Sunday, August 8, 2004

Notes from a MAD, MAD WORLD

Honey, I Think We Got the Wrong Country

Both in terms of WMD and links to Al Qaeda it should be clear that Iraq was the wrong country to attack.

The right country? There are several to choose from. To be sure, Afghanistan tops the list, but, then, we sicked the mujaheddin “freedom fighters” on Kabul – and, by extension, the Soviets – twenty years ago, arming them to the teeth and applauding the anti-Soviet, anti-secular Taliban they ushered in. But even freedom fighters can become terrorists. Even anti-Soviet allies can become religious fanatics. Only the U.S.-supplied Stingers remain the same. It’s called “blowback.”

How about North Korea which sold long-range SAM missiles to Yemen – missiles we intercepted and let pass through after the attack in Yemen on the USS Cole? Indeed, how about Yemen where terrorists roam the hinterland?

How about Saudi Arabia and Egypt which produced all those 9/11 hijackers? How about all those bin Ladens who flew home to Riyadh on 9/12? Wonder when we’ll ever get to read those redacted pages from the 9/11 Commission’s report? Probably the day after the Bushes leave the White House.

How about Pakistan which still does not control its border with Afghanistan? And, then, there’s A.Q. Khan who operated his own private nuclear proliferation program out of Islamabad – an operation we knew about and did nothing to stop. We “needed” Pakistan.

How about Libya, that recipient of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear largesse, that plotter of the Berlin nightclub bombing of American G.I.s, that accomplice in the downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie? Any sanctions there? Nooo. Qaddaffi gets diplomatic recognition and a boost to tourism. We get oil. All’s well. That is until Colin Powell allows – very factually - that the Libyan government is undemocratic. Libya responds by suing us for defamy. How do you say chutzpah in Arabic…or, for that matter, in American English.

Then there’s Iran! Anybody with an ounce of sense and two eyes has known for years that Iran has been mucking about in terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Having probably obtained its know-how and materials from the same infamous A.Q. Khan, Iran has been unabashed in seeking, contrary to its NPT obligations, to produce weapons-grade materials. It has, moreover, thumbed its nose at the inspectors of the UN’s IAEA. In terms of terrorism, Iran has long supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Kurdish terrorist group Ansar al Islam, which operated a base on the Iranian border in Kurdish-occupied northern Iraq. Ironically, the existence of that camp, which spawned that renowned beheader al Zarqawi, was used by the Bush administration in its run-up to the Iraq war as proof that there were terrorist camps “in Iraq.”

Now we learn via the 9/11 Commission that several of the 9/11 hijackers – the “muscle men” in the operation – transited Iran on their way from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Let me suggest another, probably on-going Iranian connection with al Qaeda. While we have been focusing our hunt for bin Laden on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, might its border with Iran be a better place to look? Or Iran itself? Wasn’t that sweet the way bin Laden’s side-kick Harqawi, who announced he was accepting the Saudi’s offer of amnesty (presumably to obtain medical treatment), was escorted like a VIP, first to the Saudi embassy in Teheran, then to a waiting jet to whisk him to Riyadh?

Yes, it looks like we attacked the wrong country. Just as well. Iran would have been a tougher nut to crack. And, besides, it’s now academic. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t do anything to Iran. Our entire over-stretched Army is bogged down in Iraq…the wrong country.

Baghdad Dan

Remember Baghdad Bob? Sure you do. We all hope he’s doing well in retirement. (In Bahrain?) He deserves it, for he gave us so many laughs during a difficult time.

Remember Baghdad Dan? You know, Dan Senor, that civilian half of the daily Dan and Mark show of the CPA. I expect that Mark Kimmitt, that one-star, so full of patriotic bravado, is still there. Why shouldn’t he have his tour extended also? Some of his performances, moreover, were at least as good as Baghdad Bob’s. Remember his earnest assurances about how we would storm into Fallujah? Remember his soothing words on the turnover of “sovereignty” to Mr. Alawi? That, he said, made the then-880 deaths of our sons and daughters worthwhile. Breathtaking.

Mark’s a good soldier doing a thankless job with unusual zeal. Dan, however, is something else again. Now that he’s safe at home with “Jerry” Bremer and the rest of the CPA crowd, the truth can be told.

Baghdad Dan came out of the Bush White House, where he was deputy to press spokesman Scott McClellan. His sparse White House bio left out a few interesting facts. In 1993, for example, Dan, then an undergraduate at the University of Western Ontario and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, served as an intern for the Likud-affiliated American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). From 2001 to 2003 he was a venture capitalist with the Carlyle Group (Remember them?) and is currently a director of the US-Israel Business Exchange (USIBEX) among whose goals is “accelerating entry of Israeli technology companies into the US market.” Such are the dots. Got a pencil?

Palestine’s National Nervous Breakdown

What is currently happening in Gaza is nothing less than the national nervous breakdown of Palestine. A people occupied, lied to, shot at, and humiliated on a daily basis for decades is in a state of moral collapse. Pushed to the bottom of a cul de sac by the Israelis and betrayed by their own leaders, Palestinians are turning on each other in an orgy of violence. It is not pretty. And it is not something Israelis can take pleasure in. They and, by extension, we have denied a people their humanity and treated them as sub-humans. Why, then, should we be surprised when they lash out in unrestrained violence not only against themselves but against their tormentors. We have driven a people, out of desperation, into the arms of terrorists. As an American and a friend of Israel – not Sharon, not Likud, but Israel - I am horrified by the prospect of what may yet come. My government will yet again preach “restraint by all sides,” tout its “even-handedness,” veto even the mildest rebuke in the United Nations, and do absolutely nothing to promote peace.

Example – Last month the International Court of Justice condemned the Israeli wall that cuts deeply into Palestinian territory and pens millions of Palestinians into their Bantustan. Anticipating a US veto of enforcement action in the Security Council, Palestine sought two weeks ago a non-binding UN General Assembly vote to record the overwhelming nature of international outrage at the wall. The UNGA vote was 150-6 with 10 abstentions. Among the 150 “yes” votes were all the members of the European Union. So who were the six who voted “no?” The United States, Israel, and Australia, another real albeit misguided country, were three. The other three? The Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau…all members of the “Compact of Free Association” with the United States. Talk about tiny dots to connect!

Example – Not content with the implosion within Gaza, the Israelis this past week have gratuitously spiced the witches brew with repeated attacks by Apache helicopters, tanks, and armored bulldozers, destroying ever more houses…and ever more people. Americans may not see those attacks in our media, but Palestinians, who experience them first hand, also know how to connect dots. Why do they hate us? Follow the tracings of their pencils back to Bell and Caterpillar.

Want to learn more? Contact If Americans Knew at or at (510) 655-6384 and/or a Jewish Voice for Peace at or (510) 465-1777.


That’s the southwestern corner of Sudan where 30,000 black Africans have been killed and maybe a million displaced at the hands of an Arab militia known as Janjaweed. The U.S. Congress, spurred on by the outrage of Senator John McCain, has correctly called this genocide. The U.S. government, however, has done precious little to help the beleaguered blacks fleeing into neighboring Chad…other than dispatching Colin Powell to confirm the obvious.

Powell’s boss, President George W. Bush, seems to delight in striking a macho pose and deriding the “irrelevant” and presumably impotent United Nations and France. Well, last week they acted while Dubyah posed in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that the government of Sudan disarm the Janjaweed militias. And France dispatched 200 troops to eastern Chad to stabilize the border and protect fleeing refuges. French C-130 aircraft and Puma helicopters meanwhile began ferrying tons of humanitarian supplies to the refugees, seeking to avoid another Rwanda-like disaster. Yes, this is the France that Rumsfeld dismisses as “Old Europe” and Bill O’Reilly urges us to boycott.

As clearer thinking adults, won’t you urge the President and our elected representatives – Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representative Miller – to do at least as much as the French to avert another humanitarian catastrophe in Africa. Please. As Leo Baeck said, as Hitler launched the Holocaust, “There is nothing so sad as silence.” Please, please, speak out, no, shout “Never again!”

Our Cuban Insanity

It is election year, Florida’s again in play, and George W. Bush is again running against Fidel Castro. American policy toward a Cuba already in transition is held hostage to the votes of upper and upper-middle class Cubans who fled the island with Batista and his mafia cohorts more than four decades ago. It is truly bizarre. Communism has disappeared in Europe, its demise hastened by the economic and cultural exchanges that subverted corrupt regimes and eased the path to democracy. In China and Vietnam, we are pursuing the same liberating policies, opening new doors and windows to the freshening breezes of change. And those policies are working just as they did in the Poland I knew during the Cold War and the Solidarity struggle. But in Cuba, we tighten the screws even tighter on a self-defeating policy of isolating the island and driving its people into the arms of Castro.

It is a policy that stifles the prospects for peaceful gradual change and increases the likelihood of a violent end to the Castro regime – a nightmare scenario for American generals. In its current tightening, it is particularly mean-spirited, restricting the possibility of family visits and imposing harsh limits on gift parcels to relatives. Indeed the limits imposed by President Bush are so harsh they have led to a backlash among younger Cuban Americans denied visits to parents and grandparents. Even in the House of Representatives Republicans joined Democrats in overturning the new restrictions on gift parcels. The vote was 221-194.

The winds of change may not have reached Havana, but they are at last being felt in south Florida.

UN Monitors for U.S. Elections

Speaking of Cuba and Florida, some of you may remember that in the immediate wake of the Supreme Court appointment of George W. Bush in 2000, the Cuban Foreign Minister offered to send monitors to observe our 2004 election. While he may have had his tongue in cheek, the 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus did not when they appealed last month to the UN to actually provide such monitors. In light of the latest shenanigans in Florida and the California suits surrounding Diebold’s malfunctioning and trackless electronic voting machines this is no longer a laughing matter.

Our Bobble-Head Governator Discombobulated

Okay, Arnold Schwarzenegger is small potatoes measured against such life and death, existential issues. But Ahnuld, our very own Austrian, wants to be president. Now, there’s a scary thought – four more years of Dubyah and eight of Ahnuld. The very fact that a personal constitutional amendment to make that possible could seriously be considered should be enough to convince even the greatest doubter how far we’ve slid down a darkening socio-political slope.

The recall now history, our bobble-head governator finds that actually governing is tougher than he anticipated. You don’t just tell the legislature what to do and wait for them to do it. And, when they don’t, you don’t revert to the campaign trail by going to shopping malls in Orange County and the Central Valley to call your partners in government “girlie men.”

The governator’s misogynistic, homophobic, sophomoric (high school, that is) remarks were, it turned out, no substitute for sitting down with legislators to work out the serious issues still on the budget table. Those issues related to minimum wages for school bus drivers, the right of school employees to sue for sexual harassment, and more reasonable ways of funding cities and local governments. Ahnuld claimed such issues were being raised by “special interests” which he, as our self-styled “warrior for the people,” must “terminate.” He derided the legislators for not getting out to shopping malls to tell the people they would not stand up to such “special interests.”

Fact is, the legislators were in Sacramento legislating. That’s what we pay them for. And we pay Ahnuld for being in Sacramento…governing. It wasn’t till he got back there to do that – to sit down with “girlie men” to negotiate “special interests” - that the people’s business started getting done. And, when a less-than-perfect budget passed - balanced on the back of another $2 billion debt our children will have to pay and another $2.6 billion out of the pockets of the cities - he praised the “bipartisan effort” that produced it. How do you say chutzpah in Austrian-accented German?

I wholeheartedly agree with Cathy Edgett of Mill Valley who when asked by the SF Chronicle “Is Arnold’s star starting to dim?” replied:

A movie star is a moon, not a star. They reflect what they are given – light and script – rather than shining out from within. Though we don’t see the backside of our Earth’s moon, it seems we are beginning to get that experience with this cleverly elected movie moon.

I also agree with the Chronicle that “The ‘Mr. Schwarzenegger Goes to Sacramento’ act is wearing thin.” Very, very thin.

Posted by Vicki at 10:33 PM

Monday, August 2, 2004

Our late great Fourth Estate

Now that it’s over, you’ve discovered that, had you wanted gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic National Convention, you would have had to watch C-Span. If you watched network television all week, you got only one-hour’s coverage each night on ABC, CBS, and NBC and none at all on Fox’s KTVU. They deemed it more important for you – and certainly more profitable for them – to broadcast such bread and circus as “Trading Spouses,” “Fear Factor,” “Hollywood Squares,” and “Seinfeld” repeats. “Why?” you ask. Read on. It’s a sad story.

Since the founding of the republic, a free and aggressively curious media has operated as the advocate of the people and as one of the main bulwarks against would-be tyrants. Over the past three years, however, the media has been curiously silent. There have been a variety of factors behind the decade-long taming of the once-proudly bold Fourth Estate. These have included the consolidation of corporate power in fewer and fewer hands, FCC rulings that have cleared the way for ever greater consolidations, the profit-driven rush to the bottom of journalistic and societal standards, and outright manipulation by neo-fascist ideologues.

Thus radio has become a cesspool of racist hate talk. Cities, once home to a variety of local viewpoints in competing newspapers and broadcast outlets, have become single-medium outlets purveying one national perspective. Once proud and independent network news operations – Remember Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Ted Turner, Bernie Shaw? – have been gutted and subordinated to profit-driven entertainment divisions. Unwilling to sustain any monetary loss to serve the public, corporate moguls have fired knowledgeable and hard-working foreign correspondents, replacing them with stringers with dubious credentials; replaced respected anchors with vacuous pretty faces – male and female; transformed news magazines that held promise of in-depth treatment of serious issues into little more than “Entertainment Tonight;” and generally succumbed to the basest forms of group think. The most obvious and important questions go unasked. And accountability and responsibility go begging.

Examples? Take those Pentagon briefings last year where Rumsfeld tamed a pliant press corps with scorn and ridicule? Take the continued dissing of Helen Thomas, the respected dean of the White House press corps, and the dismissal of her perceptive questions by spokesmen who haven’t the slightest idea of what journalism is about. Take the decline of the once-respected New York Times, which for far too long tolerated the biased and unsound WMD reporting of fear-monger Judith Miller, only last week issuing a tepid mea culpa for its two-year failure to ask the right questions about the Iraq war.

The result? On TV, there is that Rupert Murdoch/RogerAiles monstrosity called Fox News, which, over the past several weeks has dropped all pretense of being “fair and balanced” and become little more than a broadcast outlet of the RNC. The home of wild-eyed blowhards and bullies like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, wide-eyed “reporters” like Linda Vester who seem surprised even by the daily sunrise, and “experts” like Ollie North and Geraldo Rivera who seem locked in some macho mano-a-mano, Fox is but a parody of journalism. Want the inside scoop? You’ve got to see “Outfoxed.” Go to, order the DVD for $9.95, and invite your friends over for a good laugh.

Then there are the Fox wannabes – MSNBC and CNBC. The latter has morphed news into Saturday Night Live, turning itself over entirely to Dennis Miller, Tim McEnroe, and much of the SNL cast. Where, we’re left to ask, does comedy end and news begin? Nowhere, I fear, and there is precious little of either. At least the sports fans of “Monday Night Football” understood that Miller knew nothing about football. How long until the powers that be at CNBC realize that Mogley knows more about news than Miller ever will. (Now there’s a spin-off possibility!) MSNBC, the self-styled “serious alternative,” has tried to turn itself into a video version of talk radio, hiring the right-wing likes of Michael Savage, Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and yellow dog Democrat Chris Matthews. But even the “fair and balanced” viewers of MSNBC couldn’t stomach the venom of Michael Savage in prime time.

Oh, for the CNN of Ted Turner and Bernie Shaw. Now we get Barbara Starr sonorously passing on the latest Pentagon press release, the latest political analysis of retired colonels, and Wolf Blitzer breathlessly shouting over the daily drumbeat of ominous martial music. CNN even touted Wolf’s late night appearance on Jon Stewart’s comedy show, oblivious to the invidious comparison. Stewart came across as a serious-minded journalist, Blitzer as a clown.

The networks? Forget it. No longer “loss leaders,” network news now dishes up embedded flag-wavers, wall-to-wall trials, and Barbara Wawa’s pompous puff pieces with her favorite celebrities.

PBS? Goodbye, Bill Moyers. Hello Tucker Carlson. Need I say more?

If you want to learn more about the sorry capitulation of the American media, check out the trenchant commentary by Orville Schell in the latest edition of Mother Jones. Schell, dean of Journalism at UC Berkeley, is eminently more qualified, eminently more even-handed than I could ever be.