Saturday, 30 August 2008

All is forgiven?

Before getting to the yummy low-hanging fruit of Sarah Palin, let us take a last look at Hillary Clinton’s final act in which an entitled die-hard miraculously became an elegant, gracious loser.

Did anyone seriously think that the Clintons were going to openly take a crap in the Democratic Party nest they both plan to continue to live in? They probably could have hurt Obama pretty seriously (although perhaps not fatally) but only while setting fire to their own ship and being pushed out to sea in it. They would have royally pissed off not just the Obama voters but nine-tenths of her own.

On the contrary, they had to look like team players and avoid taking any blame for an Obama defeat even if they secretly hope for one. (Bill’s faint praise provides a cynic plenty of evidence that he does.) They did their job.

But what’s all this talk about Hillary’s glorious and laudable campaign? You mean the one in which she and her co-candidate dismissed Obama as just another Jesse Jackson (and the same color too!), reminded white people to vote for her, pandered to racist imagery with the 3 a.m.-little-white-girl-in-bed ad, dragged the whole thing on long past her candidacy’s demise, and worst of all, relentlessly pumped up the bogus notion that she really had won more votes and was somehow cheated of the post rather than defeated for it.

That last notion lingers on in the minds of the ignorant and is dutifully parroted by the Republicans, including yesterday as they talked up the goofy Palin. Thanks, Hill.

Nothing in last week’s performances suggests that either the Clintons or their camp followers regret having played a sneaky, dirty game that damaged the party they supposedly want to see victorious. It’s a measure of our debased politics that they get to walk away from their narcissistic slash-and-burn campaign trailing the glow of heroism. In a party truly concerned about national well-being, they’d be anathema.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Memo from Obama to TV Pundits leaked

August 29, 2008
From: Sen. Barack Obama, Denver
To: Chris Matthews, Brian Williams, George Stephanopoulos, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, James Carville, Joe Scarborough . . . [86 others]

Hey guys,

I want to say I really appreciate all the advice you’ve given me over the last few months. It’s been very stimulating for me and my campaign to hear your opinions day after day about being tougher/softer, to focus on foreign policy/the economy, to choose/not choose Hillary, to play to blue-collar workers/soccer moms, to bowl/shoot baskets—wow, I mean you guys have been busy these last 18 months or so. I don’t know how you do it—so many topics, so little air-time. I feel you, believe me.

Anyway, I took all that into account for my acceptance speech last night in Denver. I won’t say I accommodated all of your advice because, well, frankly it doesn’t always coincide, despite the heat you put behind it on your shows. But in all big families like ours, there will be some dissension and a variety of points of view.

Like last night, for example: some of you guys decided I needed to come out and whip up the crowd to a frenzy once again, the way I did in the primaries, sort of a mega-stump-speech that would leave the young girls fainting and carried out on stretchers. One of those Big Stadium Events like the Beatles early ‘60s tour. Some of you were eager to see that happen and comment on it live, that I-am-here-right-now-where-history-is-being-made thing you do so well in war zones and standing in front of choppy seas and whatnot.

I decided against that, though, since you also thought John McCain had a point when he compared me to Britney Spears—all flash, no substance. Because after the exciting, historical-moment thing, you guys calm right down and remind viewers that we all need a steady hand at the helm and the big emotional rallies, while entertaining (yeah, for you, too, c’mon guys, admit it!), don’t really translate into sober policy. And you analysts are very serious about candidates showing their ‘policy chops’.

So no, I went another route—sorry Brooks, I know you were disappointed! I decided to pare down the rhetoric and get to the question of who I am and who John McCain is and to lay out the different routes we can take as a country in pretty specific (OK, Stephanopoulos, a little boring!) terms. It probably didn’t make for the oo-wow moment you guys were gunning for, but my team was actually thinking more about the viewers who weren’t commenting on the speech but just listening to it.

There’s one thing I found out on this campaign so far: turns out the voters are the ones who decide who wins. I love you guys, don’t get me wrong. But they do, you don’t.

So far, we’ve done okay, don’t you think? Hey, there’s a topic for your Sunday shows—go for it, guys!

Poker game next Friday?


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Clinton, Kerry with base hits; Biden goes down swinging

If John Kerry had put together a speech in 2004 like the one he delivered Wednesday night, he might be president today.

Kerry’s brief appearance had rhythm, humor, one-liners and passion. He dismantled McCain without being nasty, and he gave the Bushites the thrashing they’d escaped so far. He dared to use the word ‘torture’ and effectively fired back at the Republicans the flip-flopper accusation that buried him four years ago—a delicious irony.

Bill Clinton looked comfortable and said all the right things. Thank you and good night.

They were both prefaced by impressive, albeit scripted, testimonies from an array of military officers and amputee vets, at long last hitting the indefensible Bush war strategy while looking convincingly like the party that respects, really respects, the troops.

But Biden, to my taste, was all schmaltz and boilerplate, and reminded me why he pulled down all of 1% of the Iowa caucus votes. I was expecting more takedowns of the failed Bush policies; instead, we got the laundry list of miracles he and Obama will perform once in power, making him sound like a huge promise whore. Before that, we heard a family saga that went on too long and folksy advice from Biden’s elderly mom waving down from the galleries.

All in all, a disappointing end to the most persuasive and hard-hitting session of the convention so far.

Mass tongue-bite

The Democrats’ tiresomely scripted speeches don’t include very much on the topic of the Iraq war, giving the impression that they’re scared of the Triumph of the Surge line. No surprise that Hillary stays away from the historic debacle with which she was and remains fully complicit. But you’d think all the focus on economic issues from everyone else under the sun might include the fact that we’ve taken a vast chunk of our national wealth and thrown it down the Mesopotamian toilet.

You’d think there’d be some criticism of the war profiteers, the unparalleled corruption, the suspicious links between the sitting vice president and the company that hauls in the cash and provides lousy services. You’d think there’d be a tiny reference somewhere to the dismantling of the Geneva Conventions and the shameful treatment of detainees.

Instead, we get only glancing references to failed Humvee armor in tearful recollections of the fallen soldier. Only Nancy Pelosi managed to mention the trillion-dollar waste although she stumbled on the line as if it stirred her guilty conscience. And of course no one has a word to say about Guantánamo.

We’ll hear from Lestat the Undead tonight, and it will be interesting to see if he has anything to say about our collapsing foreign policy or whether he’ll continue the nonstop pandering to the pocketbook. I guess that’s the way you win elections here, but globalization was supposed to make us more aware of our planet and less parochial. So far, there’s not a shred of evidence of that.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

All Hail

I couldn’t quite figure why people so badly need the so-called ‘humanization’ of Mr Obama and the endless trivia on display last night, the stories about his courtship of his wife, his brother-in-law’s recollections of L’il Sis, or what Michelle feels about her daughters’ education. I am favorably disposed toward the family, but none of that seemed to me to have much to do with warfare, mortgage foreclosure, gas prices or the Darfur refugees—that is, the issues that should matter to us as electors.

But it does make sense if we are in fact naming a sort of royal family to preside over our state and symbolize our polity for the next four years. If we are eager to watch little Malia grow up and think of her as a future princess or even queen, just as the Brits observe Prince Harry and imagine him wielding the royal sceptre, then it’s nice to get a glimpse of her now and see how cute she is on the big stage.

That places Ted Kennedy metaphorically in the role of the dying king anointing his successor, and given the dynastic aspects of the Kennedy clan and Teddy’s rhetorical evocation of Camelot, that’s a pretty good fit, too.

But American monarchical tendencies aren’t governed by bloodlines, and the Clintons now pass into the category of the usurped, with Princess Chelsea no longer in direct line for the throne. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of former queen Hillary will appear as: Bloody Mary?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Memory Lane

I spent the weekend in the Catskills right near the site of the Woodstock music festival. The museum at the Bethel Arts Center preserves the artifacts of that very curious event, and the ‘farmer’s market’ down the hill shows where part of that generation’s cultural expression ended up—in $18 natural-fiber whisk brooms and $5 loaves of bread.

Having been almost a contemporary of the original event (a tad too young and cut off to have heard of it, even if I hadn’t been slaving for Penn Central Railroad that summer), I recall a lot of the thinking behind the attempt to go back to the old ways, to recapture the hearty, healthy part of country living before the Wonder Bread ‘50s took over. Along with the appreciation of music, marihuana and sexual intercourse, a lot of kids from our generation had an intuitive critique of plastic, suburban life, and a fair number of us made our way into the collective farms and ‘natural’ living movement that included organic food, environmental concerns and respect for fellow creatures. It fit with the peace-loving, antiwar sentiment and the rediscovery of native American values that slowly worked their way back into the nation’s consciousness in some form.

At the food market and crafts fair, there were plenty of authentic farmers down from the hills around the town, looking a good deal like their Swiss and German forbears probably did, slightly awkward and out of place and trailing their kids through the displays of expensive artisan wares that they couldn’t afford. The post-Woodstock soap manufacturers and potters aren’t selling their goods to the few real back-country people left but to urbanized transplants and weekenders who appreciate the aesthetic and can shell out $120 for a handmade earthenware casserole.

In the town I was visiting, gay couples abound, and the locals seem quite pleased with the shot in the arm they’re bringing by setting up their home-furnishings stores and pouring cash into the old farmhouses and barns that they turn into artist studios and impeccably tasteful summer residences. My hosts, not only gay but interracial to boot, were invited for lunch by the volunteer fire department and sat around discussing water management issues with the construction workers and truck mechanics for a couple hours. So the culture has absorbed quite a bit since that much-maligned decade, and Obama could become president, too.

The museum mostly celebrates what happened at Woodstock, and only killjoys like Nancy Reagan are shown trashing it. I couldn’t help comparing the festival to other events of youthful exhuberance around the world and recalling that they don’t always end with hugs and happy memories. Someone was wise enough not to let the National Guard or other law-enforcement bodies near the place, and the Utopian chaos is a sweet memory.

Still, I keep coming back to that $18 whisk broom. I actually need a whisk broom, and seeing that useless, faux-naturelle item made me think about the economics of rural and small-town life in that hilly preserve. Anyway, it’s great to think that they’re still up there piping the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin through computers into their toolsheds.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Too polite to fight?

It’s amusing to read Patrick Buchanan’s slashing attack on the paid lobbyists for Georgia who are also high-ups in the McCain campaign. Buchanan uses the overheated language of easy outrage you expect to hear from conservatives and Republicans, like ‘treason’ and ‘dual loyalties’.

That’s a little rich but certainly makes you think about McCain and not in a good way. My question is, Why don’t the Democratic candidates or their surrogates ever reach for the jugular that way? How many different ways could the Obama campaign have blasted the many disasters the Bush-McCain camp have caused when instead they settle for defanged, almost polite, objection?

They too could have made hay over the serious setback to U.S. interests caused by the Georgians’ foolishness. One can easily imagine how the narrative would have gone had Senator O been in the White House and the neocons sitting on well-deserved sidelines. They would have jumped all over the encouragement given to the trigger-happy former lawyer from Brooklyn that eventually backfired so disastrously. They would have called it amateurish, dangerous posturing carried out without a back-up plan—Who Lost Georgia? they could have shouted at the rooftops.

They would have said Obama and the Democrats can’t protect us, that the country needs strong, tough, and world-savvy leadership (flags waving in the breeze). And they wouldn’t have cared if their rhetoric made a bad situation worse—that’s the way the game is played on their side.

In fact, someone recently pointed out that the Republicans really don’t have a foreign policy; they have a set of domestic policy goals, and they use the world stage to carry them out. That would be going too far, but why doesn’t the ever-too-loyal opposition ever point it out? Politically speaking, the Dems have a arsenal that would make James Bond jealous, but it takes a wild man like Buchanan to let loose with any of the weapons.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Make my day (and justify the 2000 Nader vote)

The prospect of Joe Lieberman as vice-presidential candidate once again but for the OTHER party this time is simultaneously repugnant and hilarious and demonstrates the vast weight of the shadow government of military contractors and their shills and the revolving door of cash known as Washington, D.C. Lieberman came back from his primary defeat two years ago to win as an independent because the locals in Connecticut knew he was good at ‘delivering’, meaning that he had figured out the legalized bribery system and made sure the lucrative military contracts kept pouring into the state. Plenty of people admitted to reporters at the time that Lamont really represented their views more accurately, but Lieberman knew how to ladle in the bacon—oops, sorry, the kosher frankfurters.

So all those people who thought ol’ Joe was a shameless warmonger but voted for him anyway out of pocketbook prostitution can now enjoy the spectacle of him ripping down the veil of the uniparty system, turning his Janus-like head now this way, now that, but retaining the essentials throughout—devotion to warfare-based loot.

I saw the polls today and got as depressed as was warranted by the idea of McCain winning, but now I’m almost resigned to it. If the people want to renew the pact guaranteeing their own demise, who am I to object? No one can say the choices aren’t clear enough or their implications, moral and political, in the least muddy.

Monday, 18 August 2008


You would never know that 165 million Pakistanis live in Pakistan after reading the nonstop coverage about General Pervez Musharraf’s forced resignation and how it will affect you and me ‘and al-Qaeda makes three’. The Paks hardly merit a mention.

The NY Times article is typical, 34 grafs about the fight against the Taliban, nuclear weapons, the succession in the army, the party rivalries. Not one word about what is on the minds of the citizens of the country. No reference to whether the interminable and just-ended military dictatorship might have something to do with the unenviable state of Pakistan’s economy or the dead-end lives faced by most of its inhabitants.

We’re agog with the possible impact of political fighting among the Pakistani factions and whether or not it will weaken the Americans’ geopolitical goals. Without a trace of irony, the writer worries along with the usual ‘senior Bush administration officials’ and anonymous CIA sources about how well Musharraf’s replacements will pony up and do their bidding.

I naively thought that political fighting among factions was otherwise known as ‘democracy’ and seem to recall something about that being the official raison d’état for everything from conquering Iraq to defending Georgia. But when it comes to U.S. security needs, the topic isn’t even raised.

Instead, we gaze longingly at Musharrah—ol’ Perv, I like to call him—and murmur our anxious doubt that the incoming team will ever measure up.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Georgia Brown-out

‘Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century’.—George W. Bush, 15 August 2008

It would take the pen of Izzy Stone, Mark Twain or perhaps Swift himself to do satirical justice to the grotesque spectacle of hypocrisy and fecklessness led by the U.S. foreign policy team as they sweep up the broken shards of their geopolitical Fantasyland.

Condi Rice is perfect as the harried schoolmarm standing helplessly by and murmuring annoyingly useless phrases about returning to ‘peace’ and ‘a normal life’. Now was this before or after the Russians had divided the country in two?

President Saakashvilli, meanwhile, gets the prize for Best Actor in a Tragicomedy for his pointlessly racist comment at the signing of his surrender—er, the cease-fire agreement. ‘You are dealing with a people who despise anything human’, he snapped, showing that you don’t want this guy in the car when the highway patrol pulls you over.

The Russians are the Goliaths, for sure, but the tone of this conflict as well as the disturbing reports from the battlefield suggest that all sides involved are in the grips of primitive, clannish hatred of anyone unlike themselves. I’ve yet to hear anyone raise the banner of multiethnic coexistence or, heaven forbid, a pluralistic society in which people manage their cultural, religious and linguistic differences without gouging each other’s eyes out.

Here in New York we had the Georgians parading with their red and white flags on the streets of the East Side yesterday, and if enough South Ossetians lived in the five boroughs, we’d have a group of them too, indignantly shouldering their atrocity photographs and denouncing the other guys. And no doubt they’d all be describing parts of an unsavory reality. But with all due respect, why should we care who wins under those conditions?

Meanwhile, the incomparable Bushites continue to live in their autistic bubble-world in which all the toys are ours, and when this infantile self-absorption leads to disaster, it’s someone else’s fault. They sound like they’re expecting Mommy to show up at any moment to bail them out and meanwhile flail their little arms helplessly.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Not fair!

Terrific new stand-up comedy team launched. A sample:

Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.—George W. Bush

Ha ha ha!

The Russians were prepared to take advantage of an opportunity and did so very aggressively. —Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Yuk yuk yuk!

Russian actions, in clear violation of international law, have no place in 21st century Europe.—John McCain

I’m holding my sides! I’m dying here! That would be, um, the international law on, like, invading foreign countries for no reason? Right? I’m howling!

Too bad for the Georgian people, now at the mercy of Russian chauvinist thugs. Who is to blame??


It probably isn’t helping my spirits to be reading the breathtaking I Will Bear Witness by the Dresden diarest Victor Klemperer, and I know for a certainty that it isn’t elevating my estimation of the biped species. Klemperer was a Jewish convert to Christianity married to an Aryan who nonetheless under the Nuremberg laws fell into the wrong racial category. He risked his life and that of his wife by keeping a daily account of the petty and major horrors with which the Nazi regime tormented them while slowly crushing and finally exterminating the city’s few remaining Jews.

Depressing stuff certainly but also utterly gripping both for the devastating portrait of a society in the clutch of official dementia as well as for Klemperer’s nuanced sketches of his doomed peers and the assorted psychopaths, fellow-travelers, moral cowards and occasional decent folk around them. Given what he describes, even the fact that he can put pen to paper day after day is miraculous.

Klemperer was a scholar before being ousted from his posts and deprived of his property, and he occupies his agonizing days studying the few texts at his disposal. One of his principal intellectal queries is about the nature of Naziism, its language and its origins, and although those details are largely kept to a separate text, his insightful observations on the topic sometimes enter his diary entries:

"Nation of dreamers and pedants, of cranky overconsistency, of nebulousness and the most precise organization. Even cruelty, even murder, are organized here. Here spontaneous anti-Semitism is turned into an Institute for the Jewish Problem. At the same time, all intellectualism is rejected as Jewish and shallow."

The overwhelming sensation is of a screen of civility ripped away, the fragile good sense of a society surgically excised by the Nazi clique, which has tapped into the broader polity’s historical prejudices and let loose every resentment, every demon. We tend to think of Naziism in mythic terms, as Evil made flesh, but the quotidian reality Klemperer describes is all too familiar, of recognizable bipeds awarded absolute power over others and encouraged, then forced, to stamp the spirit and the life out of the scapegoated class by millimeters, employing the travesty of a faux legality and recorded in triplicate.

The bracingly instructive effect of reading Klemperer’s precious testimony is to remind us how entirely ordinary the Holocaust was in many of its essential aspects and to reduce the distance between ourselves and the machinery of the great crimes of the modern age. It doesn’t take much to put people at each others’ throats, and we scoff at the ever-creakier checks on the power of state at enormous peril to ourselves.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Georgia succumbs to neocon bluster

Thrust forward chest, adopt a ‘wide stance’, sneer and bellow, We’re Number One! fourteen times. Pump fist. This will scatter any opposition and convince lesser beings in places with funny names and inferior quality toilet fixtures to become ‘democratic’ and start to ‘love freedom’.

The neocon approach to geopolitics is a wonderful thing, at least in theory. With the U.S. as the ‘world’s sole superpower’, the millenium had been achieved at last even without the descent of Jesus Christ from the firmament. Everyone was to do ‘our’ bidding and quiver with anxiety over the possibility of falling out of favor with the big guys.

Except that put into practice the theory really didn’t describe the world as currently constituted, despite the vast supply of nuclear and conventional weapons and the trillions of dollars whizzing around our Wal-Marts. The brand-new debacle in Georgia is a good example.

For the Boltons and the Cheneys, it was unthinkable to even question the wisdom of harassing the Russians and sticking a finger in their face at every opportunity, encircling them with NATO adversaries, setting missiles in Poland and loudly trumpeting the pro-Western political and military alliances being constructed along their western frontier, whence (it was not permitted to recall) they had been invaded by the Nazis.

All this was consistent with the neocon view that when you got it, you gotta flaunt it, press the advantage and sweep the board. They apply the same principles to the Democratic Party ‘opposition’ and the American worker—why give them anything when we can keep it all for ourselves? They believe in crushing triumph and contempt for the loser wimp.

Their over-confidence seems to have infected Georgian president Saakashvili who mistakenly thought that being an enthusiastic third fiddle in the Iraq conquest meant someone was going to bail his ass out when the time came.

I saw the guy interviewed by the BBC, and with his thoroughly Americanized accent in English, it’s striking how much he sounds like a late-night TV salesman who chatters away annoyingly until the avalanche of words loosens your wallet. But unfortunately for him, the Russians don’t seem to be in need of home exercise equipment.

The neocon knuckleheads got everything they wanted from the unfortunate Georgians, including slavering enthusiasm to join NATO and do the Americans’ bidding. But the Bushites failed to remind Saakashvili of the limits of their own power because they convinced themselves there weren’t any. Now his country pays the price.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

FBI gets its (new) man [Anthrax 4]

The FBI released its information on Bruce Ivins, the alleged anthrax assassin Wednesday, and the holes punched in its explanation aren’t any larger because the Fibbies only held up half a bag to start with. The trusty feds claimed that the specific anthrax spores sent by mail exactly match the ones in Ivins’s jars at Fort Detrick, but they did not present the scientific evidence to buttress their assertion—they just asserted it.

This is the same FBI, let us recall, that insisted throughout 2002 in leaks to ABC’s Brian Williams and many others that Stephen Hatfill, NOT Ivins, was in fact the guilty party. Hatfill now has a tidy $5-plus-million settlement from the FBI (i.e. us) to compensate for those falsities.

Oh, and by the way, Saddam Hussein escaped to Argentina and has a nuclear weapon in his briefcase.

Once again, the reporters from the big networks and papers are gobbling this up like caviar on toast. Crazy Bruce was at it all along, and the Security Apparatus is here to snare him and his likes in the nick of time.

The other detail I just adore (cribbing from Glenn Greenwald at again) is that although the FBI insists Ivins logged out from his job at Fort Detrick September 17, 2001, to drive to Princeton, New Jersey, from where the poisoned missives were posted, their own report shows that he was back at work later that afternoon. Given that the letters were postmarked September 18, 2001, a date that would not have appeared on a letter mailed before 5 p.m. the previous day, Ivins would have to have mastered the Yaqui art of desdoblamiento to have been in both places, three hours apart, at once.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that Ivins was ever in Princeton on the days the anthrax letters were mailed, and that’s pretty remarkable considering how careful you’d have to be in our snoopy, electronic age to leave no trace.

After a full week of the dribbling info and hushed head-shaking over the late Ivins, we still have had virtually no public discussion of the role of the anthrax caper in leading us into the tempting Iraqi quicksand. Not to mention the untold billions made by defense contractors, including more than a few who had access to the anthrax spores themselves.

Whatever happened to neutrality?

The outbreak of war in Georgia (the country, not the Peach State) might distract us from the great drama of teenaged acrobats on parallel bars for a moment. That small country in the Caucasus tried to assert its sovereignty over one of two provinces essentially occupied by Putin’s Russia, and the surprise movement of troops is apparently backfiring in a big way.

But why would anyone be surprised to see the Russians going bananas to smash a military action on their southern border at whatever cost? After all, restarting the Chechen war and leaving the place a smouldering heap of rubble was what made Putin’s career and, not incidentally, boosted his popularity to 70%. Russians, like all bipeds, love to kick ass and feel they’re the toughest kids on the block.

Seems to me that the creeping expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders is the relevant context for this sad event. If Bush and the European allies hadn’t been so keen on bringing more and more of the old Warsaw Pact countries and even ex-Soviet republics into the anti-Russian military alliance and on getting missiles pointing eastward from the Czech Republic and Poland, perhaps there would have been more room for an amicable solution to Georgia’s territorial issue.

We tend to forget here that the Soviet Union lost 20 million people during World War 2 as its territory was invaded from the west and not for the first time, either. We haven’t been invaded since the War of 1812, but look how long our calm rationality lasted after a single attack.

It’s too bad that Georgia’s leaders, who seemed to be doing their best to clean up the notorious corruption and dysfuntionality of the place and get a fresh start, so badly have miscalculated the value of their quasi-alliance with NATO and now wonder why they’re not getting more help to confront the big-bully neighbor.

They should have thought of that before trying to pull a fast one while everyone was on vacation or busy applauding their national synchronized swimming teams.

Friday, 8 August 2008

I am so over ‘Facebook’

Every so often I get an announcement from someone I once knew and may even have liked inviting me to become their ‘friend’ on MySpace or one of those ersatz social life sites. Excuse me for a moment while I go puke into the toilet.

No doubt there is some logic or amusement in putting yourself into cyberspace in that peculiar way and attracting messages from people around the world who have just as little going on in their lives as you do. Some people like to have a Facebook page; others like to watch little boys set fire to toads. There’s no accounting for taste.

But I have enough respect for the old-fashioned art of friendship, acquaintanceship and interpersonal relations in general that I do NOT, thank you, wish to be squeezed into this distasteful form of robotics by people with whom I have, quite peacefully and over a prudent period of time, lost touch.

‘Friend’: I have a news flash for you: it wasn’t an accident. We have nothing to say to each other right now, and no flimsy-ass, neon-screen POS website is gonna change that.

I lived in a group house years ago, and when email arrived on the scene in the middle 1990s, someone got the bright idea to reunite us on a listserv after a good two decades of disconnection. We got all excited at first and started writing back and forth about our lives and activities. It was really fun.

In no time at all, however, the problems started up. People who had harangued each other about their political differences over beers and joints started to harangue each other about their political differences on the screen. People who had bored us with their careers at breakfast bored us with their careers in IMs. People who had adopted an annoying tone of voice at the dinner table adopted an annoying tone of voice on the email list.

Surprise! We had lost contact for a reason!

So no, I do not accept your invitation to become a ‘friend’ nor do I have any interest whatsoever in ‘visiting’ your personalized announcement to the world that you exist. I absorb this fact with due gratification; however, ‘friends’—sorry, those I can already identify, and they’re not the least bit electronic. I’ll ‘visit’ them in my own retrograde, codgerly, nineteenth-century way, and there won’t be 85 of them, either.

The other horse race

Watching the Olympics opening ceremony, you expect to hear the dufus commentators mispronounce ‘Comoros’ and make tasteless jokes about people’s national costumes. But it was amazing how the NBC honchos have given carte blance to their chosen valedictorians of the commonplace to make political comments about country they can find on the map as the teams emerged from the stadium tunnel.

I’m old enough to remember the track stars who gave the black power salute at the 1968 games in Mexico City and how they were hounded for life by the sports world for the crime of ‘politicizing’ sport and in an allegedly unpatriotic way, no less. Nobody seemed to notice that the Mexican state ten days before had slaughtered hundreds of protesting students at Three Cultures Plaza in the same city—back then, injecting ‘politics’ into sport was simply NOT DONE.

Until it became convenient for the United States to do it, that is. Just a dozen years later Jimmy Carter turned the 1980 Moscow Olympics into a referendum on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and now it’s open season.

The Soviets returned the favor in 1984 by boycotting Los Angeles, and the U.S. went on to win every gold, silver, bronze, iridium, quartz and malachite medal to be had. The whole thing coincided with Saint Ronald’s ‘Morning in America’ and his crushing re-election and convinced our citizenry once again that the good old U.S.A. was the best damn place in the world.

So now the droning dullards aurally numbing us while the Olympic pictures flash by can poke a stick in the eye of the Burmese junta, Hugo Chavez, the Iranians and anyone else it’s P.C. to denounce from the cozy heights of network TV these days. The fact that they hardly know Bolivia from Bangladesh doesn’t matter as long as they get the party line straight and the ennemi du jour is properly twitted.

So the sporting competition is about to begin, and the stage is set for us to ovate and weep with abandon when American kids come in first, as God wishes. A few heroic underdogs from Lesotho or the Cook Islands can be cheered to remind ourselves that we’re ripping good sports, and the bad guys’ athletes jeered on cue. Virtue can pummel Ill and slam Nasty; Fair will triumph over Foul; the show is on.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Guantánamo traffic court

Half a dozen years later we finally have a ‘conviction’ at Guantánamo Dungeon for—TA DUM—driving.

Hamdan, whose name is already familiar to us for winning a Supreme Court decision on his unlawful detention (which did not, however, then end), now faces life imprisonment for having a job the U.S. military doesn’t approve of—being bin Laden’s driver. Maybe he even sympathized with the guy who employed him—another grave offense.

We knew there would be a guilty verdict in this absurd kangaroo court and were told as much by the Pentagon’s chief lawyer who argued, correctly, that it would look ridiculous to have held these guys for six or seven years with complete impunity to beat confessions out of them and then not be able to make a charge stick—in front of a military judge, no less.

That’s the perverse logic of having gone down the path of rump justice and torture in the first place: the stakes them become so enormous that you can’t simply back off and say, Oops! Made a mistake!

Galileo said when hounded by the Catholic Church for arguing that the earth revolves around the sun that persecutors always must redouble their efforts when they’re wrong. He knew what he was talking about and only had to wait 300-some-odd years to be rehabilitated.

Maybe Hamdan is guilty of something more serious in which case the obvious question is, Why not try him before a civilian court by the established procedures? Do they fear some closet sympathizers with Islamic fundamentalism in the jury pool will conspire to let him off? Or is it too dangerous to see how flimsy the evidence accumulated in all these years of rough stuff really is?

Monday, 4 August 2008

It gets better [Anthrax 3]

So our alleged, post-mortem-all-but-convicted anthrax-dust-scatterer, Bruce Ivins, whom I perhaps prematurely dissed as a likely terrorist a couple days ago, now turns out to have quite a few defenders. But more to the point, his main accuser turns out to be, shall we say, less than entirely credible.

Jean C. Duley, the shrink who was quoted in AP as having sought protection from a supposedly crazed Ivins (raising all sorts of questions about personnel screening at Fort Detrick), turns out to have once faced a domestic assault charge for beating up her husband and to have stood trial for a DUI as recently as 2006. This is the government’s and the media’s star witness on Ivins’ state of mind? Based on whose testimony one and all rush to declare ‘case closed’? After paying out $6 million to the last guy they slandered for being the anthrax murderer since he, unfortunately for them perhaps, remains quite alive?

But let’s get back to Duley who directed a substance abuse program in Frederick, Maryland, even though her DUI trial had occurred two years before. She claims in her request for a restraining order against Ivins, to have been known that he was going to be indicted for five counts of murder—even though her grand jury appearance was scheduled for a week later, August 1. How would she know that? Did the FBI tell her?

Then it turns out that Duley isn’t a psychologist but a social worker and is currently pursuing her studies at tiny Hood College in Frederick. Good for her, but this is the ‘expert’ on whose diagnosis we rely to declare Ivins guilty and sweep one of the key building blocks in the decision to go to war in Iraq permanently under the rug?

This whole episode stinks worse than a soggy bag of catfish heads. Seven years ago newspapers and TV heavy breathers insisted that the entire nation was in dire threat from invisible spores floated into our space by Saddam Hussein, war-panic was successfully induced and we all know the rest.

The anthrax scare fit the plans for war perfectly. Why the big rush to bury the story of what really happened based on such flimsy evidence from such dubious sources?

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Nothing learned from Iraq bamboozle [Anthrax 2]

So it turns out we were indeed threatened by bioterrorist attack from a government—our own.

Bruce Ivins was a lifelong employee of a super-secret government program dealing in biological weapons. He is now accused of having sent poisons through the mails in a failed attempt to assassinate elected leaders, such as then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat.

One could say, Oh well, he was a ‘rogue agent’ acting on his own without the knowledge of any of his colleagues or superiors. Maybe so. In fact, the news coverage is so unanimous on this point that it resembles the consensus of the Chinese media on the Olympics boycott.

Showing remarkable equanimity and generosity of spirit to someone who logically should be termed a ‘terrorist’, they speculate that he was trying an unauthorized experiment, looking for a vaccine, trying to drum up more research money or losing his marbles.

So far, no one has suggested that he wanted to help George Bush scare the shit out of us.

But would these be the only hypotheses if the attack had come from, say, a agent of the Iranian government? Au contraire, it would be seized upon as a causus belli at least as good as the Tonkin Gulf resolution.

No one would be sitting around wondering about the psychological ups and downs of the alleged perpetrator but rather loudly demanding answers from his immediate higher-ups all the way to the Army chiefs and the minister of defense. The burden of proof would on them to demonstrate that they did not authorize, wink at or cover up for the attack.

Meanwhile, I have seen not one peep about the crucial role the anthrax attack played in convincing Americans that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a threat to their survival and would have to be invaded and conquered forthwith. Soon afterward, Condoleeza Rice came up with her notorious ‘mushroom cloud’ line to warn us that anyone dastardly enough to send anthrax spores through the mail could be expected to follow up with nukes in suitcases.

At the same time, Condi & gang were busily inventing bogus ‘intelligence’ to back up these claims, as we now know in detail.

The bland acceptance of the denouement to the anthrax mystery suggests that neither the newspapers nor the public have learned diddly about the pap we are still being fed from on high. Whether or not there is more to the story, someone should at least be asking questions.

P.S. The relentless Glenn Greenwald at as usual is doing so.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Whence the anthrax attacks?

I am not generally prone to conspiratorial views, but this anthrax story is completely unbelievable, in the original sense as not worthy of belief: Bruce Ivins, a long-time employee of the government biological warfare laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is now accused of originating the anthrax attack that was used to whip up belligerance and justify the conquest of Iraq.

He was reported to have committed suicide as the investigators closed in by taking an overdose of prescription Tylenol.

Given the huge importance of this attack in constructing the national consensus to invade Iraq, this story is of enormous importance. The unanswered questions leap from the page, and this is only Day One:
  • If Ivins had ‘a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, plans and actions’ and had been described by his psychiatrist as ‘homicidal and sociopathic’ (AP), WHY WAS HE WORKING ON BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS?
  • On what basis did the entire Washington establishment suggest immediately after the 2001 anthrax attacks that Saddam Hussein was responsible since it now turns out he was not?
  • Who were the multiple anonymous sources who kept insisting on the Iraqi connection, providing convenient fuel for the anti-Hussein war fever in the highly sensitive days after 9/11?
  • Why were selected journalists in Washington warned to take the anthrax antidote, ciprin, days before the attack? Did someone know it was coming? Who? How?
  • Why did the FBI ignore all evidence except that implicating Steven Hatfill and leak it relentlessly to the news media, resulting in a $5.8 million settlement for Hatfill from that police agency as an apology for its misconduct?

And most chilling of all. . .

  • Was Ivins, if he was in fact the culprit, working alone?