Results: 70% of the population survives on under a dollar a day, and 65% of babies are anemic. As this page points out, Gaza has in fact been blockaded since 1967.

In Israeli media, working with the flotilla tars MK Hanin Zuabi as associated with Hamas. This is a convenient way to discredit anyone working for the relief of Gaza.

Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, a union of Palestinian-Israeli community organizations, on the other hand, was arrested without charge four weeks ago and tortured. Thursday, he was indicted for recruiting for Hizballah and providing information on military facilities, based on information obtained under the torture. Torture of Israel's prisoners has been illegal since 1999, but is not prosecuted, and continues apace. Makhoul's lawyers have been denied access to his medical reports.

Makhoul has supported the international boycott of Israel and Amnesty says the charges are "pure harassment" of a political dissident.

Hatoyama reneges on moving the Futenma air base off Okinawa; his poll numbers have fallen to twenty percent. I've seen it suggested that this decision has to do with South Korea's determination that the Cheonam was indeed sunk by a North Korean torpedo, but think it reflects what he wanted to do anyway.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nukes, oil, and black holes.

From SMBIVA, a brief video about the legal black hole that is Bagram.

This post has way more about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico than I've seen in any of the news stories I've read.

You'll have heard by now about Israel's offer to give nukes to apartheid-era South Africa.

Did you also know Israel at one point considered nuclear terrorism against the Soviet Union? I didn't, but Jonathan Schwarz and Seymour Hersh did:
Moshe Dayan's mission in late 1967 and early 1968 was to convince his fellow cabinet members that if the Soviets could be persuaded that the Israeli threat was credible, they might decide that there was no Middle East war worth fighting... when Israel developed its first bomb in a suit case, Moscow would be told -- and reminded that there was no way to stop Mossad from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border by automobile or into a Soviet port by boat.

Friday, May 21, 2010

News of Yesterday

Inspired by the Danish far right, non-Muslims in America united yesterday to make a hated minority even more uncomfortable, in the name of free speech. For a brilliant overview of why "free speech" isn't an excuse for Jyllands-Posten, see Lawrence of Cyberia. The "Lets Draw Mohammed" Facebook page crows that it's about free speech and not anti-Muslim, and demonstrates this even-handedness by choosing as its user avatar the J-P picture with Mohammed's turban replaced with a lit bomb. Many of the submissions are worse.

People will ask you to compare this with the "Piss Christ" photograph, a shot of a crucifix standing in a jar of urine, and saw that if one is acceptable, then so is the other. To my mind, an analysis failing to take into account surrounding social dynamics is useless. "Piss Christ" offended the beliefs of the dominant religion in the US in the name of freedom of speech, whereas the Mohammed cartoons were commissioned by Danish bigots to deliberately offend an embattled minority. The Facebook cartoons piggyback on this effort. There seem to be a few different groups of people involved:
  1. Hardcore racists. They want to offend Muslims, who they may believe to all be terrorists.
  2. The totally clueless. They believe they are fighting terrorists, and don't realize or don't care that they offend a billion other people.
  3. People who believe that they are defending free speech. They mistakenly believe that someone is actually trying to curtail their ability to draw things. They fail to distinguish between "can't" and "shouldn't," which is strange because they surely have other rights that they fail to exercise. Just because I have the legal right to draw Mohammed, or protest at a soldier's funeral with a sign saying "Thank God for dead soldiers," it doesn't make it the right thing to do. Yet the existence of a "cultural" enemy leads them to piss people off to defend a right they aren't in danger of losing.
The person running the page seems to see it as a new front in the War on Terror: "Al Qa'eda has put a $50,000 price tag on the heads of ANYONE caught drawing pictures of Muhammad, lets see how high we can get the bounty!" Surely al-Qa'ida will take especial interest in the brave people circulating drawings on the Internet.

The results are things like; e.g., Pakistan temporarily banning Facebook.

Freedom marches on.

On the anti-Muslim, Rima Fakih, a Michigan woman of Lebanese descent, has won Miss USA, giving Americans an opportunity to more vividly get their crazy on. Hero-scholar for Western Civilization Daniel Pipes believes there's an insidious kind of affirmative action going on recently, allowing Muslim women to win American beauty pageants. Debbie Schlussel informs us that Hamas and Hizballah have been backing her... why? Perhaps to infiltrate the American psyche with her shapely breasts. This seems to be the depth of the theory, although Schlussel claims several relatives and backers of Fakih are associated with Hizballah. Yes, Donald Trump is in cahoots with them as well.

Some people are happy with the victory, seeing it as representing a normalization and acceptance of the existence of Arab-Americans. Assimilation is not always a good thing (to understate), and I have trouble seeing immigrants cheering on the commodification of their own daughters, in the American fashion, as progress.

Also, there's this awesome video of Dan Fanelli the guy who's running against Alan Grayson in Florida. His campaign strategy, in the words of the page I found the video on: XTREME RACISM.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thailand in quotes:
  • An overnight curfew was initially imposed on Bangkok, but later extended to 24 provinces, with security forces authorized to shoot looters and arsonists.
  • A news blackout was imposed, with local TV running programs of dancing and flag-waving Thais, periodically interrupting them for government statements.
  • Troops in armored vehicles and firing semi-automatic weapons advanced on the protesters' camp on Wednesday morning, breaking through the protesters' three-meter-high (10 feet) barricades of tires and bamboo.
  • "I am confident and determined to end the problems and return the country to peace and order once again," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a televised address on Wednesday night.
  • "The situation is worse than expected now and it's very difficult to stop," said Kavee Chukitsakem, head of research at Kasikorn Securities. "After the red shirt leaders surrendered, things were out of control. It's like insects flying around from one place to another, causing irritation. We don't know who they are and why they are doing this."
So far seventy irritating insects have been successfully squashed, with another two thousand injured, their irresponsible behavior totally inexplicable.
  • Analysts said some investors bought on news the military had moved in to disperse protesters who have paralyzed a central commercial district for more than six weeks.
  • "For investors, it is going to take years to bring credibility back to the country. The market fundamentals are just not the same any more," said Kongkiat Opaswongkarn, head of Asia Plus Securities.
Watch for the stock market to rebound once the protesters have been completely crushed.

For the other side, read the comments, which seem to reflect disparity in internet access and English language education among Thais. The red shirts are terrorists, dupes, paid off, and need spankings they didn't get as children. My favorite is that anyone who sets fire to private property deserves what's coming to them. Defending the status quo often requires putting a low premium on human life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sure you've seen this, but just in case...
"Russia and China, which have close ties to Iran, joined fellow permanent council members Britain, France and the United States as well as non-member Germany in supporting the sanctions proposal, ignoring a deal that Tehran agreed to a day earlier to try to stave off the penalties." For a moment I was worried that the eminently sensible enrichment deal would somehow preclude the drive to war.

Peter Hart of FAIR, with aid from Chomsky (who seems to pop up here every day), here points out what I did yesterday, but better, highlighting the difference between US media's version of the "international consensus" and the actual positions of most people and countries. Chompers:

To take another illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality, New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino writes that "Iran's intransigence [about nuclear enrichment] appears to be defeating attempts by the rest of the world to curtail Tehran's nuclear ambitions." The rest of the world happens to exclude the large majority of the world: the non-aligned movement, which forcefully endorses Iran's right to enrich Uranium, in accord with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT). But they are not part of the world, since they do not reflexively accept U.S. orders.

We might tarry for a moment to ask whether there is any solution to the U.S./Iran confrontation over nuclear weapons. Here is one idea: (1) Iran should have the right to develop nuclear energy, but not weapons, in accord with the NPT. (2) A nuclear weapons-free zone should be established in the region, including Iran, Israel and U.S. forces deployed there. (3) The U.S. should accept the NPT. (4) The U.S. should end threats against Iran, and turn to diplomacy.

The proposals are not original. These are the preferences of the overwhelming majority of Americans, and also Iranians, in polls by World Public Opinion, which found that Americans and Iranians agree on basic issues. At a forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies when the polls were released a year ago, Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, said the polls showed "the common sense of both the American people and the Iranian people, [who] seem to be able to rise above the rhetoric of their own leaders to find common sense solutions to some of the most crucial questions" facing the two nations, favoring pragmatic, diplomatic solutions to their differences. The results suggest that if the U.S. and Iran were functioning democratic societies, this very dangerous confrontation could probably be resolved peaceably.

This text is in fact from 2008, but could be written now with no amendment. Strong echoes of Iraq... "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

So what's the plan for Iran? Apparently there are about 70,000 soldiers in Afghanistan but there will be soon be something like 250,000 DoD outside contractors there, in line with the ideology of privatization in general and further removing "our troops" and mercenaries from oversight. A sane observer might note that the US can't pay for a war, but where there's a will, there's a way. We've overthrown Iran's government before. Our politicians watched the Green Revolution and salivated last year, and our publicly touted new military strategy relies on training the natives of the countries we need to control to quell unrest, a sort of delegation of war. Are these things connected?

I should also link Richard Estes on the planned reconfiguration of NATO. That sort of entry (and some of the comments to it) are the exact sort of thing I wish I could do here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Have Turkey and Brazil temporarily prevented a US war on Iran? The deal involves shipping low-enriched uranium to Turkey to be exchanged for 20%-enriched uranium from Europe.

The WaPo hews disgustingly to the US line; in an article titled "Iran creates illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations," the journo admits "The best hope for U.S. officials is Iranian intransigence... Iran now must present a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna explaining the details of the transaction, which U.S. officials privately hope will begin the process of unraveling it." Well isn't that we all hope for? Heaven forbid the US failed to escalate sanctions or start a war.

Would Obama accept such a thing? "Obama administration officials reacted coolly[.]"

Chomsky denied entry to Israel/OPT. He was to speak at Bir Zeit University.
The New York Times is portraying old cold warrior Robert Gates as a military budget-cutting maverick today, fighting against Congressional corruption and the bloated defense corporations for the sake of the common American! He bravely fends off irate calls from the Capitol and K Street! F-22s have been cancelled, and threatening noises made about aircraft carriers and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. What's his game? It is true that an increasingly large proportion of US imperial murder is conducted via unmanned, sky-borne death machine. Maybe this is a practical move.

The NYT's concern with military cost-cutting extends to the health care of retirees: "Active-duty military and their families rightly do not pay for health care. But what retirees pay — $460 annually per family — has not risen in 15 years. Mr. Gates said that many retirees earn full-time salaries on top of their military retirement pay and could get coverage through their employer. We owe our fighting forces excellent care, but this is a time when everyone must share the burden." As we know, NYT editorialists are the type of people who like to share burdens.

USAID has been paying to build the Apartheid road in Israel and the Occupied territories, despite US promises six years earlier not to.

Jonathan Cook says, with obvious irony, "The US agency’s involvement in building a segregated West Bank road infrastructure would run counter to Washington’s oft-stated goal, including as it launched 'proximity talks' last week, to establish a viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. "

Mr Khalilieh said the PA was being effectively bullied into conceding the road infrastructure wanted by Israel.

"What happens is that USAid presents a package deal of donations for infrastructure projects in the West Bank and the Palestinians are faced with a choice of take it or leave it. That way the PA is cornered into accepting roads it does not want."

He said some roads were also being approved because of a lack of oversight by the PA. An inter-ministerial committee to vet proposed roads to ensure they did not contribute to the Israeli plan had been inactive since 2006, he said, following the split between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian elections.

The Palestinian Authority is now scrambling to look like it's paying attention.

"Tropical" diseases are apparently also common in poor (especially minority) communities in the US, and apparently could be cheaply dealt with: "Mass distributions could control or eliminate most neglected tropical diseases from the Caribbean at an estimated cost of $20 million per year for five years." The extent of the problem in the US is not fully known. Meanwhile, the war on AIDS is falling apart. Donors are focusing their money on cheaper diseases to treat.

Japanese people are not generally thrilled with the American bases, which they may associate with approximately 200,000 accidents and crimes involving U.S. soldiers, in which 1,076 Japanese civilians have died since 1952. Okinawans are anxious to remove one of several bases, Futenma Air Force Base, from their island, which they associate with fatal car crashes and rapes, but prime minister Yukio Hatayama is having trouble living up to his promises to do so. 59% of Japanese voters say he should resign if he can't work it out. (If you want to see some real ugly Americans, look at the comments on that one.) The beginning of this interview with Chalmers Johnson has a little more background on the bases in Okinawa. "After research, you discover that the rate of sexually violent crimes committed by our troops in Okinawa leading to court-martial is two per month!"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jeremy Scahill has obtained a tape of a speech Erik Prince gave (and demanded it not be recorded) detailing Blackwater's plans.

Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot has a message for Palestinians on Nakba Day: don't give up on the right of return.

While we're on Palestine, I recently finished a pretty long article by Gabriel Ash of Jews sans frontieres on boycott, divestment, and sanctions, spelling out in detail a few things I'd long felt but couldn't have pieced together as coherently. Putting aside that boycotting Israel is morally the right thing to do, he places Israeli state violence in the context of the development of neoconservative dogma and neoliberal economic hegemony.

In broad strokes, the elite in Europe and the US, as usual, want to destroy the welfare state and accrue maximum profits to themselves. (Beautiful description of the welfare state: "After WWII, the specter that used to haunt Europe was invited to sit at the table and given a small plate in return for no longer moving furniture at night.") To propose doing this straight out is a dangerous tactical mistake, but to cut back on services and civil liberties in the context of a war on terror/immigrants/Muslims is much easier. These useful fictions are propped up by acceptance of Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis. This in turn is a liberalized instance of one of the Nazi political philosopher Carl Schmitt's theories, the essentiality for a ruler to have an existential enemy in order to mobilize the state against and create a "state of exception" in which normal parliamentary procedures can be abrogated and power grasped directly. To advocate a general hatred of Muslims is too reactionary a view to gain mainstream acceptance, but to voice concern that these people, being ever so different, can be absorbed into and coexist outside of liberal democracy allows one to capitalize on racist fears under the cover of humanist language.

Thus besides the profit that accrues from business relations with Israel and the original appeal to the British of a sort of "Western" advance base against the barbarian hordes of Asia, the continued European defense of the indefensible and collaboration with the siege is part of a wider ideological agreement. This is a continuation of a similar strategy that the capitalist elite used in the early twentieth century, when eastern European Jews were supposedly the Trojan horse bringing Bolshevism to the West.

I had a number of further things I wanted to talk about, but this window has been open for a while, so I should just post.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Inaugural post

I hope to use this blog to improve my thinking and my writing, and to do more than function as a link repository for things I read; that may be harder than it sounds. It may turn out that reading my blogroll will be more efficient that coming here. We'll see.

The Obama administration is defending the Bush administration today, as it has so often in the past, arguing that the people who arranged for the rendition and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar do not need to be held to account. I wish this were surprising.

Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution has just seen Food, Inc.: "[I]t definitely reinforced my impression that factory meat farms are basically concentration camps where the Nazis eat the prisoners." The comments are filled with additional horror about the way what we eat is produced.

lenin has a post on the Tory–LibDem coalition and what it means for British workers. Hint: massive cut in education, welfare, and transportation. NHS, however, is safe for now. It seems Trident will survive, despite the LibDems' former demands, but elections for Parliament will now come every five years, rather than at the whim of the Prime Minister. Alternative Vote (AV), which is far weaker than proportional representation, may be implemented in the future. UK involvement in the war in Afghanistan will continue, as will privatization. Workfare schemes will probably be implemented, without minimum wage or protections for those hounded into work. The lie that the Liberal Democrats are a "progressive" party should at least be squashed for now, and voters who voted LibDem to keep out the Tories will be furious. The best possible thing would probably be for this government to fall or fracture as soon as possible, but there's no guarantee that Labour is going to improve any as a party in opposition. I can imagine something similar happening to the "ratchet effect" in US politics, where whenever the Democrats don't win they use it as an argument that they need to move further right. There is popular anger, but the labor movement is nowhere near as strong as it was twenty years ago and the near future looks grim.

In Thailand, the military has finally been set on the red-shirt protesters again, following a period without shooting after the last crackdown, killing eight and wounding over one hundred. The major-general advising the protestors, Khattiya Sawasdipol, was shot in the head by a sniper (but apparently not killed), forecasting the government's future intentions for those who fail to comply. Presumably Abhisit won't be made to look ineffectual any longer. The commercial district where the protesters have been camped out is under siege, with electricity cut. Emergency law has been declared in seventeen provinces.

Chomsky has a new book coming out soon. Here's an interview with some fairly basic questions.

Here's an event I never heard about. Eleven days after the Kent State shootings, and forty years ago today, two men were shot and killed at Jackson State University, and twelve others injured, by police during a protest. Phillip Gibbs was a 21-year-old law student, married with an eleven-month-old child. James Green was a seventeen-year-old high school student, just passing through. Jackson State is a historically black school, and relatedly, I'd never heard of this massacre until now.

From commenter Emma at ATR, I've just heard learned about the Orangeburg massacre: "What about the Orangeburg massacre at South Carolina State, which preceded Kent State by several months. Three students murdered by local police firing into a crowd of peaceful protestors, a pregnant person beaten until her baby died, and 31 injured. It was pretty much ignored by the national media at the time and I guess it still is."

I've been reading for a few hours now, and am tired, but I'm not nearly done.