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More corruption in Trump administration

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York indicted three men for illegally influencing the foreign policy positions of a presidential candidate and then, after the election, of the United States government.

They were acting in the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a wealthy country in the Persian Gulf. The candidate was Donald Trump, and one of the three men was his ally Thomas Barrack. Another was Matthew Grimes, a 27-year-old employee who reported to Barrack. The third was UAE citizen Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, who lived in California until 2018, leaving abruptly after the FBI interviewed him about the case.

The return of Barrack to the news recalls the outsized influence of foreign actors in the previous administration, and how U.S. policy appeared to change to suit their interests. On Twitter, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times wrote: “One of the mysteries of Trump’s first six months was why the administration came out of the gate so hot for Saudi and UAE—with Trump traveling to Saudi Arabia and then going along with the Qatar blockade. The Tom Barrack indictment explains a lot.”

A billionaire private equity real-estate investor and longtime ally of Trump, Barrack was a key fundraiser for Trump’s campaign, which he advised between April and November 2016. In June 2018, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote a profile of Barrack, explaining that he is the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles and so grew up speaking Arabic, which helped him do business and make contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Barrack got to know Trump in the real estate world of the 1980s, and by 2010, he acquired $70 million of Jared Kushner’s debt and retired enough of it to keep Kushner from bankruptcy. When Trump launched his 2016 campaign with anti-Muslim rhetoric, Barrack calmed his Middle East contacts down, assuring them that Trump was simply using hyperbole.

Barrack urged Trump to hire Paul Manafort—fresh from his stint working for a Ukrainian oligarch—and served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee. Grimes and Barrack proposed to contacts in the UAE that it should use “its vast economic surplus to obtain a level of influence…which the country should rightfully command.” They suggested it should use financial investments to “increase [its] influence with USA and European governments and people.”

A final draft of their proposal explained that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also…garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the recently elected Candidate, hereinafter, the ‘President-Elect’]….We will do so by sourcing, investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.”

Barrack’s investment firm raised more than $7 billion between 2016 and 2018, 24% of it from either the UAE or Saudi Arabia.

According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.

Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.

In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.

Today, prosecutors said that Barrack provided foreign government officials “with sensitive non-public information about developments within the Administration, including information about the positions of multiple senior United States government officials with respect to the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.”

They say he also “met with and assisted senior leaders of the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], a close ally of the UAE.”

In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an emergency to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2021 at 9:50 pm

On a Single Day in May, Israeli Settlers and Soldiers Cooperated in Attacks That Left Four Palestinians Dead

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Yuval Abraham reports in The Intercept:

NIDAL SAFADI WAS a quiet man, his neighbors said. He lived in Urif, a Palestinian village of several thousand people in the West Bank. Just 25, Safadi had three children with his wife and a fourth, a girl, on the way.

Urif is not always quiet. With the Palestinian city of Nablus less than 10 miles away, the occupying Israeli military established a base on a nearby hilltop in 1983. A year later, it was turned over to civilian purposes: part of Israel’s illegal settlement program in the Palestinian territories. Since 2000, the settlement, called Yitzhar, has been home to a yeshiva known for its hard-line Jewish nationalist views; the settlement become known for its extremism. The so-called outpost settlements it has spurred — illegal even by Israeli law, but nonetheless defended by the Israel Defense Forces — have gradually encroached on villages like Urif. Over the past 10 years, settler aggressions have given rise to violent recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians living nearby.

On May 14, though, Urif was calm — unlike much of the West Bank. In dozens of places around the territory, Palestinians protested against recent Israeli provocations: police storming Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound and heavy bombardment, in response to Hamas rocket fire, of the Gaza Strip.

“There were many protests in the area, but Urif was quiet,” said Mazen Shehadeh, head of the village council. “It is a small village and the residents stayed indoors. Had the settlers not arrived to attack the houses, nothing would have happened.”

Shehadeh said a group of settlers arrived at about 2 p.m., along with six soldiers, and began wreaking havoc. “The settlers uprooted almost 60 fig and olive trees,” he said. “Then they attacked the school with stones and broke its solar panels.” The damage was still evident when I visited a month after the attack. “While the settlers did all of that, the soldiers covered for them by gunfire,” Shehadeh continued. “The soldiers led, gave orders, everything looked coordinated. The soldiers pointed for the settlers, where to go, where to uproot, and then they shot at anybody who tried to get close. After a few minutes, residents came to protect the village.”

One of the villagers who arrived was Nidal Safadi. “Nidal arrived at the school terrified,” said his brother, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “We have relatives who live nearby, and the mosque’s loudspeaker announced that the settlers were attacking, so he ran.”

Photos and videos from the scene show settlers and soldiers from the IDF aiming their weapons toward the Palestinian villagers. One video, obtained by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows a shirtless settler with a face covering walking around and chatting with nearby soldiers. At one point, the settler, armed with an automatic rifle, stands directly in front of a solider, takes aim toward the villagers, and opens fire. Other photos show settlers and soldiers alike with weapons raised.

Amid the chaos, Safadi struck by four bullets in the chest and abdomen, according to Shehadeh. He died of his wounds.

“We do not know whether it was a settler or a soldier who shot him,” Shehadeh said. “We had many who were wounded by gunfire that day. Nine people were hurt: one in the abdomen, another was shot three centimeters from his heart. And there was Nidal, who got killed.”

Shehadeh went on, “It was a planned attack. Revenge, not a confrontation. We used to have clashes every day and it never looked like that. They didn’t use live ammunition before, only tear gas and rubber bullets. Also, more soldiers used to be present.”

Joint Attacks

Safadi’s death was one of 11 violent killings of Palestinians in the West Bank on May 14, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. While Israeli media reported that the killings occurred amid “clashes” — implying the widespread protests over Al Aqsa and the Gaza bombings — at least four of the deaths occurred during deliberate attacks by settlers and soldiers on Palestinian villages, an investigation by Local Call and The Intercept found.

The joint attacks by Israeli settlers and soldiers were not linked to protests in the targeted villages; no demonstrations preceded the violence in three of the four locations. The incursions all occurred at almost the same time, around 2 p.m., and all involved the settlers destroying agricultural land, including by setting fires, as well as stone throwing and the use of live ammunition.

Attacks on Palestinians by stone-throwing settlers, as Israeli soldiers stand idly by, are a common occurrence in the occupied Palestinian territories. But scenes like those from May 14 — settlers and soldiers attacking villages in apparent cooperation, with live ammunition — are unprecedented.

“The only way I can describe this is by calling it militias,” said Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, an attorney and a partner in Haqel-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, an organization that works in the Israeli court system to represent Palestinians who have faced settler violence. “These cases, in which soldiers enter villages together with settlers, and in which there is massive gunfire by settlers — this is unprecedented.”

Five such attacks on May 14 left four Palestinians dead. One was killed in the village of Asira Al-Qibliya, in the Nablus area; another in Iskaka, near the Israeli settlement Ariel; a third in the village Al Reihiya, in South Mount Hebron; and Nidal Safidi in Urif. In the fifth village, Burin, which is also near Nablus, a similar attack ended without any deaths.

Videos, photographs, and villagers’ testimonies of the attacks indicate that, in at least three cases, Israeli settlers and soldiers acted as a combined fighting unit, effectively working as a joint militia attacking civilians and firing interchangeably at Palestinian residents. Coordination between the military and settlers is a burgeoning political issue in Israel: On Tuesday, 100 former combat soldiers sent a letter to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanding he take action against settler violence that they themselves had witnessed during their service. “In the past year, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2021 at 3:12 pm

Rachel Maddow speaks on Frederick Douglass

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Rachel Maddow:

In 1845, Frederick Douglass, the great American abolitionist, published the first of what would become three autobiographical accounts of his life. The first one was called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.

Frederick Douglass is, of course, one of the greatest Americans of all time. His autobiographies about life as a slave and his struggle to become free, in addition to everything else he did in his life, those written works are some of the most influential written American accounts of anything on any subject.

In Narrative of the Life, which is the most widely read of the three of his three autobiographical accounts but also in the subsequent autobiographies he wrote as well, including the next one, My Bondage and My Freedom, one of the most harrowing things that Frederick Douglass describes about his own life is a yearlong period when the man who owned him as a slave decided that young Frederick Douglass was incorrigible.

Douglass’ owner decided that Frederick Douglass needed in effect to be tamed, to be broken. And so he shipped Frederick Douglass off to a man that is literally known as a slave breaker. The slave breaker was named Edward Covey. C-O-V-E-Y.

This is part of how Frederick Douglass describes him in My Bondage and My Freedom. He says, quote, “I have now lived with him [meaning his slave owner] nearly nine months, and he had given me a number of severe whippings, without any visible improvement in my character or my conduct. Now he was resolved to put me out as he said, quote, to be broken.”

There was, in the Bay Side, a man named Edward Covey, who enjoyed the execrated reputation of being a first rate hand at breaking young Negroes. Breaking.

Frederick Douglass then goes on in chapter after chapter after chapter in this autobiography. Look at this. The experiences at Covey’s, unusual brutality at Covey, driven back to Covey’s. You know, Covey’s manner of proceeding to whip, right? Chapter after chapter after chapter, he describes this experience, the way that Edward Covey tortured him and beat him nearly to death and worked him nearly to death all the try to destroy Frederick Douglass’ spirit, to try to destroy his mind, to turn him into a docile slave who would work out question whereupon he would then be returned to his owner.

And because Douglass is so capable and so brilliant, his own recounting of what happened to him in that period of his life, what happened to him when his slave owner sent him to Edward Covey, what happened to him at Edward Covey’s hands, what happened to him when he stayed for a year at Edward Covey’s farm and Covey was tasked there with breaking him, because Frederick Douglass is such a luminous, important, brilliant, inspiring, incredible figure, unparalleled figure in American history, because of what we know he is capable of, because of what we know what his mind was capable of and what he did for his country in his life, when he recounts what happened to him at the hands of Edward Covey, it is the most dispiriting and desolate and just miserable thing that Douglass writes about.

He wrote:

I shall never be able to narrate the mental experience through which it was my lot to pass during my stay at Edward Covey’s. I was completely wrecked, changed and bewildered, goaded almost to madness at one time and at another reconciling myself to my wretched condition. I suffered bodily as well as mentally.

“The overwork and brutal chastisements of which I was the victim, combined with that ever gnawing and soul devouring thought, I am a slave, a slave for life, a slave with no rational ground to hope for freedom, it rendered me a living embodiment of mental and physical wretchedness.

That was Frederick Douglass’ account of his own life in that lowest period in his own life. And that written account did more than any other to galvanize the American abolitionist movement to bring an end to slavery. Of course, it was not fiction. It really happened and it happened as Frederick Douglass said it did and Edward Covey was a real person who operated a slave breaking operation at his farm to which Frederick Douglass was sent.

Now, if you go back to that initial description, Douglass describes Covey’s farm as being on the Bay Side. What he meant by that is that the farm was on the far side of Chesapeake Bay, the far side of Chesapeake Bay from the mainland of Maryland, which is where Douglass was being sent there from.

Edward Covey’s farm, his slave breaking operation which he tortured Frederick Douglass and countless others was this house and its surrounding farmland on the eastern shore of Maryland, in a town that’s now called St. Michael’s.

The farm and the house at the farm itself had a name, a fitting name. It was called Mount Misery.
About 15 years ago now, a literature professor wrote a very thoughtful piece in the Baltimore Sun newspaper suggesting a new future for Mount Misery, suggesting that the United States of America should consider buying Mount Misery to make it a commemorative site. He argued, would not the most fitting outcome for Mount Misery be as a monument or museum wherein a key moment from the country’s past can find a rightful place in the public memory. The old Edward Covey house deserves our understanding and preservation, the fight between slave and slave breaker that took place there is emblematic of two of the elemental themes of American history, the horrors of legally sanctioned racial violence and also the nobility of the struggle against it.

And then her;`s actually the kicker from that piece. The professor writes, “Preserving Mount Misery as a public site of contemplation where the meanings of democracy and despotism are given a human face also would help keep St. Michael’s from being merely a resort for the wealthy.”

A resort for the wealthy? Check this out. The occasion for that call that well-argued piece in the Baltimore Sun that Mount Misery should be purchased and preserved by this country as a monument to the epic violence committed there against slaves in great numbers but specifically against one of the greatest Americans of all time, the key role that the torture in that house played in turning on our American conscious to eventually overthrow slavery, the occasion for that call to preserve Mount Misery as a monument to the hell that happened there, the reason the Baltimore Sun published that just less than 15 years ago now was this revelation that was published in the New York Times exactly 15 years ago today.

On June 30th, 2006, it’s titled “Weekends with the President’s Men.” It is kind of a kicky sidebar piece in the New York Times that was published in the summer of 2006. And that piece revealed that that site on the eastern shore of Maryland, Mount Misery, that house, that farm had actually been recently purchased and was now being lived in as a private home.

Can you imagine, right? First of all, the house is still called Mount Misery today. That`s still the name by which it is known. Who would want to live in a place called Mount Misery?

But then you get to the reason that it`s called Mount Misery, right? It was the home, the same building standing there since 1804. Frederick Douglass was tortured there in 1833 and 1834. It`s the same actual physical place in which the great Frederick Douglass was tortured and beaten and worked nearly to death every day for a year.

Whether or not you think that place should be purchased by this country and made into a memorial for the worst most violent evils of slavery and their role on turning on American’s conscious to end slavery, again, that’s a substantive and interesting proposal. Whether or not you are into that idea, would you want to live there yourself? Would you like to wake up there in the morning and plan breakfast, have that be your home? Who would do that?

That article published in the New York Times“15 years ago today was actually controversial at the time that it was published because in writing that piece it did reveal the exact home address of a senior government official who in fact had made Mount Misery his private home. His name is Donald Rumsfeld, and he was at the time, the summer of 2006, struggling to the end of his disastrous tenure as Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration.

He lived at the time at Mount Misery. He bought the place in 2003 as he was leading the nation into the invasion of Iraq. That was where he went to get away from Washington while running two disastrous wars. He would like to have the Chinook helicopter drop him off at the slave breaker’s home where Douglass was tortured to death. He could relax there.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 10:31 pm

How Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered

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George Packer vocally and enthusiastically backed the idea of the US invading Iraq by the US during the George W. Bush administration, when Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense and Dick Cheney was Vice President. Cheney and Rumsfeld seemed to work closely together. Packer now writes in the Atlantic:

In 2006, soon after I returned from my fifth reporting trip to Iraq for The New Yorker, a pair of top aides in the George W. Bush White House invited me to lunch to discuss the war. This was a first; until then, no one close to the president would talk to me, probably because my writing had not been friendly and the administration listened only to what it wanted to hear. But by 2006, even the Bush White House was beginning to grasp that Iraq was closer to all-out civil war than to anything that could be called “freedom.”

The two aides wanted to know what had gone wrong. They were particularly interested in my view of the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his role in the debacle. As I gave an assessment, their faces actually seemed to sag toward their salads, and I wondered whether the White House was so isolated from Iraqi reality that top aides never heard such things directly. Lunch ended with no explanation for why they’d invited me. But a few months later, when the Bush administration announced Rumsfeld’s retirement, I suspected that the aides had been gathering a case against him. They had been trying to push him out before it was too late.

Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of defense in American history. Being newly dead shouldn’t spare him this distinction. He was worse than the closest contender, Robert McNamara, and that is not a competition to judge lightly. McNamara’s folly was that of a whole generation of Cold Warriors who believed that Indochina was a vital front in the struggle against communism. His growing realization that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable waste made him more insightful than some of his peers; his decision to keep this realization from the American public made him an unforgivable coward. But Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile—squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. His fatal judgment was equaled only by his absolute self-assurance. He lacked the courage to doubt himself. He lacked the wisdom to change his mind.

Rumsfeld was working in his office on the morning that a hijacked jet flew into the Pentagon. During the first minutes of terror, he displayed bravery and leadership. But within a few hours, he was already entertaining catastrophic ideas, according to notes taken by an aide: “best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].” And later: “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” These fragments convey the whole of Rumsfeld: his decisiveness, his aggression, his faith in hard power, his contempt for procedure. In the end, it didn’t matter what the intelligence said. September 11 was a test of American will and a chance to show it.

Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.

He believed in regime change but not in nation building, and he thought that a few tens of thousands of troops would be enough to win in Iraq. He thought that the quick overthrow of Saddam’s regime meant mission accomplished. He responded to the looting of Baghdad by saying “Freedom’s untidy,” as if the chaos was just a giddy display of democracy—as if it would not devastate Iraq and become America’s problem, too. He believed that Iraq should be led by a corrupt London banker with a history of deceiving the U.S. government. He faxed pages from a biography of Che Guevara to a U.S. Army officer in the region to prove that the growing Iraqi resistance did not meet the definition of an insurgency. He dismissed the insurgents as “dead-enders” and humiliated a top general who dared to call them by their true name. He insisted on keeping the number of U.S. troops in Iraq so low that much of the country soon fell to the insurgency. He focused his best effort on winning bureaucratic wars in Washington.

By the time Rumsfeld was fired, in November 2006, the U.S., instead of securing peace in one country, was losing wars in two, largely because of actions and decisions taken by Rumsfeld himself. As soon as he was gone, the disaster in Iraq began to turn around, at least briefly, with a surge of 30,000 troops, a policy change that Rumsfeld had adamantly opposed. But it was too late. Perhaps it was too late by the early afternoon of September 11.

Rumsfeld had intelligence, wit, dash, and endless faith in himself. Unlike McNamara, he never expressed a quiver of regret. He must have died in the secure knowledge that he had been right all along.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 6:31 pm

Donald Rumsfeld, despicable person, dies at age 88

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Update: See also “The Hell Donald Rumsfeld Built.”

Spencer Ackerman has a good obituary of Rumsfeld in the Daily Beast:

The only thing tragic about the death of Donald Rumsfeld is that it didn’t occur in an Iraqi prison. Yet that was foreordained, considering how throughout his life inside the precincts of American national security, Rumsfeld escaped the consequences of decisions he made that ensured a violent, frightening end for hundreds of thousands of people.

An actuarial table of the deaths for which Donald Rumsfeld is responsible is difficult to assemble. In part, that’s a consequence of his policy, as defense secretary from 2001 to 2006, not to compile or release body counts, a PR strategy learned after disclosing the tolls eroded support for the Vietnam War. As a final obliteration, we cannot know, let alone name, all the dead.

But in 2018, Brown University’s Costs of War Project put together something that serves as the basis for an estimate. According to Neda C. Crawford, Brown’s political-science department chair, the Afghanistan war to that point claimed about 147,000 lives, to include 38,480 civilians; 58,596 Afghan soldiers and police (about as many American troops as died in Vietnam); and 2,401 U.S. servicemembers.

Rumsfeld was hardly the only person in the Bush administration responsible for the Afghanistan war. But in December 2001, under attack in Kandahar, where it had retreated from the advance of U.S. and Northern Alliance forces, the Taliban sought to broker a surrender—one acceptable to the U.S.-installed Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld refused. “I do not think there will be a negotiated end to the situation, that’s unacceptable to the United States,” he said. That statement reaped a 20-year war, making it fair to say that the subsequent deaths are on his head, even while acknowledging that Rumsfeld was hardly the only architect of the conflict.

Crawford in 2018 also tallied between 267,792 and 295,170 deaths to that point in Iraq. That is almost certainly a severe undercount, and it includes between a very conservatively estimated 182,000 to 204,000 civilians; over 41,000 Iraqi soldiers and police; and 4,550 U.S. servicemembers. As one of the driving forces behind the invasion and the driving force behind the occupation, Rumsfeld is in an elite category of responsibility for these deaths, alongside his protege Dick Cheney and the president they served, George W. Bush.

Rumsfeld’s depredations short of the wars of choice he oversaw—and yes, responding to 9/11 with war in Afghanistan was no less a choice than the unprovoked war of aggression in Iraq – were no less severe. His indifference to the suffering of others was hardly unique among American policymakers after 9/11, but his blitheness about it underscored the cruel essence of the enterprise. When passed a sheet of paper that, in bureaucratic language, pitched a torture technique of forcing men held captive at Guantanamo Bay for hours on end, Rumsfeld scribbled a shrug on it: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day.” Months earlier, when Rumsfeld was banking on using the U.S. military to invade Iraq, a reporter asked about using U.S. forces to provide security for rebuilding Afghanistan at a moment before Taliban resistance coalesced. “Ah, peacekeeping,” he sneered in return, explaining that such tasks were beneath U.S. forces.

But to those forces, for whom he was responsible, he was no less indifferent. In Kuwait in December 2004, National Guardsmen preparing for deployment confronted Rumsfeld in the hope of enlisting his help with a dire circumstance. They were scrounging through scrap heaps for metal to weld onto their insufficiently armored vehicles so the RPGs they were sure to encounter wouldn’t kill them. Rumsfeld let it be known that the war mattered, not the warfighter. “You go to war with the Army you’ve got, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” he replied.

If Rumsfeld was indignant at the question, it reflected the unreality he inhabited and the lies he told as easily as he breathed. He wrapped himself in a superficial understanding of epistemology (“there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns…”) that a compliant press treated as sagacity. He wore a mask of assuredness, a con man’s trick, as he said things that bore no resemblance to the truth, such as his September 2002 insistence that he possessed “bulletproof” evidence of a nonexistent alliance between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. As resistance in Iraq coalesced in summer 2003, Rumsfeld said it couldn’t be “anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance,” even as a reporter quoted U.S. military doctrine explaining why it was. He insisted, “I don’t do quagmires” when quagmires were all he did.

He had reason to suspect he would get away with it. Manipulating the media was, to Rumsfeld, a known known, since reporters loved Rumsfeld before they hated him. U.S. News & World Report put a grinning Rumsfeld on the cover above the headline “Rum Punch.” (“A Secretary of War Unlike Any Other… You Got A Problem With That?”) Vanity Fair dispatched Annie Liebovitz to photograph him amongst Bush’s war cabinet. People magazine called him the “sexiest cabinet member” in 2002. A typical thumbsucker piece, this one in the Los Angeles Times of August 17, 2003, began with the falsity that “Donald H. Rumsfeld has won two wars and won them his way…” The conservative press reflected the subtext. “The Stud” was what National Review called the septuagenarian Rumsfeld as it depicted him in a come-hither pose. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. He wasn’t any good at his job, and he never recognized that nor expressed any regret or remorse. He was a man who couldn’t be bothered.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 10:28 am

Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine

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I wonder whether effective teaching of critical thinking skills, beginning in the earliest grades (see the CoRT program for an example) would help by making people less easily swayed by spurious arguments.

Anne Applebaum writes in the Atlantic:

Here’s a quiz: Which world leader made the following statements?

We are witnessing the greatest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of any democracy.”

This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made. I want to provide an update on our ongoing efforts to expose … tremendous voter fraud and irregularities.”

“The election will be flipped, dear friends.”

If you guessed Donald Trump, you are only one-third right. The first statement was made by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, soon after his opponents formed a parliamentary coalition to oust him. He has since grudgingly made way for a new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, but he hasn’t conceded that his loss was fair. The third statement came from Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former autocratic leader. She also just lost an election, but has not yet recognized the result. But yes, Trump did make the second statement. It comes from a speech he delivered on December 2, in which he detailed “tremendous voter fraud and irregularities” at great length. Although Trump stepped down, he has also yet to admit that he lost.

And he never will. Neither Netanyahu nor Fujimori is likely to concede either, and no wonder: In all three cases, the personal stakes are high. Trump is threatened by multiple lawsuits and potential business failure. Netanyahu has already been indicted for corruption and fraud. Fujimori previously spent a year in jail while awaiting trial for allegedly collecting illegal campaign contributions, and she could conceivably be sent back.

The political stakes are high too, because—at least to hear them talk—all of these leaders claim to believe that, in addition to what they might personally suffer, their nation will pay a huge price for their loss as well. Netanyahu, who had to be ushered to his seat on the opposition benches after losing the vote, calls the new government a “dangerous coalition of fraud and surrender,” and has vowed to “overthrow it very quickly.” Fujimori has described her leftist opponent’s victory as a mortal threat to Peru and a guarantee that the country will follow Venezuela into repression and poverty. Trump, of course, has never acknowledged that there is such a thing as legitimate opposition to himself at all. Even before the election took place, he made clear that unless he won, he would not recognize the result.

The consequences for democracy—democracy around the world, not just in America, Israel, or Peru—are higher still. Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate? If, by definition, your opponent’s victory represents the death of the nation, then why should any election be allowed to take place, ever? A few days ago, I asked Larry Diamond, a scholar of democracy at Stanford, if he could think of a precedent for Trump’s fraudulent, virulent, ongoing campaign against the November election result, and he could not. “I know of no instance of an advanced industrial democracy coming anywhere near this close to abandoning fundamental standards of electoral democracy,” he told me.

Maybe we should be surprised that it hasn’t happened more often. Democracy has alway been corruptible. Aristotle dismissed democracy because it was so likely to slide into tyranny; the Founding Fathers stuffed the Constitution with checks and balances for exactly that reason. Benjamin Franklin, when once asked what America would be, “a republic or a monarchy,” responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.” More recent politicians, including some rather surprising ones, have understood the fragility of democracy too. Richard Nixon, when advisers suggested that he contest the results of the incredibly tight 1960 presidential election, refused: “Our country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis—and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.”

Democracy can’t function without a certain level of civic virtue, a modicum of consensus; at the very least, everybody has to agree to play by the rules. When that doesn’t happen, contested elections, violence, even civil war can result. For many decades now, Americans, like Israelis and many Europeans, have been spared those plagues. Unlike Franklin and Nixon, too many of us now take our system for granted. Few of us are mentally prepared for the highest offices of state to be occupied by people who do not play by the rules, are not suffused with civic virtue, and do not mind damaging the delicate democratic consensus if that’s what it takes to win.

For Americans, Israelis, and many others, the primary danger of “Stop the Steal” tactics lies precisely in their novelty: If you haven’t seen or experienced this kind of assault on the fundamental basis of democracy—if you’ve never encountered a politician who is actively seeking to undermine your trust in the electoral system, your belief that votes are counted correctly, your faith that your nation can survive a victory by the other side—then you might not recognize the hazard. The majority of Republican voters appear not to. Other than Representative Liz Cheney, Representative Adam Kinzinger, and a handful of other officials, even elected Republicans seem not to understand exactly how corrosive this form of politics might eventually become.

The secondary danger of these tactics is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:53 pm

The importance of history

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday, David Ignatius had a piece in the Washington Post that uncovered the attempt of the Trump administration to reorder the Middle East along an axis anchored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia (more popularly known as MBS), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Jared Kushner of the U.S.

To make the deal, the leaders involved apparently wanted to muscle Jordan out of its role as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a role carved out in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that was hammered out under President Bill Clinton. The new dealmakers apparently wanted to scuttle the U.S.-backed accords and replace them with economic deals that would reorder the region.

This story has huge implications for the Middle East, for American government, for religion, for culture, and so on, but something else jumps out to me here: this story is a great illustration of the principles behind Critical Race Theory, which is currently tearing up the Fox News Channel. Together, the attempt to bypass Jordan and the obsession with Critical Race Theory seem to make a larger statement about the current sea change in the U.S. as people increasingly reject the individualist ideology of the Reagan era.

When Kushner set out to construct a Middle East peace plan, he famously told Aaron David Miller, who had negotiated peace agreements with other administrations, that he didn’t want to know about how things had worked in the past. “He said flat out, don’t talk to me about history,” Miller told Chris McGreal of The Guardian, “He said, I told the Israelis and the Palestinians not to talk to me about history too.”

Kushner apparently thought he could create a brand new Middle East with a brand new set of alliances that would begin with changing long standing geopolitics in Jerusalem, the city three major world religions consider holy. It is eye-popping to imagine what would have happened if we had torn up decades of agreements and tried to graft onto a troubled area an entirely new way of interacting, based not on treaties but on the interests of this new axis. Apparently, the hope was that throwing enough money at the region would have made the change palatable. But most experts think that weakening Jordan, long a key U.S. ally in the region, and removing its oversight of the holy sites, would have ushered in violence.

The heart of the American contribution to the idea of reworking the Middle East along a new axis with contracts, rather than treaties, seems to have been that enough will and enough money can create new realities.

The idea that will and money could create success was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution. Its adherents championed the idea that any individual could prosper in America, so long as the government stayed out of his (it was almost always his) business.

Critical Race Theory challenges this individualist ideology. CRT emerged in the late 1970s in legal scholarship written by people who recognized that legal protections for individuals did not, in fact, level the playing field in America. They noted that racial biases are embedded in our legal system. From that, other scholars noted that racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other biases are embedded in the other systems that make up our society.

Historians began to cover this ground long ago. Oklahoma historian Angie Debo established such biases in the construction of American law in her book, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes back in 1940. Since then, historians have explored the biases in our housing policies, policing, medical care, and so on, and there are very few who would suggest that our systems are truly neutral.

So why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world?. . .

Continue reading; inks and sources and sources are at the end of the article.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 9:13 pm

The Real Problem With the AP’s Firing of Emily Wilder

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Janine Zacharia has a piece in Politico that’s worth reading. Who is she?

Janine Zacharia reported on the Middle East and foreign policy for close to two decades including stints as Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, State Department correspondent for Bloomberg News, Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, and Jerusalem correspondent for Reuters. She is currently the Carlos Kelly McClatchy lecturer in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, where she teaches news reporting and writing fundamentals and foreign correspondence. She is the co-author ofHow to Responsibly Report on Hacks and Disinformation.

Here’s what she has to say:

In the aftermath of The Associated Press’ May 19 firing of Emily Wilder, a spirited discussion has broken out about social media policies and practices in newsrooms. Wilder, a 22-year-old news associate in Arizona with an online record of pro-Palestinian activism in college, was dismissed, according to the AP, for “some tweets” it said “violated AP’s News Values and Principles.” Which tweets? The organization didn’t say. But Wilder’s firing came on the heels of a campaign by the Stanford College Republicans and allies to portray her as an “anti-Israel agitator” and thus call the AP’s objectivity on the issue into question.

For me, the issues surrounding her firing are important for journalism, but they’re personal, too: She was my student at Stanford.

Since her dismissal, many journalists and commentators have focused on the dissatisfaction and disagreements in newsrooms over how reporters should behave online. It’s a cacophony that’s creating headaches for reporters and managers alike. Without consensus, McClatchy News, for example, says it’s OK to put #BlackLivesMatter in your Twitter handle, while Wilder’s AP editor told her to delete it from hers.

This all needs to be fixed. But unclear, opaque and inconsistently enforced social media policies aren’t the biggest problem here. For the AP and other news managers, the most urgent issue in Wilder’s dismissal is that a reporter was targeted by a disinformation campaign—in this case, by people who took issue with Wilder’s documented pro-Palestinian views—and rather than recognizing it as such, the organization essentially caved to it.

Disinformation campaigns against journalists are a growing problem in our age of information overload, and it’s essential that news outlets in particular are able to distinguish between organic outpourings of outrage or grievance online and targeted campaigns that seek to undermine the legitimacy of news organizations and obscure the facts around conflicts.

As someone who spent many years reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including posts in Jerusalem for Reuters and the Washington Post, I am more sensitive than most to the kind of scrutiny newsrooms face over their coverage of this issue.

But I am perhaps even more sensitive to disinformation campaigns. I also spent two years recently as part of a Stanford working group studying the way actors use information warfare for political purposes.

And during those discussions, my colleague Andrew Grotto, a former senior director for cybersecurity at the White House, and I concluded journalists were themselves vulnerable to propaganda campaigns by foreign and domestic actors who want to harm our democracy. We realized that newsrooms could benefit from a straightforward protocol for situations involving various forms of propaganda. The first news outlet we consulted as we were developing our guidelines was the AP.

“Remember that journalists are a targeted adversary and see yourself this way when digesting disinformation,” we wrote in our playbook. “Familiarize everyone in your newsroom with this minefield so they are aware of the risks.”

The campaign against Wilder is an excellent case study of these risks. On May 17, the Stanford College Republicans posted a Twitter thread of old social media posts and articles from her undergraduate years and described her as an “anti-Israel agitator.”

Soon, conservative commentators and news outlets were circulating the tweets to increasingly wider audiences.

These attacks on Wilder came at a particularly useful time for defenders of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Israeli forces had recently destroyed the building where the AP was located in Gaza City, alleging Hamas operated out of it, too, a claim for which Israel has not yet given evidence. But the confusion over the strike was fertile ground for those who allege pro-Palestinian bias in the media.

The disinformation in this case was that Wilder’s college advocacy for Palestinian rights would “fuel concerns about the AP’s objectivity amid revelations that the news outlet shared an office building with Hamas military intelligence in Gaza,” as the Washington Free Beacon wrote, echoing a theory about possible cooperation between Hamas and the AP made by prominent Republicans, including Senator Tom Cotton.

Within hours of a story on Fox News’ website May 19, Wilder was fired. The Stanford College Republicans responded. “Emily Wilder is not a journalist, she is an unhinged, Marxist, anti-Israeli agitator. We are proud that our efforts directly led to this outcome—the leftist media must be held accountable, and that happened in this case,” the group gloated. They thanked those who amplified their original Twitter attack, including former Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro and Cotton.

It bore all the classic marks of a disinformation campaign. Pushing the Wilder story refocused attention from Israel’s bombing of the AP bureau to a junior news associate who had just started in Arizona. As Grotto and I warned in our guidance: “Beware of campaigns to redirect your attention from one newsworthy event to another.”

This disinformation technique was not dissimilar from the redirect used by Russia in 2016. When the Washington Post published the audio from an old Access Hollywood recording, which featured a famously lewd comment by Donald Trump, WikiLeaks followed less than 60 minutes later with the release of Russian-hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Journalists need to be on high alert for stories intended to shift the news cycle.

Several disinformation experts saw parallels in the Wilder case. “Influence Ops are not just the domain of foreign gov’ts, and journalists are definitely targets,” Nathaniel Gleicher head of security at Facebook, said in a tweet of Wilder’s case. Disinformation expert Kate Starbird at the University of Washington explained how Wilder’s firing was an “example of a coordinated active measures campaign meant to do its damage through the reaction of the target (in this case the AP).”

When drafting our recommendations on how to report on disinformation, I was eager to have the AP adopt them because they are indeed the news organization that customarily leads. When the AP decided to capitalize Black last summer, for instance, most organizations quickly followed.

Perhaps most important, Grotto and I recommended news outlets focus on the “why” something was leaked as opposed to the “what.” In this case, AP managers scrutinized Wilder’s few social media posts since being hired that included one opining on the meaning of objectivity in language chosen to describe the conflict, her retweets of stories about the devastation in Gaza and the digital record of her college activism as opposed to why the College Republicans may have dug up all this stuff in the first place—to go after a former classmate whose views they loathed and to perpetuate a false perception that the AP is biased in its reporting on the conflict.

The AP’s firing of Wilder demonstrates that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 11:31 am

Why hatred should be considered a contagious disease

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Izzeldin Abuelaish, Professor of Global Health, University of Toronto, writes in The Conversation:

A significant portion of violence in the world is based on hatred. People find so many reasons to hate one another: their class, gender, authority, religion, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, customs, nationality, political opinions, physical attributes or imagined attributes. And many of those who are targets of hatred in turn hate their haters and return the violence.

Hatred and violence are threats to human health and global stability. As a medical doctor who researches public health as a tool for peace, I consider hatred a contagious disease and a health emergency of international concern.

Hatred and violence have considerable costs in terms of human health and life. Hatred should be acknowledged as a contagious disease, a public health issue and a determinant of health because prevention is needed — and because of the limited health-care resources available to fight it.

In a 2002 report, the World Health Organization called violence a “leading worldwide public health problem” and estimated that 1.6 million lose their lives to violence every year. The report is almost 20 years old now. How many more have died as a result of violence since then?

A long history of hatred

The world has recently seen the latest example of hatred-inspired violence playing out between Palestinians and Israelis.

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced after 11 days of violence that killed more than 250 people, including 66 children and 39 women, and wounded 2,000 in Gaza. Beyond the deaths is the destruction to infrastructure from the Israeli attacks — called a war crime by some international organizations — that has displaced thousands of Palestinians.

What do we expect from all those who are exposed to different varying aspects of harm from discrimination, racism, violence, intimidation, humiliation, oppression, occupation, hate crime, hate speech, incitement and violence?

The WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.”

Fueled by hate

Health, freedom, justice, education, well-being, violence and war depend on who you are and where you live. Many of the current violent civil or civil-military conflicts across the globe are either based on, or fuelled by, hatred.

In an academic paper I co-authored in 2017 with Dr. Neil Arya, entitled The Palestinian–Israeli conflict: a disease for which root causes must be acknowledged and treated, we noted that hatred goes side by side with violence. Hatred self-perpetuates, usually through cycles of hatred and counter-hatred, violence and counter-violence — sometimes manifested as revenge.

Hatred has been studied for centuries by philosophers and theologians, and more recently by social psychologists, anthropologists and evolutionary scientists.

There is no consensus on a definition of hatred that is scientific, comprehensive and holistic.

Hatred is more than just . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 9:11 pm

History rhymes: Israel does not want outsiders to observe their actions

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Many still recall the USS Liberty incident, in which Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats attacked and attempted to sink a lightly armed US Navy technical-research ship that was in international waters. The ship was clearly flying the US flag, and there is no doubt in the minds of many that Israel deliberately attacked the vessel. Casualties included 35 killed and 171 wounded, and the ship was badly damaged.

And day before yesterday, Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed a civilian building in Gaza, giving the residents had 1 hour to pick what possessions they wanted to keep and get out of the building. Al Jazeera reports:

Youmna al-Sayed had less than an hour to get to safety.

But with just one elevator working in al-Jalaa tower, an 11-storey building in Gaza City housing some 60 residential apartments and a number of offices, including those of Al Jazeera Media Network and The Associated Press, al-Sayed made a dash for the stairs.

“We left the elevator for the elderly and for the children to evacuate,” the Palestinian freelance journalist said. “And we were all running down the stairs and whoever could help children took them down,” she added. “I myself helped two children of the residents there and I took them downstairs – everyone was just running quickly.”

Moments earlier, the Israeli army, which has been bombarding Gaza for six straight days, had given a telephone warning that residents had just an hour to evacuate the building before its fighter jets attacked it.

Al Jazeera’s Safwat al-Kahlout also had to move quickly. He and his colleagues “started to collect as much as they could, from the personal and equipment of the office – especially the cameras”, al-Kahlout said.

“Just give me 15 minutes,” an AP journalist pleaded over the phone with an Israeli intelligence officer. “We have a lot of equipment, including the cameras, other things,” he added from outside the building. “I can bring all of it out.”

Jawad Mahdi, the building’s owner, also tried to buy more time.

“All I’m asking is to let four people … to go inside and get their cameras,” he told the officer. “We respect your wishes, we will not do it if you don’t allow it, but give us 10 minutes.”

“There will be no 10 minutes,” the officer replied. “No one is allowed to enter the building, we already gave you an hour to evacuate.”

When the request was rejected, Mahdi said: “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up, do what you want. There is a God.”

The Israeli army claimed there were “military interests of the Hamas intelligence” in the building, a standard line used after bombing buildings in Gaza, and it accused the group running the territory of using journalists as human shields. However, it provided no evidence to back up its claims.

“I have been working in this office for more than 10 years and I have never seen anything [suspicious],” al-Kahlout said.

“I even asked my colleagues if they’ve seen anything suspicious and they all confirmed to me that they have never seen any military aspects or the fighters even coming in and out,” he added.

“In our building, we have lots of families that we know for more than 10 years, we meet each other every day on our way in and out to the office.”

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of AP, also told Al Jazeera: “I can tell you that we’ve been in that building for about 15 years for our bureau. We certainly had no sense that Hamas was there.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

It strikes me that Israel did not want reporters covering the conflict in Gaza, and this was an efficient way to preventing it.

I have to say Jared Kushner’s great peace plan doesn’t seem to be working. Patrick Kingsley in the NY Times explains what led to the current outbreak of war:

 Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.

It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.

The incident was confirmed by six mosque officials, three of whom witnessed it; the Israeli police declined to comment. In the outside world, it barely registered.

But in hindsight, the police raid on the mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was one of several actions that led, less than a month later, to the sudden resumption of war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and the outbreak of civil unrest between Arabs and Jews across Israel itself.

“This was the turning point,” said Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. “Their actions would cause the situation to deteriorate.”

That deterioration has been far more devastating, far-reaching and fast-paced than anyone imagined. It has led to the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in years — not only in the conflict with Hamas, which has killed at least 145 people in Gaza and 12 in Israel, but in a wave of mob attacks in mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel.

It has spawned unrest in cities across the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians on Friday. And it has resulted in the firing of rockets toward Israel from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, prompted Jordanians to march toward Israel in protest, and led Lebanese protesters to briefly cross their southern border with Israel.

The crisis came as the Israeli government was struggling for its survival; as Hamas — which Israel views as a terrorist group — was seeking to expand its role within the Palestinian movement; and as a new generation of Palestinians was asserting its own values and goals.

And it was the outgrowth of years of blockades and restrictions in Gaza, decades of occupation in the West Bank, and decades more of discrimination against Arabs within the state of Israel, said Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Parliament and former chairman of the World Zionist Organization.

“All the enriched uranium was already in place,” he said. “But you needed a trigger. And the trigger was the Aqsa Mosque.”

It had been seven years since the last significant conflict with Hamas, and 16 since the last major Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

There was no major unrest in Jerusalem when President Donald J. Trump recognized the city as Israel’s capital and nominally moved the United States Embassy there. There were no mass protests after four Arab countries normalized relations with Israel, abandoning a long-held consensus that they would never do so until the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been resolved.

Two months ago, few in the Israeli military establishment were expecting anything like this.

In private briefings, military officials said the biggest threat to Israel was 1,000 miles away in Iran, or across the northern border in Lebanon.

When diplomats met in March with the two generals who oversee administrative aspects of Israeli military affairs in Gaza and the West Bank, they found the pair relaxed about the possibility of significant violence and celebrating an extended period of relative quiet, according to a senior foreign diplomat who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.

Gaza was struggling to overcome a wave of coronavirus infections. Most major Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, were looking toward Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for May, the first in 15 years. And in Gaza, where the Israeli blockade has contributed to an unemployment rate of about 50 percent, Hamas’s popularity was dwindling as Palestinians spoke increasingly of the need to prioritize the economy over war.

The mood began to shift in April.

The prayers at Aqsa for the first night of Ramadan on April 13 occurred as the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, was making his speech nearby.

The mosque leadership, which is overseen by the Jordanian government, had rejected an Israeli request to avoid broadcasting prayers during the speech, viewing the request as disrespectful, a public affairs officer at the mosque said.

So that night, the police raided the mosque and disconnected the speakers.

“Without a doubt,” said Sheikh Sabri, “it was clear to us that the Israeli police wanted to desecrate the Aqsa Mosque and the holy month of Ramadan.”

A spokesman for the president denied that the speakers had been turned off, but later said they would double-check.

In another year, the episode might have been quickly forgotten.

But last month, several factors suddenly and unexpectedly aligned that allowed this slight to snowball into a major showdown.

A resurgent sense of national identity among young Palestinians found expression not only in resistance to a series of raids on Al Aqsa, but also in protesting the plight of six Palestinian families facing expulsion from their homes. The perceived need to placate an increasingly assertive far right gave Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, little incentive to calm the waters.

A sudden Palestinian political vacuum, and a grass-roots protest that it could adopt, gave Hamas an opportunity to flex its muscles.

These shifts in the Palestinian dynamics caught Israel unawares. Israelis had been complacent, nurtured by more than a decade of far-right governments that treated Palestinian demands for equality and statehood as a problem to be contained, not resolved.

“We have to wake up,” said . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, a writer, made this comment on Facebook:

American politicians enjoy piously invoking “Israel’s right to defend itself”, and many Americans catch themselves nodding along to what seems like a commonsensical thought experiment: what if someone lobbed a missile over your borders? Surely no nation would simply ignore it! We too would pound the hell out of them!

And, yes, firing a missile over your borders is an act of war. However — never mind for a moment occupation and UN resolutions and all that other stuff that makes our heads hurt, just keeping it very simple — embargo is also an act of war. As is assassination. Somehow we always do the thought experiment “what if Canada fired a missile at us” and we never do the thought experiment “what if Canada embargoed all our ports and airports, periodically shut off our water and power supply, didn’t allow anyone to sell us food or medical supplies, didn’t allow us to leave, didn’t allow anyone to come in, and we were regularly dying for lack of medical care, and also they regularly assassinated our political leaders?”

“Israel’s right to defend itself” sounds like Israel is minding its own business (terrorizing and evicting its minorities, brutally suppressing its protesters… hey, we’ve all been there, right?) when Hamas, just trying to stir shit up, makes an unprovoked attack. This is very silly because if Hamas-controlled Gaza is a neighboring state, then Israel is constantly committing acts of war against it. Every day the ports don’t open is a day when “any other nation” would fire a rocket, right?

I am not a big fan of Hamas, people. Hamas is loud and clear that it wants to kill me (Hamas isn’t too into making fine distinctions between “the Israeli state”, “Israelis” and “Jews”). (Also there are a bunch of people I love in Israel, and it is very scary to be herded into bunkers because your prime minister is an asshole who has provoked a war, and I have a deep emotional connection to Israel as a big part of world Jewry and as the source and locus of my religion, and, sure, my people’s homeland; which is, by the way, all a bunch of emotions happening in my brain, which does not magically give me any rights to anything).

But: come on. You cannot have it both ways. If Gaza is a separate state, it is a state with which Israel is at war, all the time; and acting shocked when it fires rockets is very odd. If you are at war with a state and you want it to stop shooting at you, maybe consider making peace?

And if Gaza is not a separate state — and you have to squint pretty hard to claim that an entity that has no control of its exports, imports, water, power, free movement of people, where no one has a valid passport, etc., is a state — then it is a piece of territory Israel controls in which it is slowly strangling three quarters of a million people, and depriving them of almost all human rights. It’s one or the other.

I mean, no, dude, I don’t know how to make peace there either, the positions of the two sides are so incompatible. A younger me was full of ideas, but a younger me was partly playing into a racist and colonialist idea that clever people from the enlightened West should arrive with Solutions. So, younger me, STFU. I’m not Palestinian or Israeli; it is not my job to know what they should do. I am a human, so I know that people should stop killing each other, and also particularly the people with 95% of the weapons who are inflicting 95% of the casualties bear the responsibility for that happening. And, I am an American; so it IS my job to react to the bullshit American politicians spout. And this whole “oh noes! For Some Reason naughty Hamas is firing the rocketz! Everything was Going So Well before Why Would They Do That” is a monumental act of willful pretend ignorance.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 6:31 pm

Liz Cheney and Big Lies (including lies of omission)

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Maureen Dowd has a good column in the NY Times:

I miss torturing Liz Cheney.

But it must be said that the petite blonde from Wyoming suddenly seems like a Valkyrie amid halflings.

She is willing to sacrifice her leadership post — and risk her political career — to continue calling out Donald Trump’s Big Lie. She has decided that, if the price of her job is being as unctuous to Trump as Kevin McCarthy is, it isn’t worth it, because McCarthy is totally disgracing himself.

It has been a dizzying fall for the scion of one of the most powerful political families in the land, a conservative chip off the old block who was once talked about as a comer, someone who could be the first woman president.

How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.

I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.

Denied Twitter, Trump is focusing on his other favorite blood sport: hunting down dynasties. “Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee,” David Siders wrote in Politico.

Yet an unbowed Liz Cheney didn’t mince words when, in a Washington Post op-ed a few days ago, she implored the stooges in her caucus to “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

That trademark Cheney bluntness made Liz the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.

But if Liz Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.

Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.

It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq war led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.

From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no W.M.D.s were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.

“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with Liz told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.

She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.

She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Biden announced plans to pull out, Liz Cheney — who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker — slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”

For many years, she had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”

Thanks to that kind of reasoning, we ended up with a president who fomented an attack on the nation at home.

In her Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.

Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)

Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Nixon and Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.

By his second term,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 May 2021 at 11:24 am

The Reorientations of Edward Said

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In the New Yorker Pankaj Mishra has a very interesting profile of Edward Said in the context of a new biography. The entire piece is worth reading. It begins:

“Professor of Terror” was the headline on the cover of the August, 1989, issue of Commentary. Inside, an article described Edward Said, then a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, as a mouthpiece for Palestinian terrorists and a confidant of Yasir Arafat. “Eduardo Said” was how he was referred to in the F.B.I.’s two-hundred-and-thirty-eight-page file on him—perhaps on the assumption that a terrorist was likely to have a Latin name. V. S. Naipaul willfully mispronounced “Said” to rhyme with “head,” and asserted that he was “an Egyptian who got lost in the world.” Said, an Arab Christian who was frequently taken to be Muslim, recognized the great risks of being misidentified and misunderstood. In “Orientalism” (1978), the book that made him famous, he set out to answer the question of, as he wrote in the introduction, “what one really is.” The question was pressing for a man who was, simultaneously, a literary theorist, a classical pianist, a music critic, arguably New York’s most famous public intellectual after Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag, and America’s most prominent advocate for Palestinian rights.

Multiple and clashing selves were Said’s inheritance from the moment of his birth, in 1935, in West Jerusalem, where a midwife chanted over him in both Arabic and Hebrew. The family was Episcopalian and wealthy, and his father, who had spent years in America and prided himself on having light skin, named him after the Prince of Wales. Said always loathed his name, especially when shortened to Ed. Sent as a teen-ager to an American boarding school, Said found the experience “shattering and disorienting.” Trained at Princeton and Harvard as a literary scholar in a Euro-American humanist tradition, he became an enthusiast of French theory, a partisan of Michel Foucault. In “Orientalism,” published two decades into a conventional academic career, Said unexpectedly described himself as an “Oriental subject” and implicated almost the entire Western canon, from Dante to Marx, in the systematic degradation of the Orient.

“Orientalism” proved to be perhaps the most influential scholarly book of the late twentieth century; its arguments helped expand the fields of anti-colonial and post-colonial studies. Said, however, evidently came to feel that “theory” was “dangerous” to students, and derided the “jaw-shattering jargonistic postmodernisms” of scholars like Jacques Derrida, whom he considered “a dandy fooling around.” Toward the end of his life, the alleged professor of terror collaborated with the conductor Daniel Barenboim to set up an orchestra of Arab and Israeli musicians, angering many Palestinians, including members of Said’s family, who supported a campaign of boycott and sanctions against Israel. While his handsome face appeared on the T-shirts and posters of left-wing street protesters worldwide, Said maintained a taste for Rolex watches, Burberry suits, and Jermyn Street shoes right up to his death, from leukemia, in 2003.

“To be a Levantine is to live in two or more worlds at once without belonging to either,” Said once wrote, quoting the historian Albert Hourani. “It reveals itself in lostness, pretentiousness, cynicism and despair.” His melancholy memoir of loss and deracination, “Out of Place” (1999), invited future biographers to probe the connection between their subject’s cerebral and emotional lives. Timothy Brennan, a friend and graduate student of Said’s, now warily picks up the gauntlet, in an authorized biography, “Places of Mind” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Scanting Said’s private life, including his marriages and other romantic liaisons, Brennan concerns himself with tracing an intellectual and political trajectory. One of the half-concealed revelations in the book is how close Said came, with his Levantine wealth and Ivy League education, to being a somewhat refined playboy, chasing women around the Eastern Seaboard in his Alfa Romeo. In Jerusalem, Said went to St. George’s, a boys’ school for the region’s ruling castes. In Cairo—where his family moved in 1947, shortly before Jewish militias occupied West Jerusalem—he attended the British-run Victoria College. There he was chiefly known for his mediocre marks and insubordinate ways; his classmates included the future King Hussein of Jordan and the actor Omar Sharif.

Cairo was then the principal metropolis of a rapidly decolonizing and politically assertive Arab world. The creation of the state of Israel—following a U.N. resolution, on Palestinian land—and the refugee crisis and wars that ensued were on everyone’s mind. Yet Said inhabited a bubble of affluent cosmopolitans, speaking English and French better than Arabic, and attending the local opera. When he was six years old, he started playing the family piano, a Blüthner baby grand from Leipzig, and he later received private lessons from Ignace Tiegerman, a Polish Jew famous for his interpretations of Brahms and Chopin. Said’s father, who ran a successful office-supply business, was socially ambitious, and his time in America had given him a lasting admiration for the West. At one point, he considered moving his entire family to the United States. Instead, in 1951, he contented himself with dispatching his son to Northfield Mount Hermon School, in rural Massachusetts.

Brennan shows how much Said initially was, as he once confessed, a “creature of an American and even a kind of upper-class wasp education,” distanced from the “uniquely punishing destiny” of an Arab Palestinian in the West. Glenn Gould recitals in Boston appear to have registered more with him than the earthquakes of the post-colonial world, such as the Great Leap Forward or the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. The Egyptian Revolution erupted soon after Said left for the U.S., and a mob of protesters burned down his father’s stationery shop. Within a decade, the family had moved to Lebanon. Yet these events seem to have had less influence on Said than the political currents of his new country did. Brennan writes, “Entering the United States at the height of the Cold War would color Said’s feelings about the country for the rest of his life.” Alfred Kazin, writing in his journals in 1955, already worried that intellectuals had found in America a new “orthodoxy”—the idea of the country as “world-spirit and world hope.” This consensus was bolstered by a professionalization of intellectual life. Jobs in universities, media, publishing, and think tanks offered former bohemians and penurious toilers money and social status. Said began his career at precisely this moment, when many upwardly mobile American intellectuals became, in his later, unforgiving analysis, “champions of the strong.”

Nonetheless, his own early impulse, born of an immigrant’s insecurity, was, as he later put it, to make himself over “into something the system required.” His earliest intellectual mentors were such iconic figures of American literary culture as R. P. Blackmur and Lionel Trilling. He wrote a prize-winning dissertation on Conrad; he read Sartre and Lukács. In his early writings, he faithfully absorbed all the trends then dominant in English departments, from existentialism to structuralism. Devoted to Chopin and Schumann, he seems to have been as indifferent to blues and jazz as he was to Arabic music. He adored Hollywood movies, but there is no evidence that, in this period, he engaged with the work of James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, or had much interest in the civil-rights movement. When students protesting the war in Vietnam disrupted a class of his, he called campus security.

Brennan detects a hint of what was to come in a remark of Said’s about the dual selves of Conrad: one “the waiting and willing polite transcriber who wished to please, the other an uncooperative demon.” Much impotent anger seems to have long simmered in Said as he witnessed “the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim.” In a conversation filmed for Britain’s Channel 4, Said claimed that many of his cultural heroes, such as Isaiah Berlin and Reinhold Niebuhr, were prejudiced against Arabs. “All I could do,” he said, “was note it.” He watched aghast, too, the critical acclaim for “The Arab Mind,” a 1973 book by the Hungarian Jewish academic Raphael Patai, which described Arabs as a fundamentally unstable people.

It’s not hard to see how Said, upholding the “great books” courses at Columbia, would have come to feel intensely the frustrations that writers and intellectuals from countries subjugated by Europe and America had long experienced: so many of the canonical figures of Western liberalism and democracy, from John Stuart Mill to Winston Churchill, were contemptuous of nonwhite peoples. Among aspiring intellectuals who came to the U.S. and Europe from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, a sense of bitterness ran especially deep. Having struggled to emulate the cultural élite of the West by acquiring a knowledge of its literature and philosophy, they realized that their role models remained largely ignorant of the worlds they had come from. Moreover, the steep price of that ignorance was paid, often in blood, by the people back home.

It was the Six-Day War, in 1967, and the exultant American media coverage of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab countries, that killed Said’s desire to please his white mentors. He began reaching

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2021 at 10:03 am

The conscious self constructed of memes one adopts: what happens when one’s basic meme set is not consistent?

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Panjo in the New Yorker reviews a biography of Edward Said. From that review:

. . . Multiple and clashing selves were Said’s inheritance from the moment of his birth, in 1935, in West Jerusalem, where a midwife chanted over him in both Arabic and Hebrew. The family was Episcopalian and wealthy, and his father, who had spent years in America and prided himself on having light skin, named him after the Prince of Wales. Said always loathed his name, especially when shortened to Ed. Sent as a teen-ager to an American boarding school, Said found the experience “shattering and disorienting.” Trained at Princeton and Harvard as a literary scholar in a Euro-American humanist tradition, he became an enthusiast of French theory, a partisan of Michel Foucault. In “Orientalism,” published two decades into a conventional academic career, Said unexpectedly described himself as an “Oriental subject” and implicated almost the entire Western canon, from Dante to Marx, in the systematic degradation of the Orient.

“Orientalism” proved to be perhaps the most influential scholarly book of the late twentieth century; its arguments helped expand the fields of anti-colonial and post-colonial studies. Said, however, evidently came to feel that “theory” was “dangerous” to students, and derided the “jaw-shattering jargonistic postmodernisms” of scholars like Jacques Derrida, whom he considered “a dandy fooling around.” Toward the end of his life, the alleged professor of terror collaborated with the conductor Daniel Barenboim to set up an orchestra of Arab and Israeli musicians, angering many Palestinians, including members of Said’s family, who supported a campaign of boycott and sanctions against Israel. While his handsome face appeared on the T-shirts and posters of left-wing street protesters worldwide, Said maintained a taste for Rolex watches, Burberry suits, and Jermyn Street shoes right up to his death, from leukemia, in 2003.

“To be a Levantine is to live in two or more worlds at once without belonging to either,” Said once wrote, quoting the historian Albert Hourani. “It reveals itself in lostness, pretentiousness, cynicism and despair.” His melancholy memoir of loss and deracination, “Out of Place” (1999), invited future biographers to probe the connection between their subject’s cerebral and emotional lives. Timothy Brennan, a friend and graduate student of Said’s, now warily picks up the gauntlet, in an authorized biography, “Places of Mind” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Scanting Said’s private life, including his marriages and other romantic liaisons, Brennan concerns himself with tracing an intellectual and political trajectory. One of the half-concealed revelations in the book is how close Said came, with his Levantine wealth and Ivy League education, to being a somewhat refined playboy, chasing women around the Eastern Seaboard in his Alfa Romeo. In Jerusalem, Said went to St. George’s, a boys’ school for the region’s ruling castes. In Cairo—where his family moved in 1947, shortly before Jewish militias occupied West Jerusalem—he attended the British-run Victoria College. There he was chiefly known for his mediocre marks and insubordinate ways; his classmates included the future King Hussein of Jordan and the actor Omar Sharif.

Cairo was then the principal metropolis of a rapidly decolonizing and politically assertive Arab world. The creation of the state of Israel—following a U.N. resolution, on Palestinian land—and the refugee crisis and wars that ensued were on everyone’s mind. Yet Said inhabited a bubble of affluent cosmopolitans, speaking English and French better than Arabic, and attending the local opera. When he was six years old, he started playing the family piano, a Blüthner baby grand from Leipzig, and he later received private lessons from Ignace Tiegerman, a Polish Jew famous for his interpretations of Brahms and Chopin. Said’s father, who ran a successful office-supply business, was socially ambitious, and his time in America had given him a lasting admiration for the West. At one point, he considered moving his entire family to the United States. Instead, in 1951, he contented himself with dispatching his son to Northfield Mount Hermon School, in rural Massachusetts.

Brennan shows how much Said initially was, as he once confessed, a “creature of an American and even a kind of upper-class wasp education,” distanced from the “uniquely punishing destiny” of an Arab Palestinian in the West. Glenn Gould recitals in Boston appear to have registered more with him than the earthquakes of the post-colonial world, such as the Great Leap Forward or the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. The Egyptian Revolution erupted soon after Said left for the U.S., and a mob of protesters burned down his father’s stationery shop. Within a decade, the family had moved to Lebanon. Yet these events seem to have had less influence on Said than the political currents of his new country did. Brennan writes, “Entering the United States at the height of the Cold War would color Said’s feelings about the country for the rest of his life.” Alfred Kazin, writing in his journals in 1955, already worried that intellectuals had found in America a new “orthodoxy”—the idea of the country as “world-spirit and world hope.” This consensus was bolstered by a professionalization of intellectual life. Jobs in universities, media, publishing, and think tanks offered former bohemians and penurious toilers money and social status. Said began his career at precisely this moment, when many upwardly mobile American intellectuals became, in his later, unforgiving analysis, “champions of the strong.”

Nonetheless, his own early impulse, born of an immigrant’s insecurity, was, as he later put it, to make himself over “into something the system required.” His earliest intellectual mentors were such iconic figures of American literary culture as R. P. Blackmur and Lionel Trilling. He wrote a prize-winning dissertation on Conrad; he read Sartre and Lukács. In his early writings, he faithfully absorbed all the trends then dominant in English departments, from existentialism to structuralism. Devoted to Chopin and Schumann, he seems to have been as indifferent to blues and jazz as he was to Arabic music. He adored Hollywood movies, but there is no evidence that, in this period, he engaged with the work of James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, or had much interest in the civil-rights movement. When students protesting the war in Vietnam disrupted a class of his, he called campus security.

Brennan detects a hint of what was to come in a remark of Said’s about the dual selves of Conrad: one “the waiting and willing polite transcriber who wished to please, the other an uncooperative demon.” Much impotent anger seems to have long simmered in Said as he witnessed “the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim.” In a conversation filmed for Britain’s Channel 4, Said claimed that many of his cultural heroes, such as Isaiah Berlin and Reinhold Niebuhr, were prejudiced against Arabs. “All I could do,” he said, “was note it.” He watched aghast, too, the critical acclaim for “The Arab Mind,” a 1973 book by the Hungarian Jewish academic Raphael Patai, which described Arabs as a fundamentally unstable people.

It’s not hard to see how Said, upholding the “great books” courses at Columbia, would have come to feel intensely the frustrations that writers and intellectuals from countries subjugated by Europe and America had long experienced: so many of the canonical figures of Western liberalism and democracy, from John Stuart Mill to Winston Churchill, were contemptuous of nonwhite peoples. Among aspiring intellectuals who came to the U.S. and Europe from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, a sense of bitterness ran especially deep. Having struggled to emulate the cultural élite of the West by acquiring a knowledge of its literature and philosophy, they realized that their role models remained largely ignorant of the worlds they had come from. Moreover, the steep price of that ignorance was paid, often in blood, by the people back home.

It was the Six-Day War, in 1967, and the exultant American media coverage of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab countries, that killed Said’s desire to please his white mentors. He began reaching out to other Arabs and methodically studying Western writings about the Middle East. In 1970, he met Arafat, initiating a long and troubled relationship in which Said undertook two equally futile tasks: advising the stubbly, pistol-toting radical on how to make friends and influence people in the West, and dispelling Arafat’s impression that he, Said, was a representative of the United States. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2021 at 6:09 pm

Whatever Happened to the War Against Terrorism?

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Kevin Drum has a good post:

In a post that happens to include a bit of mulling over the fate of Western civilization, Jay Nordlinger adds this aside:

(Want to know some good news? The threat of radical political Islam receded faster than many of us expected. It still lurks, of course — what doesn’t? But I well remember the concerns of the first decade of this century. Many of us were settling in for a long twilight struggle. In any event . . .)

This reminds me of something to brag about. Several years ago I predicted that the region from north Africa to the Mideast to central Asia would soon see a substantial decline as a source of terrorism. The reason was simple: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 March 2021 at 2:29 pm

A NY Times column that casts strong doubt on a NY Times report (and NY Times reporter)

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Ben Smith reports in the NY Times about the NY Times — and critically. He writes:

Derek Henry Flood wasn’t looking for work in March of 2018, when he sent a direct message to a New York Times reporter he admired, Rukmini Callimachi, to congratulate her on the announcement of her big new podcast about the terror group known as the Islamic State.

By that time, major American news outlets had mostly stopped hiring freelancers like Mr. Flood in Syria, scared off by a wave of kidnappings and murders.

But when Mr. Flood mentioned that he was in the northern city of Manbij, Ms. Callimachi wrote back urgently, and quickly hired him for a curious assignment. She sent him to the local market to ask about a Canadian Islamic State fighter called Abu Huzayfah.

The assignment, Mr. Flood recalled thinking, was both hopeless and quite strange in its specificity, since the extremist group had been forced out of Manbij two years earlier. But he was getting $250 a day, and so he gamely roamed the bazaar, reporting on all he saw and heard. Ms. Callimachi was singularly focused. “She only wanted things that very narrowly supported this kid in Canada’s wild stories,” he told me in a phone interview.

Mr. Flood didn’t know it at the time, but he was part of a frantic effort at The New York Times to salvage the high-profile project the paper had just announced. Days earlier, producers had sent draft scripts of the series, called Caliphate, to the international editor, Michael Slackman, for his input. But Mr. Slackman instead called the podcast team into the office of another top Times editor, Matt Purdy, a deputy managing editor who often signs off on investigative projects. The editors warned that the whole story seemed to depend on the credibility of a single character, the Canadian, whose vivid stories of executing men while warm blood “sprayed everywhere” were as lurid as they were uncorroborated. (This scene and others were described to me in interviews with more than two dozen people at The Times, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive internal politics.)

The Times was looking for one thing: evidence that the Canadian’s story was true. In Manbij, Mr. Flood wandered the marketplace until a gold merchant warned him that his questions were attracting dangerous attention, prompting him to quickly board a bus out of town. Across the Middle East, other Times reporters were also asked to find confirmation of the source’s ties to ISIS, and communicated in WhatsApp channels with names like “Brilliant Seekers” and “New emir search.” But instead of finding Abu Huzayfah’s emir, they found that ISIS defectors had never heard of him.

In New York, Malachy Browne, a senior producer of visual investigations at The Times, managed to confirm that an image from Abu Huzayfah’s phone had been taken in Syria — but not that he had traveled there.

Still more Times reporters in Washington tried to find confirmation. And one of them, Eric Schmitt, pulled a thread that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Bottom line: the NY Times messed up big time, and a reporter there should put her CV in order.

Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2020 at 12:43 pm

Strange oversight regarding shooting down passenger jets

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I’ve been reading various accounts of the shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian forces. It seems to have been an accident, but what struck me is that not one of the accounts mentions the US Navy — specifically, William C. Rogers III — shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1988, killing all 290 people on board, including 66 children.

Why the omission, I wonder. The (fairly comprehensive) Wikipedia article begins:

Iran Air Flight 655 was a scheduled passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai via Bandar Abbas, that was shot down on 3 July 1988 by an SM-2MR surface-to-air missile fired from USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser of the United States Navy. The aircraft, an Airbus A300, was destroyed and all 290 people on board, including 66 children, were killed.[1] The jet was hit while flying over Iran‘s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, along the flight’s usual route, shortly after departing Bandar Abbas International Airport, the flight’s stopover location. Vincennes had entered Iranian territory after one of its helicopters drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats operating within Iranian territorial limits.[2][3]

The reason for the shootdown has been disputed between the governments of the two countries. According to the United States government, the crew of USS Vincennes had incorrectly identified the Airbus as an attacking F-14 Tomcat, a U.S.-made jet fighter that had been part of the Iranian Air Force inventory since the 1970s. While the F-14s had been supplied to Iran in an air-to-air configuration,[4][5] the crew of the guided missile cruiser had been briefed that the Iranian F-14s were equipped with air-to-ground ordnance.[6] Vincennes had made ten attempts to contact the aircraft on both military and civilian radio frequencies, but had received no response.[7]

According to the Iranian government, the cruiser negligently shot down the aircraft, which was transmitting IFF squawks in Mode III, a signal that identified it as a civilian aircraft, and not Mode II as used by Iranian military aircraft.[8][9] The event generated a great deal of criticism of the United States. Some analysts blamed the captain of VincennesWilliam C. Rogers III, for overly-aggressive behavior in a tense and dangerous environment.[7][10] In the days immediately following the incident, US President Ronald Reagan issued a written diplomatic note to the Iranian government, expressing deep regret.[11]

In 1996, the governments of the United States and Iran reached a settlement at the International Court of Justice which included the statement “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the loss of lives caused by the incident…”[12] As part of the settlement, even though the U.S. government did not admit legal liability or formally apologize to Iran, it still agreed to pay US$61.8 million on an ex gratia basis, amounting to $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims.[13]

The shootdown is the deadliest aviation disaster involving an Airbus A300.[14][15][16]

Continue reading. There’s much more.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprise. The accounts of the takeover of the US Embassy in Iran by students don’t mention that the US (specifically CIA) overthrew the elected president of Iran to install a US puppet — interfering with elections doesn’t hold a candle to that.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2020 at 3:57 pm

How the rise of individualism is upending the Middle East

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Jon B. Alterman, senior vice president, Brzezinski Chair and the Middle East program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of the study “Ties That Bind: Family, tribe, nation and the rise of Arab individualism” (which can be downloaded at that link) has an interesting column (presumably extracted from the study) in the Washington Post:

The protests that have swept the Middle East in the past two months share a number of underlying causes: Oil prices are soft. Unemployment is high. Citizens have had their fill of corruption and dictatorship. The demonstrators in Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran and Algiers can add complaints that are distinctive to their nations, too. In Iraq, citizens object to the power of Iran and its proxy militias; in Algeria, citizens complain that the ruling gerontocracy has failed to deliver promised reforms.

Yet there’s a deeper sociological phenomenon that underpins all of this unrest: Individualism is accelerating in the Middle East, upending societies that had relied on people to know their place and respect authority. Arab societies have long depended on hierarchical networks of trust that encompass families, villages, tribes and other associations — networks that ultimately reach up to the national leadership. Young people, though, increasingly complain that these networks don’t serve them, and growing urbanization and the spread of technology make it far easier for them to opt out. In some cases, voluntary friendships and connections that people embrace in lieu of tribe and family provide their own sources of strength. But in a region with such a strong tradition of hierarchy and mutual obligation, it is hard to overstate how destabilizing the rise of individualism can be.

These countries are Westernizing socially, even as they maintain distinctive cultural and political identities. They are shifting toward the more atomistic social organization that has long characterized Europe and the United States. People are more mobile, families are more scattered, and economic rewards come as a result of what you do, not who you are. Yet partly because of the rapidity of the change, and partly because it is occurring in much more traditional societies, the decline in “social capital” that the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam identified as a problem in the United States two decades ago, in his book “Bowling Alone,” is arriving even more abruptly in the Arab world. Loneliness and detachment are breeding social volatility.

Last year, colleagues and I at the Center for Strategic and International Studies explored the rise of individualism in the region, including through in-person interviews with more than 100 Arabs in four countries: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Tunisia. We interviewed rich and poor, young and old. We spoke with people in monarchies and republics, in cities and rural areas — in English, Arabic and French. The stories we heard were remarkably consistent, and they go a long way toward explaining the protests today.

Scholars and policymakers have often suggested that smartphones and social media drive activism; they are certainly useful tools for networking and organization. But the stories we heard had less to do with that and more to do with young people’s belief that occasional group messages and social media connections could fulfill their family obligations without the demands of repeated face-to-face meetings.

Trump keeps talking about ‘keeping’ Middle East oil. That would be illegal.

Besides technology, another force driving the trend is urbanization. When people live in villages, they rely on the people directly around them for basic social needs. Neighbors may have known each other for generations. Yet reciprocal obligations are more tenuous in cities, which are booming in the Arab world. Jordan, for example, was 51 percent urban in 1960; by 2017, the figure had risen to 91 percent. Urbanization in Tunisia likewise climbed over the same period, from 38 percent to 69 percent. Many city-dwellers we spoke to lamented that they didn’t know their neighbors at all — learning about departures from the arrival of moving trucks and about weddings from lines of honking cars in the streets.

One Saudi man in his early 30s captured the change for us — admittedly describing an extreme case. His grandfather, he said, grew up in a compound with 120 family members in Hail, on the northwestern border with Jordan. When an uncle moved across town years ago, the whole compound pulled up stakes and moved with him. The man we spoke with has no compound; instead, he and his wife live alone in Riyadh. Twice a month, they travel to Hail, about 400 miles away, to see their families. In rural Jordan, one middle-aged man lamented to us that his children — and those of his neighbors — worked in Amman, the capital, and did not want to return to the countryside to visit, complaining about the time and expense and suggesting that the parents should make the trip.

For many families, the change has affected the rhythm of the week. Multigenerational marathons of cooking and socializing that once dominated weekend life have been condensed into two- or three-hour visits a few times a month. Young men now often absent themselves from these gatherings, according to our research, spending the day at malls with friends, saying they are available by phone if they are needed.

It’s well known that jobs for young people are scarce across the Arab world, contributing to dissatisfaction. Less noticed is the disorientation caused by a shift in job markets. It used to be that when young people needed jobs, their families (and sometimes their tribes) could help them. That’s much less true today. In part, that’s because — as countries introduce market-oriented reforms — more dispassionate and meritocratic hiring processes are supplanting nepotism. Tighter profit margins make it harder for managers to make spaces for people as “favors.” People with jobs often praise the efficiency and fairness of the newer systems, but young people resent being left to their own devices.

Let’s not pretend Washington ever really tried to stop Israeli settlements

Also, whereas work, family time and leisure once blended, more people now strive to keep these areas of life separate — and to maintain the “proper” balance of each. Young parents said they wanted to spend more time alone with their children, and less time with their adult parents and siblings. When it comes to discretionary time, what we often call primordial ties (based on a person’s situation at birth) are giving way to ties of affection, ties of interest and ties of circumstance.

Is it a good thing that people can make such choices? In many ways, yes. But it comes at a cost. The United States has political and social institutions shaped in part by a long tradition of rugged individualism. Democratic politics, constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and dynamic labor markets (among other features of U.S. society) allow people to change not only their fortunes but often their very identities based on personal preference. As tribal and kinship groups wither and individualism rises, Arab societies will need to develop comparable institutions — and concomitant resilience — against a background that often includes political turmoil, and stagnant or falling incomes.

Looking forward, three things seem likely. First, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2019 at 5:09 pm

The difference between a SNAFU, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck

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Corinne Purtill has an interesting article in Quartz. I would add to the list of words describing fuck-ups the word “mung”:

The term was coined in 1958 in the Tech Model Railroad Club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1960 the backronym “Mash Until No Good” was created to describe Mung, and a while after it was revised to “Mung Until No Good”, making it one of the first recursive acronyms.  – Wikipedia

Purtill writes:

Let’s say the situation at work is not good. The project (or product, or re-org, or whatever) has launched, and the best you can say is that things aren’t going as planned. At all. It’s a disaster, though the best word for it is the one you drop over drinks with your team and when venting at home: it’s a clusterfuck.

Clusterfucks hold a special place in public life, one distinct from the complications, crises, and catastrophes that mar our personal and professional existences. The F-Wordformer Oxford English Dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower’s comprehensive history of the term, defines a clusterfuck as “a bungled or confused undertaking or situation.” Stanford business professor Bob Sutton goes further, describing clusterfucks as “those debacles and disasters caused by a deadly brew of illusion, impatience, and incompetence that afflicts too many decision-makers, especially those in powerful, confident, and prestigious groups.”

The term dates at least as far back as the Vietnam War, as military slang for doomed decisions resulting from the toxic combination of too many high-ranking officers and too little on-the-ground information. (The “cluster” part of the word allegedly refers to officers’ oak leaf cluster insignia.)

“I have a weird obsession with clusterfucks,” Sutton tells Quartz At Work. He and Stanford Graduate School of Business colleague Huggy Rao took on the topic directly in their 2014 book Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, though publishers demanded that the softer substitute “clusterfug” appear in the final text. (This was not Sutton’s choice: His other books include The No Asshole Rule and The Asshole Survival Guide.)

To appreciate what a clusterfuck is—and to understand how to avoid one—it is first helpful to clarify some of the things a clusterfuck is not:

A fuck-up. “A fuck-up is just something all of us do every day,” Sutton says. “I broke the egg I made for breakfast this morning. That was kind of a fuck-up.” Whereas clusterfucks are perfectly preventable, fuck-ups are an unavoidable feature of the human condition.

A SNAFU. While sometimes used as a synonym for minor malfunctions and hiccups, this slang military acronym—“Situation Normal, All Fucked Up”—actually refers to the functionally messy state that describes many otherwise healthy companies (and many of our personal lives). A SNAFU work environment is usually manageable; one that is FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair, another military legacy) probably isn’t. “When my students with little experience go to work at a famous company and it isn’t quite as they dreamed, I do ask them if it is FUBAR or SNAFU, and tell them SNAFU will describe most places they work,” Sutton said.

 A shitshow. No less an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary describes a shitshow as a “situation or state of affairs characterized by chaos, confusion, or incompetence.” A clusterfuck may come to possess all those characteristics, but is more properly identified by the decisions that produced it than its outcome.

The three main contributors to clusterfucks

Sutton and Rao analyzed countless cases of scaling and expansion, both successful ones and those that ended in disaster. In reviewing the most spectacular failures, they identified three key factors that resulted in the kind of expensive, embarrassing, late-stage collapse that is the hallmark of a clusterfuck. They were:

Illusion. A clusterfuck starts with the decision maker’s belief that a goal is much easier to attain than it actually is. The expectation that two car companies with different languages and different cultures would merge together flawlessly, as the architects of the doomed Daimler-Chrysler merger apparently believed? Clusterfuck. The Bush Administration’s estimate that the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq would take no more than a few months and $60 billion? A clusterfuck prelude of tragic proportions.

Impatience. A misguided idea alone does not produce a clusterfuck. The idea also needs a champion determined to shove it along, usually over the objections of more-knowledgeable underlings. Sergey Brin’s reported insistence (paywall) on introducing Google Glass to the public against its engineers’ wishes turned a potentially groundbreaking piece of technology into a stupid-looking joke.

Incompetence. When errors of information and timing meet blatantly stupid decisions by people who should know better, disaster tends to ensue. Bear Stearns wasn’t the sole cause of the global financial crisis, of course, but former CEO Jimmy Cayne’s decision to spend 10 days of the 2007 subprime mortgage loan meltdown playing at a bridge tournament without phone or email access contributed to the firm’s collapse—and to the worldwide disaster that followed.

All three of these failings share a common root: people in power who don’t (or won’t) acknowledge the realities of their environment, and who don’t push themselves to confront what they don’t know. Nobody likes to spoil the heady euphoria of an exciting new project by discussing the possibility of failure. The problem is, if potentially bad outcomes aren’t addressed pre-launch, they are more likely to surface afterward, when the reckoning is public and expensive.

The antidote to clusterfuckery, Sutton argues, is  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2019 at 9:40 am

Why the Media Are Ignoring the Afghanistan Papers

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Alex Shephard writes in the New Republic:

This week, The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers, an extensive review of thousands of pages of internal government documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Like the Pentagon Papers, which showcased the lies underpinning the Vietnam War, the Post’s investigation shows that U.S. officials, across three presidential administrations, intentionally and systematically misled the American public for 18 years and counting. As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1974, told CNN earlier this week, the Pentagon and Afghanistan Papers revealed the same dynamic: “The presidents and the generals had a pretty realistic view of what they were up against, which they did not want to admit to the American people.”

The documents are an indictment not only of one aspect of American foreign policy, but also of the U.S.’s entire policymaking apparatus. They reveal a bipartisan consensus to lie about what was actually happening in Afghanistan: chronic waste and chronic corruption, one ill-conceived development scheme after another, resulting in a near-unmitigated failure to bring peace and prosperity to the country. Both parties had reason to engage in the cover-up. For the Bush administration, Afghanistan was a key component in the war on terror. For the Obama administration, Afghanistan was the “good war” that stood in contrast to the nightmare in Iraq.

The Afghanistan Papers are, in other words, a bombshell. Yet the report has received scant attention from the broader press. Neither NBC nor ABC covered the investigation in their nightly broadcasts this week. In other outlets, it has been buried beneath breathless reporting on the latest developments in the impeachment saga, Joe Biden’s purported pledge to serve only one term, and world leaders’ pathological envy of a 16-year-old girl.

The relentless news cycle that characterizes Donald Trump’s America surely deserves some blame: This isn’t the first time that a consequential news story has been buried under an avalanche of other news stories. But one major reason that the Afghanistan Papers have received so comparatively little coverage is that everyone is to blame, which means no one has much of an interest in keeping the story alive. There are no hearings, few press gaggles.

George W. Bush started the Afghanistan War and botched it in plenty of ways, not least by starting another war in Iraq. But Barack Obama, despite his obvious skepticism of the war effort, exacerbated Bush’s mistakes by bowing to the Washington foreign policy blob and authorizing a pointless troop surge. Now, although both Democrats and Donald Trump seem to be on the same page about getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, there has been little progress with peace talks. The pattern across administrations is that any movement toward resolution is usually met with a slow slide back into the status quo, a.k.a. quagmire.

The political press loves the idea of bipartisan cooperation, which plays into a notion of American greatness and its loss. It also thrives on partisan conflict, because conflict drives narrative. It doesn’t really know what to do with bipartisan failure.

During the impeachment hearings, news outlets gleefully covered the conflict between Trump and members of the foreign policy establishment, holding up the latter as selfless bureaucrats working tirelessly and anonymously on behalf of the American interest, in contrast with the feckless and narcissistic head of the executive branch. The Afghanistan Papers don’t provide that kind of easy contrast; they demand a kind of holistic condemnation, in which Trump and those bureaucrats are part of the same problem.

The media also has a long-standing bias toward “new” news. The Afghanistan War has been a catastrophic failure for nearly two decades. Because little changes, there is little to report that will excite audiences. (Though the Afghanistan Papers are startling, they are hardly surprising.) Given that the president is the greatest supplier of “new” news in recent history—his Twitter feed alone powers MSNBC most days—more complex stories, like the situation in Afghanistan, are often buried in favor of the political equivalent of sports sideline reporting.

The result is that this massive controversy receives disproportionately little coverage. Despite wasting thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, everyone in the U.S. government gets off scot-free. . .

Continue reading.

It is increasingly difficult to see how the US can get back on track. Too many different forces have motivation to stay the current course, which leads directly over a cliff.

Democrats still cannot level with voters about the American empire

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Jon Schwartz writes at the Intercept:

IN THE PAST few years, the Democratic Party has started dealing with reality on domestic policy. Largely thanks to leadership from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, actual solutions to actual problems are now on the agenda: Medicare for All, a big minimum wage hike, a Green New Deal, and the most radical, important idea — changes in who runs corporations.

Unfortunately, the presidential debate in Ohio on Tuesday night showed that Democrats are still a million miles away from reality on foreign policy.

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s recent green light to Turkey to invade northern Syria and assault the Kurds there, the debate contained an unusual amount of discussion about foreign policy.

That was the upside. The downside was that almost all of the discussion was totally specious, because no one on stage wanted to tell Americans the awful truth. That truth is, first, that the grim reality in Syria available for viewing via Twitter videos is the climax of decades of bipartisan foreign policy. And second, by this point the only choices available are either wretched or horrible or both.

The worst offenders were South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, and former Vice President Joe Biden. But even Sanders and Warren came nowhere near the honesty of their domestic policies.

Buttigieg delivered an ode to an imaginary America, proclaiming that “when I was deployed, I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the fact that the flag on my shoulder represented a country known to keep its word. And our allies knew it and our enemies knew it.” In reality, of course, the U.S. has — like all powerful countries throughout history — continually betrayed allies whenever necessary. We’ve previously betrayed the Kurds alone seven times. This particular betrayal was inevitable, although a more competent president could have kept it smaller and quieter.

Meanwhile, Booker declared that Trump is “turning the moral leadership of this country into a dumpster fire.” As the Kurds or the Cherokee, Filipinos, Vietnamese, or many others would be happy to tell you, this glorious moral leadership is something that exists mostly on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.

For his part, Biden said that Trump throwing the Kurds to the wolves is “the most shameful thing any president has done in modern history.” Of course, as bad as it is, it’s far less shameful than many other U.S. actions — including the Iraq War, for which Biden voted. In terms of the Kurds specifically, it is at least to date less shameful than the Clinton administration’s fervent support in the 1990s for Turkey’s slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds. One of the key defenders of that policy was then-State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns, who is now a top adviser to Biden’s campaign.

Sanders said little about Syria, mostly just echoing Buttigieg’s concern about the rest of the world losing trust in America. By contrast, Warren and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard dipped their toes into the complicated truth before scurrying away.

Warren said, “I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way.” This sounds great, but what is this right, smart way? When even Noam Chomsky wants U.S. troops to stay in Syria, it’s a little tricky.

Gabbard did aggressively challenge standard U.S. foreign policy blather. She decried “this regime change war” in Syria and mentioned the unfortunate facts about “the U.S. actually providing arms in support to terrorist groups in Syria, like Al Qaida, HTS, al-Nusra and others.”

What Gabbard didn’t say is that, by this point, any plausible exit by the U.S. will be extraordinarily ugly, with the Assad regime brutally reestablishing control over Syria. The U.S. certainly bears some of the blame for that, as Gabbard said. But she did not mention that Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are also responsible for the past, present, and future carnage. Most importantly, she did not mention the much larger context for what’s happening.

And it’s that context that Democrats must get comfortable talking about, if they ever want to deal with the reality of U.S. foreign policy. Any politician brave enough to do that Tuesday night would have had to say something like this:

Look, the U.S. is the center of the most powerful empire that’s ever existed. We’re not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2019 at 11:12 am

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