Saturday, December 31, 2005

It was a very bad year

New Year's Eve - Kazumi Honda

This was such a lousy year that I don’t even know where to begin. Okay, let’s go with Congressional interference in a family matter about pulling the plug on a brain-dead woman (her brain was determined during the autopsy to be basically a puddle of Jell-O), to a Congressional give-away to usurious credit card companies obliterating the ability of their victims to get relief in bankruptcy court, to over 2,100 dead American soldiers in Iraq. 2005 was a year for the record books.

Wounded American soldiers in military hospitals were
charged for their meals. The Veterans Administration had over a billion dollars slashed from its budget while the cost of the Iraq war went over 200 billion dollars.

In Iraq,
rigged elections left and right prepared the Middle East for the resurrection of the Persian Empire; wingnuts adopted the phrase - and endlessly repeated it - “Islamo-fascism” - an absurdist oxymoron that is meaningless, except to cretins. The US military was revealed to have used nerve gas (white phosphorus) on civilians as well as “enemy combatants” in Iraq, not to mention incendiary bombs.

In fact, stupidity was rampant this year on every front, from the President on down to the citizen in the street. Confronted by in-your-face evidence that the 9/11 Commission’s report – the so-called Kean-Zelikow Report – was bogus and a whitewash and a massive cover up, as evidenced by literally hundreds of Internet
websites flaying the report and publishing the actual facts of the September attack with pictures and circles and arrows, the American public yawned.

This was a bad year for the nation’s flagship newspapers: The New York Times was forced to apologize for Judith Miller while
sitting on information that revealed the PeRezident to be guilty as hell of illegal wiretapping while continuing to publish the myopic op-eds of Tom Friedman. The LA Times still carries the slop of Max Boot while firing everybody else in sight. Woodward was revealed to be sleeping with the enemy and so what. White chicks dominated the news, both domestically and in fair Aruba, but President of the Senate Dick Cheney neglected to emerge from his undisclosed location to cast a deadlock-breaking vote, so we continued to be inundated with non-news, including the pederast trial of a robo-entertainer and breathless reports of assorted actors’ possible pregnancies or on-again, off-again divorce proceedings.

The LA Times published at least three of
John “Torture Is Good and the President Is Above the Constitution” Yoo’s op-ed pieces, all of them certifiable moonbat drivel. This person got tenure as a professor of law at UC Berkeley, and the public yawned.

The Republican dominated Congress – with the advice and consent of the Congressional Democrats – took the American
taxpayers to the cleaners, and the public yawned. Hurricane Katrina barreled through the Gulf states, killing hundreds and leaving half the populace homeless and the PeRezident told the man in charge, “Brownie, you’re doing a helluva job.” Congress suspended the prevailing-wage act in the Gulf states and the public yawned.

Not only is the NSA illegally tapping your overseas phone calls, they (and at least 23 other government agencies) have been placing
persistent cookies on the computers of visitors to their websites as well, allowing them to track your web-surfing habits. The CIA, under instructions from the PeRezident, continues to maintain a fleet of rent-a-jets overseas for those extra-special rendition trips, shunting between atolls on the torture archipelago. And the legal whiz kids in government employ still maintain that the PreZ can do anything he wants in the GWOT because there has never been terrorism in the world before and this is a new kind of war and Congress said he can use any kind of force he wants and fuck you, Concerned American Citizens, and screw his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, he has a “homeland” to protect.

In the blogosphere (yes, we know:
skippy invented that phrase), comment email spam arrived. My computer crashed; twice. I switched to Linux Xandros. It crashed. I went back to Windows. My computer is hanging in there, barely. John Hindracker – of Powerline infamy – endlessly appeared on radio talk shows where he endlessly droned on about George Bush’s “unrecognized genius”; David Corn’s fall from grace in aligning himself with the Pajamas Media project and the incredible stupidity of the Pajamas Media project’s “borrowing” of the Open Source trademark, which even a simpleton would know better than to do. The sheer fact of Michelle Malkin’s existence. Blame Bush failed to receive Humor Blog of the Year award. Liberal Larry blames Bush for that, as do I.

There were a couple of
bright moments; I could tell you about them, but you’d just yawn.Not that I’m paranoid or anything, but Sitemeter reports that this website got two separate hits from a “blocked referrer” using a “generic crawler” in Ashburn, Maryland, just after the publishing of my article on the possibility of dropping jumbo jets on Goat Boy’s head. I’m thinking to myself, who or what is in Ashburn, Virginia? Upon tracking down same, it is revealed that Ashburn is home to George Washington University (YAY!) and also the National Transportation Safety Board. (Hmm). Another fine example of your tax dollars at work?
Happy Freakin’ New Year.

It ain't a rainbow, but -

The Republican monolithic facade is beginning to crack at the foundations, weakened by the slow but steady drip of leaks coming from within its own house. The foundations are crumbling, and the once-might monolith of the party of the Contract With America is beginning to list. There is little apprehension on the part of this writer that it will actually crash, but it is apparent that some of its walls have been breached, the party is seriously weakened, and some rats are making their escape already.

Neocons may have been blinded by those gleaming promises of global hegemony, but they aren’t stupid. Earlier this summer, having seen some of the light of harsh reality dawning where all was gleaming wonderfulness before, a couple of leading neocons - William Krystal of The Standard, and Tom Donnely of The American Enterprise Institute - stabbed Donald Rumsfeld in the back, preparatory to fleeing the edifice before all was lost for good. In an op-ed in his rag The Standard, Krystal said that “... Rumsfeld has fouled up everything in Iraq and ought to be fired for his failures...,” thus beginning to distance himself and the rest of his neocon buddies from their ill-conceived and badly executed attempt at global hegemony beginning with the war in Iraq.

Republicans with consciences, and there are some,showed a return to ethical behavior ...

Senate Republicans with consciences – and there are some – showed some return to ethical behavior in the final dash to the congressional holiday break when they sided with Democrats in their refusal to endorse the full reauthorization of the grotesquely named USA Patriot Act, in the face of the threats and ire of Republican Senate leader Bill Frist.

Connecticut Senator Lincoln Chaffe deserves some kind of medal for siding with the Dems in the ongoing battle to block drilling in the ANWAR, which ended in success for environmentalists everywhere.

But the most glaring sign of the times, from no less than the editorial mouthpiece of corporate America (in the final analysis, the only people with juice that really count), is a recent
editorial in this month’s Barron’s magazine, a part of the Wall Street Journal’s capitalist propaganda machine. It was written by Thomas G. Donlan, hardly a free-thinking liberal. In their carefully worded piece, they make the case that the Congress ought to investigate this matter and seriously consider either changing the law or report a bill to impeach the president for his patently illegal wire-tapping.

I don’t know about you, but my first New Year’s resolution is that every Republican in Congress immediately
takes out a subscription to Barron’s magazine.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Flights of fancy

If you're a curious type like I am, Gentle Readers, you may have found yourself wondering why George W. Bush spend those seven minutes sitting on his ass in that 2nd grade classroom in Sarasota, Florida, listening to an uninspired reading of "My Pet Goat" while our country was being attacked on September 11, 2001.

If you have thought about it even cursorily, you may have found yourself wondering why the hell the Secret Service didn't just grab his ass, frog-march him out of there and wisk him off to one of those undisclosed locations they have all over the damn place. Dick Cheney was apparently bum-rushed to his bunker so fast he lost his toupee, and he's only the Vice President. Surely, the President deserves some kind of priority in the security department? Remember the video of Reagan getting shot at? Boy, howdy, the Secret Service dog-piled him in a heartbeat and then basically threw him into his limo and peeled out. Those guys have some reflexes. So where were their reflexes on Sept 11?

The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported (Sept 10, 2002) that a Secret Service agent in the President’s detail said - after word was passed that the second tower had been struck by a plane - “We’re out of here.” But grabbing the president and splitting isn’t what actually happened. What happened is that Andy Card, Bush’s then chief of staff, entered the classroom, whispered in George’s ear and the Prez then went into a state of shock and sat there for seven solid minutes, frozen like a pre-Thanksgiving turkey. Watch that tape, if you don’t believe me.

A lot of damage can happen in seven minutes, folks, while the sorry fact is that the President’s party didn’t even leave the school for thirty whole minutes. That’s longer than the flight time for a Russian ICBM from Siberia to Miami, so this entire affair stinks like leftover gefilte fish, if you ask me. It’s a pretty well established fact that the Secret Service has as its highest priority the protection of the life of the President of the United States, and they are under orders not to wait for orders when the gravy turns to shit. They just move.

But on this fine day, with the FAA reporting as many as 11 hijacked aircraft in the skies over America, the Secret Service just milled around out in the corridor, like turkeys waiting for the block. Come on, what a crock. Somebody should have done something. But then again, maybe not, if the intention is to not save the President's life. Maybe somebody’s intention was a little darker than just wasting two New York skyscrapers and 3,000 stockbrokers. Maybe the Prez was meant to go down on September 11, too, but somebody bungled his part of the operation.

And I’m not talking about Osama’s boys putting the hatchet to Bush’s neck; nope, I’m talking about somebody with enough juice to tell the Secret Service to ignore their standing orders and back off while the president sits there vulnerable to a jumbo jet falling out of the sky. Have you ever considered that? No? Well, do. And then ask yourself, what is the order of presidential succession?

Scary, huh? The hell of it is, though - when you think about it - it all makes sense. The man with the most to gain from all of this terrorist hokum is the chief global hegemonist himself - dark ruler of cabals from Watergate to Nicaragua to Iraq and then back again to Iraq - Richard “Dick” Cheney. Yup.

But, but ... you stammer, George was pals with all those Saudi guys, hell, he even holds hands with them! The Sauds have been financial partners with the Bush family forever! Why would a bunch of Saudis want to help off their buddy George? Well, folks, besides the fact that the Smirker is an expendable poophead in any case – and good ridance - there are two (2) more Bush brothers (Marvin and Jeb), and one of them – Jeb - actually has some brains, not to mention being in politics, what with him being the governor of the state of Florida and all. Ho, ho, makes you think, doesn’t it? And guess who used to run the company that manages the security for the World Trade Center? Right -  Marvin Bush!

And if you still think that the object that hit the Pentagon was a Boeing 757, then I’ve got a war in Iraq to sell you.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What's gone wrong?

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to it’s knees
Oh, it’s alright, it’s alright
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

 -Paul Simon “American Dream”

The Commander in Chief addresses the troops

If you ask a man in the street why we went into Iraq, he might answer, “We went in there because they had weapons of mass destruction and they were involved with al-Queda in the Twin Towers terrorist attack of 9/11.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Of course, we now know that neither answer is true. Iraq had disposed of all its nerve agents, shut down its chemical-warfare manufacturing facilities and had never requested yellowcake uranium from Niger. Also, al-Queda and Osama bin Laden were persona non grata with Saddam Hussein, and the Bush administration and everyone of importance in it knew it.

For the last few months, as evidence of the deception perpetrated by this administration mounts, the obfuscation, misdirection and the outright lies told by Cheney and Rumsfeld roll on, and the President has shifted his rhetoric to high-sounding goals like “protecting our freedoms [sic],” “liberating” the Iraqi people, and “bringing democracy” to the Middle East, in direct contradiction to his earlier promise that he would “never engage in nation-building.” I think it’s only appropriate to ask just what the hell is going on? What’s gone wrong with our democracy?

It all seemed to start out normally enough, as even the rampant voter disenfranchisement and ballot-box stuffing are not without precedent in our relatively short electoral history. In fact, his first term of office looked to be business as usual; Bush was devoted to budget slashing, tax relief for the rich, and the reduction of government services, in line with his conservative base’s philosophy of least government. Tax and budget cuts were chugging along merrily and then came September 11, 2001 and we experienced an abrupt shift, a radical sea change, if you will, of the administration’s whole raison d’etre.

America was attacked, and naturally the country as a whole wanted to lash out. But Bin Laden is a Saudi, al-Queda is in Afghanistan, so why the hell are we in Iraq?

It has been theorized that Bush was hell-bent on getting Sadaam Hussein for Hussein’s alleged assassination attempt on Bush Senior, but as Bush W.’s relationship with his father is so shaky that he almost never speaks to him, that’s a pretty weak argument.

Then there’s the oil/Halliburton angle; Bush, an oil man from an oil business family, so the argument goes, went after the crude. But Bush was never really an oil man; he’s a layabout playboy, ex-frontman for a Texas baseball team and a failed businessman. In any case, his New England family is in banking and capital investments, having acted as the Nazis’ banker prior to and during WWII, with Bush Senior presently involved in running the Carlyle group - heavily invested in by the House of Saud - and a major supplier of capital to the corporations that make all the war toys that the Pentagon buys.

There is a certain amount of pro-quid-pro on behalf of Texas energy, or more accurately, the manipulation of its price, as represented by Bush’s involvement with Enron’s Ken Lay. Lay was a major supporter of Bush’s Texas governorship and subsequent run for the presidency. Bush is a man of strong loyalties, but note how he never raised a finger on behalf of Lay when he went down for his criminal management of Enron. So that explanation is shaky.

Now, in criminal cases, when the detective is trying to sort out the bad guys from the good guys, a standard question to ask is, “Who benefits?”

The truth, as has often been pointed out by the wise men, is often hard to swallow. Most Americans have been brain-washed into rejecting conspiracy theories and will flat-out not believe the answer, even though the mountain of evidence is staring them in the face. The truth seems to contradict everything we as a people have been taught since we were grasshoppers, and it goes against our very grain.

Indeed, the very mention of the possibility that the last two presidential elections were stolen outright leaves most Americans stunned and utterly disbelieving. But the perpetrators have waited a long time to achieve their goals, even while they pulled every trick in the book in implementing them, counting on the whistle-blowers of the Fourth Estate to be misdirected or muzzled by their giant media corporate employers. Even the vaunted newspaper of record sat on evidence of presidential illegality for over a year.

In brief, this administration is the incarnation of the efforts of men who wish nothing less than the return of an absolute executive in America. In another time, they would be supporting the return of the monarchy. America got rid of its monarch 229 years ago and some people have not gotten over it. In colonial America, they were called Tories – which party still exists in Britain today - and actually fought on the side of the British against the colonial revolutionaries.

The American Tories of today are composed of ultra-conservative Republicans, radical Christian fundamentalists, international corporate CEOs, and a handful of ideologues - the so-called neo-conservatives.

While these groups – with the exception of the religious fundamentalists - have no vested interest in royalty per se, they are all fanatics and elitists, and certain of their historical or God-given imperative. Each of these groups has its own partisan goal to achieve – profits, personal power, the elimination of their political opposition, the Rapture - but the achievement of these goals is thwarted by our republican form of government. So they have banded together, some deliberately, some accidentally, to institute an all-powerful autonomous executive, unchained from the fetters of the Constitutional protections of habeas corpus, equal protection, equal representation, etc., and not answerable to the Supreme Court or Congress, or, ultimately, the majority of the American people to achieve their agenda of an elitist minority rule.

Donald Rumsfeld and Richard “Dick” Cheney are the principal leaders in this fight in the administration today, just as they were principal architects of the Project for the New American Century’s white paper on the new American imperium. Note their distain for all opposition to their stated goals, their dismissal of all criticism. But Americans are not stupid, just deliberately misinformed about the true motives of the politicians they voted for to guard their precious liberties.

September 11 was a beautiful opportunity for the “cabal,” as Colonel Larry Wilkerson has so aptly named them, because it put the country on a war footing, even if the Congress could not quite be persuaded to actually declare war, as required by the Constitution. Practically speaking, it didn’t matter, as much of the legal groundwork had been laid during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and all the personnel were in place – the whole crew from the Project for the New American Century were sitting fat and happy in key political offices. The deliberately misnamed USA Patriot Act had been prepared months – perhaps years - before, ready to be foisted on a panicked Congress. Congress dutifully passed it three days after its introduction, without reading its 300 pages, and without a House, Senate or conference vote and zero debate.

Not co-incidentally, hair-splitting legal technicians in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department were arguing that the president has extraordinary and extra-constitutional powers in time of war, including imperiously declaring American citizens “enemy combatants,” subject to indefinite detention with no access to legal counsel. (Also not co-incidentally, all of these legal weasels were amply rewarded for their legal opinions: Jay Bybee now sits on the 9th Circuit, John Yoo is a professor of law at Berkeley, and Alberto Gonzales is Attorney General, while Addington is Cheney’s chief of staff.) Executive orders were declared to have the force of legislated law, an assertion that flies in the face of the actual wording of the Constitution, which states in the very first Section , “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” The President is – deliberately – excluded.

Not satisfied with the unconstitutional Bill of Rights-busting provisions of the Patriot Act given to domestic law enforcement, the Department of Defense, at Donald Rumsfeld’s direction, has begun the process of forming domestic military intelligence units in order to better keep tabs on civilian discontent. Meanwhile, President Bush, citing a hypothetical avian flu epidemic, has recently called for the military to plan for “mass quarantine” of a suspected infected populace.

All the evidence points to only one conclusion: this country is headed right straight towards a dictatorship; to deny that is to deny the evidence at hand and the lessons of history.

This administration uses the vocabulary of a classical tyranny. Administration officials, including the President, continuously talk about being “at war,” although no act of war has been legally declared. Cheney calls for torture as a normal interrogation technique, against every civilized code and the law of nations. Threat levels and fear are the theme of this government, with constant pronouncements that President Bush will lead us to “victory over terrorism.” They call for the surrender of our rights as necessary in the “war on terror,” knowing full well that the normal police investigation and arrest powers in place are more than adequate to pursue terrorists in this country. The FBI is responsible for counter-terrorism within our borders and has been tracking down and arresting spies in this country since they were established in 1908. In their long history they have earned a well-deserved reputation for professionalism, integrity and the respect for due process of law.

The cabal deliberately bypassed them in its call for a Department of Homeland Security because of the distain they hold for constitutional procedures such as court-issued warrants, Miranda rights, speedy arraignment, right to counsel and the like, and no doubt the fear that the Supreme Court would - as it has in the past - decline to give them a pass when push came to shove on their illegal tactics.

In a nutshell, the Iraq war is an elaborate smokescreen, a political sleight-of-hand, enabling the cabal to accrue presidential executive power by eliminating our civil liberties in the name of “national security.” Highly trained lawyers argue prerogatives for the president that are not in the Constitution; Congress has been taken over by opportunistic political hacks and con men, too busy giving away the store to their corporate or religious supporters to defend our basic liberties, while individual Americans are baffled or disbelieving of politicians’ true agendas or mind-fucked by government propaganda, and feel powerless.

This last is not the case, of course, but as a nation we despair of another impeachment – indeed, it would of necessity be a whole series of impeachments - with the attendant acrimony and political noise and chaos, not to mention our national embarrassment, and that’s what the cabal is counting on.

As I write this, Congress is considering re-authorizing the Patriot Act for another ten years. I have no doubt that individual congressmen believe that the suspension of our guarantees of civil rights is required by our present state of undeclared “war,” and grieve for the Bill of Rights, but if you ask me, I know they really think it would sure be handy to have the power to sneak a peak into their enemy’s bedroom tucked in their hip pockets, just in case. Hell, he might just be a “terrerist.” President Bush has twice now admitted ordering warrentless wiretaps on American citizens in violation of federal law, declaring that his breaking the law would make all Americans safer and “protect our civil liberties.”

It has been argued to the point of exhaustion that these are extraordinary times, and require extraordinary measures, but this is just a demonstration of the monumental ignorance of American history that these would-be monarchists posses, as well as their assumption that American citizens are ignorant, too.

The fact is that our Constitution was forged in the very crucible of most extraordinary times. We had successfully concluded the French and Indian War, a war involving terrorism and organized domestic insurrection on this continent and then went on to conduct an armed revolution against the then most powerful nation on Earth, overthrowing that monarch’s rule. The Constitution was designed for extraordinary times, and we don’t need self-serving legal whiz-kids denigrating its intent in its separation of powers.

For the record, it is a fact that no people in history has ever recovered their civil liberties after relinquishing them, except through outside intervention or bloody revolution. Not one. Historically, no republic has ever survived as long as this one, and every single one of them ended up a tyranny, or worse.

In the meantime, we have a petulant drunkard as a wanna-be king, surrounded by all the king’s men, confident that the revolutionaries won’t wise up and take back their Republic.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Los Angeles Times fires everybody (mostly)

Los Angeles Times building

For a minute there – and with the mess of Hurricane Katrina to inspire their better journalistic impulses - it looked as if big media news had regained its voice, and then the hammer fell: The Los Angles Times’ owner fired everybody. Okay, not everybody; they kept the copy boy.

Back when the administration was beating the war drums and pretending to believe the intelligence they were getting from Curveball and Ahmad Chalabi, even as The New York Times’ Judith Miller was salting the mine and Tom Friedman furiously scribbling inflammatory (and plainly asinine) arguments for bringing the Shock and Awe road show to Iraq, many Internet citizens, including this writer, saw the whole thing as a setup.

And we weren’t even reporters, scuffing our shoe leather on the White House or the Pentagon beat, or even on speaking terms with Hans Blix or Scott Ritter; no, we got our information from the newspapers for the most part and some TV. The very same newspapers that reported UN inspectors finding nada, while burying directly contradictory reports on page 13 and stridently screaming for Iraqi blood on the editorial pages.

A great many of us were able - from the bits and pieces of journeyman reporting that we did find - to put together a coherent story that pointed to an administration that wanted to go to war come hell or high water - although as to precisely why no one could then say. It was obvious that the Iraqis were out of the loop vis a vis the World Trade Center attack; hell, every news outlet on the planet reported that the hijackers were Saudis and Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan or maybe the south of France.

The Internet came in handy for this one, though. With just a few minutes of Googling, you could find reams of info – Greg Palast was outstanding on this subject – about the Bush-Saudi-Halliburton connections; why weren’t the MSM editors Googling along with us? (One presumes they have Internet access.) I can understand their hesitancy to use Lexis/Nexis: the service costs a bundle, but Google is free and covers much the same information.

So as we rapidly sank up to our collarbones in Iraq - I believe the correct phrase is “bogged down” – the American press blithely focused on white chicks fleeing their grooms, a pederasty case and other trivia, earning insane megabucks in the process, and then along comes Hurricane Katrina. The Bush administration was revealed to be a hopeless pack of political hacks and the press got righteous.

Result? Managing editors turned their reporters loose and we got great reporting for about thirty days – in print and on TV - and then the Tribune Company (titular owner of The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, as well as Tribune Entertainment among other things) lowered the boom on the editorial staff of the best newspaper in the country – The Los Angeles Times, winner of 13 Pulitzer Prizes in five years - and fired some 8% of its staff (85 bodies), among them its top editors, opinion writers and foreign correspondents. But they kept Max Boot’s worthless op-ed crap.

Why? Was it because the editorial staff had found their backbones after all these years and started reporting the real skinny, infuriating their corporate owners? Nope; it was because the Tribune Company’s Wall Street owners weren’t happy with the 20% profits the Times was generating; they wanted more, so they cut the editorial staff to increase the bottom line.

And what is the Times' return on investment? 20%! That’s a better bottom line than in the pharmaceutical industry, and they’re raping their customers.

Not that profits are obscene in and of themselves, but owners need to realize that there is a natural bottom-line profit to be had from infotainment and a different bottom line for traditional news outlets, and they are incompatible. Time/Life spun off People magazine from a Time magazine weekly column and left the news magazine otherwise intact and everybody’s happy.
The newspaper biz has been in shakeup mode* for many years: readership dwindled as citizens shifted their attention to TV infotainment (NBC’s Nightly News is the single largest source of news for Americans, according to NBC News); Spanish-language TV and newspapers have taken a large share of the info-consuming public the Times once monopolized, people have forgotten how to read, and, of course, there’s the Internet.

It’s not completely doom and gloom: Los Angeles county presently has three major metros: The LA Times, the Spanish-language La Opinion and the Daily News - which is published in and for the San Fernando Valley – but this last might as well be from the other side of the planet for real Los Angelenos.

Not that I’m proposing that the Internet totally replace the traditional American newspaper in the immediate future, but given the slashing of editorial budgets happening at newspapers all over the country, along with the mind candy that is driving all real news from the front page and network news, most of my own information is gleaned from online sources, and most of them foreign, and I no longer watch the evening news. Where can an honest managing editor or print reporter go?

How about the Internet?

Yes Gentle Readers, the World Wide Web, the blogosphere, XMS/RSS feeds, the BBC and Reuters newswires on your desktop and CNN instant bulletins in your e-mail box, 24/7. For free and no corporate greedhounds.

Robert Scheer, multiple prize-winning-recently-fired employee of the once-mighty Los Angeles Times has teamed up with Los Angeles entrepreneur Zuade Kaufman, son Christopher Scheer, and Richard Core, et al. and now edits, starting yesterday.

Welcome aboard the Truth Train, Robert & Company. Good day and good luck.

*Warning: audio tape of a radio program with educated people having an insightful discussion.

UPDATE: in March of 2011, the NY Times established an Internet paywall, which many pundits predicted would effectively crash the legendary newspaper. Well, great things come to those who dare to dream and all that, as is reporting that NYT's paywall has actually increased circulation. How about that, folks? 

Monday, November 28, 2005

American media bored with Iraq war?

Two weeks ago we ran a review of a book of Iraq war photography, Unembedded; in it, we noted the lack of coverage - both in print and on television - of this war. Leaving aside the problem of how physically dangerous it is for reporters, whether photographers or print, the question still remains: where is the coverage?

Rebecca Dana and Lizzy Ratner in a recent article for The New York Observer have posed the same question and have come up with one possible answer:

In 2003, after the invasion, media companies were warned not to feed the American news consumer too much material on the downside of war. The media-consulting firm Frank Magid Associates advised broadcast outlets that its survey results suggested that viewers had very little appetite for stories about casualties, prisoners of war and anti-war protests.

“There’s this kind of general, industry-wide view that Americans don’t like anything tough, don’t like anything complicated, don’t give a shit, don’t know how to spell the country much less care what’s going on there,”
Ms. [Christiane] Amanpour said. “I find that a very patronizing attitude.”

Yes, it is patronizing, but probably realistic, as far as it goes. When the national news coverage goes on for days about some white chick who left her husband at the altar or JaLo’s recent pregnancy (did that happen? I really don’t know) for hours and hours of Jacko or that skinny Hilton broad, I personally can’t figure out if the media is generating the celebrity-watch demand or if the public really wants to see this crap more than they want to know how their Johnny might be doing in that foreign country where the towel heads are all trying to kill him.

Bear in mind that military policy presently forbids the photographing of coffins arriving from Iraq and military funerals taking place here in America on public grounds, i.e. Arlington National Cemetery, by anyone - and that includes the grieving parents of the deceased.

So if the American media couldn’t be bothered to report the news from Iraq and the American public couldn’t be bothered to watch it, why then is the US abducting or killing reporters and targeting media offices?

Don’t think so? Read this, from the UK Guardian:

22 November 2005
Madness of war
By Kevin Maguire And Andy Lines

PRESIDENT Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals ... Bush disclosed his plan to target al-Jazeera, a civilian station with a huge Mid-East following, at a White House face-to-face with Mr Blair on
April 16 last year ... The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors ... In 2001 the station's Kabul office was knocked out by two "smart" bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station's Baghdad centre ... The memo, which also included details of troop deployments, turned up in May last year at the Northampton constituency office of then Labour MP Tony Clarke.

To bring us up to date, the number of journalists killed so far in Iraq (74) exceeds those killed during the Vietnam War (66), which lasted twenty years. But getting killed isn’t the only problem. It seems that if the insurgents don’t kidnap reporters, the Americans will:

The Iraqis who have taken up the most dangerous legwork are not safe either. Five Iraqi journalists are currently being held without charges by U.S. and Iraqi government troops. Since April 2003, between 10 and 13 have been killed by American gunfire.

“It really comes from all sides,” said Reuters global managing editor David Schlesinger, who has lost three Iraqi reporters to U.S. gunfire and three more to detention facilities. “Certainly there’s a huge risk from insurgents, either to be hurt or killed accidentally … but unfortunately, there’s also been an issue with U.S. troops.”

And don’t forget:

(1) Italian journalist Juliana Sgerno was shot at and her bodyguard killed at a US checkpoint,
(2) CNN’s former chief
Eason Jordan called for the US to stop targeting journalists, and
(3) The
Palestine Hotel, headquarters for the international press in Baghdad, was blasted by a US tank, with two journalists killed and several wounded, May 2004.

And of course, having embed-induced tunnel vision doesn’t help, either:

“If you’re a [Western] print reporter,” [former Washington Post bureau chief] Mr. Chandrasekaran said, “you’re pretty much confined to Baghdad. And if you want to go anywhere else, you basically have to be embedded.”

This also keeps the press working within an official, bureaucratic context. Jon Alpert, a filmmaker working on a documentary for HBO about military medicine, said that the MedEvac unit he embedded with for the project was surprisingly accommodating. But when injured troops reached the field hospital, officials invoked the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the same privacy law that has come to thwart stateside reporters.

“When we were in the hospital,” Mr. Alpert said, “I had to have a public-affairs officer with me all the time. Because it was a hospital, they were applying the HIPAA laws.”

The combination of structured access to U.S. forces and open hostility from insurgents has left reporters with lopsided sources. “Who are the insurgents?” said freelance photojournalist Kael Alford, who covered the invasion and the first three months of the occupation. “Who are these people and why are they fighting? That’s a really valuable perspective …. It’s the story we have all been trying to do all along, and very few journalists have been able to get it.”

So maybe the American media isn’t bored with the Iraqi war; perhaps they’re just frustrated by the lack of exciting visuals, corporate policy that favors tits over national security, damn little access to the Iraqi populace, lack of personnel on the ground, active interference by the military, and governmental policy that restricts what can be reported, both from here and Iraq.

In other words, it’s not their fault.

In the meantime, keep your Internet provider bill paid up or subscribe to a foreign newspaper, because that’s the only way you’re going to find out anything worth knowing about this war.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The matrix explained

Congressman John Murtha is being hammered by both the left and the right for having the temerity to call for withdrawal from Iraq now. Bushites reject his call as “traitorous” or worse, “cowardice,” while those on the left, including some 200+ Democratic representatives, simply don’t want to face up to the fact that both the American public (55-60% according to the latest polls) and the Iraqi representatives at the Cairo conference last night, have called for us to leave, immediately. But I sense a weather change here.

We might actually have turned the corner in the debate about our presence in Iraq. Instead of bushwa about “supporting the troops,” “staying the course,” etc., we may well have started an actual, rational public debate about real issues, like how to get the troops home without too much egg on our collective face and Iraq in chaos.

Many, including the redoubtable Juan Cole, have voiced concerns that our withdrawal would have as an immediate result a civil war in Iraq. Cole argues that while we might characterize the present insurgency’s attacks on the militias, police and Iraqi military as civil war, that’s not what he means by civil war. He’s talking about set-piece battles, possibly tank warfare, and the participation of Turkey, Iran, et al. Personally, I think that’s a little over the top, but Cole had also proposed a withdrawal plan back in August not unlike Kerry’s recent one. Cole’s seems reasonable to me – as did Kerry’s - because he realistically admits that there will continue to be insurgency and counter-insurgency attacks in the major cities, which he sees – rightly so – as an Iraqi civilian police problem, and not our concern. Hear, hear.

Still to be debated - or at the very least, dragged out into the light of day - is the
National Security Strategy. You know, that plan to occupy the Middle East until doomsday or the oil runs out, whichever comes first. This is the plan to which Clinton, Biden, Lieberman and others (Republicans and Democrats) are paid-up subscribers.
This is a very troubling item, as while it can be reasonably argued that we need to protect our access to oil with global troop deployment - particularly Middle East oil - in order to maintain the Western Way of Lifestyle and help the rest of the world come up to some decent standard of living, etc., we also need somehow to throttle back OPEC’s artificially high crude oil prices to avert a potential world depression. Unfortunately, this involves the industrial-military-petroleum-Halliburton matrix of the House of Saud, the Bush family fortune, NAFTA, al-Queda, French rioting, Chinese/Wal-Mart commercial dominance and mad bombers. Quite a mess, and a situation not well-served by monotonously chanting the Support Our Troops mantra, or calling the other sons of Abraham “Islamo-fascists,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.

The NSS leaves untouched any mention at all of alternative energy source development, even though this is a national security priority, the neglect of which is evidenced by the war in Iraq, economic riots in Europe, terrorism, as well as growing global warming and its attendant consequences.

Here’s how it breaks down: the NSS is based on the assumption that petroleum is the single source of energy economically feasible for the foreseeable future. Therefore we must protect our access to petroleum. OPEC controls the production quotas of crude, led by Saudi Arabia, which affects oil prices by virtue of its being the world's largest supplier of sweet crude. The House of Saud maintains its precarious rule of Saudi Arabia – and its millions of Israeli-displaced Palestinians - by its military and secret police, which are materially supplied by the US, funded by its OPEC income, and despised by bin Laden, a son of the desert himself. The Bush family has been in bed with the House of Saud for generations, so if the House of Saud falls, so does the House of Bush, therefore Bush has no interest in helping depose the House of Saud. OK so far?

An American-dominated Iraq will be pressured to decline to join OPEC, thereby keeping its oil fields open to Shell, ExxonMobile, et al. as joint partners, lowering the price of crude. This is actually what the oil companies would prefer, as oil company CEOs are really all nice guys, as well as being upstanding citizens and parents. But in the long run, the oil companies couldn’t care less whether OPEC or independent companies are the suppliers; they earn outrageous profits in any case. However, as long as the Middle East is unstable, stable oil extraction is iffy, and the oil companies stand to lose potential billions. OPEC, while expensive, guarantees stable production at the potential cost of a world depression, due soon at this rate.

Enter Osama bin Laden, who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the oil; he just wants the House of Saud to fall, the Palestinians out of Saudi Arabia and back in Palestine, and the Israelis to stop terrorizing the Middle East. And, oh by the way, as long as we prop up Israel, he’s going to suicide-bomb us, too.

On the other hand, an independent Iraq might just decide to join OPEC, and presto, sky-high oil prices until we go back into the Middle East in about eight to ten years time, but now with about 5 million real coalition troops, including NATO, Russia and probably China to avert the next Great Depression. Colonel Larry Wilkerson said so.

Now, remove BushCo and the Saudi connection breaks, Shiia Muslims control the oil fields, and we still have a mess on our hands until we develop alternative sources of energy.

All because the Bush family likes desert dudes who own oil wells, and Junior won’t admit the weather is getting hotter.

Speaking of things that are not what they appear to be: while it is true that the folks in the Netherlands (Holland) seem to enjoy a free-wheeling lifestyle – minimal drug enforcement, red light districts, draft-dodging immigrants, gay marriage, etc. – it is well to bear in mind that the majority stockholder in the Royal Dutch Shell company is the über-rich House of Orange, Holland’s ruling king and queen and family. What I’m saying here is that you might want to look on Holland as a model of what a reasonably prosperous society looks like when the filthy rich control the world: they don’t give a poop what the serfs do as long as they get the big quarterly returns. Meditate on that for awhile.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Iraqis demand timetable

This just in: ripped, as it were, from the very headlines:

Iraqi leaders demand timetable for troop withdrawal
By Agence France Presse

11/21/05 "
AFP" -- -- CAIRO - Iraqi leaders reached a tentative agreement Monday to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from their war-torn country during talks ahead of a reconciliation conference to be held next year.

Dozens of leaders representing most of Iraq's factions have been holding tough talks in Cairo since Saturday in a bid to reach a common agenda.
In a draft final statement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, they demanded "a timetable for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops".
The draft also advocates "immediately setting up a national programme to rebuild the armed forces in a way that will allow them to control the security situation and put an end to terrorist operations".

Perhaps the administration might just start considering talking to Congressman Murtha. I seem to remember Bush and company promising that we would withdraw when and if the Iraqis asked us to. But then Bush has said a lot of things that don't just jibe with reality. Lookee here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Honorable opposition

Amid all the political racket that is being heard across the land, it has been rather hard to discern the voice of moderate middle America lately. You know, those people who have been standing silently in awe at the unusually ugly name-calling and vituperativeness on the national scene today, of which even I, Gentle Readers, am guilty. But not everybody in any other party is an ogre, as I keep reminding myself. A good friend of mine, who just happens to be a life-long Republican, was recently moved to take stock of what it means to be a conservative and a Republican, regardless of how those people in Washington, DC. are comporting themselves at the moment. With his kind permission, we hereby offer this reminder of what ‘honorable opposition’ really means. - grp

Liberty and the Party of Lincoln

An Essay by Terence Lyons
As a lifelong Republican, surveying the present state of political affairs does make me ask – as others ask me from time to time – why I still count myself a member of the Grand Old Party. Surely the answer transcends one administration. Alas, it may have to transcend one generation. (And at some point, if things don’t change, it may transcend itself right into the ground.) And so, I formulate the answer – for myself as much as for anyone else – like this:
I had a college professor who would take one day each term – no matter what course he was teaching at the time – to deliver a lecture on the subject of liberalism. (I should state that I have always regarded liberalism as an American ideal, not the special property of any political party and certainly not a term of derision.) It was Professor Beilhartz’s thesis that liberalism was an emotion rather than an articulated political philosophy – an emotion expressed in the cry of the French Revolution: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!”
The fundamental difficulty with liberalism is that there is an inherent tension between liberty and equality – absolute liberty crushes equality, and absolute equality smothers liberty, and there is a continuum of tense struggles between the two at all points between the absolutes. (It is the function of fraternity – good will among men (make that persons) – to lubricate this tension, but the tension persists nevertheless.)
In my view, Republicans tend to favor liberty in the management of this tension, while Democrats tend to favor equality. Each party recognizes both elements of liberalism, and each party recognizes the necessity and benefits of the tension between the two, and it is that recognition that separates Republicans from Libertarians, and Democrats from Socialists.
The Republicans’ emphasis on liberty leads them to favor a limited government (that which governs least, governs best) and to view government as a defensive protector of private enterprise – the freedom that allows individuals to create progress. True Republican philosophy enthusiastically endorses the manifesto set down by John Steinbeck in East of Eden:

“Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. . . . And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.”
The Democrats’ emphasis on equality, on the other hand, leads them to favor the broader government that is required for the maintenance of equality and to view government as the engine of progress. Thus, the Democrats’ agenda promotes “government programs” such as the New Deal or the Great Society.

It is certainly true that in today’s political landscape the two parties (and, I am sad to say, especially the Republicans) do not always hold true to such philosophical positions, choosing instead to cater to the special interests of what have become their respective “core constituencies.” But every now and then these political themes still assert themselves, as they did in this June’s Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld a Connecticut city’s condemnation of 15 residences for a commercial development project even though the condemned properties were not “blighted or otherwise in poor condition” and even though the taken land was to be used by private corporate parties rather than municipal facilities.

Several news commentators expressed surprise that Democrat-appointed Justices Ginsburg and Breyer voted in favor of the forced transfer to the private corporate interests while Republican-appointed Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas voted for the less powerful homeowners. But to me, the alignment of the justices was consistent and predictable according to the higher standards of political philosophy rather than the lower standards of whose-ox-is-being-gored-today. The Democrats’ view that the use of the condemnation power as an engine for “economic revitalization” is “a traditional and long accepted function of government” triumphed (narrowly) over the Republicans’ view that the function of government is rather “to protect ‘the security of Property,’ which Alexander Hamilton described to the Philadelphia Convention as one of the ‘great obj[ects] of Gov[ernment].’”

Which brings me square-on to the subject of progress, mentioned above. The Republican Party is often accused of being stuck in the past and anti-progress. While some who call themselves Republicans (especially today) are surely guilty of this charge, it is not a fair indictment of real GOP principles. True party loyalists do tend to be students of history, but that is because such Republicans share the outlook of Patrick Henry: “I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.” Democrats may gaze upon the future and quote G. B. Shaw (as Robert Kennedy was fond of doing): “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” Republicans prefer to rely on George Santayana’s maxim that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But that does not divide the parties over whether to pursue progress, but only over how best to achieve it. It is instructive to read Mr. Santayana’s maxim in context:
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Republicans believe the past teaches that real progressive change is not wrought by government programs but by individual persons exercising their creative liberties under the protection of a government that insures their freedom to do so.

A friend recently called my attention to a piece written by Garrison Keillor (of Lake Wobegon fame) just before the 2004 elections:
“Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. . . . The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned – and there was a degree of plain decency in the country.”
Coming from a Democrat, I can almost buy that, as well as most of the criticism Mr. Keillor goes on to level at today’s Republican leadership – but not the “(oddly)” dig. Because arts and letters flourish best when individuals are guaranteed the liberty to extend themselves beyond equality, and that is true Republican policy in action. I do not know how this current batch of narrow-minded, salivating censors and intellectual bigots wormed their way into my Republican Party, and I certainly don’t like it one bit. The party of Lincoln and liberty would let Robert Mapplethorpe photograph whatever he wishes, and defend his right to exhibit it too; but don’t expect to have it funded with a government program.

I dream (Republicans do that, you know) of a presidential contest between a real Republican and a real Democrat – perhaps the John McCain / Bill Bradley match up we didn’t get in 2000 – in which all the voters know that both candidates fully participate in the tension of liberalism and both candidates seem to share the good will that lubricates that tension. I will walk into the polling booth, adjust my steel-rimmed spectacles, and probably vote for the Republican. Because, on such a landscape, I believe that when push comes to shove, liberty trumps equality.

And that is why I am a Republican. Still. So far.

Inconvenient photographs

Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq
Photographs by Gaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson, Rita Leistner
Forward by Philip Jones Griffiths, Introduction by Philip Robertson
Chelsea Green, cloth $50.00, paper $29.95

A review by G. Randy Primm

During the Vietnam War, we saw it all, and we saw it all the time; it was on TV, in the pages of Life, Time and Newsweek, and on the front pages of every newspaper in the world: horrifying images of war. We saw assassinations of suspected Viet Cong agents, napalmed children, emotionally wasted combat infantrymen, torched hooches and immolated monks. But with the passage of time, the pictures had their desired effect, and finally the American public had had enough. Conventional wisdom these days has it that the pictures really didn’t do all that much to end the war; it was the doomsday pronouncement by Walter Cronkite, CBS news anchor and American icon, that the war was truly lost that finally caused the administration to throw in the towel, but the images from the printed press as well as the nightly newsreels certainly contributed.

Interestingly, the editors at Time/Life, in their book Life: 100 Photographs That Changed the World, comment, “[During WWII], President Franklin D. Roosevelt was convinced that Americans had grown too complacent about the war, so he lifted the ban on images depicting U.S. casualties.” But the military was always dubious; the Pentagon saw unrestricted (albeit occasionally censored) photo access as detrimental to the war, and probably a contributing factor to mission failure.

The policy of embedding

It took some years and several more military actions to finally settle on a policy and process that was amenable to both the press and the military. After Vietnam, they changed their policy on combat reporting several times. In Panama and Grenada, the press was barred completely until after the action had all but ceased; in Somalia, the press turned the tables by arriving ahead of the invasion and ended up sitting on the beach and welcoming the marines with hoots and cheers. With Operation Desert Storm, the press had all the nose cone video tape that they could stand and then some. But with the aid of the redoubtable RAND Corp., a policy was finally arrived at that seemed to make everyone - publishers, military and public - happy: "embedding."

With embedding, print and video reporters are permanently assigned to a particular combat unit and live with them, dodging bullets and bombs with them and getting killed with them. Reporters Without Frontiers estimates 73 journalists KIA in Iraq so far, from multiple press agencies and countries. But here’s the kicker: no more free rides; if the embedded journalist leaves his assigned unit, he is basically abandoned by the military (“retrograded”), with virtually no recourse, and if he travels alone, he is in extreme danger. Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the UK Independent, estimates that he has about 12 minutes of street time after he leaves his hotel in the Green Zone to get his story and get back to the hotel before he is targeted by whomever, including by American forces.

This war is vicious, and civilians are dying or are severely injured right beside the so-called “insurgents”; some by suicide bombers and others by stray howitzer shells, phosphorus, friendly fire, napalm, the whole bit. Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times calculates (Oct 30, 2005) that civilians are dying at a rate of about 63 a day, with the number of wounded almost impossible to estimate because of the lack of coverage. But we don’t see this carnage because they are dying out of range of the camera lenses for the most part, and because most of the death and injury is to them, the other guys, and the bystanders, mostly women and children. but these images of Iraq are mainly unseen by the American public because, just as the American style of modern war is long range, so too is the visual imagery that is coming out of it.

So were the videos and stills that came out of Desert Storm real réportage, or just agitprop? Does the coverage from the embedded reporters in Iraq today reflect the reality of today’s Operation Enduring Freedom? Where are the images of the bombed houses, gutted hospitals, burning mosques and the innocent dead? We know this is happening, but where are the pictures? Is there any publisher in the American press who would continue the legacy of Henry Luce, founder of Life magazine (now moribund) who once said of his magazine’s mission, “To see things a thousand miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to...”?

Times have indeed changed, and probably not for the better.

The photographers

It is beyond the scope of this review to go into the politics of why the American press has held back on publishing images of this war, other than those clichéd pictures of burned-out Humvees or stylish close-ups of soldiers standing at Iraqi check points, and certainly no graphic pictures of the American dead or even the Iraqi dead, civilian or otherwise. Suffice it to say that it is ‘not convenient,’ and we will discuss that issue later. Thankfully, the rest of the world press has no such editorial reluctance, and the more graphic images in this book have found their way into many of the rest of the world’s editorial pages, if not the American press.

I have spent nearly ten months in Iraq – almost all of that time “embedded” with the Iraqi people themselves. I traveled with American soldiers for a few days, and it was like being in a plastic bubble. From the American Humvees I could see the Iraq that I know, but there was no interaction with it. The Americans have almost no cultural contact with Iraqi people. They may have an occasional chat with some random Iraqis who pass by, but the American soldiers don’t make Iraqi friends over time, they don’t eat in their homes, visit their mosques, play with their children, go to weddings, play dominoes, or take afternoon naps with them. – Thorne Anderson

The photographers themselves are a motley crew: Thorne Anderson, an American; two women: Canadian Rita Leistner and American Kael Alford, and a Baghdad native and former Iraqi soldier, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. All but Ghaith were full-time photojournalists before coming to Iraq. Ghaith was an architecture student in Baghdad before the war, and his photography is apparently self-taught. It’s obvious from looking at their photographs that they are all possessed of nerves of steel and an intense desire to document what is really happening in Iraq outside the Green Zone, where the war is killing the Iraqis we’re supposed to be bringing democracy to.

The military calls them “unilateral” journalists, operating outside of official sanction, hence, the “unembedded.” They may or may not have official press credentials, they may be stringers or on assignment, one is even a native Iraqi, but they are not officially recognized, they are barely tolerated and they get minimal support from the military or space in the American press. They do deliver honest images of this particular war, from close up, the way it should be done.

The photographs

There are some critics of photography who maintain that photographic coverage of war is not for information’s sake, but to boost the sales of magazines, newspapers and TV time. In fact, critic/deconstructionist Mario Cutajar, in a review of a recent showing of James Nachtwey’s photos at the Los Angeles Fahey/Klein Gallery, accused those who would defend combat photography as news-gathering as “naive” and possibly cynical. This would make the military’s policy of not showing pictures altruistic, perhaps?

This is not a book of aesthetic war photography, a la Nachtwey, who has often been accused of being a disaster aesthete. No, this is not war as art, and this is not a critique of the aesthetics of the photographs; it is obvious that these pictures were taken by professionals; with that said, these are news photographs. Many of them are badly framed or shot in poor light; composition is frequently out the window as many of these pictures were taken on the run or from inside jostling crowds. They are, however, full of content, following the dictum, “fill the frame.” Content is the issue here and content is what we get.

In the suburbs, US missiles went wrong or landed close to brittle cinder blocks housing that collapsed on whole families in their sleep. By the third week of bombing, the communications and telephone exchanges had been destroyed, so no one could call for help. In Saddam City Medical Center, casualties filled the rooms and lined every hallway. I photographed doctors setting bones, sewing stitches, and treating burns on patients without anesthesia. The ambulances were broken down, and drivers said they didn’t know where to find the injured anyway. These stories multiplied as the air raids grew to a crescendo before the Americans’ final push to Baghdad, until one editor asked, “Please don’t send any more wounded civilian pictures.” – Kael Alford

This is not to say that blood does not sell. Obviously, if you’re trying to make a point - in this particular case, attempting to bring attention to the unnecessary damage being done in Iraq – it is not out of line to show a grisly scene or two. And while there are grisly images in this book, a large amount of space is given over to the side effects of the ceaseless pounding this people have been subjected to. Rita Leistner, for instance, focuses on the patients of a Baghdad psychiatric hospital, a la Mary Ellen Mark, of which Rita’s work is reminiscent. Again, this is straight-ahead photojournalism, and brings our attention to a subject that is often overlooked in any telling of the war effort: the bystanders who, while not specifically targeted, are double victims, of the war and of their own inner turmoil.

Rita shows us the inmates of the Rashad psychiatric hospital. Plain walls, caged TV sets, naked pain. The composition is formal, the settings minimal, but the anguish of the patients is projected through her frame like a blowtorch.

There is a fear among many Iraqis, the doctor told me, that if one daughter has a mental disorder the family won’t be able to marry off any of the other daughters. So they are sent to Rashad, cast away from society by their families, who will often provide false addresses so hospital staff can never find them again. Some mentally healthy women find refuge at the hospital from beatings and honor killings, a traditional code that has resurfaced in the instability of postwar Iraq. Most of the women have no choice but to live at the hospital for the remainder of their lives. –Rita Leistner

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad lived on the run in Baghdad, taking his pictures on the fly – the very essence of street photography - slipping through the American lines by posing as a stringer for a British newspaper, then plunging back across the lines and into the maelstrom as an alleged reporter for whomever. That’s got to be nerve-wracking. Damn few sane people I know would do that for the sake of mere ‘art’ photography. On his travels, he stopped to record the aftermath of US helo gunships which had opened fire on a crowd celebrating around the burning hulk of a US Bradley Fighting Vehicle: it’s not clear how the Bradley came under attack, but Ghaith reports at least two strafing runs of the gunships on the civilians on Haifa Street, a main Baghdad boulevard. Upon examination of the wide-angle shot of the street scene of fleeing civilians with a magnifying glass, I couldn’t spot a single civilian with a gun. What we do see are many dead Iraqis. Ghaith takes some responsibility.

We left the kids to die there alone. I didn’t even try to move any with me. I ran into the entrance of a building and someone grabbed my arm and took me inside. “There’s an injured man. Take pictures. Show the world American democracy,” he said. [...] All the people I had shared my shelter with were dead. Every time I look at these pictures I tell myself I have killed those people. I should have helped them instead of taking pictures. – Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

War is hell, as the general famously said, but each generation seems to forget that truth, preferring to let the images of that hell die. This is all too easy to let happen. We live in a time with remotely controlled TV sets, airplanes, bombs and armies. Governments are all too happy to control what we see, and thus to control what we think and feel. We are fortunate that this band of journalists has brought these pictures to our attention.

These images are reminders that hell does exist on earth; it is required of us to look at these pictures, to really look and understand what we have done to these people. They are not inconvenient; they are our fellow human beings. If we let these pictures die, then we will have died a little bit as well: to the truth, to life, and to mercy.

While this book stands alone as testimony to the waking nightmare that is present-day Iraq, Unembedded is also the companion book to a national touring exhibit of photographs of the Iraq conflict, scheduled to start a run across the United States beginning in early 2006.

For more images from Iraq, please see Robert Fisk: Iraq war images. Additionally, for the view from the other side, a startling video of snipers killing Coalition troops, apparently produced by the insurgents themselves and via BNP TV is here. (wmv file, 25 mb) Warning: graphic violence.

Update: The BNP video has since been taken down.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bush betrays veterans again

House Republicans, in line with George 'AWOL' Bush's plans to reduce government expenditures, and ever mindful of the sacrifices of America's veterans as well as today's heroes dying by the thousands in Iraq, bringing democracy to that benighted country - whether the Iraqis want it or not - have rejected full funding of the Veterans Administration and veterans benefits yet again. Think Progress reports:
The backstory: Last week, the Washington Post revealed that the budget for veterans’ health care was suffering a billion dollar shortfall this year, a fact unearthed “only during lengthy questioning” of a Veterans Affairs undersecretary.
Yet today, even after the administration’s misleading claims had been exposed, and despite brand new data showing that demand for veterans health programs had grown twice as fast as the VA predicted earlier this year, House conservatives still voted to block any additional funding for veterans’ care.
Somebody please make this stuff stop; my head hurts.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Iraq, model democracy in the Middle East?

As I scan the headlines every day, I’m never sure whether I’m living in a real America or a skewed version of an old Marx brothers movie; you know, the one where Groucho, Harpo, Chico, et al, are the leaders of an oddly-named, Balkanish third world country*. We have the present administration, winners of a judicial coup d’etat, spouting Orwellian slogans (“Torture promotes freedom!”) and braggadocio (“Bring ‘em on!”), while The New York Times, the alleged newspaper of record, publishes government-planted lies on its front page, written by a media whore for an unelected Man Behind the Curtain.

This is truly dizzying stuff.

Now comes Ahmed Chalabi, a man who hadn’t set foot in his native Iraq for 20 years, but was installed as the puppet Prime second third-rate under Minister (some stupid title) -and Oil Czar - of that “country” by the American occupying force, back to America to present a paper to the American Enterprise Institute on how Iraq is to be a model of democracy for the Middle East.


Reality check, folks: Iraq is not and has never been a country. From the dawn of time, the area in which ‘Iraq’ is situated was always a province of somebody else’s empire. So far back, in fact, that the notion of ‘countries’ hadn’t even been invented. Four thousand years ago, it was part of the Assyrian Empire; that’s going back a few years, friends. After awhile, it became part of the Persian Empire, then the Alexandrian Empire, then the Roman Empire, then the Mohammedean Empire, which eventually became the Ottoman Empire. Not a single, solitary ‘country’ to be had in all those long years.

Most recently (c. 1946), the former territory of the Ottoman Empire called the Transjordan was cut up into administrative sections by the occupying forces of France and England after WWI, which then abandoned it after WWII, more or less leaving the Sunni, Kurds and Shia tribes to fend for themselves. Into this power vacuum arose the semi-military Baathist Party and the creation of the secular, totalitarian state of modern Iraq, a kind of mini-empire.

This is a patchwork creation joining three wholly distinct and antagonistic tribal nations: Kurdistan Muslims of the northern plains and foothills, Babylonian urban Arabs, and displaced marsh-dwelling Semitic Mohammedans of the southeast. A bloody mess, in other words, and one that could only work under a tyrant or other totalitarian framework. They share a common language and history of occupation, but that’s about it. Left to themselves, the tribes would no doubt spin off to form semi-autonomous regions, if not nascent nation-states. But, because of the damn oil, we can’t and won’t allow that to happen. That’s why we have to impose so-called democracy on them, by force and whether they like it or not, because they certainly wouldn’t do it themselves, as their history amptly proves.

Even if you accept the notion that Iraq should become a unified democratic state, the question arises, are we the country to help them do it? You must bear in mind that we have perpetrated a whole series of mind-boggling double-crosses in the Middle East for decades, as we initially supported the Persian kingdom of the Shah of Iran, then, after the Iranian revolution, we switched our allegiance to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and supplied him with nerve gas weapons and the rest of it. At the same time, we also promised support to the Kurds in their desire to form their own autonomous state, separate from Hussein’s Iraq, then left them in the lurch after Operation Desert Storm, whereupon Hussein did indeed drop CIA-supplied nerve gas on the Kurds. And now we’re going to turn this god-forsaken country into a model of democracy for the Middle East? Good grief.

We have more than enough trouble here at home trying to maintain a semblance of a democracy, much less trying to impose it on a group of tribes that don’t even know the meaning of the word, but do understand foreign invasions and occupation. I say, let those people alone and let’s get the hell out of there now, before we do any more damage, to them and to ourselves.

*Duck Soup, 1933