Monday, July 31, 2006

Of ceasefires, porn questions, endorsements, and falling down stairs

So what is the Israeli government up to? Yesterday when the Israeli 48-hour aerial ceasefire was announced by Condi, it looked like she was being given credit she didn’t deserve. But less than an hour after she got on her plane and left, the prime minister and defense minister said, “Ceasefire? What ceasefire?”, resumed their bombing raids, and within a few hours the cabinet voted to expand the war. It looks very much like Condi was played. Did they really lie to her face about their intentions? Did they do so just to make her go away, thinking she’d accomplished something? And how can she return to the region now?

I don’t know what will happen next, and where we’ll be a month from now or a year from now. Haven’t got a clue. I suspect even the Israelis are surprised that they’ve gotten away with wreaking so much havoc on Lebanon for so long without being reined in. But they also haven’t accomplished nearly as much as they expected: Hezbollah can still fire rockets into Israel more at less at will and still holds the two Israeli soldiers Israel seems to have forgotten about. And Olmert et al have ratcheted up their rhetoric, and the Israeli public’s expectations, so far that anything less than the complete destruction of Hezbollah and the complete elimination of danger to all Israelis will seem like a failure, for which the Israeli public, who have shown no signs of sympathy for the Qana dead, no embarrassment over the deaths of children, will punish Olmert and the fledgling Kadima Party severely.

I was going to call the London Times’s “Shot Man Faces Porn Questions” my headline of the day (er, yesterday; I misplaced this paragraph), until I read the story. Last month the police raided a house under the impression that two brothers were Muslim terrorists, accidentally shooting one of them in the shoulder. They were quickly released and apologized to, but now the police are claiming to have found kiddie porn on the computer of the man they shot. Sure they did.

TPM has a scan of the Joe Lieberman flier distributed at black churches (front side, back side). What interests me, more than his mentioning having been at the March on Washington and gone to Mississippi while being rather sketchy about what he’s done for blacks in the last 40 years, more than his grossly mischaracterizing Lamont as saying he didn’t think much about race before getting into the race when he actually said he hadn’t thought much about the lack of diversity in his country club (which he attributes to its high dues and not – in a bit the flier leaves out – to discriminatory policy), is the claim that he is “The only candidate endorsed by the Democratic Party and President Clinton.” I like the underlining of only, to make it clear that they were endorsing just the one candidate for senator, but the real question is, what is this “Democratic Party” that endorsed him? The registered Democratic voters of the state of Connecticut might be forgiven for thinking that they are the party and that their endorsement won’t be decided upon until August 8th. The only party whose endorsement has been settled is this one. Any suggestion to the contrary is un-d/Democratic.

Glenn Greenwald explains why Arlen Specter’s anything-goes surveillance bill is a dangerous tilt towards unencumbered executive power.

Here’s something I feel confident no other blog will be interested in: pictures of George Bush stumbling on the Air Force One stairs.

As soon as possible

I’m not sure I understand the sudden concern at the Qana massacre of 60+ Lebanese, including 37 children. Is there some minimum number that have to be killed all at the same time before it sinks in that murdering civilians, like the other 500 or so killed by Israeli bombs over the last couple of weeks, is a bad thing?

Condi Rice was furious. Look how furious she was, as she met Sunday with Prime Minister Olmert,

Condi in Israel, 7.30.06    1

Foreign Minister Livni,

Condi in Israel, 7.30.06    2

and Defense Minister Peretz.

Condi in Israel, 7.30.06    3

Condi in Israel, 7.30.06    4

She issued this edict: “We want a ceasefire as soon as possible.” Yes, just as soon as possible. You know how you implement a ceasefire? You cease firing. There’s no “as soon as possible” involved. You... just... cease... firing.

Well in fact the Israelis, after claiming the attack on a large residential building was justified by rockets they claim had been launched from it, suggesting that the house was actually blown up by Hezbollah munitions stored in it, blaming the residents for not having left their homes when Israel ordered them to, and suggesting that they were being used by Hezbollah “as shields or being used cynically to further Hizbullah’s propaganda purposes,” did declare a temporary cease-fire, which it said the Lebanese should use to leave their homes in southern Lebanon before Israel resumes bombing them. This is also a tacit acknowledgment that one reason Lebanese have ignored earlier orders to flee was that Israeli planes tended to drop bombs on them when they did; presumably the cease-fire is a promise not to do that this time. Also, Olmert reserves the right to end the cease-fire if Hezbollah does anything in response to the Qana massacre.

Of Ikea, Nicole Kidman, and Ann Coulter

So I took a day off. Sue me. I went to Ikea. And so, I assume, did you, because EVERY FUCKING PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE WENT THERE AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME I DID. Families in Lebanon took a day off from being bombed to go to fucking Ikea in fucking Emeryville (I assume Beirut Airport must have reopened). And then I had shit to assemble. So no blogging. Still, it wasn’t a long enough break to regain perspective. I know this because I misread a headline in Daily Variety that Nicole Kidman had signed on to play Mrs Coulter in the film of the first book of Phillip Putnam’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which I’ve vaguely heard of, as saying that Nicole Kidman was going to play Ann Coulter in a movie.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Review: Glenn Greenwald, How Would a Patriot Act?

Actually as I was reading How Would a Patriot Act?, Mel Gibson, the star of The Patriot, was arrested for drunk driving. He resisted arrest, shouted that he owned Malibu and that the Jews were responsible for all the wars. So, evidently,
that’s how a patriot would act. Now you don’t have to buy Glenn Greenwald’s book.

Which at $12 clocks in at nearly 10¢ a page for a paperback with what looks to me like a rather weak spine, although you may buy it for $9.24 through my Amazon link or better yet $8.40 through my Powell’s link.

Thing is, it’s more or less a dumbed-down version of Greenwald’s blog, Unclaimed Territory. If you’re a fan of that blog, as I am, you’re likely to be disappointed, and not to learn anything from its scant 129 pages that you didn’t already know. He castigates and dissects Bush’s “ideology of lawlessness,” focusing on warrantless eavesdropping and detention without trial, and the arguments used to justify those practices. He argues for the restoration of a balance of powers and legislative oversight of the executive branch, with some instructive quotations from the Federalist Papers. He argues that Bush’s politics of fear is corrosive and that “The administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian idea that fear is the hallmark of courage, and a rational and calm approach is a mark of cowardice.”

The most interesting part of the book tells how Bush signed orders for the NSA to violate the FISA Act while simultaneously asking Congress to pass the Patriot Act, saying it would give him all the tools he needed to track the communications of terrorists. This suggests, although Greenwald does not go in for such speculation, that the Patriot Act was an elaborate deception designed to lure the terrorists and the American people into a false sense of security. But when the NYT revealed in December 2005 the extent of warrantless surveillance, “The president plainly broke the law, which is why the only defense available to him and his supporters is to claim that he has a right to do so.” I rather like the notion that the Bushies’ claim of unlimited “inherent” presidential powers was a cynical act, a desperate maneuver when they were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, but I’m unconvinced. I fear they really do have that little understanding of the American system of government, that little of the healthy fear of the unencumbered exercise of governmental power that led the Founding Fathers to devise a system of checks and balances and separation of powers.

So it’s not a bad book, it just didn’t do what I’d have expected Greenwald to do at book length, it doesn’t present deeper, more sophisticated analysis than his average blog entry. Rather the reverse. Possibly it’s intended for blog readers to buy not for themselves but to give to their apolitical relatives who’ve never really understood what so scares us about the Bush administration.

Compare and contrast

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland looks at Lebanon and says: “There is something fundamentally wrong when there are more dead children than armed men.”

George Bush looks at Lebanon and sees “a moment of opportunity for broader change in the region.”

Friday, July 28, 2006

The personal is imperialist. Or something.

Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who horrified European foreign ministers by claiming the Rome conference had given Israel permission to do whatever it wants in Lebanon, was put under partial suspension today because the police are investigating him for sexual harassment. The man is clearly color-blind, seeing green lights where none exist. No means no, Mr. Ramon, no means no.

Their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it’ll be rejected

The White House website reminds us that Sunday is the 50th anniversary of our national motto, “Do What We Say or We Will Fuck You up” “In God We Trust.” A presidential proclamation says we should “observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” So be sure to do that.

Well, I’ve selected my favorite quotes from the Bush-Blair press conference (none of the quotes are from Blair, who often attempts to add a little nuance but today just repeated what Bush said, but in something more closely approximating the English language). Re-reading them all together, I noticed a cumulative awfulness that would be diluted by being interspersed with my usual sarcastic comments (also, I have a headache and want to take a nap). So here goes:
Isn’t it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert starts to reach out to President Abbas to develop a Palestinian state, militant Hamas creates the conditions so that, you know, there’s a crisis, and then Hezbollah follows up? Isn’t it interesting, as a democracy takes hold in Iraq, that Al Qaida steps up its efforts to murder and bomb in order to stop the democracy?

And, yes, we want to help people rebuild their lives; absolutely. But we also want to address the root causes of the problem. And the root cause of the problem is you’ve got Hezbollah that is armed and willing to fire rockets into Israel.

And, you know, listen, the temptation is to say, “It’s too tough. Let’s just try to solve it quickly with something that won’t last. Let’s just get it off the TV screens.”

On the other hand, in my judgment, it would be a big mistake not to solve the underlying problems. Otherwise, everything will seem fine, and then you’ll be back at a press conference saying: How come you didn’t solve the underlying problems?

Now, what kind of state is it that has got a political party that has got a militia? It’s a state that needs to be helped, is what that is.

I mean, now there’s an unprovoked attack on a democracy. Why? I happen to believe because progress is being made toward democracies.

And we’ll ultimately prevail, because their -- they have -- their ideology is so dark and so dismal that when people really think about it, it’ll be rejected.

They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That’s what they do. And they’re good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they’re able to kind of say to people: Don’t come and bother us, because we will kill you.

We share the same urgency of trying to stop the violence. That’s why Condi Rice went out there very quickly. ... I mean, I could’ve called her back here and could’ve sat around, visited and talked.

Chimpy & Tony, 7.28.06    1

Chimpy & Tony, 7.28.06    2

Chimpy & Tony, 7.28.06    3

Chimpy & Tony, 7.28.06    4

Chimpy & Tony, 7.28.06    5

Thursday, July 27, 2006

These places are not villages

Israel’s Justice Minister Haim Ramon, the guy who claimed that the Rome conference’s failure, under American pressure, to denounce Israeli military operations in Lebanon was in fact “permission from the world” to finish the job, has announced that all of southern Lebanon is a legitimate target for indiscriminate bombing. Villages there may be completely destroyed, he says, because “These places are not villages. They are military bases”. Ditto the people: “Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah.” Ramon is a moderate by Israeli political standards (you can look him up), but this sort of language, and the collective punishment and wholesale killing that language is intended to justify, could not be more racist if he came right out and called the Lebanese sand niggers.

All we are saying, is give fake peace a chance

During a press conference with the Prime Minister [sic] of Romania, Bush said of Lebanon, “I view this as a clash of forms of government.” By which he means the clash between Islamofascism and a plucky democracy. He seems to have forgotten that Israel is also involved. Indeed, he claims to “care deeply about the loss of life” and to be “troubled by the destruction that has taken place in Lebanon,” without actually suggesting that Israel might be in any way connected to that loss of life and that destruction. I guess it’s analogous to his view of Iraq as a clash of forms of government with America a mere innocent bystander.

He came out strongly against a “fake peace”: “not a fake, you know, kind of circumstances that make us all feel better, and then, sure enough, the problem arises again. And that’s the goal of the United States. And we’re working toward that end. And we’re working hard diplomatically. Look, as soon as we can get this resolved the better, obviously, but it must be real. And it can’t be fake.” Would that he were as concerned about real Lebanese as he is about fake peace. He probably once bought a fake Rolex or a fake oil well or fake magic beans, or all three, and as he likes to say:


STOP HITTING YOURSELF: Chinese police insist that activist Fu Xiancai, who exposed the human cost of the Three Gorges Dam, beat himself up, breaking his own neck and leaving him paralyzed:
Officials told Mr Fu’s son, Fu Bing, that investigators had failed to find anyone else’s footprints at the scene of the attack, and had concluded that he must have hit himself.
Just like Bush failed to see Israeli footprints... you get the idea.

And we wouldn’t want a room full of foreign ministers to look foolish, now would we?

At the Rome conference Condi opposed a call for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon because it would make “a room full of foreign ministers look foolish.” And, as she later explained to reporters, she’s a big-picture kind of gal, thinking in historical, no, in geological terms: “I am a student of history, so perhaps I have a little bit more patience with the enormous change in the international system and the complete shifting of tectonic plates, and I don’t expect it to happen in a few days or even a year.”

So the conference knuckled under, calling not for an immediate but rather a “lasting, permanent and sustainable” cease-fire. The besieged people of Lebanon responded: “Put down the fucking thesaurus and do something to stop the Israelis slaughtering us!”

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

They have poured acid into Iraq’s dictatorial wounds

Sen. Tom Coburn: “How many people really think it’s in the best interest of young people to be sexually active outside of marriage? Does anything positive ever come from that?” That’s a trick question, right?

Condi, at a meeting of foreign ministers in Rome, scuttled a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Middle East, because cease-fires in the Middle East are often broken, “And every time there is a broken cease-fire, people die, there is destruction and there is misery.” Whereas if there’s no cease-fire at all, Condi...? Lebanese PM Saniora asked if the Lebanese people are “children of a lesser God.” That’s a trick question, right?

Bush hung out some more with new BFF Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki today. They went to Fort Belvoir. Bush eschewed “interesting” in favor of a new favorite adjective, “amazing”: “We were talking here at the table, and I was commenting that it’s amazing, isn’t it, where some people decide to kill innocent lives to stop freedom” and “The amazing thing about our military is that people have had to say, I want to serve.” So the American military and the Iraqi insurgents are both amazing.

Bush practiced some more of his ophthalmological telepathy: “The Prime Minister came, and he didn’t say this directly to me but I could tell by looking in my eyes he wanted to make sure that this was a President who kept his word.”

I don’t quite know what to do with this sentence: “One thing the Prime Minister told me getting out of the limousine, after having flown on the helicopter -- (laughter) -- was that he longs for the day when the Iraqi children can live in a hopeful society.”

Maliki was allowed to address Congress today, despite his failure to issue a statement in support of Israel’s attack on Lebanon (Howard Dean should be ashamed of himself). I’ve been meaning to point out that some time in the period since the assassination of Zarqawi, the myth that non-Iraqis have more than the slightest role in sustaining the Iraqi insurgency has finally died a quiet death. Even Bush, even Rumsfeld wouldn’t trot that one out now. But as the civil war-ness of the violence in Iraq becomes ever clearer even to the most obtuse, the less wider significance it seems to have. The US is no longer fighting global terror or beginning a democratic revitalization of the entire region; rather, it is backing one side in a grubby, vicious, decidedly local conflict in which it is hard to locate any “good guys.” Maliki’s job today was to try to obscure all that, although his version of optimism is decidedly dark: “Trust that Iraq will be the graveyard for terrorism and terrorists for the good of all humanity.” What’s going on in Iraq is not a sectarian conflict, he asserted: “Terrorism has no religion.” He insisted that the 9/11 hijackers are “the same terrorists” now fighting in Iraq.

In fact, he said a lot of crap that sounded like Bush rhetoric – freedom is a gift from God, “ink-stained fingers waving in pride,” “Iraq is free, and the terrorists cannot stand this,” “not allow Iraq to become a launch pad for Al Qaida,” etc – I’m not sure if someone told him that sounding like Bush would make him popular in the US or if the speech was actually written for him by the White House.

Ink-stained fingers waving in pride?

I’m not sure if this imagery is any better: “They have poured acid into Iraq’s dictatorial wounds and created many of their own.” Ouch.

Maliki gave one rather interesting (if Bush isn’t going to use the word, I can) reproof to the US, although from the applause I’m not sure the congresscritters got it: “In 1991, when Iraqis tried to capitalize on the regime’s momentary weakness and rose up, we were alone again.”

All Condi, all the time

When I mentioned yesterday that Bloggerbugs were preventing my posting some Condi pictures, the reaction was overwhelming: everyone adores Condi and wants to see many more pictures of her, preferably touching her face. You had only to ask: this post is all Condi pics, nothin’ but Condi pics.

First, the leftovers from yesterday. Here she is with her Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni – Condi and Tzipi, Tzipi and Condi, Condi and Tzipi and Tzipi and Condi – gosh, that’s fun to say – trying to decide where to go for lunch.

Condi & Tzipi   1

Condi & Tzipi   2

These are from today, with Lebanese PM Siniora in Rome, where he is called Signor Siniora, which is cute but kind of a let-down after the whole Tzipi-Condi thing.

Condi & Siniora    1

Condi & Siniora    2

Condi & Siniora    3

Condi & Siniora    4

Condi & Siniora    5

Condi & Siniora    6

You’re welcome.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Prime Minister has laid out a comprehensive plan. That’s what leaders do.

Israel is talking about holding on to a large swathe of Lebanon until the vanishingly unlikely event of a handoff to a large international force (10 or 20 thousand, and Israel has specified that only those with combat experience need apply). The buffer zone will in theory keep Hezbollah rockets beyond their firing range of 3-4 miles from Israel proper. Hmmm, so they won’t be able to hit civilian areas, just this zone filled with Israeli troops and troops, ethnically cleansed of Lebanese. Sounds like a target-rich environment to me.

Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki today. He seems to have been having flashbacks to his days in b-school. “The Prime Minister has laid out a comprehensive plan. That’s what leaders do. They see problems, they address problems, and they lay out a plan to solve the problems. The Prime Minister understands he’s got challenges and he’s identified priorities.” But wait, what if the enemy has discovered the secret of doing things to accomplish goals too? Oh no! they have: “These are people that just kill innocent people to achieve an objective, which is to destabilize his government.” I blame the New York Times, cause we so had the idea of killing innocent people to achieve an objective first, and it was secret, and the media just leaked it like the traitors they are.

So the best idea Bush has left is to “lay out a plan,” possibly using different colored pencils. Oh, and form committees, lots and lots of committees, those are always good: “The Prime Minister and I agreed to establish a joint committee to achieve Iraqi self-reliance.” Let me say that again: a joint committee of Iraqis and Americans to end Iraqi reliance on Americans.

Hey, does anyone know what happened to that female Sunni MP who was kidnapped? I can’t believe I completely forgot about her.

Oh, he’s really firing on all cylinders today; he has another bold idea: an Iraqi Leaders Initiative, to bring 200 Iraqi high school and college students to the US next summer to study and “build personal friendships with the people of our country.” Hurrah! Iraq is saved! Really, did Maliki come thousands of miles from a war zone to discuss a summer program for 200 students with the so-called leader of the so-called free so-called world?

Bush and Maliki touted their new security crackdown in Baghdad. A reporter asked why this one would succeed unlike all the previous ones. Maliki said because there is a national unity government (NUG), “So what the Baghdad security plan gains in terms of support is support from all over the segments of the Iraqi population.” Bush chimed in that “there needs to be more forces inside Baghdad who are willing to hold people to account. In other words, if you find somebody who’s kidnapping and murdering, the murderer ought to be held to account. It ought to be clear in society that that kind of behavior is not tolerated. ... And I think the Iraqi people appreciate that type of attitude.”

Bush was asked how he can provide humanitarian aid to Lebanon and, at the same time, the military hardware to Israel that makes humanitarian aid necessary. He replied, “No, I don’t see a contradiction in us honoring commitments we made prior to Hezbollah attacks into Israeli territory.” Sarcasm fails me.

So does the Blogger picture-upload function.

(Update: working again. Yay.)

Urgent and enduring

British journalists have been unable to leave the overheard Bush-Blair “Yo Blair” dialogue alone, analyzing it over and over, and even translating it into more fitting tones:
Antonio: And the Lady Cherie, with dressers three, made expedition to Harrods Palace,
and there requested a long sleeve, ribb’ed crew neck, striped horizontal all about,
with fully fashioned cuffs and waistband. Doth suit you, sirrah?

Giorgio: Like unto a second skin. Nay better, for the first hath no embroidered G. For Giorgio.
But good Antonio, take we counsel now concerning the Levant.
My lord Annan, charged by the nations in their assembly to calm the noise of war,
Seeks only to separate the arms, thinking thereby to fulfil the task.
But the enmerded Moor, taking this peace for respite and repose,
By my vision, readies his galleys for renewed assault on the enrag’d Jew.
Speaking of the enrag’d Jew, Condi Rice met with Ehud Olmert – and again I ask, what’s with all the smiling? –

and released a flood of empty rhetoric, if something empty can be said to flood. “A durable solution will be one that strengthens the forces of peace and democracy in the region.” Does peace have forces, and who or what might they be? “It is time for a new Middle East. It is time to say to those who do not want a new Middle East that we will prevail, they will not.” I didn’t know you could just scrap the “old” Middle East and start over. And “we” will prevail? Who’s we?

Her favorite word this trip has been “enduring,” as in, we want an “urgent and enduring” peace in Lebanon. The inappropriate smiles, alas, proved not to be enduring.

Okay, now you’re creeping me out.

Speaking of an old, old, oh so very old, Middle East, we learn from the Jerusalem Post via Billmon that Chief of Staff of the IDF Dan Halutz has (according to an unnamed “high-ranking IAF officer”) ordered the destruction of 10 buildings in Beirut for every Katyusha rocket that hits Haifa.

Olmert is insisting that there will be no cease-fire without implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. Funny to hear Israelis citing Security Council resolutions; rather like Joe Lieberman’s approach to the Connecticut Democratic primary.

Monday, July 24, 2006

We are here, we are concerned

Wow, a “surprise visit” by a Bush administration official, what’re the odds? Condi went to Lebanon to show the Lebanese people, according to one of her underlings, “we are here, we are concerned.” If I were in Beirut, I’d be concerned too.

Since the Beirut International Airport is... undergoing renovations... her delegation flew from Cyprus using helicopters that were supposed to be evacuating Americans from the war zone.

So she met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. “Thank you for your courage and steadfastness,” she told him. Thank you? He’d need less courage if she got Israel to stop bombing his country.

What are these people smiling about?

I’ve got another Condi quote about the “urgent” need for a cease-fire: “We all agreed that it is urgent, but the framework is clearly to do this in a way that will help the Lebanese government exercise sovereignty over all of its territory.” So the reason we’re not calling for an immediate cease-fire is in order to help the Lebanese. I’ve heard of tough love, but this is downright genocidal love.

Now some people are wondering how Condi went from calling a cease-fire a “false promise” to calling it “urgent” in just two days. Hey, this is the Bush administration: nothing is more urgent to them than false promises.

The problem isn’t that people haven’t talked to the Syrians

Condi, finally winging her way to the Middle East, says that a cease-fire is “urgent,” but only under the right conditions. So there’s urgent urgent, and then there’s not-so-urgent urgent.

She talked about the need for Lebanon “regaining sovereignty over all its territory”. As in Iraq, sovereignty for an Arab country seems to consist of killing those of its citizens we don’t approve of.

If I may digress, it would be nice if news agencies only put quotation marks around things that are actually, you know, quotations. In the next paragraph I will use the AP version of the second and third sentences of the Rice quote; Reuters (from which I’ve taken the first sentence, which doesn’t appear in the AP story), altered her use of three contractions into more formal English.

Rice wanted to “correct” the notion that the US has no contact with Syria. AP mistakenly summarizes her correction thus: “Rice also said Sunday there are existing channels for talking with Syrian leaders.” In fact, what she said was, “We have talked to the Syrians over and over again. The problem isn’t that people haven’t talked to the Syrians. It’s that the Syrians haven’t acted.” They got the contractions right, but the preposition wrong: we talk to the Syrians, not with them. Never with them.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Most Lebanese appreciate what we are doing

A must-read post by Juan Cole suggests that no one told Bush that Israeli military actions in Lebanon are a war of choice carefully planned out in advance in conjunction with the Pentagon. Meshes with what I said about Gaza. They figure they have a certain period of time before the US tells them to stop (the Israeli press right now is full of speculation about how much longer they have; I think Bush has turned out to be more permissive than they’d expected), and detailed advance preparation is the key to inflicting maximum damage.

The NYT reports that leaflets dropped by Israeli planes ordering Lebanese to abandon their homes say, “Due to the terrorist acts against the state of Israel that came from your villages and your homes, the Israeli Army has been forced to respond immediately against these acts even within your villages, for your own security.” Well, once you explain it to us...

And according to Robert Fisk, the Israeli consul general in New York Ayre Mekel told the BBC (I can’t find the interview online) that Israel is “doing the Lebanese a favor” and that “most Lebanese appreciate what we are doing”. Of course they do.

The WaPo’s indispensable Al Kamen says that the State Department decided that “evacuation” of American citizens from Lebanon was too negative a term, preferring to call it “departure assistance” or “safe passage.”

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Greatest possible care

In his Saturday radio address, Bush admits that “This is a difficult and trying time for the people of Lebanon.” Yes, moving is always so stressful, isn’t it, and half a million Lebanese suddenly having to move all at once has put a real strain on the country’s supply of bubble wrap. Bush said, “we have called on Israel to continue to exercise the greatest possible care to protect innocent lives.” Not just exercise care, you understand, but the greatest possible care. But they can still bomb the shit out of them, right? With missiles we’re supplying them?

Neither he nor anyone else in his administration has yet found a single act committed by Israel (attacking ambulances? creating half a million refugees?) worthy of the mildest of reproaches. Bush does complain, however, about “Hezbollah’s practice of hiding rockets in civilian neighborhoods”. Israel’s methods of putting rockets into civilian neighborhoods are rather more... ostentatious.

Bush adds that the rocket-hiding thing plus “its efforts to undermine the democratically elected government have shown it to be no friend of Lebanon.” He does realize that Hezbollah members are Lebanese, doesn’t he?

Bush says peace in the region “will come only by defeating the terrorist ideology of hatred and fear,” adding, “And you know what’s good for reducing hatred and fear? Massive aerial bombardment.”


A WaPo article about US soldiers in Ramadi describes an “atmospherics check,” in which “intelligence soldiers” talk with locals. Of course they need to go in protected by “tanks and armored vehicles, a team of Navy SEAL snipers, a 101st Airborne infantry platoon, a large contingent of Iraqi army soldiers, and a psychological operations team to broadcast safety messages to residents.” Somehow I think safety is not the message they’ll be getting.

Name of the day: a Haitian woman sentenced to probation and a fine for bringing a human skull (other than her own) into the United States: Myrlene Severe.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Of false promises, birth pangs, the purpose of shuttling, and establishing an endurable peace

In case you were wondering, the White House issues one of its Setting the Record Straight briefings to prove that “President Bush’s Foreign Policy Is Succeeding.” Written in response to something on the Today show, um, today, it shows some signs of hasty preparation, such as the sentence “The United States Is Rallying The World Behind North Korea.” In an odd move, it denies that Max Boot is no longer behind Bush, quoting Boot saying that Bush is right to stand back and “Let Israel Finish The Job.”

Speaking of letting Israel finish the job, Condi explains that “a ceasefire [in Lebanon] would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo.” And we wouldn’t want that. Taking a leaf from that consummate diplomat Donald Rumsfeld, she dismissed calls for a ceasefire as coming from an “old” Middle East. “This is a different Middle East. It’s a new Middle East. ... What we’re seeing here ... are the birth pangs of a new Middle East and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.” Push! Push! World’s worst lamaze coach.

There is, of course, no one reason to talk to Syria – “Syria knows what it needs to do” – much less Hezbollah – “Hezbollah is the source of the problem”. Defending the delay, she said that “Okay, I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do.” Ask the people being bombed and forced out of their homes what you should have been shuttling to do. She said, “we also seek to address the root causes of that violence so that a real and...” wait for it... “endurable peace can be established.”

The Israelis have called up the reserves, amassed tanks and troops on the border, and told the Lebanese to evacuate a twenty-mile-long zone, but when asked about all this, Condi replied, “Well, I’m clearly not going to speculate on something that is just speculation. The Israelis have said that they have no desire to widen this conflict. And I take them at their word that they have no desire to widen this conflict.”

She won’t be taking, or indeed hearing, the word of any actual Arabs. Asked why she wasn’t going to any Arab country (or as far as I know meeting a single Arab or Lebanese), she gibbered, “Look, I am going to go to a place where we can all meet and talk about what needs to move forward. ... I also felt that it was important to have come to a meeting of the minds of some of the elements that might actually provide a political framework for a stable peace.” In between those sentences she said this, which is just talking for the sake of talking: “But everybody also needs to unite. The people need to stand strong now, because the time has come not to just take a temporary solution”. Who needs to unite? Who needs to stand strong? Possibly this displays my ignorance of the art of diplomacy, but shouldn’t you be able to have some idea what the hell a country’s chief diplomat is talking about?

Experiencing somewhat relative peace

You’ve probably heard about the photo-shopped images in Mike DeWine’s campaign commercial (Senate, Ohio) of one of the Twin Towers burning and with a halo. Thought you might like to see the actual ad (30 seconds), and maybe someone can explain to me the eye in the sky.

DeWine’s opponent, one Sherrod Brown, says, “To distort images sacred to so many Americans is just shameful.” Sacred? Sacred? Although the number of violent attacks in Baghdad has been rising, Pentagon spokesmodel Gen. William Caldwell IV finds the bright side, pointing out that violence was declining in some neighborhoods, which are “experiencing somewhat relative peace,” even as it rose in others: “We should note the extreme concentration of attacks in roughly five areas around the city,” he said, adding, “We’re pretty sure once everyone in those five areas has been killed, everything will be copacetic.” I may have made up some of that quote.

He mourns the loss of every life

In a WaPo article entitled “In Mideast Strife, Bush Sees a Step To Peace,” White House counselor Dan Bartlett repeats Bush’s line that this is a “moment of clarity.” I’ve been hoping that someone else would comment on this, but isn’t that a term used in 12 Step programs?

Bartlett is also quoted as saying that Bush “mourns the loss of every life.” Mr. Bartlett, whose full title is evidently White House grief counselor, does not say when Bush takes the time to mourn or what form that mourning takes.

People in mourning sometimes exhibit odd behaviour. Here is a picture of Bush at the NAACP convention that wasn’t available when I posted this morning, of Bush “playfully” slapping United States Congressman Al Green of Texas.

Odd how no one else ever seems to be having fun when Bush gets one of his playful moods.

Also, the WaPo’s Dana Milbank demonstrates the problems of my reliance on White House transcripts of such events: after one instance of shouted epithets, Bush said, “I’m almost finished” and Julian Bond responded, “I know you can handle it,” but the entire exchange was not in the transcript, which described the heckling as “applause.”

Here’s a Reuters picture of Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay.

New “Get Your War On” cartoons available.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A stain that we have not yet wiped clean

Bush went to the NAACP convention, graciously accepting their invitation to speak a full, what, day? two days? in advance. It wasn’t that interesting a speech. He talked about No Child Left Behind, home ownership, the faith-based policy. He mentioned AIDS in Africa but not Sudan (whose vice president he was due to meet an hour later). He did not take questions, although there was a heckler. Most of the entertainment value consisted of trying to decide who looked less comfortable, Jesse Jackson, seated four seats away from Condi, forced to applaud George Bush, or George Bush, forced to pretend to care nearly as much about black people as he does about embryonic stem cells.

He said that slavery and discrimination “placed a stain on America’s founding, a stain that we have not yet wiped clean,” adding, “now that’s why we need slaves, see, to wipe up those stains. Things have just never been as clean since then... what?”


What, like you weren’t thinking the same thing?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Protection racket

Eli notes that the House and Senate have passed willfully ignorant resolutions of absolute unquestioning support for Israel which describe its military actions in Lebanon and Gaza (which are lumped together) as acts of self-defense and praise Israel’s historic commitment to not killing too many civilians (only 60 or so of them killed by air strikes in Lebanon today, where Israel bombed a hospital and for some reason started bombing Christian neighborhoods and towns not notable for having a large Hezbollah presence). Didn’t the US just veto a UN resolution because it was “unbalanced?”

Why do “they” hate us, again?

The House was also preoccupied with protecting something much more precious than mere human life, passing the “Pledge Protection Act,” which bans American courts ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance. Because it’s one nation under God, not one nation under the Constitution.

Garance Franke-Ruta suggests that the reason for the slow evacuation of Americans from Lebanon is that the US doesn’t want to give the impression that Israeli air strikes are actually, you know, dangerous or a threat of any kind to civilians.

Lebanese PM Siniora asks, “Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries?” One assumes that
s a rhetorical question.

Bush & the snow babies

As promised, Bush has exercised his first ever veto against medical research using embryonic stem cells. His veto statement says that science “offers temptations to manipulate human life and violate human dignity.” Stem cells have dignity? Like, they get embarrassed if their cytoplasm is showing?

He says the bill would, gasp, force taxpayers to fund “the deliberate destruction of human embryos.”

I think my head just exploded from a surfeit of bitter irony.

It would also “encourage a conflict between science and ethics”. And he somehow sees a threat that humans would become “slaves to technology.” Actually, after 5½ years of the Bush presidency, I’m kinda looking forward to serving our robot overlords.

Oh, and he made the announcement while surrounded by “snowflake babies” born from leftover frozen embryos to good Christian families who presumably first adopted all the already-born orphans out of all the world’s orphanages. “These boys and girls are not spare parts,” he said. “They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells,” he said. Probably the last time he wasn’t a complete asshole. After a previous such photo op, I noted that “destroying human life in order to save human life, which he rejects for stem-cell research, is precisely his rationale for supporting the death penalty, to say nothing of ‘preventive’ warfare.”

“Oh God, I can feel myself getting stupider the longer I’m exposed to him.”

That caption was the baby, obviously. I’m feeling some ill effects from over-exposure to Bush myself, so I’ll leave the rest of the captioning to you people...

(Update: Watertiger is way ahead of me.)

Those who sleep in graveyards have nightmares

The House’s gay marriage debate yesterday proved that the stalest cliché is still fresh... if you’re a Republican congresscritter from Texas. Rep. Louie Gohmert boldly declared that “The world did not start with Adam and Steve.”

I still can’t find on the web the cartoon of Hezbollah’s Nasrallah that Israel is dropping on Lebanon. The internet is a great source for propaganda imagery from the World Wars, campaign commercials from the 1950s and so on; I wish someone would make an effort to collect and preserve current examples. Anyway, the Daily Show showed it last night, and quite crude it was too. According to another leaflet that fell from the sky, “The saying goes: those who sleep in graveyards have nightmares.” Which I think means that Israel plans to bomb Lebanon’s graveyards too. Because you just can’t be too careful.

By the way, who’s helping all the refugees Israel is creating, to the extent that anyone is? You guessed it:
A tour of Beirut’s shelters offers a revealing look at the power of Hezbollah. Known for its social and charity network as well as its powerhouse political party and its militia, the Shiite Muslim group has once again eclipsed government efforts: Many of the facilities are being run by Hezbollah. The group says it is collaborating with the government at the shelters, but representatives of the government are generally not present.
So when its soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah, Israel blew up bridges, roads, etc with the stated goal of making it difficult to move them out of southern Lebanon. And now Israel is demanding that the Lebanese army be deployed into the south. Did they only blow up the north-bound lanes and leave the south-bound ones intact?

Here, for no particular reason, is a Lebanese man releasing a bird in front of the wreckage of his home in a Beirut suburb. It wasn’t bombed by the Israelis, he’s just not very good at home repairs. Kidding, I kid, of course it was bombed by the Israelis.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sometimes it requires tragic situations to help bring clarity in the international community

Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn) thinks that not only should we ban gay marriage, but exclude adulterers and divorced people from Congress. And make adultery a felony. He seems to be serious, except that he pronounces marriage murridge. About his own family: he and his wife have 3 daughters, Larissa, Lynn, and Libby, and five grandchildren, Ashton, Alexa, Andrew, Austin, and Adam. Two generations of alliteration.

(Update): the House has failed to pass an Amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage. Surely the Republic will perish.

And stop calling the Republic Shirley.

Today Bush briefed some congresscritters about the G-8 meeting, then briefed the press about the briefing. In other words (you should be imagining this sentence spoken by Jon Stewart imitating George Bush) there was a lot of briefing goin’ on, heh heh heh. The briefing is like one of “his signing statements,” altering the meaning of something he’s supposed to be signing onto. I’ve read the G-8 leaders’ statement, and while it’s not what I’d have said, it was a whole lot more subtler than... well, I’ll let Bush dumb it down for us:
What was really interesting was that -- and I briefed this to the members -- that we were able to reach a very strong consensus that the world must confront the root causes of the current instability. And the root cause of that current instability is terrorism and terrorist attacks on a democratic country. And part of those terrorist attacks are inspired by nation states, like Syria and Iran. And in order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and to continue to work to isolate Iran.
He added, “Sometimes it requires tragic situations to help bring clarity in the international community.” Dude, they just spent an entire weekend with you, I think they’ve had all the tragic situations they can take.

Some reporter then asked the sort of sharp question he never gets asked (not that he answered it): “In trying to defuse the situation in the Middle East, is the United States trying to buy time and give Israel a chance to weaken Hezbollah militarily?” While Bush calls Hez the “root cause” of the problem six times in as many minutes, he is in fact focused on bigger fish: “Listen, Syria is trying to get back into Lebanon, it looks like to me.” I think there’s a division-of-labor deal with Israel, where they go after Hezbollah and our job is to keep Syria from intervening. Syria will know what usually happens after Bush accuses a country of doing something it isn’t doing.

Asked if he’s willing to let the Israeli offensive go on for weeks, he replied, “we’re never going to tell a nation how to defend herself”. Never? His only caveat: “It’s essential that the government of Lebanon survive this crisis.” Just the government, of course, not the actual people of Lebanon.