Sunday, December 31, 2006


When I watch old movies on TCM, I'm struck by the prominence given to journalists and newspaper editorial rooms in films from the thirties and forties.  Journalism seems to have been the latest attraction on our national cultural scene, soon overlapped by, and eventually eclipsed by psychoanalysis.

That's an interesting, harmless observation.  But when I switch to a news channel, which is either CNN or The News Hour, I'm immediately assailed by a much less pleasant observation, which is that the American media isn't half as pugnacious now as it was in its heyday on film.

Some readers will point out that pugnacity has moved to the internet, but how many voters balance what they get on TV with on-line commentary?

This morning, Chris Matthews, who thinks he's still playing hard ball, couldn't keep his brilliant panel from dismissing Obama.

Never mind that when he walks into a room, as one observer put it, you can feel the electricity.

Never mind that he's the only candidate with real life experience of the wider world.

Or that his approach to religion is one which born-agains and atheists could both live with - given the pressing issues of global warming and terrorism.

Apparently, it's more fun to play guessing games as to whether Hillary could win, or Giuliani could get the nomination, carefully balancing comments on the chances of the lesser runner.  It will be more difficult - and hence less audience attracting - to do this when Obama emerges as the unstoppable front runner.

I remember how George McGovern was savaged by the media in 1972.  We're still paying for that.  To dismiss Obama before the first primary vote is even cast, is an equally shameful act by a profession that was once so proud of its pugnacity that it's enshrined for all to see on cellulose.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Will somebody please explain to me why we leave the streets of Baghdad unattended at night, when all the mischief is going on?

A news report over the weekend noted that every morning the Iraqi police get up and go out to collect the bodies of people assassinated during the night.

Is this a joke or what?

There's an idea that has been wanting some air for quite some time: could it be that we're deliberately bungling the occupation so we can claim the Iraqis just can't handle independence?

Another news item over the weekend would seem to fit right into this theory: we're told that the Saudis are "reading the riot act" to their erstwhile friends the Bushes and that things are so serious that the cosy family relationship may never be the same again.

Given the smell of oil, that sounded like so much spin.  Then it occurred to me that it's worse than spin - they're deliberately misleading us!  Consider this:  the Saudis are Sunnnis; those in Iraq who are not cooperating are the Sunnis, who are the minority but have always been on top until now.  The Saudis said outright that they would provide support to the Iraqi Sunnis if they're not given a fair shake in the government.

Do they expect us to believe that we would give up Saudi oil AND Sunni-controlled Iraqi oil?

I'd say it's more likely that the kidnappings and assassinations serve to demonstrate that the Shia (same as Iranians) should not rule Iraq, and we have to put the Sunnis, friends of the Saudis, back in control.

That would mean ignoring the fact that Al Qaeda is a creature of Sunni Wahabbism, while the Shias (including Ahmadinejad) are all about meeting the needs of the people.

The inconvenient ideological difference between Sunnis and Shias truth is systematically glossed over by our media.

Friday, December 15, 2006


My kids always hated me for being right;  one of them still does.  Often,  like today, I'd rather be wrong.

After writing, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we were being occupied by our own troops, what do I hear on Democracy Now but that the immigrant workers who were arrested at Swift plants across the country were subjected to a veritable invasion by uniformed immigration police in battle fatigues jumping on tables, brandishing weapons and quite brutally separating people out.  Maybe these troops just wanted to show that they can be as intimidating as those fighting in Iraq.  Apparently, 13,000 people were arrested, although less than 200 were suspected of using stolen identities.  Children were left in school with nowhere to go, one of those arrested was a nursing mother.

Serendipitously (it's so often like that), the latest issue of Harpers arrives in the mail with Chalmers Johnson's piece on where this is all leading: I'm always pleased when recognized observers confirm my convictions: According to "Republic or Empire, a national intelligence estimate on the United States," on the historical evidence, the choice being made in favor of empire to the detriment of democracy  is likely to result in economic and politics collapse, sooner  rather than later.

Why do so few people see this?  I think Barak Obama does, and I think he's the only one who has the inborn stature to perhaps turn things around.  The other day, Jack Cafferty asked listeners what Obama has that the other candidates don't have.  My answer is: that je ne sais quoi that makes a true leader, which we haven't seen in I don't know how long.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The first thing I hear on CNN this morning as part of the question whether we have enough troops to increase the numbers on the ground in Iraq, is that there are 400,000 troops IN THE U.S.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound very kosher to me.  Why does our government need to station 400,000 troops in its own country?

Is it to deter Americans from camping out in Washington until the government goes, as patriots in other countries around the world have done recently?

Add to this the fact that when Cindy Sheehan and Medea Benjamin tried to take a petition to the Pentagon THEY WERE ARRESTED, Cindy Sheehan being dragged across the ground, and you really do have to wonder.

All this is what Thom Hartman calls the undeclared war on the middle class, in his important new book: "Screwed".

"Screwed" is an excellent primer for anyone who skipped US history in school  - or whose high school program didn't include it.  It rehabilitates the progressive movement, buried by McCarthy. It resuscitates Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal from the "dustbin of history" and explains why we need trade unions and single payer health care, among other things.

Hartman astutely avoids using the expression "the people", which has been associated with socialism and communism.  He uses "We the people" throughout his book, associating it with the "middle class".

Now "We the people" is actually being taken up by sanitized pundits.  I heard a few of them even pronounce the words "working class".

If this continues, even the expression "mob rule" may finally be exposed for what it is: a disincentive for respectable members of the American poor and disenfranchised, in other words "the people", to take to the streets, as thousands have done elsewhere.  Until Americans can do that, they will, no doubt continue to be screwed.

Which is probably why there are 400,000 US troops stationed here at home.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


It's the season when all self-respecting cultural communities offer "The Nutcracker", a ballet where children in their party best dance around a Christmas tree.

The talk-show tree that sophisticated commentators are dancing around isn't green, it's metallic.  And the dancers are pretending to be blind. Instead of an oil rig, they'd like us to believe they're dancing around the Statue of Liberty.  It's not about Christmas giving, but about protecting the Easter /golden egg.

And not a single journalist out there - not even Amy Goodman! - to pull back the curtain and shine the spotlight on what's really on the dancers' mind: control of Iraqi oil via nationalization and contracts handed out to the oil majors.

The eminant citizens who write "The Iraq Panel Report" must have know they could spell out the administration's plan without the slightest risk that the fourth estate would shine their projectors on it: they're well trained in the pirouettes that are a classical element in every pas de deux.

Friday, December 8, 2006


Didn't there used to be a picture called "The Thief of Baghdad?"  If not, there's one now: it's described in the Iraq Study Group report which recommends privatizing Iraqi oil and handing out contracts for its exploitation to the oil majors, under the aegis of a central government.  And to make sure the message is clear, the panel is emphasizing in interviews that its recommendations should be taken as a whole, not, in Baker's words, "cherry-picked".

And here is where the elves come in: in her book "The Reckoning", Middle East specialist Sandra Mackey notes that under Saddam Iraqis were so cowed that cruising police cars were enough to make sure there was no civilian violence.  I can't get that sentence out of my mind.  What are all those occupation troops doing anyway, if wicked elves are allowed to kidnap, torture, kill and hide people?  I've heard they pretty much stay inside the Green Zone, the urban wilderness being too dangerous to even patrol.  But is that what an occupying army is supposed to do?  Stay indoors?  And if that's what they're doing, could this be a way of establishing that there is no central government capable of "defending and sustaining itself"?

We hear, sotto voce, that the U.S. is building a number (I think it's fourteen) of permanent bases in Iraq.  Could there be a link between the bases, an occupation strategy that appears designed to show that Iraq can't govern itself, and the ISG's recommendation that oil be turned over to the majors?

It all comes together when we're reminded, by political activist Antonia Juhasz (on Democracy Now), that among other "coincidences", Jim Baker's law firm's clients include those companies.

What we need over there is a good fairy.

Friday, December 1, 2006


I've already mentioned Sandra Mackey's extraordinary book: "The Reckoning, Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein".  Now that I've finished reading it, I must mention it again: it should be reissued, because it contains all the information our politicans apparently didn't have when they made the decision to invade Iraq.  The book was available, but it was a voice in the wilderness.  Maybe now that they know they made a monumentally wrong decision, they will study it, to try to pick up the pieces.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to know why things have gone so wrong.

Another voice in the wilderness is ex-president Jimmy Carter.  He actually has to justify the title of his new book, "Palestine, Peace, not Apartheid", when presenting it.  He is waging an uphill battle to educate the American public about the wrongness of U.S. unconditional support for Israel and the all but totally ignored plight of the Palestinian people.  Carter isn't afraid to puncture the myth that people fighting for their freedom are terrorists.  I'm willing to bet that if anyone asked him whether he made any decisions he regrets when he was president, he would probably say that he didn't know nearly enough about the Middle East when the Iranian revolution took place.  Whatever history decides about his presidency, it will acknowledge him as the most meritorious ex-president.

Speaking of Iran, my bet is on Ahmadinejad for Time's Person of the Year.  It will probably be a toss up between the Iranian president and Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.  Both of them are acknowledged leaders among the populations of a Third World, which we will probably continue to blow off until it's too late: they are the majority in this world, the developed countries are the minority, and the United States is, if I may abuse scientific terminology, is the absolute minority.  Which is why we need to bring voices in from the wilderness.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


It looks like the powers that be (literally) are moving more or less consciously toward the only possible future for the Middle East: recognition that nuclear power implies responsibility.  I'm venturing to say here that I think we may see in coming months a down-playing of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, in favor of allowing it to participate in the stabilisation of a region upon which an important element of the world's economy depends.

It's too early in the day to know what Tony Blair will be saying to the Iraq Commission, but hints just heard on CNN suggest that Blair, for all his mistaken agreement to the invasion, now sees clearly that leadership in world affairs can now only be collegial among all ten (or so) nuclear powers.  On the Eurasian continent, that includes Iran, Pakistan and India.  Hence the proposal to bring Iran into the negotiations concerning Iraq's future.

But the core issue in Iraq is what to do about the ethnic and religious differences between its constituent peoples.  Sandra Mackey's detailed history of internal hatred and aggression in "The Reckoning" published in 2002, shows the plausibility - possibly the necessity - of a three-state solution.  Hence the need to also bring in Syria, and, I would add, Turkey.

For reasons which I have yet to discover, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have all been been intent on depriving the Kurds of a united country. They almost got it after the first world war, and the Allied change of heart has been in a way the tail that has wagged the dog in that region for almost a hundred years, influencing in a disastrous way decisions on major issues concerning the four countries in which they live as minorities.

Returning now to Iraq: the Sunnis, located in the western part of the country, have long flirted with Syria (Saddam and Hafez al Asssad had even set up a short-lived union); the Shia in the east share their religious heritage with Iran.  And the Kurds deserve a state of their own.  The Turks would appear to be the most difficult to persuade, after decades of warfare against their Kurds.  But perhaps recognition by the United States of a new power configuration including a nuclear Iran, will cause Turkey to decide to make its future with the Middle East rather than with Europe, about which they now have serious misgivings anyway. Within that context, it may feel it can let go of its Kurds as part of a regional confederation modelled on the European Union.

This may sound grandiose, but it's probably the only reasonable way out of a situation in which people from Gaza to Kabul are dying by the hundreds - or thousands - every day.

What this will imply for Israel is recognition that it has to be a part of that world, rather than an American surrogate.

Friday, November 3, 2006


I guess everyone has a quote from their school-days that sticks in their mind.  Mine is Marie Antoinette's famous quip on being told the people had no bread.  She reportedly said "Let them eat cake", but actually that may have been less a question of the Queen's cynicism than of  her  all too human oblivion.

Everyone suffers from it, and that's why we get so much tzuris.  Yesterday's big news, aside from the war, was that experts on ocean fish were caught by surprise when a report came out saying there may not be anymore by 2048 - 42 years from now, within the lifetime of our children.  I think it's less a matter of  insufficient tools or knowledge than ingrained inability to foresee consequences: the French queen lost her neck over it, we'll have to switch to high cholesterol meat - but by that time it's likely there won't be enough meat to feed all the affluent Chinese plus the rest of us.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against Chinese affluence, just against oblivion.  And oblivion is everywhere: in our conviction that a bunch of scruffy Arabs could do anything sophisticated - or even that they could realize they've been getting the short straw for too long.  Read Sandra Mackey's 2002 book "The Reckoning, Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein" to find out just how oblivious the Bush administration has been in its pipe-dream for Iraq of its modern history: it didn't come together as a country until Saddam Hussein, much like Tito in Yugoslavian, another multi-ethnic country, systematically bashed heads together.  The idea that we could "transform" that country by military fiat would have been obvious to anyone who would have taken the trouble to read Mackey's book, which also details the failed - and strikingly similar - British attempt to secure Iraq's oil before World War II.  At least the British had a geopolitical reason of sorts for wanting a presence in Mesopotamia: to protect the then crown jewel of India. We just want the oil, and like Marie Antoinette, we don't believe our oblivion will come back to haunt us.

Monday, October 30, 2006


The wives of incumbents are, for newsmakers, a special category of folk: they don't require the same protocol-dictated silk gloves, on the one hand, and on the other, they are likely to be more outspoken than their spouses.  This was brought home with a bang when Lynn Cheney spared with Wolf Blitzer this past week-end

The Vice-president's wife had no compunction about accusing CNN of left-wing bias, even, oh horrors, of presenting "the Democratic playbook"!  Why?  Because CNN picked up an interview Dick Cheney did with a right-wing radio host in which he confirmed that he favors water-boarding, in contradiction with the administration's stated policy of forbidding torture.

Poor Wolf was too rattled to point out that when CNN does (exceptionally!) present the Democratic Party's point of view, it is merely fulfilling its obligation of fairness.

His pusillanimity gave Cheney the opportunity to actually turn the tables on him: "Tell me Wolf (or so many words), do you and your colleagues want us to win or not," forcing him to defend his personal and professional attitudes!

Then she came in for the kill, accusing CNN of defeatism for airing a terrorist video of a US soldier being felled by a sniper.  Blitzer then had to defend the corporate decision to run the video,protesting lamely that they had made a point of telling their viewers that it was a terrorist propaganda tool.

When the interviewee becomes the interviewer, it should make journalists wonder whether the time has come for them to jump the corporate media ship and go where they can legitimately present the left's entirely legitimate point of view, even if it's for less money.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


2) China censors Google and Yahoo, Centcom censors soldiers' blogs.....

3) The Soviets built a wall between East and West Germany, the Israelis are building a wall to shut out the Palestinians, we're building a wall to shut out the Mexicans.

4) President Bush would  bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, Israel's new "minister for strategic threats", Avigdor Lieberman, would blow up Egypt's Aswan Dam.

(The United States and Israel seem to feed on each other when it comes to war tactics, a similarity, but equally worth mentioning.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Today I want to start an on-going rubric:  What's the Difference between the actions of so-called developed, liberal governments, and under-developed socialist or authoritarian governments?  Every day I'm struck by how, each in its own context, repressive or dishonest behaviors are basically the same, the differences being of degree rather than kind.

1) This week's Economist "reveals" that Vladimir Putin is hand-picking is successor for the 2008 presidential elections, in which he cannot run.  It notes: "The Kremlin wants to anticipate the public mood, and is testing its candidates and the ideas they embody on television and in opinion polls."

Apparently not flattered by this imitation, Condolezza Rice, the article goes on to say, "expressed concern about two of the Kremlin's methods: muzzling the media, and the haphazard application a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations. The voting (and counting) will not doubt be closely orchestrated too.  Russian liberals are helplessly depressed about their chances of disrupting the coronation.....Mikail Kasyanov, a former prime minister turned would-be opposition leader, predicts a national crisis following a manipulated election.

So much for differences between Russian and American elections.  But there's more:

"An unbridgeable split within the elite might yet allow a flamboyant authoritarian challenger to emerge.  Or more likely, it might encourage Mr. Putin to stay in power.  That does not necessarily mean changing Russia's constitution to  remain in office for a third term...there are other ways, such as a redistribution of powers between the presidency, government and parliament.  On October 25th, in a tsar-like (sic) televised phone-in Mr Putin bolstered that idea by saying enigmatically that "with you (the voters) we can influence the life of the country" after 2008.

That's Mr. Putin taking his cue from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Anyone who reads this should immediately cease all other activity to listen to today's Democracy Now broadcast on radio or webcast (Pacifica).

Amy Goodman interviews the US lawyer of a US citizen who has been SENTENCED TO DEATH by an Iraqi judge after a totally illegal intervention by US military officers alleging to speak for the Romanian government.  I will not go into details, it's crazier than fiction, but urge all readers to do whatever they can to prevent the US government from handing this person over to the Iraqis to be shot.

Also on this program, an interview with the writer Tariq Ali about his book "Pirates of the Carribean", about the Venezuelan revolution.

And also, a clip from the documentary "The Revolution will not be televised" about the failed coup against Chavez, shot by two Irishmen inside the presidential palace while the coup was being reversed.  Stunnning.

This brings me to a point I've been wanting to make for some time: Tariq Ali described the reaction of the UN General Assembly to Chavez' speech which of course was widely seen all over the world if not in the US, how the delegates applauded him and even Arab delegates told him afterwards that he was saying what they could no longer say about the U.S.

Tariq Ali described the Venezuelan people's reaction when the coup against Chavez was defeated, saying: "The people went wild".  He said it in admiration, but unfortunately, it's precisely the image of "the people going wild" that has prevented many liberals from realizing the sophistication of today's "people".  Underestimating the knolwedge, organization and determination of "the people" all over the world leads American politicians to cling to yesterday's solutions.

A prediction: the United States will undergo radical change as a result of the combined awareness of the poor (Katrina),  the immigrant community, and veterans of the horrific Middle East wars, and many will continue to wonder how it could happen here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


There's something I can't quite get my mind around when it comes to North Korea: we never signed a peace treaty with them after the Korean War, which ended, I think, in 1952; we have enough nuclear weapons to blow the entire world up, and we're telling them they can't even have a bomb!

Imagine a school yard where one big kid is holding a club and he's telling a little kid that if he picks up a stone, he'll clobber him.

As Martha pointed out yesterday, Communism is passe, nobody worries about the red menace anymore, so why can't we sign a peace treaty with North Korea, give them some help with development (other than nuclear) and generally behave toward them like their brothers, the South Koreans, who've tried to follow a "sunshine policy"?

It's true that the more countries have nuclear weapons, the more difficult it will be to rid the world of them.  But while we're threatening North Korea and Iran, we're not doing anything about drawing down our own arsenal, and setting up a serious mechanism to get other countries to do the same.

Karen Armstrong's latest book  "The Great Transformation" tells how when things got bad enough, previous civilizations realized that to renew themselves they had to abandon violence.  During the Axial Age, which stretched roughly over the thousand years before Christ, but which also includes Islam, she tells us that:  "The sages were all living in  violent societies like our own.  What they created was a spiritual technology that utilized natural energies to counter this aggression."

She seems to be speaking to our "compassionate" President when she says: "The most gifted of them realized that if you wanted to outlaw brutal, tyrannical behavior, it was no good simply issuing external directives."

The Hindus, the Chinese, the Jews, Christians and Muslims each went about this in a different way, but the starting point Golden Rule : do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  It was not a question of discovering God, and then living a compassionate life.  By eradicating egotism they found "a different dimension of human experience", which "gave them "ekstasis", a stepping out from their habitual, self-bound consciousness that enabled them to apprehend a reality that they called God, nibbana, brahman, atman or the Way."

Armstrong is as much a studious observer of the contemporary scene as she is a scholar, and she notes: "Fundamentalist religion has absorbed the violence of our time and developed a polarized vision,so that, like the early Zoroastrians, fundamentalists sometimes divide humanity into two hostile camps, with the embattled faithful engaged in a deadly war against 'evildoers'".

It's always gratifying to see that a respected figure shares one's insights.  In "The Case for Sacredness" I wrote:

"For some time, there’s clearly been less and less a world consciousness of immorality, and increasingly, a world example that cautions it. In earlier times, the catastrophes that took place in various parts of the planet were circumscribed to that time and place. If they affected other areas, no one was aware of it. Now, thanks to the media,  everything that goes on in the world is seen by almost all its inhabitants. And what people the world over see in the media inspires them to commit the unthinkable - to consider it normal to blow up a skyscraper with human ammunition in retaliation for a far-off conflict over territory - knowing that the entire world will witness the event.
Since the end of the Cold War, intolerance has become a worldwide phenomenon. The congruence of atrocities committed in the four corners of the world, and the similarities in the tirades of politicians from very different cultures, has been striking. We knew we could transpose Bal Thakery's diatribes against India’s Muslim minority to Milosevic in Serbia, or Le Pen in France, changing only proper nouns. But we didn’t realize that intolerance, and the breakdown of what conservatives like to call law and order, are linked, among other things, to the enormous increase in the world's population. And that’s only one of the reasons why we couldn’t imagine where all this would lead."

One of the many encouraging things I learned reading Karen Armstrong's 400 plus page work, is that for many hundred of years, the Chinese dynasties practised "courtly warfare", in which "victory revealed the righteousness of the winning side, but only if the battle had been conducted according to the 'li'." These prescribed rituals  consisted in "bullying the enemy with acts of kindness", letting him off if he paid a ransom.   Courtesy took precedence of efficiency, and "a gentleman lost status if he killed too many people."

At a time when our real challenge lies not in the Korean peninsula, nor even in the Middle East, but in the Middle Kingdom,  I hope some of the contestants in the up-coming power struggle will read Armstrong rather than Clauswitz.

Thursday, October 5, 2006


When I was a teenager people were fond of saying that love is what makes the world go round, evoking Cleopatra's nose.  Not long after that, an Egyptian scholar by the name of Qutb spent a couple of years in the U.S. and complained, in fiery writings, that in the land of machines and materialism, sex was a disgrace.  It took another several decades for our national fate to be decisively influenced by the dress of a White House intern: President Clinton's caper condemned Al Gore's candidacy, and we got the zealot George Bush - who, according to his wife, goes to bed at nine o'clock - to sleep.

It's suprising how similar are the views of morality held by Bush and Ahmadinejad, Iran's president. For these two zealots, all that's missing is a suit of armor.  Both tell us we're engaged in a what will be a long battle for civilization. The difference is this: George thinks that somehow unbridled capitalism plays no role in loose mores and Mahmoud thinks religion plays a bigger role than it does in restraining sexual license.

Personally, I think that the battle about decadence is about reasonably egalitarian development that does not worship Mamon.  Today's news is all about a congressman who while representing the convictions of the moral majority, was writing dirty notes to teen-age pages.  But as the ever-astute comedian Bill Maher made clear to (of all people) Wolf Blitzer, the important story is the war.

Alas, for the media, the UN General Assembly annual meeting was about Chavez calling Bush the devil.  As for  the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations that took place just before, they  paid it no attention whatsoever.  Had they done so, they would not have had to disgrace themselves by failing, for the most part, to mention that Chavez broke the UN applause-0-meter for his speech: they would have been able to link the delegates' reception to the Havana meeeting.  There, the leaders of the majority of the world's people - who hold the majority of the world's oil - decided to put mores at the back of a common front against a giant that has gotten to big for its boots.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


More than any other "advanced civilization", the United States encompasses several universes: the larger one is a world of information that is tailored and controlled via built-in censorship.  In its orbit, but hidden by (seeded) clouds, there is a moon that waxes and wanes.  Seemingly barren, it is covered not with moon dust but with facts that fall there from printed pages and digital images:

When you know how far back Rumsfeld and Cheney go (NYRB, October 5th), it's much less surprising that Cheney should support Rumsfeld no matter how many other supposedly major players demand his resignation, as revealed by advance tidbits of  Bob Woodward's latest book "State of Denial".  It says President Bush stood firm by his Secretary of Defense.  Significantly, there is no mention of Cheney's position.  Could the much-vaunted stick-t0-itness  of the President be in reality Dick Cheney's determination to carry through the neo-con agenda, with Rumsfeld in charge of actual combat?

Here's' another example of parallel universes that has been on my mind since last week: the Hungarian Prime Minister was caught on tape confessing that he had lied to the Hungarian people about the country's economic situation.  Did the Hungarians fill the air waves with learned debates about how much he knew and when he might have known it?  No, they took to the streets.  They threatened to burn down the parliament - an impressive nineteenth century building on the banks of the Danube, not some communist-era monstrosity.  For days and nights on end they besieged the state broadcasting building and burned cars, demanding the resignation of their elected leader.  Just for lying about the economy!  What would the Hungarians have done if they'd been lied to about a war - or if Danube flood victims had been treated as were Katrina's?  Having lived under Communism for forty-odd years, the Hungarians take their freedom seriously. But that's not all: the Europeans have always taken seriously the idea pompously expressed in the American Constitution but unnecessary in theirs, because self-evident (sic): in a democratic society the people are expected to demand with force if necessary the removal of a government that fails them.

In the American parallel universe  - parallel to most other advanced universes, like tracks that never meet - you will increasingly risk going to jail for that, especially until the Supreme Court strikes down the latest legislation that Congress has allowed itself to be railroaded into passing with respect to "enemy" combatants.  If the President - or his henchmen in trench coasts - decide you're against them, you could be held for years without them having to provide you with a legal justification - the famous "habeus corpus" that's been the basis of Anglo Saxon law since 1215 (twelve hundred and fifteen A.D. see Magna Carta, you learned about it in school.)

Are Americans caught in a parallel universe from which there is no escape?

Friday, September 29, 2006


According to string theory, we live in one of several parallel universes, oblivious to the others.  Even without esoteric mathematics, that's increasingly true.  Thanks to a permanently blind-sided media and a self-censoring opposition, Americans, in particular, still don't know why they're being attacked on all sides

The democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, tells the United Nations General Assembly that they've seen the devil, in the person of the president of the United States, and Democrats from Bill Clinton to Charlie Rangel chide him.  I'm sorry I didn't catch the name of the late-night WBAI commentator who reminded Rangel that it was President Bush who brought religion into the debate by declaring that certain countries are part of an 'axis of Evil"....  Occupying a more lofty position than the NY State Representative, Bill Clinton could allow himself to say he wished Chavez "hadn't done it".  You could tell he agreed with the substance if not the form, but unlike those with privileged acces, the average voter didn't get to hear the rest of Chavez' speech, so he probably didn't catch that nuance.

Mr. Average Voter was privvy to the complaints of commentators that New York has to play host to people who insult the President, but who in the media linked this  to Chavez' suggestion that the General Asssembly meet in another country?   Reports of Chavez' foreign minister being detained at JFK like a terror suspect were justified by the fact that he arrived late for a flight and wanted to purchase a ticket with cash, as if this harassment had nothing to do with Chavez having left his silk gloves behind.  That was on the level of Bostonians wanting to get rid of the Citgo sign that has been a familiar landmark in that city for fifty years because it belongs to the Venezuelan oil company (the one that offers low-cost heating oil to poor Northeasterners...).

At least Clinton blew new life into CNN when he teamed up with Christian Amanpour to air a debate about why the world is fighting over God, with the participation of greater and lesser public figures from various parts of the world.  The contrast between Jordan's youthful Princess Rania and Israel's perennial statesman, Simon Peres, who could hardly ungrit his teeth, suggests that tomorrow's Sabras will be Palestinian.

The September 11th New Yorker provided a really useful tribute to nine-eleven: George Packer introduced Mahmoud Taha, a Sudanese who was already theorizing about a modern Islam in the sixties.  One regret: Packer fails to tell us how Sudan ended up perpetrating genocide in Darfur.  In that same New Yorker, Lawrence Wright reveals that  "for the new theorists of jihad, Al Queda is just the beginning".  What I retain from his long and  detailed essay is that, like the Communists, who believed changing the relations of production would result in the end of inequality, Islamists believe that an Islamic caliphate will "bring falseness to an end" leading the human race to "the shore of safety and the oasis of happiness."

Toping off this remarkable issue is the portrait of a major Al Queda informer by Jane Mayer.  He confirms that inequality is the real cause of modern jihad.  Even Bin Laden, who never lacked for anything, declared in the early nineties that: "We cannot let the American army stay in the Gulf are and take our oil, take our money..."

Just as in real estate the three things that count are location,location, location, it's safe to bet that the political affairs of all parallel worlds evolve around equality, equality, equality.   The devil is in the details.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


First a word of explanation for those who ask about the title of this blog: otherjones is a salute to an American heroine and to the magazine that bears her name; but also, looking forward, a statement about otherness: accepting it is the real challenge of the 21st century.

Now on to A and non-A (with humble apologies to the mathematically inclined):  At the same time as some 117 (or however many) non-aligned countries were meeting in Havana to thumb their noses at the United States, our President continued to behave as though this country had already transported itself to another planet.  Much was made on the Sunday talk shows of his unsurprising preference for being strong and wrong rather than right and weak.   No one linked the two facts.

One thing that finally did emerge from the primordial darkness that covers the most powerful nation on earth is that (someone said it quickly, softly) there was no exit strategy for the war in Iraq because we weren't planning to leave.

On "Meet the Press" the Democratic challenger for a Senate seat for Virginia, former Navy Secretary Webb, forced incumbent Senator Allen to explain why we're building permanent bases in Iraq if we're not planning to stay.  Allen was no more convincing on that score than on why he called Webb's cameraman "macaca".

Is it unpatriotic to wonder whether the reason why 130,000 American and 130,000 Iraqi troops can't overcome 5,000 insurgents (or even 10,000) because the deal is to give the United States a so-called reason for staying in Iraq indefinitely?

Whatever bottom line eventually revealed by leakers and/or history, the non-A's (who include most if not all the major oil producing countries) manage to fit in their tent people of all persuasions.  They are brought together by the common determination to oppose the A's  - whom they supply.

Richared Clarke, in his "Against all Enemies" has some interesting things to say about our past relations with Iran, in particular Dick Cheneys role in oil politics.  I'll dot the i's next time.

Monday, September 11, 2006


We've all seen those historical films, with courtesans in splendid costumes crowding the throne room, while raucous crowds filled the plaza outside.

In real life, we've criticized the advent of government as spectacle, but now we have government-as-spectacle purged of crowds.

Did you see the solemn procession of President and Mrs Bush (hips swaying just enough to catch the eye without being lascivious (God forbid!), flanked by (I think) Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki and what might have been a secret service man, down the endless ramp to the still desolate quarry of what was the World Trade Center, to lay two wreaths in the pools of water that mark the spot where the towers stood?

Bagpipes were playing, but the camera kept close in - strangely close in.  At times it reached street level, but only barricades were visible: no people.  No people on the rooftops (sniper's paradise!), no people anywhere.

It was so eerie!  After laying the second wreath in the company of a lone Marine, as the President and Mrs. Bush walked back to the ramp to exit the scene, the secret service man appeared briefly at a respectable but watchful distance, a woman in jeans (I think) hovering behind him, then he disappeared again, only to rejoin the presidential couple as they reached the ramp.  (More careful observers will forgive any lack of precision here, I was not taking notes and only realized the full import of what I had seen this morning.)

This morning I mentally compared yesterday's scene with those of preceding years, and feel quite sure that then, the stage on which the solemn remembrance played out, was full of people.  Turning on the TV,  I see that this morning's ceremony, like those of years past, involves crowds: Mayor Bloomberg, not the President, presiding.

Friday, September 8, 2006


Saw a remarkable film from Netflix last night: The Syrian Bride.  Made in 2004, it illustrates, with great delicacy, what happens to a Druze family living in the Golan Heights, when the daughter is to be married to a Syrian television star originally from the same village: once she crosses the border as a bride, she will never be allowed to return.  In the film, even the border wedding falls victim to the bureaucratic intransigeance of both Israelis and Syrians, as a frustrated UN intermediary gives up the ghost.

But the real story is the contrast between the lives of hip Syrian women, and that of the bride's sister, (the main character), whose husband fears he will be taunted for not being able to control her when she insists on getting a college degree.  That is where sex and oil come in.

It would be banal to say: "It's the oil, stuipid!"  But  just as truly, sex is the other half of the equation that describes the so-called terrorist threat.  The West, led by the United States, is determined to have access to a maximum of the world's oil for the coming years, until economical power substitutes can be developed.  To that end, it is trying to gain the final say in how oil-rich countries are run.  The Venezuelans' problem with that is underdevelopment: they need to control their oil so they can fight poverty.  Saudi Arabia and other Islamic oil producing countries have a different problem; the presence of foreign oil workers and troops is seen by many as an affront to Islam.  That affront lies not only in the foreigners status as un-believers, but in a commercial system in which men encourage women to flaunt their sex instead of keeping it  demurely under wraps.

It's common knowledge that Muslim rulers engage in typically western behavior far from their subjects' eyes, but there are some, like Zawahiri,  Bin Laden and mullahs great and obscure across the world, who find this abhorent.  The number of Western women who voluntarily wear headscarves should tell us that there is something relevant about that stance.

Sex and vulgarity don't mix any better than do oil and water.

Thursday, September 7, 2006


Or rather, what have we learned?  Forty-seven years ago, a man from an island sixty miles from the United States, came to the United Nations General Assembly to lay out his determination to seek a better life for his people.

That man, Fidel Castro, is still the leader of his country, notwithstanding the attempts of nine American Presidents to topple him. Meanwhile,  the ideology that he later espoused has been replaced, on the American radar, by another one , which will be represented this month in a speech to the U.N. by the president of Iran.

Like Castro many times before him, Ahmadinejad will declare that his country poses no threat to the world, and that there are good, objective reasons for his policies. (However different the ideologies of Communism and Islamism may be on the surface - the former being atheistic - both gain strength from inequality and greed.)

As with Castro, most of the leaders assembled in the great hall will more or less grudgingly admit that the Iranian president's case is reasonable.  Failure on the part of the United States to support Castro's initially reformist policies led, three years after his rise to power, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, still considered to be the closet the world has ever come to World War III.

At the very least, we could have learned, in the forty-four years since, that no ideology is forever, and no ideology is worth blowing up the world for. As the Democrats prepare to fight accusations of being soft on terrorism in the mid-term elections, they would do well to start by pointing out that the search for common ground with potential enemies is a sign of wisdom, while only mindless bullies use the weapon of fear.

Failure to separate our obligation to apply the Non-Proliferation Treaty without discrimination to Iran, under reasonable scrutiny, from Israel's refusal to make a better bed for itself in the Palestinian house, could make World War III a reality.

Monday, September 4, 2006


Everywhere one surfed on the news or Sunday talk shows it was question of Iran. Of preparing for sanctions, or war with Iran - or sanctions that would ultimately lead to war.

And yet, one image stuns the mind: that of Tehrani’s in their shiny cars, tooting and carousing in the night streets - just like Italians.  Two-term President Khatami was considered by reform-minded Iranians, not to have been able to go far enough, but it seems he has succeeded at least in obtaining for Iranians the right to enjoy the material benefits of modernity. Speaking
at an American university, the white turbaned  ex-President Khatami hopes America will support moderate Islam, instead of worrying about the one represented by terrorists.

In a televised debate, the Republican Senator from my state of Pennsylvania, Rick Sanatorium, declared Khatami shouldn’t have been given a visa.  For some unfathomable reason, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell was quoted in the National Review as saying that “Sanatorium delivers”. He picked the unprepossessing,  unpersuasive Bob Casey because his father was a much respected politician to defeat the number three Senate Republican, and the DLC agreed.

In this year of all possible Republican dangers, if the Democrats didn't’t even have the guts to anoint the much more articulate and knowledgeable Chuck Pennachio, how to hope they will be strong enough to prevent a nuclear strike on Iran’s deeply buried research facilities?

In an on-line newsletter “Money and Markets”, John Burke dots the i’s and crosses the t’s:  Saudi Arabia has the largest oil supplies, Iraq has the third largest.  Burke warns that Iraq is for all practical purposes being taken over by Iran, which will then control the largest world oil supplies.  When you know that Saudi Arabia is a Sunni monarchy, while Iran and Iraq are now ruled by Shi’ites, the violence we’re seeing in Iraq may be only the forerunner of a broader sectarian conflict engulfing the Muslim world.

Burke’s  Aug 14th headline reads: No Truce from Wars!  Your Defense...But he’s not interested in the life and death consequences, merely on what it means for savvy investors. Unlike our news anchors and pundits, Burke recognizes that it is highly unlikelyh that the U.S> and its allies will pull out of the region, adding:  “The prolonged conflict in the region puts more than half of the world's oil reserves at risk, and the West will do everything to protect its access”.... driving the demand for both (a) conventional military hardware and (b) anti-terror technology. Therefore, a diversified portfolio of defense stocks should address both needs.”

We should have a (Maheresque) new rule that all news anchors should precede information about Iran, Iraq or the MIddle East with the sentence:  “The United States will do anything to protect its access to oil”.

That way, everyone would know that whatever the news of the day, if it doesn't fit into that frame, it's irrelevant.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


You know how,when someone commits a crime, investigators will look into that person's background, especially their childhood, to see if there is something that can explain the terrible behavior?  Conservatives are usually against this, associating it with being "soft on crime".  But they would probably accept it - even embrace it - in the case of Israel.

Here is a people that more than any other has been persecuted. Persecuted for two millennia!  That's the equivalent of living in a slum and having a father that beats you all the time and a mother who drinks.

With all that, no people on earth is more attuned to psychology, so how come Israel insists on bullying its neighbors?
I guess it's like when the French say: "chausseur plus mal chaussee", the shoemaker has the worst shoes.  But thinking about this might make it easier for Jews all over the world to accept the fact that the Israelis rather than sympathy, need reeducating, and tell their kinfolk they're in the wrong.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


The U.S. claims the right to do everything from incarcerating people without charges to waging all-out war, in the name of self-defense.  Israel claims the right to bomb a country back fifteen years in the name of self-defense.

In the early days of Israeli hubris, it claimed that it was a tiny country surrounded by enemies.  Then it built a wall. The U.S. is a big country surrounded by water, it was indignant over the Berlin Wall, but now it too builds walls where it can.

Increasingly, there is a sense that Israel and the U.S. are like a rich parent indulging a spoiled kid.  When kids make enemies in the school yard, parents tell them to "be nice".  When kids move into a new neighborhood, parents tell them to try to make friends.

The Jews who came to Palestine in 1946 were the survivors of the original ethnic cleansing operation (followed, alas, by many more).  They needed a refuge, they wanted their own state.  Unfortunately, the world community  didn't separate the need for a refuge and the legitimate desire for a state from a religiously inspired yearning: "Next year in Jerusalem", the toast of every Jewish family at Passover. It gave in to the Jewish demand for a state IN PALESTINE.

In order for that to work, as much attention would have had to be paid to the sensitivities of the Palestinians as to developing the part of Palestine allotted by the U.N. to the Jews.

When the Israeli government dropped leaflets warning Lebanese citizens to evacuate before a bombing, it was continuing a method begun right after partition.  For years, Israel claimed this was not true, that the Palestinians had fled because "the Mufti of Jerusalem told them to".  Recently declassified documents prove that most of the Palestinians who fled and never regained their homes did so because they were warned by the Israelis of impending attacks, and indeed many of those who didn't flee were killed.

Many Israeli refugees were highly qualified people who could have offered their knowledge and skills to their neighbors instead of looking down upon them.

Similarly, the United States could have used the United Nations it helped found to lead efforts to reach a common ground toward development, instead of threatening first the Communists, and now the Islamists, who have different ideas about how people should live.

The result is that now we have Big Daddy U.S. using his Kid Israel to help in the  "fight against terrorism" -  telling them that what they're doing is right, like African warlords using child soldiers.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


In its nine-thirty headlines, CNN announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has challenged President George W. Bush to a televised debate.  Watch to see whether the media tries to bury this story.

If it doesn't,what fun!  Our President is a lot younger, and more fit, than Mike Wallace, who made Ahmadinejad look like the Red Baron when he thought he could show him up to be either some kind of devil or ignoramus.  What a way to end a career!

For five years, thinking Americans have been feeling like the parents of a monumental underachiever at the yearly school recital, cringing at the impression their president makes on his foreign peers - and their peoples.

Forget being totally unprepared for Katrina!  The White House phones must all be busy, in the search for  a device that could be installed under the president's (bulletproof) vest and that would deliver him the the magic bullet (sic): the ability to respond to the highly articulate and  intelligent Iranian president.  Just being seen together with him may remind audiences that it's Ahmadinejad the rest of the masculine world has copied by dispensing with their neckties.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Usually, this is the cry of the citizen disgusted with the behavior of his elected representatives.  But what about the media?  How can the pundits continue to discuss the ins and outs of the war in Iraq - or in Lebanon - without ever mentioning oil? This morning, one talk show host - I think it was Chris Matthews - mentioned the fact that there are all those books out there divulging terrible things.  But he didn't say what.  He didn't say any of the things Pulitzer and other prize winners have been writing about, such as the fear of oil having or about to peak, or the one percent doctrine that we have to act like the Gestapo if there is even a one percent chance that someone, somewhere, might get nuclear or biological weapons.

I guess the media is afraid that if they get it all out there where everyone, and not just book readers, can hear it, they won't have anything left to talk about - or that they'll lose the opportunity to hold forth and get paid handsomely for it - by those of us  who buy the products they advertise.


Raed Jarrar (, an Arab-American who was prevented from getting on a U.S. plane in the U.S. because he was searing a T-shirt with an bi-lingual expression that read: "they will not silence us" did make it from "Democracy Now" to CNN.  But the anchor seemed sorry when Jarrar told him that everyone doesn't define a terrorist in the same way, going on to say that for many, a state that bombs women and children is a terrorist.  At least they didn't cut him off.

But this brings me to the real subject of this post: The "World Can't Wait" campaign to bring down the entire Bush administration.  They rightly point out that under Hitler, many Germans thought they didn't have to worry about atrocities because they were not among those targeted, until finally, it was their turn.  The WCW campaign is a valiant grass roots effort to wake up the American people to what is being perpetrated in their name.  Even if you don't agree with their belief that nothing short of revolution can turn this country around, you should ask yourself what difference there is between German Fascism and the goals and methods of our government.  The goal is clearly to bring the entire world into line, and with the pretext that some out there may resort to apocalyptic violence to prevent that from happening, we are getting ready to do just that ourselves.

Regarding  another terrorist attack against the U.S., the question was "not if, but when"; as for the war on Iraq it was "not if but under what pretext"; and with respect to the coming war against Iran it's "my place or yours?" : whether the Israelis will take out the nuclear sites or we shall.  Both countries have the means to do so, if it can be done.

With hindsight, it turns out the draconian Treaty of Versailles had something to do with the rise of Hitler.  The Germans didn't just decide to let a madman lose on the world.  (People's rarely do such things, even if they invariably  get the government they deserve.)

We ("the People") should be asking our journalists to "dig deeper" into the reasons why so many ordinary human beings hate us.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I knew there was something I was forgetting yesterday.  Here's a quote from the latest New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs: "Tehran, Iran, (July 29) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have crept into the language such as "pizzas", which will now be known as "elastic loaves". - Associated Press"

Here indeed is a precious clue to what the future holds!  When Charles De Gaulle did the same thing in France - going so far as to entrust the prestigious Academie Francaise, guardian of the French language, with finding properly French equivalents for foreign words that had crept into the language of Moliere and Voltaire, it was to try to recapture the past glory such centuries' dead writers embodied.  As heir to the even more ancient Persian culture, Ahmadinejad is clearly signaling his intention to capture future glory for his people. Like us, he's forgetting the Chinese.

Here's today's mystery: will the future be a conflict between the various fundamentalists of the Book, or between Islam and a state capitalism claiming roots in Confucius?

Friday, August 25, 2006


I wondered why Bashar Al-Assad was getting up on his high horse over the UN Peacekeeping mission until I looked at a few maps and at Wikipedia entries for Syrian geography, wondering how much geography they do at State these days.  (In my day, they did plenty.)

Aside from the fact that under several centuries of Ottoman rule Lebanon was part of Syria, Syria has a relatively small Mediterranean coast, and guess what, Homs, its second most important city, is right there up against the border, Damascus is a stone's throw from the port of Beirut, and Lakatia and Tartous, through they may be convenient places to unload Czech arms for Al-Queda, do not link conveniently to Damascus.

UN forces along the Lebanese/Syrian border, on the other hand, will be uncomfortably close to Damascus.

More later...

If it's Friday, it must be super-ironies day.

Shireen Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, is a human rights lawyer.  She is expecting to be arrested at any time now because of the work she is doing on behalf of Iranian dissidents.......Meanwhile, a New Jersey family of Iraqi origin, with the unfortunate family name of Mohammed, was detained for six hours at Newark airport on returning from a vacation in Jordan.  The mother and four young adult children were among about 250  Middle or Southeastern travellers who were  prevented from retrieving their luggage and questioned.  The mother was threatened with arrest by FBI agents when she requested food and water....An Arab-American is arrested for offering to provide an FBI informant with Al-Manar television broadcasts.  His lawyer is black.....Hugo Chavez was in Beijing signing an oil deal with China, which he hopes will replace the U.S. as his biggest customer  He was recently in Tehran, and likened the Israeli assault on Lebanon to the behavior of Nazi Germany.

In "The One Percent Doctrine" Ron Suskind describes  Cheney's doctrine.  It calls for the U.S. to take all necessary steps to make sure there isnt' even a one percent chance that nuclear arms could fall (sic) into the hands of terrorists.  According to Suskind, that's what the invasion of Iraq was all about, and what the continuing dire references ot Pakistan are about.  The Pakistanis have nuclear experts who are friendly with Al-Qaeda.

Did President Roosevelt really think he could put the genie back in the bottle ?  More likely he thought the U.N. could keep order in the world.  Although he favored decolonization by the French and the British, he probably didn't foresee where that would lead.  And that sixty years after its founding, the world body would still be playing second fiddle to a superpower that is counting on the one percent probability that it's forever.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I haven't finished: one thing no one picked up on in Amanpour's carefully constructed and fascinating feature is this:  Bin Laden was a quiet, studious, youth who shied away from violence.  Then, during the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan,  it turned out he could face the enemy in battle.  He won a resounding victory. Some time later, he went into another battle against the advice of others, and lost miserably.  That was Jalalabad. Big disappointment.  Sometime after that, Saddam invaded Kuwait, and Bin Laden offered his army to the Saudi monarch - his monarch - to rout them.  He was told, essentially, to stay inside and play.  Then came the bombings at Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia: again Bin Laden offered fighters and was told thanks but no thanks.

Maybe I'm fantasizing, but could it be that 9/11 was in part Bin Laden's way of "showing them"?  Showing his own country,  where only money was taken seriously, that he was as good a leader as an American general?

The Saudi Princes preferred to allow an army of infidels on sacred Muslim soil, and now, all Americans, all Jews, are targets.

It's too easy to say that the terrorists hate us because we're free.  We've got a lot of homework to do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Today's irony:  If you weren't aware of it before, you know by now that the Israeli army is a people's army: otherwise, they wouldn't be going on camera complaining of the way their superiors ran the recent war.  (Also, in this country of 6 million, everyone knows everyone else..)  But it seems clear that defective leadership is not the only reason why the Israeli army cannot fight as well as the Lebanese people's army (Hezbollah): both are fighting for their land, but Hezbollah recruits don't need to be told contorted rationalizations why it is their land, whereas the Israeli soldiers do.  Those who are defending their land from the gut always win over those who are defending it from the head.

P.S. Defective Israeli leadership also has a lot to do with the fact that Israel's case is a rationalization.  The first generation, for whom the Holocaust and settlement were a reality, is gone.  The second will choose an opportune moment to take former Prime Minister Sharon off life-support, but it cannot instill in today's Israelis the flame that made their elders think, in defiance of every religious morality, that two wrongs could make a right.

P.P.S. CNN replayed yesterday's presidential press conference with the intent of minimizing the terrible impression it made to see George Bush joking as he talked about the need to continue sacrificing lives to the "war on terror".  Shameful.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Now that's a clever frame!  President Bush is giving a press conference this morning in what he called the "fancy new digs" of the White House press corps.  Maybe it's his new approval rating of 42% that has him laughing and joking as he bumbles his way through a  defense of his Middle East and Iraq policy.

Commentators who have a larger audience than otherjones should point up the fact that democracy is not the opposite of terrorism.  Democratic state regimes use state terrorism, while democratically elected minority representatives in failed or weak states use the weapons they can get.   The number of Lebanese represented by Hezbollah, 40%,  is significantly higher than the number of Americans represented by the Bush administration, barely 50% of the 30 or 40% who vote.

More later, as another absurd day wears on....

Sunday, August 20, 2006


No sooner had I written the previous post than I went on-line to listen to the interview Mike Wallace did of President Ahmadinejad of Iran, which apparently has created a stir among journalists, some feel Wallace should not have "stooped" to such an encounter, others correctly as having lost it.

That Mike Wallace, who is apparently 87 years old, should think he can get the better of a man in his prime is already hubris.  But what is troubling, is that the American ikon is shown here to be an empty shell: apparently, he is so used to towing the company line, that he is incapable of consequential thought.  He comes off as feebly trying to bully someone who is in every way his superior.  A real monkey, despair at not being able to break out of his cage clearly showing in his face and gestures.  A general signing an act of rendition wouldn't feel worse.

As for Ahmadinejad, the only thing that troubled me was his claim that research into the Holocaust is denied.  So much research has been conducted that this cannot be taken seriously.  But his point that the Palestinians should not be made to pay for a German crime is unexceptionable, and that has always been by opinion.

But there is more: the Iranian leader speaks the same language as Fidel Castro, as Hugo Chavez, as Lopez Obrador, as well as Nasrallah in Lebanon and the leader of Hamas whose name I have forgotten (they are here today and assassinated tomorrow).  The discourse of these men shows clearly that there are two opposing camps in the political arena: not democracy and tyranny, not modernity and backwardness, and not even the West and the Rest.  The camps are the haves and the have-nots, as always.  America and Israel are the two top dogs in the struggle being waged by people of all colors and religions for respect and pie.  And it is the underdogs, not the creators of the United Nations, who are seeking dialogue.

The ignorance of Mike Wallace and the lack of courtesy on the part of President Bush toward another world leader who writes to him, are two faces of the same coin: a Janus-faced monkey.


Reading a five-week old Economist special section on Pakistan, a picture is formed in my mind's eye: American, Israeli and Pakistani government troops, each in their respective theaters of war, demolishing houses, jailing people, including children, at random, until the alleged culprit is handed over.  In the case of Pakistan, the article is referring to "a powerful civil servant, known as the political agent, whose duty is to keep the tribes quiet.  He has a pot of cash to reward good behavior and little need to account for his actions.  His main power is to exact collective punishment."

Senator McCain, on "Meet the Press", won't rule out military action against Iran; no wonder it is rumored he could run with Jeb Bush as vice-presidential candidate.  Happily (so to speak) a Senator with a Jewish name, Diane Feinstein, isn't afraid to tell Wolf Blitzer that the problems of the Middle East won't be solved until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.  Bravo Senator Feinstein.  I thought something like this would never happen.

Monday, August 14, 2006


The number of refugees - Darfour, Congo, Somalia, Lebanon - should not mask the fact that as a result of failing to address  obscene inequality across the globe, the United States is faced with a dual threat: that emanating from the have-nots themselves and Movements purporting to represent them, and another, from Nations long jealous of our supremacy, who can be seen joining them in a pincer movement against us.

The United States and Israel are like like a big giant and a little giant.  Increasingly, they imitate and learn from each other how best to torture, and to use advanced technology to kill. But both have Achilles heels, so perpetual war is not the answer.  Only by sharing the wealth can we envision a future for our grandchildren.


My useful sense of gratitude at the existence of Democracy Now, and investigative journalists such as Seymour Hersh was tempered by disappointment today as I considered their failure, and that of like-minded thinkers, to systematically tie together the findings of the day or the week with relevant background.

Sy Hersh's expose of the deliberateness of the Israeli offensive, linked to an American project to effect regime change in Tehran would have been much more impressive had Hersh summed up for listeners and readers the picture painted by Kevin Philipps in "American theocracy", published earlier this year.  Philipps' weighty tome is quite indigest - it would have benefited from being much shorter and to the point - but its message is chilling:  with oil peaking in our children's lifetime, and threats to the dollar, plans are afoot not only to secure the Middle East fields, but to ensure that oil continues to be sold for greenbacks rather than Euros.

Without awareness of the larger canvass, Hersh's listeners and readers are likely to be alarmed, but not desperate at the prospect of perpetual war that we will face if plans to secure oil and the dollar are not checked before it is too late.  Those of us who surmised there had to be more to the Israeli offensive than met the eye now know it was in part a dry run for taking out Iran's subterranean armory.

This is turn is not about Islamic Fascism, as the President repeats endlessly like a mantra, but about the convergence of oil and an economy no longer based on production of things, but on financial flows.  Philipps retraces the rise and fall of previous major powers.  Because they shared that pattern, all died and we are here today.  The conjunction of that pattern, perhaps unavoidable, with our unique ability to wage war may preclude our having descendants.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


The Israeli cabinet voted to accept the U.N. resolution to stop the fighting in Lebanon.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Today is the Jewish Sabbath, like every Saturday. And what are the Israelis doing on this Sabbath?  They're killing a few more people before taking up the United Nations proposal for a cease-fire, which was voted yesterday.

The Israelis have never liked the U.N. because the Third World majority in the General Assembly has stood, over the decades, with the Palestinians.  This time they're being dealt with evenhandedly, but like lemmings, eyes riveted on past horrors, they march backwards toward more anti-Semitism.

That is about as naive as the U.S. expectation that they would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people.

Underdogs always wonder why top-dogs don't understand them: it is even more difficult to comprehend that a people that has for millennia been treated as an underdog, can treat others as they were treated, now that, with the help of a powerful ally, they have the means.

The Israelis represent those Jews who not only withstood 2000 of ostracism, clinging to the idea of a return to a former land, they realized the dream.  The only thing that can conceivably prevent them from believing the Palestinians will be equally tenacious is a belief in their inferiority. That is why they they drop leaflets telling the Lebanese to blame Hezbollah for their woes.

That is about as naive as the American expectation that they would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006


In 2003, a father and son team of eminent historians (J.R. and William McNeill) published a fascinating book entitled "The Human Web", that showed how "human history is an evolution from simple sameness to diversity and then toward complex sameness". We do well to bear a variation of that in mind when we try to analyze what is currently going on the the Middle East: history is made up of criss-crossing webs.

Take the U.S. French effort to draft a U.N. resolution that can be acceptable to the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council. Merely enumerating their names makes clear how different their agendas are: U.S., France, Great Britain, Russia and China. But the complexity doesn't stop there: France has never accepted that it's time as a major world player has been over since World War II, and is eager to exploit its historical ties to Lebanon while maintaining a crucial oil line to Tehran; Great Britain is led by a man of vision who, for better or for worse, has chosen a historical alliance across the Atlantic over European unity; Russia also has serious interests in Tehran, and a Muslim population in its southern republics, while aspiring to recognition as a bona fide G8 player; and China is enjoying an economic and hence diplomatic renaissance on the world stage for the first time since the Middle Kingdom came out of obscurity.

Having said that, the crucial player remains the U.S. So here is the question of the day: Is failure to recognize the legitimate Lebanese demands for an immediate Israeli pull-out just one more instance of big power hubris and ignorance, or a deliberate strategy that gives Israel additional time to continue pounding that country before a cease=fire intervenes?

Whichever is the correct playbook, American citizens are also going to pay a price. The question is, how long will it remain merely a price at the pump? Administration officials never tire of telling us that thanks to the assault on Afghanistan and Iraq, we have remained safe at home. We must not be surprised if, in the inevitable way of opposites producing each other, that ceases to be true. You can usually remove one card from a card castle without causing it to collapse, perhaps even two or more, but as both historians and scientists know well, increasing instability in a system eventually leads to a bifurcation point where anything can happen.

Monday, August 7, 2006


I have the feeling that I'm writing the news before it happens, and rather than feeling exhilarated, I'm almost bored: nothing new to report and react to.  I thought my unusual three angle view of the Cold War (knowing the U.S., Western and Eastern Europe) was what gave me the advantage over other political analysts that lallowed me to be the only one to foresee the fall of the Berlin Wall AND the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Now I'm guessing that a habit of independent thought that began in childhood plays an ever bigger role.  Rereading a collection of essays that impressed me mightily in the seventies, "Patterns of Anarchy", I find much that is still relevant:

"One of the main characteristics of government is their maintenance of what Martin Buber calls the "latent external crisis", the fear of an external enemy, by which they maintain their ascendancy over their own subjects.  This has in our day become the major activity of governments and their biggest field of expenditure and effort."  But when it comes to "summit conferences or the signing of petitions, the petitions go to the wrong address: they should be addressed not to governments but to people."

Today's irony: Hezbullah may be a better organized fighting force than perhaps the Israeli army precisely because it is the people's answer to government compromised by the outcomes of summitry and the like.

The broader picture: in a joint press conference with Condi Rice, President Bush actually says that first the Cuban people ON THE ISLAND have to decide what kind of system they want to live under and then the exiles can "take an interest in that country or not".   He seems to realize that with or without Don Rumsfeld at Defense, he cannot try to reorganize the Middle East AND confront the will of his southern neighbors - as expressed by its people.

Sunday, August 6, 2006


Will hubris never cease?  The intention has long been clear, but to say it so brazenly, in so many words, shows the extent of the disconnect between those who run this country and the rest of the world.  In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Condoleeza Rice outlined "what we have in mind for Cuba" after Castro dies.

They just don't get it!  For forty-seven years the Cuban people have endured the hardships that come with trying to build a country NOTWITHSTANDING A BLOCKADE precisely because they do not intend for the country that imposed the blockade to decide what is best for them.

Meanwhile, thank goodness that "The Economist " for all its (diminishing) conservative bias, is there to let us know that Obrador's supporters have been camped out in the Zocolo by the thousands, demanding a recount of the presidential election.  It wasn't on the news that I watched.

The apparent togetherness of Bolton and the French UN Ambassador for the task of determining Lebanon's future is not fooling the Lebanese:  they want no part of a plan in which they had no say - in what others "have in mind" for them.

Friday, August 4, 2006


Rumsfeld tried to belittle Hillary Clinton's dressing down by responding with one mocking word: "My!", but I don't think  it broke through the wall of disgust and distrust evident in comments from CNNs listeners about the Bush administration (and Congress too for that matter, where it's too little too late).

A propos Hezbollah, everyone is saying that you can't have a state within a state, but at the same time, it is being mooted that as after the fighting stops, and the Lebanese government is in full control, it would invite Hezbollah to become part of its security forces.  That, together with Israel's decades-long refusal to have the international community come in and set things right between it and the Palestinians, only to have to finally agree on just such a thing to prevent rockets from falling on its citizens at home, must make the Jewish state feel really good.

Question: How many self-identified Jews are there in the world?  What percentage of them chose to emigrate to the Jewish state?  Is it reasonable for so many people to die to ensure the survival of that state, when its inhabitants have done everything possible and imaginable to turn latent anti-Semitism into hatred by its neighbors far and wide?

Second questions: Would our Senators and Representatives be able to afford election campaigns without the help of AIPAC, the Israeli lobby?   IF ever there was a justification for federally financed election campaigns, this war is it.

Last night, PBS showed Adriana Bosch's two-hour film about Fidel Castro.  Aside from a few inconsistencies and hysterical moments, it seems like a decent piece of work.  But the inconsistencies are important: at the beginning, the commentators declares that "thousands" of Cubans were executed when the Revolution took power.  Later, but barely audible, it cites a much more plausible figure of 500.  Fidel is repeatedly shown wildly gesticulating; having witnessed many speeches, I can say these moments are rare.   Also, the commentators are all identified as "professor of international affairs" without affiliation, which is rather suspicious.  It's remarkable how, while confirming what I knew at the time from talking to people there, the film feeds the standard line that the Cuban revolutionaries were "really" communists.  This doesn't prevent the director from making a case, in the latter part of her document, that suddenly, communists were being added to the government.  The truth is carefully avoided: there was a robust Cuban Communist Party which, until late in the battle, followed Moscow's orders to avoid taking power (as was true in Western Europe).  When they did enter talks with the 26th of July Movement, they had different opinions as to how to proceed.  Fidel's group prevailed.  Also, both Fidel and Raul were known to have read Marxist literature in prison, and it was always said that Raul and Che considered themselves to be Marxists before Fidel did.  What is never mentioned in Bosch's documentary, is that this was really a collegial enterprise,, with as many nuances as there were participants.  Some participants, such as Matos, who was featured in the film, were quickly disillusioned, others, like Carlos Franqui, also featured, distanced themselves years later.  Commander Guillermo Garcia, features in my picture gallery, is mentioned in Jon Lee Andersen's recent New Yorker article as being still there.

I can't see any difference between these attitudes and behaviors, and what goes on in a nominally democratic system, where people also resign, and where party discipline is as tight in a two party system as in a one-party system.

More about parties another time.

....No sooner does one sign off than the TV spits out more incredible information:

- Cynthia McKinney, the scaandal-prone black representative from Georgia, is facing a primary in which Republicans can vote.  Too bad she didn't manage to fix that since she's been in Congress.

But here's something she couldn't have done anything about : AIPAC, the powerful Jewish lobby, asks congresspeople to sign a pledge that they will ensure that Israel remains the dominant military power in the Middle East.  McKinney didn't sign, and didn't get any money.  Talk about interfering in the internal affairs of another country!  Shouldn't stuff like that be illegal?

Even the Economist refers to Hezbollah as an "armed militia", while Juan Cole, on "Democracy Now" makes clear that it represents the POOR Shias living in the south of Lebanon.  How uncomfortable for spin doctors that sooner or later all conflicts turn out to be about equity.....

Which brings forth another question: how is it that Hezbollah could find the money to set up much needed social services, while the legitimate Lebanese government could not?  Could the answer possibly be that Hezbollah's backers are more concerned with equity than the government's (meaning the U.S.)?

Finally, while I'm asking questions, might as well put the big one on the table: is it possible that the violence is continuing in Iraq because this suits the U.S.'s long-term plans for that country - and its oil?  It seems to me that if all those troops had  appropriate orders, they could stop this.

No wonder there is increasingly a united front from Afghanistan to Lebanon.  I think the Bush administration believes U.S. power will ultimately prevail thanks to technology: technology destroys material things, but it has never suceeded in destroying people's desires.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006


I like to see things in systems terms: it's less messy than ideology.

What we have right now is a system that's spiraling out of control.  When a system is in a "steady state", it counter-balances nicely between entropy (which leads to death) and excessive energy, which sooner or later causes it to bifurcate to a different level.  Physicists know that it's impossible to predict in advance what the new level will be: greater order and complexity or chaos.  It depends in part on the system's previous history.

Alas, political commentators prefer crystal balls to history.  They relentlessly ask interviewees whether they think that this or that is going to happen and, most absurdly, how long it's going to take, much like the child in the back seat of a car asking "Daddy are we there yet?".  At least daddy knows how many miles he has to travel, has a watch and a map.  Our drivers don't even know which direction they're facing, so why bother to ask them where or when they're going to arrive?

Resistance movements are never annihilated: they always live to fight another day: think about Solidarnosc if you're tired of thinking about Vietnam.  Our society has spawned a lot of rebels without a cause, but unlike what happens with dictators, societies that have a cause always win, sooner or later .  (People don't fight for a dictator's causes, which is why the Cuban Revolution has lasted almost fifty years.)  And when, as in the Middle East, the people's cause, anti-Americanism, jihad or just plain poverty, coincides with the latent or unresolved causes of their rulers, those who provoke them should not be too cock-sure.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006


No, this isn't the latest axis of evil, just an acknowledgement of the Sorcerer's Apprentice type situation the US is in: not enough mops, not enough buckets, for the myriad streams that threaten to engulf an administration that thought it had magic powers.

In my book "When the Revolution was Young" currently available on Amazon, readers will find an interview of Raul Castro as well as the other barbudos who, with Fidel Castro, made the revolution starting in 1953.  They can also read the article in last week's New Yorker entitled "Castro's Last Battle" by Jon Lee Anderson, a preview of today's news.

Back with more later.

......The big news of course is still in the Middle East.  Starting a couple of days ago, US broadcasters have been showing how the Arab media presents the conflict, and yesterday, for the first time, CNN actually showed gore, prefaced with a warning.  This is an indispensable lead-up to any future distancing from Israel, although it is difficult to imagine it actually happening.

Robert Fisk, on Democracy Now, pointed out that notwithstanding multiple attacks on British soil by the IRA, it didn't bomb Northern Ireland, as Israel is doing to Lebanon.

Just think: Fifty years ago, Israel was "the only democratic country in the Middle East", so we were on solid ground.  Now Israel has become - and is largely perceived to be - a bully.  Avi Pazner's defiant attitude, as government spokesman, was overlaid with disdain, his assurance that "they will lose this battle" evidence of palpable panic.  (There is a great deal of "them and us" on both sides, but notice that the Arabs always refer to the Israelis as "the Israelis", while the Israelis tend to refer to their neighbors as "them".)

An attack on a Jewish entity in Seattle underscores the frustration Arab Americans have been feeling since 9/11.  It looks less and less as though our two oceans protect us when we stir up trouble elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Little Havana, Miami, is gearing up for an expected regime change in Cuba.  Yet a knowledgeable Cuba hand on CNN, without prompting, remarked that the regime has considerable support.   I don't think the exiles should be packing their bags just yet.

.....(later) After listening to the second part of the interview of Mozzam Begg, a British Muslim who was arrested while working in a humanitarian capacity in Pakistan, where he had brought his family, about his three-year long internment in Kandahar, Waggram and finally, Guantanamo, it occurs to me that the significance of the events in Cuba is also linked to the fact that the US has just completed a sixth, and permanent, prison facility on the island.....

.....The ironies pile up: the Lebanese are being bombed (and Free Speech TV just announced that President Bush today again refused to press Israel for a cease-fire) because 40% of them support Hezbollah, as indicated by "free and fair elections".  The Cubans will probably not be asked whether they are in favor of regime change.  At most they will be granted "free and fair elections" within the scope of a capitalist economy.  Judging by the continued support for ex-communist or still-communist parties in Eastern Europe fifteen years after the fall of the regimes they were associated with, we shall not be able to say that we brought democracy to Cuba.

P.S. Mozzam Begg's book is entitled: "Enemy Combattant".

Monday, July 31, 2006


That's about all one can say right now about the Bush administration: they're putting on a brave front as their entire foreign policy crumbles around them.

I say their entire foreign policy, and not just their Middle East policy, because part of the crumbling is right now beneath the surface of the news reports: Hugo Chavez buying planes from Vladimir Putin, mass demonstrations in Mexico against the recent presidential election results, Tony Blair is teaming up with the California governor to counter President Bush's resistance to fighting global warming, China and Russia resolutely oppose his Middle East policy, which is bringing Shia and Sunni together as probably nothing has in the 1400 year history of their enmity.  See the excellent overview of this conflict in the current issue of the New York Review of Books by Max Rodenbeck entitled "The Time of the Shia".

(Tony Blair probably feels a tinge of revenge after having had to prop up his partner during an excruciating press conference on the Middle East crisis last Friday.  Every time a reporter asked a question which both leaders were supposed to answer, you could see Blair grinding his teeth as Bush dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole with each answer, forcing the British intellectual heavyweight to turn verbal somersaults to try to repackage each of his answers.)

Oh, maybe these two Muslim factions will go back to fighting each other after this episode in Western-Muslim history is over, but somehow, I think things will never be the same again.

And when Arab crowds begin to ransack UN offices, as they're doing in Beirut, because they perceive it as allowing the United States to ride roughshod over its principles, another turning point has been reached: until now, in this conflict, it has been Israel that has shown its disdain for the international body, aligned with the Palestinian cause.

This is probably less John Bolton's fault than it is Condi Rice's, but it may make American isolationists happy.

And Condi Rice, usually so savvy, was probably too jet lagged to realize how gruesome her smile on the photo ops with Israel's naively bellicose Prime Minister, the civilian Olmert, would look to American audiences as they listened to reports of opprobrium from the four corners of the world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


It used to be said that all roads lead to Rome.  Today, roads from Rome are not leading to peace.  The tension on Kofi Annan's face was visible even in a medium length camera shot as he emerged from the international conference on the Middle East in which Condi Rice pushed framing to heights that even the most consummate diplomat could not abide.

"We urgently want a cease-fire ", she says, but we want it to be permanent.  Condi Rice is rewriting the rules of diplomatic engagements, much as Don Rumsfeld has rewritten the rules of military engagement to include torture.  As a Middle Eastern diplomat yesterday pointed out, a cease-fire is entered into in order to permit negotiations.  The Bush administration wants to put the cart before the horse: "First do as we ask, then we'll cease firing".  Countries fire because they don't want to do what the other side wants.

Israel and Lebanon are two equally small states with populations that include Christians, Arabs and Jews.  Instead of dreaming about detaching the Arab countries from Persian Iran, our diplomats should be thinking how to create the equivalent of Benelux between a Palestinian state, Lebanon and Israel.  A reading of twentieth century history in the area suggests that would prevent larger countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran from competing for influence among their tiny neighbors.  The Muslim-Christian confrontation will only subside as Muslim sects accept each other.  If the United States can keep its big boots out, the current conflict may help that happen.

The Senate begins hearings on President Bush's recess appointment of John Bolton as U.N. Ambassador.  It is to be feared that Israeli blinders will prevent the Democrats from mounting a successful campaign to oust him, at a time when U.N. authority is desperately needed.


In the latest creative use of framing, yesterday a commentator referred to the Sheba Farms area as Israel's panhandle.  This is a narrow strip of land in northern Israel that juts into Lebanon.  Israel claims it can only negotiate sovereignty overit with Syria, while Syria gallantly insists the land belongs to Lebanon.  Whereby friction between Israel and its neighbors, even as it becomes bloodier, revolves around ever smaller areas.  You can can it nitpicking, or designer borders.  Here is Israel's argument: because we are surrounded by hostile neighbors, we have to make sure we have defensible borders. The Land of Israel, intended by the founders of the Israeli state after the Holocaust, was intended as a permanent safe haven for a persecuted minority.  Conflict has from time immemorial been about land.  But normally, it's about land for land's sake: more wheat, more timber, a stream, a coast, what have you; what I call "is-ness".  In the case of Israel, it's about  "such-ness": land that has certain characteristics that make it a defensible frontier, in other words, a designer frontier.

But however Israel designs its frontier - panhandle, Jordan Valley corridor, what have you, it's going to remain a very small country surrounded by hostile neighbors.  The United States learned on September 11th, 2001 that you can be a powerful country protected by two huge oceans, and still be vulnerable.  Is-ness and such-ness pertain not only to tangibles like frontiers, but also to nations: bullying or cooperative.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Everyone involved in or on the sidelines of the Middle East crisis is talking at cross-purposes, foremost Israel and the U.S.  Israel is coming from a determination not to be pushed off the map; the U.S. yearns to "remake the Middle East".  The Israelis don't want to know, and the U.S. doesn't understand that, however at odds among themselves they may seem to be, the rulers and peoples of the Middle East on the whole share two basic tenets: Israel is an intruder who in more than fifty years has not recognized its status; and the United States is both world policeman and world bully.

Hamas and Hezbollah represent a lot more than a thorn in the side of the conservative  Middle Eastern rulers: they share a common resentment of American power and intrusiveness.  And however much Sunnis and Shiites may detest each other, they are uniting against our plans for them and Israel's demand to essentially draw its own borders.  Whoever heard of that?

It's not slip of the tongue that made Prime Minister Malaki condemn Israel and not Hezbollah while being received in the house of his benefactors.  He is speaking for an entire region, as Saddam Hussein never could.  To imagine that he would back down is naive.  And for Senate Democrats like Charles Schumer to castigate him shows how thick is the Israeli wool over the eyes of American lawmakers - or how deep the diaspora's pockets.

If the Bush administration is incompetent, and the Democrats not only wimps, but also incompetent, we're in for a very rough time.

In the nineteen forties, we did not help European Jews in their hour of need, and we have been bending over backwards to make up for it ever since.  Now we're on the wrong side of the issue again.  Our media only tells the day's news, hence the American public thinks Hezbollah and Hamas fire rockets at Israel without cause: the immediate cause is that Israel has been building a Wall that shaves off yet more of what should be Palestinian territory on the West Bank before (what had been) a planned withdrawal from tha area; it is grouping settlements in the West Bank that should be evacuated so that they fall within Israeli borders.  And having withdrawn from Gaza, it has continued to make life as difficult as possible for the Palestinians living there, rather than helping them build a viable economy.

These are the reasons why Hezbollah has declared it is ready for a decisive battle, and because Israel thinks it has the right to do these things, Israel's elder statesman Simon Perez declared today to the Knesset that "it's either them or us".

America's plan to build a democratic Middle East is foundering on its support for what used to be  the only democratic country in the region.  Israel may still have a democratically elected government, but its behavior has become less civilized than that of the other countries of the region.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Somebody's beginning to realize what Israel is up against in Lebanon.  Michael Ware, longtime Lebanon correspondent said on CNN that "Hezbollah isn't a terrorist group, it's a terrorist army!"

Now someone has to ask the question: why is it that a country whose government is too weak to have a strong army, has a strong unofficial army, referred to in spin language as a terrorist group?

Disdain for irregulars can lead to catastrophic miscalculations.  It may not be Armageddon, but it sure looks like Lebanon is going to be Israel's Vietnam.  When will they ever learn?  (Maybe there is a subconscious aspiration on the part of Israel army leaders, to do better than America did - to show us that they can do better, not unlike the aspiration of guerilla groups like Hezbollah to show that it can beat a high tech army.

Speaking of Armageddon, I received emails from three people alerting me to tonight's CNN special on Rapture....According to the trailers, some Evangelicals are ecstatic over the Middle East carnage  because it announces the End Time.  The good news (sic) is that maybe some fence-sitters will realize there's little difference between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists: the former believe Heavenly Virgins await the martyr,  the latter  that you don't even have to blow yourself up to be taken to heaven, leaving the sinners behind.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Yesterday I finished reading George Lakoff's new book: "Whose Freedom?", and I understood better why framing, which sounds like a gimmick, is so important.  Lakoff's book is a sort of primer for that vast majority of people of good will who quite naturally take words at face value, and would realize how American freedom has been turned into its opposite if they understood the link between strict father parenting and nurturing parenting.  (That may sound like a roundabout way of talking about feedom, but it isn't.)

I didn't have to wait longer than this morning to see a striking example of how framing works.  Over and over on the Sunday morning talk shows I heard this: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization; Israel has the right to defend itself. That sounds pretty unexceptional, but it's a frame. Only when Wolf Blitzer spoke to the Lebansese Prime Minister, Siniora, on the phone, did we hear that Hezbollah's provocation didn't come out of the blue: it's simply the latest in a long line of skirmishes that have been going on for more than fifty years between Israel and the people that lived in or around its territory long before the Jewish state existed.

The media never mentions the existence of Irgun, the Jewish terrorist organization that helped win Israeli statehood from the British after the Second World War.  Nobody - except a man on the Beirut street, throwing up his arms in despair - mentions that people use the weapons they have.

But here's the kicker: Hezbollah represents, in the Lebanese parliament, many Lebanese Shiite citizens, who make up 40% of the population in a country whose other minorities are Christians and Sunnis.  Like many other countries set up by the stroke of a pen after the end of the war, its population is not homogeneous.  Introduce an Israeli state next door and you are bound to have problems: Israel occupied southern Lebanon for eighteen years.  Can we say that was right, or should we rather say that it grew out of an inherently ambiguous situation?

Barely a year after Syria's withdrawal after thirty years of occupation, Lebanon is of course still not a homogeneous country.  Probably the only common goal among its various components is a wish to be independent and live in peace.   The majority of the population, whether Sunni or Shia Muslim, feels for the Palestinians, who, more than fifty years after the birth of the state of Israel, still do not have THEIR own state.   Many Palestinians are Shias, hence many Lebanese Shias - i.e., Hezbollah - are ready to fight on their side against Israel.

Israel could put an end to all fighting by ceasing to play cat and mouse with the peace process: promising, but never giving, taking instead of giving, as in the West Bank.

The frame is: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.  Read: it is not part of the almost non-existent Lebanese army, it fights with the weapons it can for something most Lebanese support.

The frame is: Israel has the right to defend itself.  Read: Israel has the right to reduce the Palestinians to as small a nation as possible before giving them the right to an independent existence.

The frame is: the United States wants to help Lebanon become a country that can defend itself.  Read: The United States is standing by while Israel demolishes Lebanon's infrastructure and kills hundreds of civilians (implicitely, for the crime of having voted for Hezbollah), but wil be ready, when the fighting stops, to negotiate lucrative contracts for Halliburton and other U.S. companies to rebuild Lebanon - on condition it becomes a junior partner in the U.S. Israeli alliance.

It's not going to happen.