Saturday, March 31, 2007

United Fruit by any other name...

David Seaton's News Links
"Why do they hate us?" Americans ask. Well, in Latin America its this cheerful-killer, "oh what fun" thing; a huge toothy grin mixed with a murdering greed which stops at nothing... kind of like if Genghis Khan could tap dance... for a start.

Amy Goodman's "Chiquita Banana" story here below, is a rather perfect example of this phenomenon. "Chiquita" is the cute new name of United Fruit, which really was in need of some serious re-branding. In United-Chiquita's case it's as if Count Dracula had himself re-branded as "Vladdy-Daddy". Still out for blood, but
cute. DS

Amy Goodman: Chiquita slips money to terrorists - Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Abstract: What do Osama bin Laden and Chiquita bananas have in common? Both have used their millions to finance terrorism. The Justice Department has just fined Chiquita Brands International $25 million for funding a terrorist organization -- for years. Chiquita also must cooperate fully with ongoing investigations into its payments to the ultra-right-wing Colombian paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. Chiquita made almost monthly payments to the AUC from 1997 to 2004, totaling at least $1.7 million. The AUC is a brutal paramilitary umbrella group, with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 armed troops. It was named a terrorist organization by the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001. Among its standard tactics are kidnapping, torture, disappearance, rape, murder, beatings, extortion and drug trafficking. Chiquita claims it had to make the payments under threat from the AUC to protect its employees and property. Chiquita's outside lawyers implored them to stop the illegal payments, to no avail. The payments were made by check through Chiquita's Colombian subsidiary, Banadex. When Chiquita executives figured out how illegal the payments were, they started delivering them in cash. Chiquita sold Banadex in June 2004 when the heat got too intense.(...) Chiquita has had a long history of criminal behavior. It was the subject of an extraordinary exposé in its hometown paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, in 1998. The paper found that Chiquita exposed entire communities to dangerous U.S.-banned pesticides, forced the eviction of an entire Honduran village at gunpoint and its subsequent bulldozing, suppressed unions, unwittingly allowed the use of Chiquita transport ships to move cocaine internationally, and paid a fortune to U.S. politicians to influence trade policy. The lead reporter, Mike Gallagher, illegally accessed more than 2,000 Chiquita voice mails. The voice mails backed up his story but his methods got him fired. The Enquirer issued a front-page apology and paid Chiquita a reported $14 million. The voice-mail scandal rocked the Enquirer, burying the important exposé. Chiquita was formerly called the United Fruit Co., which with the help of its former lawyer, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen Dulles' Central Intelligence Agency overthrew the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, in 1954. And you can go back further. Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez wrote in his classic "One Hundred Years of Solitude" about the 1928 Santa Marta massacre of striking United Fruit banana workers: "When the banana company arrived ... the old policemen were replaced by hired assassins." While the U.S. is seeking extradition of Colombia-based Chiquita executives, the administration of President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, with its own officials now linked to the right-wing paramilitaries, has countered that Colombia would seek the extradition of U.S.-based Chiquita executives. Colombian prosecutors are also seeking information in Chiquita's role in smuggling 3,000 AK-47 rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to paramilitaries in November 2001. READ IT ALL

Sunday cartoons for News Linkers

David Seaton's News Links
News Links (me mostly) takes Sunday off and to entertain my visitors I show cartoons. This Sunday's cartoon is an all time favorite, the RoadRunner! Any resemblance between Wiley Coyote's endless chase of the RoadRunner and George W. Bush's adventures in Iraq is purely coincidental. Have a peaceful Sunday. DS

America the weird

David Seaton's News Links
I don't think most Americans fully appreciate how weird we look to other people around the world nowadays.

The United States has always been picturesque and different for others, but I think nowadays it just looks weird and perhaps sinister.

I'm 62 years old, a middle westerner, born and bred. I grew up on Chicago's North Shore and I attended both public and private grade schools there in the 1950s. Believe me, my school days had more in common with the madrassa in the picture than with the Louisiana school described in the AP story below. And I think the schools most parents send their children to around the world have more in common with the madrassa in the photo than the one in the article or to Columbine etc, etc.

Are the children in the AP article going to grow up and become the voters, the citizens and the soldiers of the only superpower... with their fingers on the atomic trigger? I don't the world is ready for that, and I don't think any amount of money spent on public diplomacy will be able to sell it. DS

Kids allegedly had sex in classroom during assembly about killing - Associated Press

Abstract: Two fifth-graders had sex on a classroom floor while two others fondled each other in the classroom, according to a teacher at Spearsville High School.(...) First-year teacher Michael Walker, who teaches fifth- through eighth-grade English, said three students were either expelled or sent to an alternative school and two others got detention. Students at the kindergarten through 12th grade school are unruly, disrespectful and rarely disciplined, Walker said. "They cuss at the teachers and throw things at them, and nothing is done," Walker said. "There was even one student who grabbed a teacher in the butt and nothing was done. The students run the school." Walker said teachers learned Wednesday about the incident, which allegedly occurred during an assembly Tuesday to talk about a 15-year-old student accused of stabbing another student to death over the weekend. The assembly was for sixth- through 12th-grade students. Fifth-grade students were not told about it, he said. But one class of about 15 fifth-grade students that routinely moves from a portable building to a main building classroom during the second hour of the school day was unattended on Tuesday. "The teacher thought it was a normal day and sent the kids to second hour," he said. "She didn't know the teacher that would normally be in there was still at the assembly." The students were alone for about 30 minutes.(...) School officials notified the Union Parish Sheriff's Office on Thursday morning and detectives questioned students. "This is one incident and everyone is making a big deal out of it," Futch said. "I never had a teacher complain to me, but I have heard them complain to each other." Sheriff Bob Buckley said charges are likely. "I have zero tolerance for drugs, violence or anything like that that goes on in school," he said. READ IT ALL

Python: the killer rabbit on Iran

David Seaton's News Links
Terry Jones of Monty Python shows that there is life in the "killer rabbit" yet.

Britain and the United States have lost any "moral authority" that they might have had on the subject of human rights, which in a sense is as if the French had lost all their authority on food or the Germans on engineering. "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." DS

Terry Jones: Call that humiliation? - Guardian
Abstract: I share the outrage expressed in the British press over the treatment of our naval personnel accused by Iran of illegally entering their waters. It is a disgrace. We would never dream of treating captives like this - allowing them to smoke cigarettes, for example, even though it has been proven that smoking kills. And as for compelling poor servicewoman Faye Turney to wear a black headscarf, and then allowing the picture to be posted around the world - have the Iranians no concept of civilised behaviour? For God's sake, what's wrong with putting a bag over her head? That's what we do with the Muslims we capture: we put bags over their heads, so it's hard to breathe. Then it's perfectly acceptable to take photographs of them and circulate them to the press because the captives can't be recognised and humiliated in the way these unfortunate British service people are. It is also unacceptable that these British captives should be made to talk on television and say things that they may regret later. If the Iranians put duct tape over their mouths, like we do to our captives, they wouldn't be able to talk at all. Of course they'd probably find it even harder to breathe - especially with a bag over their head - but at least they wouldn't be humiliated.(...) And this brings me to my final point. It is clear from her TV appearance that servicewoman Turney has been put under pressure. The newspapers have persuaded behavioural psychologists to examine the footage and they all conclude that she is "unhappy and stressed". What is so appalling is the underhand way in which the Iranians have got her "unhappy and stressed". She shows no signs of electrocution or burn marks and there are no signs of beating on her face. This is unacceptable. If captives are to be put under duress, such as by forcing them into compromising sexual positions, or having electric shocks to their genitals, they should be photographed, as they were in Abu Ghraib. The photographs should then be circulated around the civilised world so that everyone can see exactly what has been going on. READ IT ALL

Friday, March 30, 2007

The essential Iran

"Forty-eight percent of Germans think the United States is more dangerous than Iran, a new survey shows, with only 31 percent believing the opposite.(...)(in) a Forsa opinion poll commissioned by Stern magazine. Young Germans in particular -- 57 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds, to be precise -- said they considered the United States more dangerous than the religious regime in Iran."
Der Spiegel
David Seaton's News Links
I include below an editorial from the Washington Post, which is typical of the speculation floating around the capture of the British sailors by Iran. Lots of speculation about possible divisions in Iran's leadership; speculations about the success or lack of it of the UN sanctions. Is it really all that complicated? I don't think so.

The United States is making a huge effort to isolate, pressure and intimidate Iran, this has meant an enormous calling in and of extending I.O.U.s. Most countries have been hauled kicking and screaming into this. Despite this full court press, as we can see in the quote from Der Spiegel above, world public opinion is not behind any conflict with Iran. (A similar poll in Spain would show far worse numbers).

Here is another example: Timothy Garton Ash, published an article ln The Guardian yesterday, (reprinted in the LA Times) hysterically demanding that the European Union stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain in this crisis and if they didn't, Garton-Ash demanded, "What is the EU for?". It was interesting to skim through the reader's comments in The Guardian and I suggest you follow the link and read them. Overwhelmingly the readers were opposed to Garton-Ash's arguments. "Boo, fucking, hoo!" one reader wrote in. Another, signed in as "Weeper", if less colorful, was more explicit and neatly summed up what the majority of readers opined.
"Very convenient to be "European" when it suits us while sleeping in US's bed most of the time. Why is Britain now provoking Iran on behalf of the US, hasn't it enough trouble in Afghanistan and Iraq? And the scandal of the prisoners being shown on TV! A lot worse than 650,00 deaths (probably nearer 1 million now, not counting the 1st "Gulf War" and 10 years of sanctions) Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, cluster bombs, DU, and beating Iraqi civilians as shown on UK TV and for which no one was found guilty, don't you think. I hope that the Brits learn such a lesson from Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Iran, that they never again set out on another mad imperial adventure on behalf of US/Israel." - "Weeper", commenting on T. Garton - Ash in The Guardian
Bottom line: There is practically no public opinion siding with the USA, what support there is shallow and meant more than anything else to keep up appearances, while hoping that, "something may turn up". The Arab League meeting in Riyadh didn't even mention the hostages!

By simply taking 15 British hostages (balance that cost against the US maintaining two carrier battle groups in the zone) Iran bloodlessly exposes how shallow that support is and how little the USA controls the situation. Meanwhile,the price of oil was climbing toward $70.

Also, any military threat against Iran's atomic installations would have to take into account how simple it would be for Iran to share out the hostages among those installations. That among other things, is what hostages are for. It is hard to imagine, given how thin the support for armed action is, both in the world at large... and in the USA itself, that lame ducks Bush and Blair could try anything more than a "surgical strike" if that. Iran would survive it and its victory in terms of prestige in the third world would be immense.

I don't see anything but lose/lose here for Britain/USA/Israel here. The party that began when H.M. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia met Franklyn Delano Roosevelt on board the U.S.S. Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake of Egypt on February 14th, 1945 is drawing to a close. DS

The Results of Diplomacy - Editorial - Washington Post
(...) Administration officials were encouraged by signs of dissension in the Iranian leadership after the first of two unanimous sanctions resolutions passed the Security Council in late December. Before the second resolution was introduced, there were talks between Iranian and European officials about ways to renew negotiations. Yet the Iranian work on uranium enrichment has continued; there are signs the regime is racing to complete an industrial installation with thousands of centrifuges that it can present to the world as an accomplished fact.

Now Iran is parading captured British sailors before cameras and using their purported confessions of trespassing in Iranian waters as propaganda in a way that suggests an eagerness to escalate rather than defuse confrontation with the West. Yesterday, Britain offered evidence that its service members were captured in international waters and rightly called their treatment "completely unacceptable." Though Iran's foreign minister said a female sailor would be released "very soon," the television broadcast suggested the prisoners had been coerced.

It's widely believed that power in Iran is divided among competing factions, and it could be that hard-liners are seeking to preempt any steps by the regime to comply with the Security Council. It's impossible to predict what might come out of Tehran before the next U.N. deadline in late May. Yet what has happened so far is sobering.

Bush administration officials have been congratulating themselves on the relative speed and deftness with which the latest sanctions resolution was pushed through the Security Council. They are right, in a way: The diplomatic campaign against Iran has been pretty successful by the usual diplomatic measures. Not only has the United States worked relatively smoothly with European partners with which it differed bitterly over Iraq, but it has also been effective lately in winning support from Russia, China and nonaligned states such as South Africa.

Critics who lambasted the administration's unilateral campaign against an "axis of evil" a few years ago ought to be applauding the return to conventional diplomacy. We, too, think it's worth pursuing, especially when combined with steps short of a military attack to push back against Iranian aggression in the region. Still, two years after President Bush embraced the effort, it has to be noted: The diplomatic strategy so far has been no more successful than the previous "regime change" policy in stopping Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The essential Iraq

David Seaton's News Links
The important things to keep in mind while following the political battle over Iraq in Washington is:
  • The way the United States entered Iraq stinks
  • The way the United States has acted in Iraq stinks
  • The way the United States leaves Iraq, for sure, will... stink too. We've been through this before... The US always deserts its allies and leaves them holding the bag and then worries about its "syndrome". And Hollywood makes a lot of films about how we actually won... And people ask, "what would Jesus do?" as if Jesus would have ever gotten himself into such a mess.
The United States has destroyed its "brand" in Iraq. Nobody can take Americans seriously anymore except as shoppers.

What does that mean?

Imagine if Coca Cola had mysteriously poisoned several thousand people. "Great", you say, they go out of business.

Not so fast. What about all the jobs and the families that depend on them... Mortgages, health plans, pensions, children's education, etc, etc. As we saw with the Soviet Union, (and Enron) when a great structure collapses it is no joke. What would Coca Cola have to do to regain its lost prestige?

First, it would have to discover how the hypothetical poisoning happened, who and what was responsible. If there was criminal negligence or malice aforethought... people would have to go to jail, right up to the chairman and if the chairman's policies were responsible, especially the chairman. And then they would have to pay heavy reparations to all the victims and their families. Maybe then, only just maybe, people all over the world could hear again about how "things go better" or "the real thing" or about 'pauses that refresh' with out vomiting or running for the exits.

That is more or less where things are now. The world system ("really-existing-capitalism") depends to a great extent on America's credibility... even if we aren't in agreement with the system; like it or not we are all stakeholders and if it collapses we will suffer...

That credibility will not be restored by further martyrizing of the people of Iraq... There is no credibility to be gained in Iraq now if there ever was any to begin with. Credibility can only be restored by the USA, in the USA itself. How?

By holding public hearings, Nuremberg-type "show trials" if you will, publicly investigating how this war happened, punishing the offenders, especially Bush and Cheney... (Impeachment isn't good enough). And finally formal apologies to the people of Iraq and payments to the victims (not contracts for Halliburton to "reconstruct"). Cash they can spend any way they want, visas, scholarships, green cards, you name it. People everywhere would respect that and if they didn't respect it they could kiss our ass, because it would be the right thing to do. At least we could respect ourselves and that's a good place to start.

Is this possible? Well, America is a place where impossible things happen all the time and have been happening for hundreds of years... So, why not? The capacity to pleasantly surprise itself and others may be the only national characteristic that can save the USA now. DS

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bloomberg's garden of verses

"Without much thought, you'd say people wouldn't want to lose their home so they'd first make the house payment,'' Risi said. ``But with a lot of the borrowers struggling to make their house payments, to get any cash, they have to get to work. And that's what they need their car for.''
David Seaton's News Links
Here, in Bloomberg's cold facts and figures is a little poem of suffering. DS

Subprime Defaults May Spread to Auto Bonds, S&P Says - Bloomberg Abstract: Bonds backed by automobile loans may be hurt by rising subprime mortgage defaults as people with poor credit struggle with their household debt, according to Standard & Poor's. Capital One Financial Corp., Wachovia Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., and other lenders have lent more funds to people with bad credit scores in the past few years to sustain growth, S&P said today in a report by analysts led by Mark Risi. The loans are also for longer terms, increasing the probability of default, the analysts said. About 68 percent of 2006 subprime auto loans were due in five years or more, Risi said. ``There could be some fallout from subprime in auto loans,'' Risi said in an interview. ``We don't have much data yet. We're still in collection mode. It's probably going to be hard to say for a while.'' The worst housing slump in 10 years is pushing down home prices, hampering owners from refinancing. Borrowers with weak or incomplete credit are also vulnerable to the resetting of mortgages at more than the teaser rates they initially paid.(...) Subprime auto borrowers who are also homeowners may have ``exposure to affordability products and the related payment shock,'' said Risi. ``But the good news is, initial data indicates that the majority of subprime auto borrowers are renters, and are therefore not subject to the vagaries of the mortgage market.'' Subprime auto bonds are showing a wide disparity in performance depending on the issuer, the analyst said. With some subprime issuers moving further down the credit spectrum and some resisting that trend, ``we are seeing some interesting results from this divergence,'' Risi said. Bondholders cannot tell which subprime auto borrowers are also homeowners, Risi said. Cumulative losses over 10 months for DaimlerChrysler AG's most recent loans is at 0.58 percent, its highest since at least 2000, S&P said. Securities originated by General Motors Acceptance Corp., that automaker's former finance arm, are showing losses of 0.18 percent, the lowest rate since 0.15 percent in 2002, according to S&P. Ford Motor Credit Co.'s loss rate is 0.25 percent, the same as in 2005. Given a choice between making a car payment or paying the mortgage, consumers react in different ways, Risi said. ``Without much thought, you'd say people wouldn't want to lose their home so they'd first make the house payment,'' Risi said. ``But with a lot of the borrowers struggling to make their house payments, to get any cash, they have to get to work. And that's what they need their car for.'' READ IT ALL

Senate vote... a merry melody?

David Seaton's News Links
The other day I had to take our lovely Persian cat of fourteen years to the vet to be put down. Literally to put her "out of her misery" from kidney failure. It was something dreadful, but it had to be done.

I only bring this personal note up because that is what the Senate is doing with its vote on the war in Iraq.

Now, I am not not for a minute comparing the obscenely criminal war of Iraq with the beautiful creature I helped to die, but rather America's image of itself as a great and generous country filled with noble ideals... because that is what the Senate is putting out of its misery. The misery of Iraq will probably continue for many years to come. DS

Senate Supports a Pullout Date in Iraq War Bill - New York Times
Abstract: The Senate went on record for the first time on Tuesday in favor of a withdrawal date from Iraq, with Democrats marshaling the votes they needed to deliver a forceful rebuke to President Bush’s war policy.(...) “When it comes to the war in Iraq, the American people have spoken, the House and Senate have spoken,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Now, we hope the president is listening.”(...) The outcome of the Senate vote took both parties by surprise. Republicans were stung by the defection of Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has not supported a timetable for withdrawal before although he is his party’s most outspoken critic of the war in Congress. “There will not be a military solution to Iraq,” Mr. Hagel declared. “Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. It doesn’t belong to the United States. Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost.” The Democrats also gained the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, who voted against a withdrawal date just two weeks ago. “People want our troops home,” Mr. Nelson said.(...) “This bill should be named the Date Certain for Surrender Act,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. “A second-year cadet at West Point could tell you that if you announce when the end will be, it’s a recipe for defeat.”(...) Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a war critic since the conflict began four years ago, said the combination of the House and Senate votes was momentous. He said it showed how far the Democratic Congress had come toward removing troops since the beginning of the year, adding that political and policy momentum was on their side. “Rather than continuing to defy the will of the American people and Congress by threatening to veto this legislation,” Mr. Kennedy said, “President Bush should put the Iraqis on notice.”(...) Three more Republicans who have expressed serious reservations about the course of the war — Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John W. Warner of Virginia — sided with their colleagues in trying to strip the timetable from the spending legislation. All three senators are facing tough re-election fights next year. Ms. Collins said she was more troubled by the requirement that the administration begin removing troops within 120 days of the legislation rather than the March 2008 deadline for having most of the military out. “I don’t think it is wise to have an abrupt withdrawal from Iraq,” said Ms. Collins, who said she was willing to wait until August to see if the continuing troop increase improves conditions there. “This doesn’t mean I support an unending commitment of our troops in Iraq. I don’t.”(...) Mr. Warner, who has criticized the administration’s conduct of the war, said he remained committed to changing policy in Iraq, but not by imposing Congressional timetables on American troops. “It would be the bugle of retreat,” Mr. Warner said. “It would be echoed and repeated from every minaret through Iraq: the coalition forces have decided to take the first step backward. We cannot send that message. Not at this time.” READ IT ALL

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What is Iran up to?

Iranian Revolutionary Guards
David Seaton's News Links
The United States is making a great effort to intimidate Iran, militarily, economically and diplomatically. Demonstrations of Bush's "resolve" have taken place in the United Nations and also militarily, as the article I include from Debka indicates.

Obviously the Iranians, by the simple and cheap expedient of capturing 15 British sailors show the world they are not intimidated. Is this a miscalculation? Should they be intimidated?

What would happen if, as the Debka article suggests, the United States finally did attack Iran? Would that be a disaster for Iran? For some Iranians, yes of course it would, but for others it may in fact be the desired result.

If Iran were attacked it would in one stroke finish off any "reform" movement and permit the hardliners to purge all dissenters. In the patriotic fervor that would follow any attack on Iran by foreigners, the faction Ahmadinejad represents would be consolidated for a generation.

What about Iran's atomic program?

An attack might set the atomic program back by several years. Wouldn't that be a major defeat for Iran? ...What if Iran's atomic bomb was nothing more than the cheese in the mousetrap?

Perhaps what is really at stake is Iran's credibility among the world's Muslim masses. Never forget that the only Arab government with any democratic legitimacy is Hamas of Palestine. The moderate Arab governments that the US considers its allies are despised by most of their subjects because of their closeness to the "Zionists and Crusaders".

Any attack on Iran that didn't result in "regime change" would be seen as ineffectual. If Iran is finally attacked by the USA and Israel and is still standing after the attack, then, just as happened with Hezbollah last summer, they will be heroes to Muslims all over the world... and not just Muslims, their prestige in all the the third world would be immense. "Moderate" Arab governments that were seen to be collaborating with the USA in clear benefit to Israel might never live it down.

So perhaps, the United States is walking into yet another trap. DS

Huge US naval maneuvers off the coast of Iran - Debka

Abstract: More than 10,000 US personnel, two aircraft carriers and 100 warplanes begin biggest simulated demonstration of force in Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq(...) military sources note that the exercise was launched March 27 the day before the Arab League summit opens in Riyadh, to demonstrate the Bush administration’s determination not to let Iran block the Strait of Hormuz to oil exports from the Persian Gulf, or continue its nuclear program. Taking part are the USS Stennis and USS Eisenhower strike forces. With Iran’s Revolutionary Guards one week into their marine maneuvers, military tensions in the Gulf region are skyrocketing and boosting world oil prices. Intelligence sources in Moscow claim to have information that a US strike against Iranian nuclear installations has been scheduled for April 6 at 0040 hours. The Russian sources say the US operation, code-named “Bite,” will last no more than 12 hours and consist of missile and aerial strikes devastating enough to set Tehran’s nuclear program several years back. The maneuver also occurs four days after 14 British seamen and one crew-woman were seized by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards warship, with no sign that their release is imminent. READ IT ALL

Howard Zinn: just like ringing a bell

We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress. Howard Zinn

David Seaton's News Links
There is nothing I can add to this wonderful article by the author of, "A People's History of the United States," except to praise its clarity... especially its moral clarity. We are living in a potentially great moment in history... if we choose to make it great. DS

Howard Zinn: Are We Politicians or Citizens? - The Progressive

By Howard Zinn

May 2007 Issue

As I write this, Congress is debating timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. In response to the Bush Administration’s “surge” of troops, and the Republicans’ refusal to limit our occupation, the Democrats are behaving with their customary timidity, proposing withdrawal, but only after a year, or eighteen months. And it seems they expect the anti-war movement to support them.

That was suggested in a recent message from MoveOn, which polled its members on the Democrat proposal, saying that progressives in Congress, “like many of us, don’t think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war.”

Ironically, and shockingly, the same bill appropriates $124 billion in more funds to carry the war. It’s as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.

We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress.

Timetables for withdrawal are not only morally reprehensible in the case of a brutal occupation (would you give a thug who invaded your house, smashed everything in sight, and terrorized your children a timetable for withdrawal?) but logically nonsensical. If our troops are preventing civil war, helping people, controlling violence, then why withdraw at all? If they are in fact doing the opposite—provoking civil war, hurting people, perpetuating violence—they should withdraw as quickly as ships and planes can carry them home.

It is four years since the United States invaded Iraq with a ferocious bombardment, with “shock and awe.” That is enough time to decide if the presence of our troops is making the lives of the Iraqis better or worse. The evidence is overwhelming. Since the invasion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, and, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about two million Iraqis have left the country, and an almost equal number are internal refugees, forced out of their homes, seeking shelter elsewhere in the country.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. But his capture and death have not made the lives of Iraqis better, as the U.S. occupation has created chaos: no clean water, rising rates of hunger, 50 percent unemployment, shortages of food, electricity, and fuel, a rise in child malnutrition and infant deaths. Has the U.S. presence diminished violence? On the contrary, by January 2007 the number of insurgent attacks has increased dramatically to 180 a day.

The response of the Bush Administration to four years of failure is to send more troops. To add more troops matches the definition of fanaticism: If you find you’re going in the wrong direction, redouble your speed. It reminds me of the physician in Europe in the early nineteenth century who decided that bloodletting would cure pneumonia. When that didn’t work, he concluded that not enough blood had been let.

The Congressional Democrats’ proposal is to give more funds to the war, and to set a timetable that will let the bloodletting go on for another year or more. It is necessary, they say, to compromise, and some anti-war people have been willing to go along. However, it is one thing to compromise when you are immediately given part of what you are demanding, if that can then be a springboard for getting more in the future. That is the situation described in the recent movie The Wind That Shakes The Barley, in which the Irish rebels against British rule are given a compromise solution—to have part of Ireland free, as the Irish Free State. In the movie, Irish brother fights against brother over whether to accept this compromise. But at least the acceptance of that compromise, however short of justice, created the Irish Free State. The withdrawal timetable proposed by the Democrats gets nothing tangible, only a promise, and leaves the fulfillment of that promise in the hands of the Bush Administration.

There have been similar dilemmas for the labor movement. Indeed, it is a common occurrence that unions, fighting for a new contract, must decide if they will accept an offer that gives them only part of what they have demanded. It’s always a difficult decision, but in almost all cases, whether the compromise can be considered a victory or a defeat, the workers have been given some thing palpable, improving their condition to some degree. If they were offered only a promise of something in the future, while continuing an unbearable situation in the present, it would not be considered a compromise, but a sellout. A union leader who said, “Take this, it’s the best we can get” (which is what the MoveOn people are saying about the Democrats’ resolution) would be hooted off the platform.

I am reminded of the situation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, when the black delegation from Mississippi asked to be seated, to represent the 40 percent black population of that state. They were offered a “compromise”—two nonvoting seats. “This is the best we can get,” some black leaders said. The Mississippians, led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, turned it down, and thus held on to their fighting spirit, which later brought them what they had asked for. That mantra—“the best we can get”—is a recipe for corruption.

It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington, D.C., to hold on firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. A few manage to do so. I think of Barbara Lee, the one person in the House of Representatives who, in the hysterical atmosphere of the days following 9/11, voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Afghanistan. Today, she is one of the few who refuse to fund the Iraq War, insist on a prompt end to the war, reject the dishonesty of a false compromise.

Except for the rare few, like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis, our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be “realistic.”

We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.

Howard Zinn is the author, most recently, of “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”

Khalilzad: the right to impatience

David Seaton's News Links
Some of this stuff is really getting hard to stomach.

"The American people are getting impatient with the Iraqis."
The American people are getting impatient with the Iraqis? At last count some 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the unprovoked invasion of their country led by the United States of America... as a result of this 3236 Americans have also died.

The foundational statement of the USA, its Declaration of Independence reads, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal". Now I am not very good at math, but with the help of my little Chinese adding machine, I get these figures: 650,000 divided by 3,236 equals 200.87. So if all men are created equal the Iraqis have about 200 times more right to be impatient than the Americans do. Now if that seems absurd, then so does the Declaration of Independence and if that is absurd then the Americans are just a bunch of fat people out shopping. DS

From The Guardian: The outgoing US ambassador to Iraq yesterday delivered a blunt farewell message to Iraq's leadership, saying the Bush administration's patience was wearing thin and urging them to stem the bloodshed. (...) At a final news conference in Baghdad, the Afghan-born diplomat warned of the growing pressure in the US to commit to a timetable for a withdrawal of troops. "I know that we are an impatient people, and I constantly signal to the Iraqi leaders that our patience, or the patience of the American people, is running out," said Mr Khalilzad, who has been nominated by Presdient Bush to succeed John Bolton as America's envoy to the UN.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Global Warming... changing the subject?

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Clarification: I am not a global warming skeptic. I think it obvious that our model of development and our idea of what constitutes "prosperity" and the "good life" are unsustainable even in the medium term. If every Chinese and Indian family get a car... I believe that global warming is by far the greatest threat to our planet etc, etc.. so I am not a revisionist or anything like it.

However, having said that, I am getting a little suspicious of the political use that global warming is being put to right now. Anything Tony Blair is pushing makes me suspicious to begin with, but what makes me really suspicious is Hollywood's enormous enthusiasm for the subject. "Hollywood" is the name for the most manipulative, phony, snake oil salesmen in the history of our planet. It occurs to me that they are pumping up global warming and climate change paranoia to change the subject from America's criminal responsibility in Iraq and make American "progressives", feel good about something so they don't get so depressed they stop buying tickets.

American "progressives" have absolutely nothing to feel good about. They are with out any doubt the greatest collection of useless wankers on earth... They should feel terrible. What has been done to Iraq and to the people of Iraq is, with the possible exception of the Cambodian genocide, the most criminal episode in international affairs since WWII. American progressives have shown themselves totally ineffectual in preventing it or stopping it and now Hollywood is going to give them a "cause" that will make them feel good! They should wake up with Iraq every morning, think about Iraq all day long, every day and dream about it at night, all night, every night (if they can sleep).

If I am a fan of Al Gore's it has nothing to do with global warming. I'm a fan because he should have been president and if he had been, he wouldn't have invaded Iraq and all these people wouldn't have been killed and tortured and maimed and robbed and the archaeological treasures of Mesopotamia would not have been looted and the priceless manuscripts burned. In short until those responsible for this massive catalog of war crimes are brought to justice we are simply a criminal nation and have absolutely nothing to feel good about... ever again. DS

Terror... developing a taste

Un chien andalou - Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí (1929)
David Seaton's News Links
I live in Spain, a country which has been living under the threat of terrorism for the last three decades, with hundreds of victims of every category, generals, admirals, soldiers, policemen, housewives, politicians and children... and that was before the March 11th, 2004 Al Qaeda attack. That attack was the bloodiest terrorist attack in European history.

Now the people of Spain hate terrorism and by extension terrorists, but there is no culture of paranoia and after the Al Qaeda bombings there was no singling out of Muslims for discrimination, there were no incidents of attacks on mosques or on Muslims... This despite the fact that there are many Moroccans living and working in Spain and the sight of women and girls wearing the hijab is a common one on Spanish streets and in Spanish public schools.

Now this is not because of some great love lost between the Spanish and the Muslims; quite the contrary, as they have been fighting each other tooth and nail off and on for over a thousand years. What doesn't exist in Spain yet is a paranoia industry similar to what Zbigniew Brzezinski describes in the article I've selected below and although there are people probably desirous of starting one, there is a great resistance in Spanish society, both high and low, up till now, against setting in motion such sinister forces.

The United States does have such a paranoia industry operating in universities, news media, the entertainment industry and it is working overtime. As
Brzezinski points out, it is destroying the country. Certainly anyone who is looking for a winning subject for a monographic blog would do well to devote themselves to investigating this paranoia in depth and providing the rest of us with a reliable road map to that swamp. Who is behind it, who profits from it and where do they take those profits? The whole world needs the answers. DS

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Terrorized by 'War on Terror'- Washington Post Abstract: The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us. The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.(...) The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle. It acquires a life of its own -- and can become demoralizing. America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at another moment of crisis, the powerful words "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist act in the United States itself. That is the result of five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror, quite unlike the more muted reactions of several other nations (Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, to mention just a few) that also have suffered painful terrorist acts. In his latest justification for his war in Iraq, President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging it lest al-Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States. Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum. The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation. That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival. Just last week, here in Washington, on my way to visit a journalistic office, I had to pass through one of the absurd "security checks" that have proliferated in almost all the privately owned office buildings in this capital -- and in New York City. A uniformed guard required me to fill out a form, show an I.D. and in this case explain in writing the purpose of my visit. Would a visiting terrorist indicate in writing that the purpose is "to blow up the building"? Would the guard be able to arrest such a self-confessing, would-be suicide bomber? To make matters more absurd, large department stores, with their crowds of shoppers, do not have any comparable procedures. Nor do concert halls or movie theaters. Yet such "security" procedures have become routine, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and further contributing to a siege mentality.(...) The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.
The atmosphere generated by the "war on terror" has encouraged legal and political harassment of Arab Americans (generally loyal Americans) for conduct that has not been unique to them. A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion. Social discrimination, for example toward Muslim air travelers, has also been its unintended byproduct. Not surprisingly, animus toward the United States even among Muslims otherwise not particularly concerned with the Middle East has intensified, while America's reputation as a leader in fostering constructive interracial and interreligious relations has suffered egregiously.The record is even more troubling in the general area of civil rights. The culture of fear has bred intolerance, suspicion of foreigners and the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of justice. Innocent until proven guilty has been diluted if not undone, with some -- even U.S. citizens -- incarcerated for lengthy periods of time without effective and prompt access to due process.(...) And the resentment is not limited to Muslims. A recent BBC poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries that sought respondents' assessments of the role of states in international affairs resulted in Israel, Iran and the United States being rated (in that order) as the states with "the most negative influence on the world." Alas, for some that is the new axis of evil! The events of 9/11 could have resulted in a truly global solidarity against extremism and terrorism. A global alliance of moderates, including Muslim ones, engaged in a deliberate campaign both to extirpate the specific terrorist networks and to terminate the political conflicts that spawn terrorism would have been more productive than a demagogically proclaimed and largely solitary U.S. "war on terror" against "Islamo-fascism." Only a confidently determined and reasonable America can promote genuine international security which then leaves no political space for terrorism. Where is the U.S. leader ready to say, "Enough of this hysteria, stop this paranoia"? Even in the face of future terrorist attacks, the likelihood of which cannot be denied, let us show some sense. Let us be true to our traditions. READ IT ALL

Saturday, March 24, 2007

This Sunday's cartoon for faithful News Linkers

David Seaton's News Links
On Sunday, this little blogger neither sows nor reaps nor gathers into barns, I toil not, neither do I spin... That's right, sweet Fanny Adams.... However I have thoughtfully provided visitors with this Bugs Bunny cartoon to assuage their natural disappointment at not finding the usual mayhem*. Have a peaceful Sunday... if you can. DS
*Scroll down for the heavy stuff

Don't it always go to show You'll never know what you got till it's gone?

"Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." - Matthew 15 - 11

"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" - Matthew 16 - 26
David Seaton's News Links
The biblical verses quoted above are of those which define our entire tradition and tell us who we are in history and what our culture has come to mean.

They tell us that in the end, what we do can do us more harm than anything that can be done to us. That finally we decide who we are... our dignity is in that decision, only we ourselves can destroy who we are.

Will Bush and those who pull his strings never tire of defiling us? Will we never tire of being defiled? DS

Slavoj Zizek: Knight of the Living Dead - New York Times
Abstract: (...)In a way, those who refuse to advocate torture outright but still accept it as a legitimate topic of debate are more dangerous than those who explicitly endorse it. Morality is never just a matter of individual conscience. It thrives only if it is sustained by what Hegel called “objective spirit,” the set of unwritten rules that form the background of every individual’s activity, telling us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is “dogmatically” clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture. Are we aware what lies at the end of the road opened up by the normalization of torture? A significant detail of Mr. Mohammed’s confession gives a hint. It was reported that the interrogators submitted to waterboarding and were able to endure it for less than 15 seconds on average before being ready to confess anything and everything. Mr. Mohammed, however, gained their grudging admiration by enduring it for two and a half minutes. Are we aware that the last time such things were part of public discourse was back in the late Middle Ages, when torture was still a public spectacle, an honorable way to test a captured enemy who might gain the admiration of the crowd if he bore the pain with dignity? Do we really want to return to this kind of primitive warrior ethics? This is why, in the end, the greatest victims of torture-as-usual are the rest of us, the informed public. A precious part of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity. READ IT ALL

Friday, March 23, 2007

Will Turkey invade Iraq?

David Seaton's News Links
You can see what a Pandora's box the US opened when it invaded Iraq. The wheels are really coming off this thing.

Turkey has a very powerful army and is the former imperial power of Iraq... If the British, who took over from Turkey in Iraq and the Americans who took over from the British cannot control the situation in Iraq the Turks are not going to sit on their hands.

This in turn, has almost infinite ramifications all over the Mediterranean, if you study the reach of the Ottoman Empire you will see that as the article from Wikipedia says, "The empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries", this was and is about Turkey's size, power and location. Just when you think things can't get any worse, they get... much worse. DS
US struggles to avert Turkish intervention in northern Iraq - Guardian
Abstract: The US is scrambling to head off a "disastrous" Turkish military intervention in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq that threatens to derail the Baghdad security surge and open up a third front in the battle to save Iraq from disintegration.(...) Fighting between security forces and Kurdish fighters seeking autonomy or independence for Kurdish-dominated areas of south-east Turkey has claimed 37,000 lives since 1984. The last big Turkish operation occurred 10 years ago, when 40,000 troops pushed deep into Iraq. But intervention in the coming weeks would be the first since the US took control of Iraq in 2003 and would risk direct confrontation between Turkish troops and Iraqi Kurdish forces and their US allies. Several other factors are adding to the tension between the Nato partners: The firm Turkish belief that the US is playing a double game in northern Iraq. Officials say the CIA is covertly funding and arming the PKK's sister organisation, the Iran-based Kurdistan Free Life party, to destabilise the Iranian government. US acquiescence in plans to hold a referendum in oil-rich Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Turkey suspects Iraqi Kurds are seeking control of Kirkuk as a prelude to the creation of an independent Kurdistan. Plans by the US Congress to vote on a resolution blaming Turkey for genocide against the Armenians in 1915. Faruk Logoglu, a former ambassador to Washington, said that if the resolution passed, relations "could take generations to recover". Record levels of Turkish anti-Americanism dating back to 2003, when Turkey refused to let US combat forces cross the Iraq border.(...) The US is already fighting Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. Analysts say a surge in violence in northern Iraq, previously the most stable region, could capsize the entire US plan. But pressure on the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is also growing as a result of forthcoming elections. Military intervention was narrowly avoided last summer when he said that "patience was at an end" over US prevarication. Now conservatives and nationalists are again accusing him of not standing up to Washington. "If they are killing our soldiers ... and if public pressure on the government increases, of course we will have to intervene," said Ali Riza Alaboyun, an MP for Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development party. "It is the legal right of any country to protect its people and its borders." US support for Iranian Kurds opposed to the Tehran government is adding to the agitation. "The US is trying to undermine the Iran regime, using the Kurds like it is using the MEK [the anti-Tehran People's Mujahideen]," said Dr Logoglu. "Once you begin to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' terrorist organisations, then you lose the war on terror." But he warned that military intervention might be ineffective and could be "disastrous" in destabilising the region. A recent national security council assessment also suggested that senior Turkish commanders were cautious about the prospects of success. READ IT ALL

The video - Technology strikes back

David Seaton's News Links
The Hillary video is making such waves because it is absolutely perfect. Hillary Clinton is by far the most accomplished practitioner of pre-Internet, pre-YouTube politics, where everything is measured, controlled and predictable. The YouTube, "1984" video is a revolt against all that.

The medium for exposing the unbelievable phoniness of Hillary Clinton is perfect, the economy of means, perfect too. A jewel! DS

YouTube Revolt - Investor's Business Daily
Abstract: Politics: Candidates with big money and early leads in the polls would like nothing better than to lock up their nominations a few weeks after Christmas. But they may be done in by a few good downloads.(...) Conventional wisdom says late entrants have no chance. If you're not a Clinton, Giuliani or McCain, it suddenly looks too late to raise the zillions needed for California media buys. Campaign finance law also seems designed to help front-runners stay that way. Ever since Watergate, Congress has been making it harder for presidential hopefuls to raise large amounts of cash from small numbers of people. This hurts upstarts most — except for billionaires who are free to spend their own money. A law such as McCain-Feingold, which limits political speech by capping campaign contributions, is a boon to the well-known and well-heeled.So if all goes according to plan, the past week's little political whodunit over the Hillary Clinton-as-Big Brother video may signify nothing in the long run. But we wonder. It was so easy, and most of all cheap, to craft a parody of Apple's '1984' ad, aim it straight at the front-runner and make it available to millions.(...) Videos like this are simple to produce and a snap to distribute. It takes easily learned technical skills to do a mashup. No skill at all is needed to record a cell phone video clip and post it on YouTube, where it can embarrass a politician before the whole world. We don't know if the 'Big Brother' spot will hurt Clinton, help Obama or change the mind of even one voter. But we're sure it has added a welcome touch of randomness to politics. It boosts freedom and weakens control. And whatever our views on the candidates involved, we can't help but salute this effort to get around the rules that stifle political speech. READ IT ALL

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Soros on AIPAC... power shifts

David Seaton's News Links
What George Soros says, in his NYRB piece abstracted below, is what you can read in any progressive blog, or in any European, (or for that matter Israeli) newspaper.

The significance is that these home truths are being stated by George Soros in a prestigious American publication. Important people with worldwide prestige, like Soros, Judt or Carter are stepping forward to criticize AIPAC following the pioneering report by Mearsheimer and Walt. They step forward knowing full well the kind of slander and insults they are going to be subjected to. They also know that those insults and slander prove every criticism of theirs to be true.

They are doing something very brave and at the same of vital importance, because AIPAC is one of the most sinister organizations in contemporary America.

One thing that I think should be made clear, although AIPAC is Jewish, it is much more an American
phenomena than a Jewish phenomena. It has everything to do with the masculine identity crisis of middle aged, American white men of all denominations and much less about Judaism or antisemitism... The cloak of victim-hood obtained by the Jewish identity is just a convenient disguise for a type of behavior much too familiar in American life and which would not be acceptable if not for that mantle. With the Iraq war the AIPAC has gone "A Bridge Too Far". George Soros, who really knows from personal experience what true antisemitism is, knows that this is a matter that the Jewish community itself must clean up before the damage spreads. DS
George Soros: On Israel, America and AIPAC - New York Review of Books

Abstract: The Bush administration is once again in the process of committing a major policy blunder in the Middle East, one that is liable to have disastrous consequences and is not receiving the attention it should. This time it concerns the Israeli–Palestinian relationship. The Bush administration is actively supporting the Israeli government in its refusal to recognize a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, which the US State Department considers a terrorist organization. This precludes any progress toward a peace settlement at a time when progress on the Palestinian problem could help avert a conflagration in the greater Middle East.(...) While other problem areas of the Middle East are freely discussed, criticism of our policies toward Israel is very muted indeed. The debate in Israel about Israeli policy is much more open and vigorous than in the United States. This is all the more remarkable because Palestine is the issue that more than any other currently divides the United States from Europe. Some European governments, according to reports, would like to end the economic boycott of Hamas once a unity government is successfully established. But the US has said it would not. One explanation is to be found in the pervasive influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which strongly affects both the Democratic and the Republican parties.[2] AIPAC's mission is to ensure American support for Israel but in recent years it has overreached itself. It became closely allied with the neocons and was an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion of Iraq. It actively lobbied for the confirmation of John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations. It continues to oppose any dialogue with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. More recently, it was among the pressure groups that prevailed upon the Democratic House leadership to drop the requirement that the President obtain congressional approval before taking military action against Iran. AIPAC under its current leadership has clearly exceeded its mission, and far from guaranteeing Israel's existence, has endangered it.(...) The pro-Israel lobby has been remarkably successful in suppressing criticism.[4] Politicians challenge it at their peril because of the lobby's ability to influence political contributions. When Howard Dean called for an evenhanded policy toward Israel in 2004, his chances of getting the nomination were badly damaged (although it was his attempt, after his defeat in Iowa, to shout above the crowd that sealed his fate). Academics had their advancement blocked and think-tank experts their funding withdrawn when they stepped too far out of line. Following his criticism of repressive Israeli policy on the West Bank, former president Jimmy Carter has suffered the loss of some of the financial backers of his center.(...) Whether the Democratic Party can liberate itself from AIPAC's influence is highly doubtful. Any politician who dares to expose AIPAC's influence would incur its wrath; so very few can be expected to do so. It is up to the American Jewish community itself to rein in the organization that claims to represent it. But this is not possible without first disposing of the most insidious argument put forward by the defenders of the current policies: that the critics of Israel's policies of occupation, control, and repression on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem and Gaza engender anti-Semitism. The opposite is the case. One of the myths propagated by the enemies of Israel is that there is an all-powerful Zionist conspiracy. That is a false accusation. Nevertheless, that AIPAC has been so successful in suppressing criticism has lent some credence to such false beliefs. Demolishing the wall of silence that has protected AIPAC would help lay them to rest. A debate within the Jewish community, instead of fomenting anti-Semitism, would only help diminish it.

Salvador Dali... gone fishin'

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My "trackers" inform me that I am getting quite a few hits from fans of Salvador Dali who stumble onto News Links while searching for images of the Catalan artist.

I published a post back in December with an image of Dali attached and for some reason it shows up on the second page of any Google Image search for the string, "salvador + dali". Googlologist will know why, the rest of must "go figure".

I heartily welcome these visitors as I believe the reason for choosing images and a shared visual taste are the solid beginnings of real affinity in many other areas too. So I hope that some of these visitors who come seeking images will stay to read the post and become regulars. Tracker statistics seem to bear this out. I would love to hear from News Links regulars who found this blog serendipitously.

Anyhow, today I decided to stick up another Dali classic, "The Persistence of Time", with the same harmless intention that one puts a worm on a hook... DS

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

William Pfaff - The Triumph of Venus

"The Venus of Urbino"
Titian - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
David Seaton's News Links
This is by far the best piece I've read yet about the European Union's 50th birthday. It's not by chance that it is written by William Pfaff, for me the best international affairs columnist writing in English. I just can't take the chance of my readers missing such a fine article.

Certainly the values of the "West" are far better defined and defended by European Union of today than by the United States of today. Fortunately for the US the EU model is there to admire, as America seems to be losing its way and needs some fresh ideas. DS

William Pfaff - The Triumph of Venus
Next Sunday, March 25, the European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which in 1957 established a customs union, common market, and institutions of economic cooperation among six European states – now become 27.

Last Monday there was another anniversary. The United States, its coalition allies, and Iraq noted the beginning of the fifth year of combined international and internecine war in Iraq, initiated by Washington to establish peace in the Middle East.

I link the two anniversaries to make an overlooked if controversial point, suggested by a weekend in Brussels at the annual plenary meeting of the Trilateral Commission, the private North American, European, and Asian group formed in 1973 to examine international affairs and commission studies of major international issues. The European Union anniversary was prominent in the discussion. The Belgian hosts of the meeting, together with the European Commission and Parliament in Brussels, were determined to celebrate to their foreign visitors the EU’s achievements.

The “Europe” the hosts put on display is the one that in little more than 50 years has transformed a political terrain ravaged by genocidal war, totalitarian politics, torture, secret police, and a devastated human generation, into a zone of peaceful cooperation, rejection of war, political and economic progress, social advance and institutional altruism without precedent in the history of the nation-state system.

The influential Washington writer Robert Kagan, meaning to be condescending, called this Europe “Paradise” in his 2003 book, “Of Paradise and Power.” He suggested that it existed only thanks to the United States, otherwise known as Power.

Europe was “Venus,” he also said, basking in complacent peace, progress and prosperity, while “Mars,” a vigilant and self-sacrificial United States, kept these Europeans safe from what neo-conservatives like to call the Hobbesian external world, red in tooth and claw, lusting to ravish Venus. His book was meant to make Americans feel good about themselves, a manly race protecting their lessers, and to shame Europeans into doing more to help the United States in its invasions, wars, kidnappings, extra-legal assassinations, torture and secret imprisonments, directed against terrorist or rogue nations such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and failed nations like Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as al Qaeda, the bearded assassins of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their fellow Islamic extremists in nations spanning the planet.

These Europeans instead had been preoccupied with training and subsidizing the states formerly under Soviet dictation in the Baltic region and in the Warsaw Pact, many of them with particularly tormented histories of foreign or national oppression, or domestic ethnic conflict, to develop the democratic institutions and progressive economies that would fit them to become members of the European Union. Today, most of them are already members of the EU of 27, and more are on the way to membership.

The year 1957 was not the real start of what became the European Union. That was the Treaty of Paris in April 1951, when at French initiative, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and France placed their war-making industries under common control. The purpose was to make peace in Europe permanent.
Two years before, in April 1949, NATO had been formed with the same purpose, binding the United States and Canada to the West European democracies in mutually defensive military alliance.

The two institutions succeeded far beyond what most then could have imagined. By 1990 the Soviet Union was history, the Warsaw Pact states free. What did it?

Fundamentally, the EU did it. NATO proved to have been a necessary precaution – it would have been madness not to recognize in 1949 the possibility of Soviet aggression. But what we know now of the period suggests that a deliberate Soviet attack on the West was never seriously contemplated.

What destroyed the Soviet system was its moral as well as political and material decadence and decline. It was discredited politically and internationally by the European Union’s transformation of Western Europe.

The European Union, more than any other single factor, was responsible for the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war. It was not American arms that did it, necessary as they may have been to the Soviet Union’s intimidation, and to its eventual recognition that matching U.S. arms expenditures was impossible: that there had to be another way to go.

It could in the end turn out that the most important single event in ending the cold war was that summer, during the years of détente, spent by Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife on vacation in the south of France, witnesses of a peaceful and progressive Western Europe. That, more than the arms race, represented the competition the U.S.S.R. had already lost.

Venus won. But alas, where today is Mars?

The money heads for the doors

David Seaton's News Links
The New York Times has devoted a considerable part of its editorial page to a private equity company going public. It is very interesting and indeed troubling that the New York Times would devote an editorial to this subject. This quote is very important "if the stock market were a coal mine, Blackstone could be the canary."

As they say in the Big Apple, the New York Times is "not chopped chicken liver." The editorial itself will affect the market. It is one thing for me, modest blogger that I am, to engage in wild speculation and quite another for the New York Times. Something large and hairy is afoot. DS

Why Is Blackstone Going Public? - Editorial - News York Times Abstract: Less than three weeks after he said public markets are “overrated” and “really not worth it” to rainmakers like himself, Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of the private equity powerhouse Blackstone Group, is reportedly working on a plan to sell a chunk of the firm to the public. The rarefied preserve of private equity — in which moguls use private money to buy shareholder-owned companies, take them private and sell them later — would be parceled out, share by humble share, to everyday investors.(...) Blackstone’s impending public offering might also offer a clue as to what could precipitate a downturn. By going public, the group is saying that it expects to need more money going forward than it is likely to be able to raise privately. That suggests that Blackstone is planning to do even bigger deals in the future — or that it foresees a credit crunch (or both). Lenders are already tightening at the bottom of the borrowing food chain, in dodgy mortgages. Easy money is also getting harder to come by as interest rates rise around the world. As pundits and policy makers debate whether credit woes will lead to weaker financial markets and a weaker economy, Blackstone may simply be trying to get ahead of its competitors, tapping funds where they’re still available. READ IT ALL

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Patience for Iraq war waning, say congressional leaders

The patient ones
David Seaton's News Links
It is hard to read this article from "The Examiner" without wanting to scream obscenities and punch walls. These are the men and women who voted for the war talking. They have opened the gates of hell, pushed the people of Iraq through them and now they are "impatient" and would like to shut the gates and walk away. What is most sickening and unforgivable is the sanctimonious tone used... They probably say this stuff after one of those Washington "prayer breakfasts".

Of course the Americans should get out of Iraq, they should never have been there in the first place... but the United States should be paying war reparations to the people of Iraq for the next 50 years, at least, and the people who organized this war should be put on trial and imprisoned. DS

Patience for Iraq war waning, say leaders - The Examiner

Abstract: Four years into the Iraq war, all sides in the bitter debate agree that President Bush’s “troop surge” plan represents the final drop of American patience for the war. If Iraqis fail to control the violence, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, “The American taxpayer has a reasonable expectation that we will bring our people home.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has steadfastly supported the mission, said Republicans’ patience is nearly exhausted, too. “This is the last chance for the Iraqis,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview with The Examiner. “The last chance for them to step up and demonstrate that they can do their part to save their country.”(...) Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott said(...) “At some point, you got to say to them, ‘Congratulations, Saddam is dead,’ ” Lott said. “We brought Baghdad under control. You folks got to decide whether you just want to kill each other forever or have a real government and peace and freedom and democracy.”(...) Anyway, Democrats say, Republicans send the same message to insurgents and Iraqis as timetables do when they say that their patience will run dry in months rather than years. “That may be,” Lott replied. “But at some point, they have to take control themselves.” READ IT ALL(barf bags not provided)