Wednesday, October 25, 2006


European Journalists go where no American journalist would dare:
The German intelligence report said US interrogators at the base had beaten a 70-year-old terrorist suspect with rifle butts and that "his injuries meant that he had to be given 20 stitches to the head wound he sustained". The report said the American interrogator responsible "appeared to be proud" of his actions.
Yep, they are talking of torture, folks. Not even water boarding, but plain old fashioned beatings with rifle butts. Something that we didn't need or tolerate when defeating the Japanese and assisting the Europeans in defeating the Russians in WWII, but for some reason everything has changed and we need it now. Nice. And now, other nations are saying that they are allowed to torture because the Americans do it.

American media have heard this charge before. They've even pursued the issue, but only up to a point. I heard an NPR report yesterday on a man in Pakistan who claimed he was tortured in Guantanamo, but I've heard very little from American media regarding bases used around the world, other than they reportedly exist. Perhaps that is why Reporters Sans Frontieres rates us number 53 on their latest ranking of worldwide press freedom.

Polls in England say that the people do not support Blair's poodle humping of Bush's policies. While elsewhere, an estimated 1.6 million Iraqis have fled their country since the war began.

Israel admits to using phosphorous bombs in Lebanon. That's chemical warfare and it's illegal.

In electoral shenanigans, some voting machines in Virginia are cutting off the "long" names of candidates on the summary page. This means that Democratic Senatorial candidate Jim Webb's last name won't appear on the last screen, possibly confusing voters. It's ridiculous to get to this point in an election year and discover the "error".

Friday, October 20, 2006

Oh boy

I wasn't going to blog today. There are too many things to do. I've got a long day at work - 2 shifts at 2 different stores - ahead and the co-signer has an infection and isn't feeling at all well. Still, some things come up and say "Hit me with your rhythm stick" and I must share.

The Raw Story uncovers the truth about the Republican representative on the House Page Board. When she was serving in New Mexico as Secretary of New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, Heather Wilson had a complaint that was filed against her husband removed. The complaint alleged that her husband approached a 16 year old boy for sex. Ms. Wilson initially denied the allegation, then admitted it and ran for Congress (natch!). She now serves also on the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's caucus. Most corrupt Congress, ever. Oh, and lazy, too. Word to Representative: as the NY Times pointed out this week, thanks to databases and the willingness of law enforcement officials to raise revenues by selling their data, it's becoming increasingly difficult to hide criminal records.

Republicans call Democrats pedophile friends (ignoring the hypocrisy) and begin rigging voter registration lists. I love the smell of desperation in the morning.

The Bush Administration moved quickly to snuff out Habeas Corpus for Guantanamo prisoners.

Baghdad residents are only getting 2+ hours of electricity per day. Lowest ever. In other "war" news, Bush took the bait and compared Iraq to Vietnam sending his minions scrambling to explain what he "really" meant. As if anyone really thinks he knew about the Tet offensive...In Britain, Reid admits that the war is fueling terror rather than snuffing it and a British general announces that his troops need to leave Iraq ASAP.

IRS is targeting "revenues" in Second Life and other on line games.

An natural conclusion of the Kelo decision: a developer in Florida is suing a city after being told by officials that they will not use eminent domain to steal land for the developer's proposed project. Just think...if coupled with property rights bills in Oregon (and proposed in Washington state), the developer, if it won it's case, could then offer not to build the project for billions of dollars.

In England, liberalization of cannabis possession has resulted in fewer people using the drug. Prohibition not only doesn't work, but it has the opposite effect. That's something William S. Burroughs used to preach.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Your words are lies, sir

Jon Amato has the transcript and the video of Keith Olbermann's words from last night. Snip:

"One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks," …you told us yesterday… "said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America."

That terrorist, sir, could only hope.

Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.

Habeas Corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The Moral Force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush… they would be "the beginning of the end of America."

And did it even occur to you once sir — somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations of the horrors of 9/11 — that with only a little further shift in this world we now know — just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died —

Did it ever occur to you once, that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future President and a "competent tribunal" of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of "Unlawful Enemy Combatant" for… and convene a Military Commission to try… not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And doubtless, sir, all of them — as always — wrong.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Incompetent President abets N. Korea's nuclear ambitions

If this doesn't put an end to the lie of Clinton being blamed for the current problems with North Korea, then nothing will. Of course, the Bush zealots will dispute the story. There seems to be some truth in the reporting. For instance, why wasn't doctor Kahn (from Pakistan) ever prosecuted for selling nuclear information and materials to Libya and North Korea? Why, as has been previously reported, did the Saudis want Bush to spend more time on Iraq and Iran than on North Korea? We need more investigations and reporting. Given the current level of talk from the president about the grave danger North Korea now is, it seems his administrations lack of competency has led us into a worse space than we originally thought. I await Kindasleazy Rice's statement to the effect of "No one could have foreseen that North Korea would actually test a nuclear device."

Read the article here, excerpt below:

Why would Team Bush pull back our agents from nabbing North Korea’s bomb connection? The answer in two words: Saudi Arabia.

The agent on the line said, “There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis.” Khan is Pakistani, not Saudi, but, nevertheless, the investigation led back to Saudi Arabia. There was no way that the Dr. Strangelove of Pakistan could have found the billions to cook up his nukes within the budget of his poor nation.

We eventually discovered that agents knew the Saudis, who had secretly funded Saddam’s nuclear weapons ambitions in the eighties, apparently moved their bomb-for-Islam money from Iraq to Dr. Khan’s lab in Pakistan after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.

But, said the insider, our agents had to let a hot trail grow cold because he and others “were told to back off the Saudis.” If you can’t follow the money, you can’t investigate. The weapons hunt was spiked.

November surprise

A verdict in Saddam Hussein's case is to be announced on November 5th. Word has it that there is an election being held somewhere on November 7th that this might have an effect on...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

For your Sunday morning kitsch fix

Got fake snake? Check
Got fake Indian Temple? Check
Got famous movie director? Check
Got exotica music? Check
Got 1950s production values? Check
Got enticing choreography? Check
Got dramatic ending? Check
Got nearly naked woman? Check

Via YouTube, a scene from Das Indische Grabmal, aka The Indian Tomb. Click the link and enjoy 3 minutes of fun. Yowza!

Friday, October 13, 2006

More on North Korea

From the International Edition of Newsweek which, apparently, Americans are not mature enough to read and therefore, like sex education, must be kept protected from:
Oct. 16, 2006 issue - On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations."

Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country's access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence. Whatever the truth, I found on a recent trip to Pyongyang that North Korean leaders view the financial sanctions as the cutting edge of a calculated effort by dominant elements in the administration to undercut the Sept. 19 accord, squeeze the Kim Jong Il regime and eventually force its collapse. My conversations made clear that North Korea's missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date "in the future" were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions. In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honor and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington that could ease the financial squeeze. When I warned against a nuclear test, saying that it would only strengthen opponents of negotiations in Washington, several top officials replied that "soft" tactics had not worked and they had nothing to lose.

Yet another example of how warring factions within this administration have sought to undercut each other with regards to North Korean diplomacy (not to mention Iraq policy). Instead of proposing issues to a President (or Vice President) and having him set a direction of policy for a united front (something Republicans seem to do well at when presenting their case for the media), they spend time shooting each other in the foot and stabbing each other in the back. The result? A muddled, incompetent approach that sends mixed signals to our allies and our enemies. The White House has done this often enough that one has to ask, is it any wonder that other countries don't trust our government? This is not, I repeat, NOT to let North Korea off of the hook, but it does bolster a more complete understanding of the complexities of our current position which may offer a better resolution than just saying, "It's ____'s fault."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pet Peeve

"I discovered _____"

While I suppose this has a long history such as "Christopher Columbus discovered the new world", it doesn't make me very happy. It's like scientists who "discover" a new species of primate - a species known about by the locals for eons. The only thing the scientist "discovered" was that it hadn't been observed by trained scientists, cataloged, and dissected yet.

It particularly irks me when someone says that they "discovered" a restaurant or a new band. Are we all so insecure about ourselves that we have to walk around acting like modern day Magellans? When surveys consistently show that a large number of Americans don't believe in the theory of evolution, why do so many of us insist like sounding as if we're the Darwins of The New Pornographers?

I recall hearing someone tell me that they discovered a new food, "Thai food", years ago and I thought, "Boy I'm sure the people from Siam are going to be happy to hear this! Guess those people in Bangkok had no idea that they could eat local peppers - good thing that you went bravely where no one else had gone! You've opened up a whole new age not to mention a new source of sustenance for the starving masses. Rice, what a concept!"

Here's a thought, try not discovering something. Try learning about things. Try eating a little humble pie.

I realize that this is just a language definition issue and I'm being a purist about the word, hence it is my pet peeve. Now, I enter my Andy Rooney years...

FWIW, and full disclosure, this is one of the co-signer's favorite phrases. I've learned not to pick on it too often. She's long since tired of hearing my outrage about it, I've discovered.

Word of the day

I learned a new word today: flensing. According to it means "To strip the skin of blubber from (a whale, for example). Now, apply that word to Jabba the Hastert:

Who is that with Jabba? Why that's K.A. Paul! He's a minister who held a reported 90 minute meeting with the Speaker during which he claims that he urged Hastert to resign. Who is K.A. Paul? Why, he's a Republican who has allegedly led prayer meetings with the likes of Yugoslavia's Slobodon Milosovec, Liberia's Charles Taylor, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. He's also allegedly used photos taken of himself at a leper colony headed by another minister and claimed it was his own in order to raise money! He is the spiritual adviser to the scum of the earth. He even claims to have met several Al Quaida people and preached to them. He also claims to have met with Tom Delay several times and even prayed with President Bush.

Jabba the Hastert says that he was "duped" into meeting with Mr. Paul. If that were true, then why did he have a 90 minute meeting? How stupid is the Speaker of the House to be "duped" by such a charlatan? Why do they look so cozy in his office? Why did he allow this picture to be taken?

Now, I'm not sure if Mr. Paul has anything to do with the infamous fish stick woman (Mrs. Paul), but if I were Jabba the Hastert, I'd be wondering right now if I had been flensed!

(There, I used it in a sentence).

Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize for literature. He is well deserving of the prize. When his name was floated last year, the committee didn't go near him and I believe that was so as not to appear too political. At the time Pamuk was facing trial in Turkey for "insulting Turkishness". He was freed from that charge. This year he wins the prize.

Good for him and good for literature. His body of work is well deserving of the prize. My Name Is Red, The Black Book, and Snow are my favorites. Pamuk's command of language and it's lyricism are coupled in his books with themes both personal and large. In My Name Is Red, he mixes mystery and romance with discussions of Western and Eastern perspectives in the arts and philosophy. In The Black Book, Pamuk mixes a mystery with a meditation on identity in a way that recalls similar explorations by Kafka. Snow is Pamuk's only explicitly political novel in which a poet, exiled in Germany, returns to Turkey and through a series of events finds himself in a snow-bound city as a political coup takes place to stem the tide of local religious/political fundamentalists. It weaves romance and mystery into it's tale as well as it discusses the various factions which make up and tear at the social fabric of Turkish life.

In all of these books, Pamuk puts at the forefront his Turkish identity. As he notes in his book Istanbul (by turns a description of the city he loves and lives in as well as an autobiography) his books and his view has a certain hüzün, or "romantic melancholy" to them. His characters are infused with it. At one moment they are filled with excitement and joy and the next they are drowning their sorrows in alcohol at a cafe and eating desserts. A certain detachments in their views of the world can be suddenly turned around with a joyful emotion filling their own hearts. In other words, they are thoroughly human and normal and just like you and I, if we're to be honest about ourselves.

Seek out his books and read them. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bush, Clinton, Korea

So, John McCain thinks that Bill Clinton's policies are to blame for the recent North Korean nuclear tests. I think his memory is a little short and a lot thin. Perhaps he should seek treatment before Alzheimer's is diagnosed?

U.S. policy towards North Korea has headed down this path for decades. It was the Reagan/Bush administrations that were in charge while North Korea worked on building it's first nuclear plants. Bill Clinton in 1994 negotiated an agreement to have UN inspectors in the country making certain that it's plants were not being used for enriching plutonium for weapons. It was the first such negotiated military agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. As this time line shows, the U.S. never fulfilled completely it's end of the agreement:

After a tense standoff, the two sides reached an agreement. North Korea would allow UN inspectors and cameras into the Yongbyon complex and would cease work on a nuclear plant that could make weapons-grade nuclear material. In return, the U.S. and Japan would provide North Korea with food aid, fuel oil to run its power plants, and would help it build two commercial-grade nuclear power plants, which would generate electricity, but not be capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material.

North Korea held up its end of the deal, and so did Japan. But the Clinton administration had a tougher time selling this deal to Congress. Congress okayed the fuel oil, but refused to approve the two commercial nuclear plants. Providing any kind of nuclear materials to North Korea was verboten. Indeed, it's possible that Clinton knew he didn't have the votes in Congress to approve the two plants; he may have agreed to that part of the deal simply for expediency's sake. (In other words, he struck a deal that made him look tough and statesman-like while probably knowing that he couldn't deliver on his end and thinking that he could stall long enough to leave the problem to a future president.)

In the meantime, North Korea got tired of waiting for construction to begin on its two promised plants. The fuel oil helped a lot, but they decided to give the Clinton administration a little scare, just to prod Bill Clinton's memory about his unfulfilled promise. In 1999, they fired a prototype long-range missile over the north of Japan, sparking another round of diplomatic talks.

Now, that's not a very flattering portrayal of Clinton's negotiations. He may have promised on something that he didn't expect to be able to deliver and he may have just wanted to stall long enough to leave that problem to the next president. However, that is speculation. What we do know is that the reason Clinton could never deliver on those promises is that the Republican Congress would not let him deliver on it. Even if the speculation about Clinton's motives is true, he was complicit in his actions with the Republican Congress. Further from the article:
By that time the Clinton administration was on its way out, unable to make any firm promises. Clinton managed to extract a promise from North Korea, however, to halt testing of long-range missiles, although no one really believed that North Korea has completely stopped work on its long-range missile program. After all, missiles are one of North Korea's main exports.

Then, in 2000, George W. Bush was elected president of the United States. The first thing the Bush administration did was cut off all negotiations and all contact with North Korea.
Clinton became a lame duck and the Republican Congress along with election concerns effectively tied his hands in negotiations. This sort of thing happens with our government and Mr. Bush is about to discover it himself. But let's look at that last line. The article and most media coverage like to immediately jump to September 11, 2001 and the following State of the Union address during which Bush made his infamous "Axis of Evil" remark that infuriated North Korea. However, Bush had already raised the ire of that country:
Bush then elaborated on his concerns. "Part of the problem in dealing with North Korea," he said, "there's not very much transparency. We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements."
That quote is from March, 2001. Long before September 11th the Bush administration had cut off negotiations with North Korea and accused it of breaking the 1994 agreement - an agreement that, as noted above, we never fulfilled either. At the time this was one of the first Bush foreign policy steps. The President was widely criticized for this statement. No one in the administration had any sort of proof that North Korea was not fulfilling the agreements. Aides scrambled to cover for the President's words:

So which "agreements" were the president referring to? White House spokesmen told reporters that Bush was speaking about possible future agreements.

"That's how the president speaks," one told the New York Times.

That was bullshit and everyone knew it. It would be two years before the administration would come up with any sort of evidence of a weapons grade enrichment program. Two years lost with the U.S. not fulfilling the 1994 agreements and no negotiations. During that time, after the Bush saber rattling, North Korea kicked out U.N. inspectors and began pursuing it's nuclear ambitions at a more rapid pace. South Korea and China tried to negotiate and intervene, but the U.S. was having none of it. Attempts to reach a solution were ratcheted up following the U.S. disclosure of the North Korean secret plants. The Chinese thought that they had an agreement in place in late 2003, but this administration continued to refuse to negotiate:

US State Department negotiators had submitted a reworked version of the Chinese plan to a high-level meeting in Washington on December 12, but Mr Cheney had insisted that the document require North Korea to agree to "irreversible" dismantling of its nuclear weapons programs and international verification.

The Knight-Ridder newspaper chain said a senior official had quoted Mr Cheney as telling the meeting: "I have been charged by the President with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with. We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it."

The re-emergence of the word "evil" and talk of defeat - recalling Mr Bush's January 2002 speech linking North Korea with Iraq and Iran in an axis of evil - is likely to make the North Koreans even more distrustful of promising anything ahead of firm guarantees from the US and its allies.

Emphasis, mine. Tough talk and look where it's gotten us. Cheney single handedly ended the negotiations with this statement. He didn't like the negotiations in the first place and he knew that his words would re-open the animosity created by the Axis of Evil remarks. He chose his words carefully and pissed off the North Koreans even further. They had once again come to the table - reluctantly, and maybe not completely open - and Cheney belittled their efforts with his words. Not that North Korea really had much hope of achieving anything in negotiations with the U.S. It may have been a stall tactic on their own part. As we see later in the article, the U.S. was not really interested in negotiations as much as they wanted to dictate the terms to the North Koreans:
Even without Mr Cheney's words, the US stance was proving hard for the North Koreans to swallow, insisting the Pyongyang government move to dismantle its nuclear weapons without the formal security treaty it had demanded, and well before any economic aid was even discussed. After its draft was rejected, China called on Washington to be more "flexible" and "realistic".
A recap: Reagan/Bush were presidents when the first North Korean nuclear reactor experiments began. By the end of Bush I's administration, reactors were spotted and acknowledged. Clinton negotiated an agreement with North Korea that included inspections and civilian grade nuclear power plants, but a Republican Congress never delivered on that agreement. In response, it is believed that in 1997 North Korea secretly began a restart of it's nuclear weapons program ("believed" because we have no hard evidence to support this...all we have is "intelligence" from the CIA insinuating this and this administration, given it's propensity to invent intelligence to further it's agenda has called into question any such speculation). In 2001, Bush takes office and immediately goes on the attack with North Korea. He cuts off negotiations, demands to dictate terms, and refuses to fulfill the U.S. government's agreement obligations while accusing the North Koreans of doing the same without any evidence to support him.

And now McCain and the other Republicans are attempting to blame Clinton when he had the only marginal success in the region and whose policy was undermined by the Republican Congress as well as the next administration. It seems that there is plenty of blame to spread on this humble sandwich.

After years of attempting to talk tough and dictate the terms of surrender to North Korea, James Baker suggests that the Bush administration may now be open to negotiations/discussions. The bottom line is that the policy has failed. Bush has held the reigns for 6 years and failed miserably. Clinton's policy, even if it wasn't hamstrung by the Republicans, may also have failed eventually, but we never got the chance to find out. In any case, at least his policy seemed constructive while the current one has been completely destructive - in the most dangerous way.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

David Rakoff on YouTube

This from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Rakoff, an essayist, tells of contacting a conservative nut job who believes that there is an actual, written homosexual agenda. He also comments on how to "defeat Canada" when Stewart asks him the hot seat question. Hysterical and frightening.

Sunday Reading

Really, a must read. It's a long article by Robert Fisk in The Independent. The reporter has spent over 30 years covering the Middle East. The article has him looking back on his coverage, looking at the steps taken there by dictators, governments, and people and drawing conclusions about the future of the area. Some excerpts:

Beirut is a good place to reflect on the tragedy through which the Middle East is now inexorably moving. After all, the city has suffered so many horrors these past 31 years, it seems haunted by the mass graves that lie across the region, from Afghanistan to Iraq to "Palestine" and to Lebanon itself. And I look across the waters and see a German warship cruising past my home, part of Nato's contribution to stop gun-running into Lebanon under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. And then, I ask myself what the Germans could possibly be doing when no guns have ever been run to the Hizbollah guerrilla army from the sea. The weapons came through Syria, and Syria has a land frontier with the country and is to the north and east of Lebanon, not on the other side of the Mediterranean.

And then when I call on my landlord to discuss this latest, hopeless demonstration of Western power, he turns to me in some anger and says, "Yes, why is the German navy cruising off my home?" And I see his point. For we Westerners are now spreading ourselves across the entire Muslim world. In one form or another, "we" - "us", the West - are now in Khazakstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon. We are now trapped across this vast area of suffering, fiercely angry people, militarily far more deeply entrenched and entrapped than the 12th-century crusaders who faced defeat at the battle of Hittin, our massive forces fighting armies of Islamists, suicide bombers, warlords, drug barons, and militias. And losing. The latest UN army in Lebanon, with its French and Italian troops, is moving in ever greater numbers to the south, young men and women who have already been threatened by al-Qa'ida and who will, in three of four months, be hit by al-Qa'ida. Which is one reason why the French have been pallisading themselves into their barracks in southern Lebanon. There is no shortage of suicide bombers here, although it will be the Sunni -- not the Hizbollah-Shiite variety -- which will strike at the UN.

When will the bombers arrive? After further massacres in Iraq? After the Israelis cross the border again? After Israel - or the US - bombs Iran's nuclear facilities in the coming months? After someone in the northern city of Tripoli, perhaps, or in the Palestinian camps outside Sidon, decides he has seen too many Western soldiers trampling the lands of southern Lebanon, too many German warships off the coast, or heard too many mendacious statements of optimism from George W Bush or Tony Blair or Condoleezza Rice. "There will be no 'new' Middle East, Miss Rice," a new Hizbollah poster says south of Sidon. And the Hizbollah is right. The entire region is sinking deeper into bloodshed and all the time, over and over again, Bush and Blair tell us it is all getting much better, that we can all be heartened by the spread of non-existent democracies, that the dawn is rising on Condi's "new" Middle East. Are they really hoping that they can distort the mirror of the world's reality with their words? There is a kind of new dawn rising in the lands from the old Indian empire to the tides of the Mediterranean. The only trouble is that it is blood red...

But all this raises a more complex question. Are we really going to carry on arguing for years - for generation after generation of crisis - over who has or doesn't have nuclear technology or the capacity to build a bomb? Are "we" forever going to decide who may have a bomb on the basis of his obedience to us - Mr Musharraf now being a loyal Pakistani shah - or his religion or how many turbans are worn by ministers in the government. Are we still going to be doing this in 2007 or 2107 or 3006?

What I suspect lies behind much of our hypocrisy in the Middle East is that Muslims have not lost their faith and we have. It's not just that religion governs their lives, it is the fact that they have kept the faith - and that is why we try to hide that we have lost it by talking about Islam's "difficulty with secularism". We are the good liberals who wish to bestow the pleasures of our Enlightenment upon the rest of the world, although, to the Muslim nations, this sounds more like our desire to invade them with different cultures and traditions and - in some cases - different religions.

And Muslims have learnt to remember. I still recall an Iraqi friend, shaking his head at my naivety when I asked if there was not any cup of generosity to be bestowed on the West for ridding Iraqis of Saddam's presence. "You supported him," he replied. "You supported him when he invaded Iran and we died in our tens of thousands. Then, after the invasion of Kuwait, you imposed sanctions that killed tens of thousands of our children. And now you reduce Iraq to anarchy. And you want us to be grateful?"

And I recalled seeing a train load of gassed Iranian soldiers on the way to Tehran, coughing up mucus and blood into stained handkerchiefs and coughing up the gas too because I suddenly smelled a kind of dirty perfume and walked down the train opening all the windows. I saw their vast wobbling blisters upon which ever-smaller blisters would form, one on top of the other. And where did this filthy stuff come from, this real weapon of mass destruction Saddam was using? Components came from Germany and from the US. No wonder US Lieutenant Rick Francona noted indifferently in a report to the Pentagon that the Iraqis had drenched Fao in gas when he visited the battlefield during the war. So do we expect the Iranians to be grateful that we eventually toppled Saddam?


There are so many other examples of our fear of Middle Eastern truth. Our soft handling of Hosni Mubarak's increasingly autocratic regime in Egypt is typical. So is reporting of Algeria now that British governments are prepared to deport refugees home on the grounds that they no longer face arrest and torture. But arrest and torture continue in Algeria. Its recent amnesty poll effectively immunises all members of the security services involved in torture and makes it a crime to oppose the amnesty.

Is this really the best that we journalists can do? Save for the indefatigable Seymour Hersh, there are still no truly investigative correspondents in the US press. But challenging authority should not be that difficult. No one is being asked to end the straightforward reporting of Arab tyrannies. We are still invited to ask - and should ask - why the Muslim world has produced so many dictatorships, most of them supported by "us". But there are too many dark corners into which we will not look. Where, for example, are the CIA's secret torture prisons? I know two reporters who are aware of the locations. But they are silent, no doubt in the interests of "national security".

This reluctance to confront unpleasant truths diminishes the reader or viewer for whom Middle East reporting in the US media is almost incomprehensible to anyone who does not know the region. It also has its trickle-down effects even in theatres, universities and schools in America. The case of the play about Rachel Corrie - the young US activist twice run over by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes - taken off the New York stage was one of the more deplorable of these. I was also surprised in the Bronx to find that Fieldston, a private school in Riverdale - was forced to cancel a college meeting with two Palestinian lecturers when parents objected to the absence of an Israeli on the panel. The fact that Israeli speakers were to be invited later made no difference. The school's principal later announced that the meeting would "not be appropriate given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue". Complex problems are supposed to be explained. But this could not be explained because, well, it was too complex and - the truth - would upset the usual Israeli lobbyists.

So there we go again. Freedom of speech is a precious commodity but just how precious I found out for myself when I addressed the American University of Beirut after receiving an honorary degree there this summer. I made my usual points about the Bush administration and the growing dangers of the Middle East only to find that a US diplomat in Beirut was condemning me in front of Lebanese friends for being allowed to criticise the Bush administration in a college which receives US government money.

And so on we go with the Middle East tragedy, telling the world that things are getting better when they are getting worse, that democracy is flourishing when it is swamped in blood, that freedom is not without "birth pangs" when the midwife is killing the baby.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wonkette shoots and scores

With this picture (above) from Getty Images. That's Brownie, Bush, and Foley. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil. Note the rather wary look on the young man just behind Foley. This picture was snapped after Katrina.

What are your captions?