Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Democrats’ 'values and deepest principles'

George Lakoff had an op-ed in yesterday’s NY Times where he analyses how the slogan ‘staying the course’ provides a useful frame for Bush’s propaganda campaign:
“Stay the course” is a particularly powerful metaphor because it can activate so many of our emotions…Because achieving goals so often requires going to a particular place…we think of goals as reaching destinations.
Another widespread — and powerful — metaphor is that moral action involves staying on a prescribed path, and straying from the path is immoral...
In the context of a metaphorical war against evil, “stay the course” evoked all these emotion-laden metaphors. The phrase enabled the president to act the way he’d been acting — and to demonstrate that it was his strong character that enabled him to stay on the moral path.
In this context, he offers Bush some sound advice:
The first rule of using negatives is that negating a frame activates the frame. If you tell someone not to think of an elephant, he’ll [sic] think of an elephant…
To not stay the course evokes the same metaphors, but says you are not steadfast, not morally strong. In addition, it means not getting to your destination — that is, not achieving your original purpose. In other words, you are lacking in character and strength; you are unable to “complete the mission” and “achieve the goal.”
If the Democrats do well in next month’s election, he reckons,
…it will be because of Republican missteps and not because they’ve acted with strategic brilliance. Their “new direction” slogan offers no values and no positive vision…
This is a shame. The Democrats are giving up a golden opportunity to accurately frame their values and deepest principles (even on national security)…
I immediately sent the op-ed around to a few people thinking what a joke – Lakoff still thinks the Democrats have values, principles, and vision. Obviously the closest they come to having vision is an illusion of more of them sitting in Congress, and maybe one of them in the White House.
But then I came across this exclusive interview with former First Lady Hillary Clinton, linked from the invaluable Information Clearing House, where she articulates the Democrats’ elusive deepest principles.
In the true spirit of the Democrats’ name, Clinton reckons January’s PA elections weren’t sufficiently democratic. You might think that’s because elections, insofar as they are ever meaningful under any circumstances, are completely meaningless under military occupation. But in Clinton’s view,
…we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win …
On the occupation of Iraq,
I think my position differs with the administration largely with respect to the execution and implementation of the policy, which I think has been a terrible series of blunders.
Blunders like massacring 655,000 and disabling nobody can even speculate how many, not to mention the estimated 1.6 million forced into exile? Blunders like imagining that Iraqis are stupid enough to think an occupying army can impose democracy? Or that the primary US objective in invading Iraq is something other than to secure unchallenged control over the planet’s second largest known reserves of petroleum? No, actually,
…I don't know why they wouldn't put in more troops…
As for the sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government,
We haven't told the Iraqi government, "You've got to deal with the unfinished business, and we're going to push you to do it and we're going to help you do it, but we're not going to stand by and have you ignore doing it."
Sometimes you forget that in American political discourse ‘democracy’ has nothing to do with people making their own decisions - democracy means ‘elections’, and not just any elections, but only those where ‘we’ ‘determine who was going to win’. And of course, once ‘our’ favoured candidates take ‘power’, they must stick closely to ‘our’ agenda, or risk being branded ‘a failed state’.
When asked about the ‘war on terror’, Hillary opines,
…we must do everything possible to prevent any of them – Iran, Al Qaeda and the like – from getting nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction. That's the ballgame.
After all, it wouldn’t be fair to send ‘our boys’ and girls up against an enemy that wasn’t entirely defenseless. This is a true game of hardball, where the balls explode on contact, demolish buildings and infrastructure, and penetrate human flesh. In this ballgame, ‘we’ make the rules and the first rule is, whoever makes the rules doesn’t have to play by them.
While on the subject of the 655,000 dead, on the 19th, I put a comment up on ICH in response to ‘The Science of Counting the Dead’, by Rebecca Goldin Ph.D:
There are actually two methodological issues with the survey that I've noticed.
One is that the authors define a household as ‘a unit that ate together, and had a separate entrance from the street or a separate apartment entrance', but do not indicate whether or how it was determined whether the group ate together, much less why this would be relevant. While this oversight is annoying, it is common to nearly all surveys conducted by national statistical agencies in peacetime and doesn't impact a great deal on estimates.
Related to this is the failure to determine who comprises the 'unit' with respect to visitors and persons temporarily absent, except that 'Deaths were recorded only if the decedent had lived in the household continuously for 3 months before the event.'
The other issue relates to the clusters. The authors have compensated in part for their implementation effectively of a 'skip' of one. That is, the forty households in each cluster were adjacent. Ordinarily, you would sample, say, every seventh dwelling in the selected block. However, instead of including EVERY next household in the sample, 'Empty houses or those that refused to participate were passed over until 40 households had been interviewed in all locations.' In principle, this distorts the sample, but it was clearly necessary to skip the refusals for the safety of the interviewing teams. Obviously data were not available from uninhabited dwellings, but by excluding them from the sample, we miss out on data that would probably directly impact on the estimates. People leave houses empty for all kinds of reasons, but in the context of Iraq, it is plausible that the dwellings were empty either because the residents were dead or had fled. So, impressionistically, this introduces bias that would result in a LOWER estimate.
The main issues remain:
- the methods deployed in this study are absolutely standard and are not controversial at all when applied outside Iraq
- they are not significantly worse than the methods used by professional, official statisticians in countries at peace
- the total population of Iraq is in doubt and this does impact on the calculation of the weights by which the actual observations are multiplied, but this is the case wherever there are not robust systems for recording births and deaths, which means most of the world, and statistics from, for example, Pakistan, are not treated as controversial
- it is important to remember that in statistics, an 'estimate' is not just a guess - it is calculated by multiplying the number of actual observations by the weights, i.e. the proportion of the population represented by the sample
- finally, the nature of the 'margin of error' is that the estimate at the centre of the range is JUST as likely to be low as to be high. It is NOT more likely that the true number of deaths is 392,979 than 942,636. In other words, there could just as easily have been nearly 1 million excess deaths as under 400,000. The probability of a toll along the lines of the Iraq Body Count of under 50,000 is vanishingly small - nearly impossible.
I actually have a little beef with ICH about this. The very first line at the top of the ICH home page proclaims: ‘Number Of Iraqi Civilians Slaughtered In America's War? At Least 655,000’ [my emphasis]
Now, Tom knows as well as I do that the Lancet report that provided the estimate of 654,965 makes no such claim. The authors are quite explicit that, ‘Separation of combatant from non-combatant deaths during interviews was not attempted, since such information would probably be concealed by household informants, and to ask about this could put interviewers at risk… some were probably combatants…’.
Second, the estimate is the midpoint of a range. The study claims that the analysis provides 95% confidence that the actual number of people who have died since the invasion who would otherwise not have died is between 392,979 and 942,636. Although as the margin of error narrows, confidence decreases, it is still probable that the actual number is near the middle of the range. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it is decidedly not more probable that the actual number is nearer the low end of the range than the high end. Or vice versa. Therefore, to write that the number is ‘at least 655,000’ suggests a belief that the authors are wrong to assert that it could be as low as 392,979.
Curiously, in the daily email of ICH headlines, I read, ‘Number Of Iraqi Civilians Slaughtered In America's War? As Many As 655,000’ [my emphasis], suggesting that the Lancet report’s authors are wrong to think that the actual number of excess deaths could be as high as 942,636.
I’ve written to Tom a couple of times to point out the contradiction between the two assertions, as well as that both formulations actually distort the study’s findings, but he has declined either to refute my argument to make the necessary adjustments. So I guess the time has come to go public.
Bearing in mind that the study was conducted between May and July and many more have died since then, the number of persons killed as a result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably at least 393,979 and as many as 942,636. And whatever the actual number may be, that is exactly the number more than it ought to be.

Elves to save Manhattan!

In a humorous but disturbing piece in yesterday’s NY Times, Tom Wolfe chronicles the decline and fall of NY City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and the cockiness the commission’s impotence has imparted to developers like Aby Rosen.

Apparently without realizing it, he has actually found the solution to the whole dilemma in reporting the sad fate of 2 Columbus Circle,

By this time last year unionized elves with air hammers had reduced 2 Columbus Circle’s white marble to rubble and set about gutting the interior.

It would seem that news of the Green Bans that saved so much of inner Sydney’s architectural heritage in the early 1970s has not yet reached the Big Apple.

Well, the time has come. It turns out that those unionized elves are the very ones who can keep the developers on the straight and narrow. Wikipedia provides a useful summary and some links to follow. You might also check out Jack Mundey’s Green bans and beyond (Angus & Robertson (1981) ISBN 0207143676), apparently out of print, and the inspiring documentary, Rocking the foundations. Although it doesn’t even come up on the otherwise useful IMDB, it is clearly available in VHS or DVD from Ronin Films, at the link provided.

And speaking of Sydney, to avoid any further confusion, when I write of ‘the Emerald City’, no, I don’t mean the one in either the fictional or actual Land of Oz. I have been following the convention apparently established by Andy Martin in 2003, which I probably picked up from Lind in 2004.

Already reeling

A recipient wrote yesterday pointing out that I had failed to indicate when writing of ‘the Times’ whether I meant the NY, LA, London, or Canberra Times. I promised to try to be more careful in future. But if I should ever slip, I probably mean the NY Times and you can work out which it is by hovering your mouse over the hypertext link.

Thank goodness there’s a ceasefire at last. Today’s NY Times carries an article by Dina Kraft, datelined Sderot. To put the event in context, she reports,

at least 1,100 rockets have been fired into Israel itself. With the escalation of the fighting in June, about 400 Palestinians have been killed, a number of them militants, along with three Israeli soldiers. Four Israelis have been killed by rocket fire in the past 14 months

Ms Kraft has decided not to trouble her audience with a count of the projectiles fired into the Gaza strip, including, perhaps the 11 155mm shells used in the Beit Hanoun massacre less than a fortnight ago, an incident already consigned to the memory hole. She wants readers to believe the ‘escalation’ was somehow mutual rather than an invasion by the world’s fourth most powerful military.

Mr. Olmert said the re-entry was to win the release of the captured soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, but many Israelis said they viewed the move as a chance to quash the rocket fire.

Ms Kraft reports this as if either of those pretexts made any sense in political or military terms, as if five months of experience haven’t decisively proven that ‘re-entry’, so much more pleasant for those enjoying entry than military invasion, was entirely ineffective in retrieving the hostage and quite predictably provoked further rocket firing in retaliation.

Parents in both southern Israel and Gaza reported anxious and fearful children, many showing signs of trauma and regression like bed-wetting and nightmares after the long months of back and forth fighting, rockets, shelling and airstrikes.

This kind of conflict is so evenhanded in how it traumatizes children. The two evenly matched antagonists clearly launch airstrikes against each other. And there is no mention of the sonic boom attacks Israeli warplanes have been carrying out many times nightly for months. Indeed, it is not clear whether these, which impact most on children and may in fact be intended specifically to target children, come within the terms of the ceasefire.

In any case, four paragraphs sympathetically tell the tale of Daniel Gigi, who is leaving Sderot with his family of six after a Qassam rocket hit their house. Another quotes an 11 year old Sderot boy treated for shock last week. There are no sympathetic stories of Palestinian parents fleeing the ‘conflict’, because of course departure is not an option for them. There are no quotes from shocked Palestinian children, either.

A unity government could end the economic and political embargo imposed by Western countries after Hamas was elected in January.

Ms Kraft clearly wants the reader to join her in thinking a few things here. One of them is that the Palestine Authority is a government. In reality, as everyone knows, it was set up as part of the Oslo ‘peace process’ with the principal objective of transferring responsibility for policing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from the Israeli military to a more acceptable looking indigenous surrogate. Another is that there is nothing unusual about imposing an airtight ‘economic and political embargo’ in retaliation for an undesireable election result. It might be worth mentioning, if you believe in such things, as the NY Times often makes a show of doing, that such a blockade would be a clear violation of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, ‘All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,’ except, conveniently, Palestine is not a state, undermining the initial assertion about a ‘unity government’. It might be worth mentioning how quickly the blockade was imposed after the purported provocation or how comprehensive its provisions. Some might think that it was somewhat cynical to place a paragraph of this kind into a report without fleshing it out with a few words describing the devastating impact the embargo has had on the ordinary Palestinians who comprise its principal target.

On the whole, this report, like others every day or nearly every day, in the NY Times and many other western media outlets, as I often point out in this blog, would appear to provide evidence of a pro Israeli stance. But if that is the impression you get, I fear you, like me, are mistaken.

Isi Leibler, identified as chair of ‘the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’, writing in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post, warns, in the wake of the imminent launch of al-Jazeera’s English service,

There is no disputing that at every level we are losing the global war of ideas. Despite clear evidence that fanatical Islamic fundamentalism threatens the basic fabric of Western civilization, Israel, and by extension the Jewish people, are now generally perceived as pariahs.

The English version of Al Jazeera thus has the potential of evolving into one of the most effective weapons against the Jewish people, already reeling from the onslaught of massive waves of anti-Semitism. It may further marginalize Israel and create more animus against Diaspora Jews.

I’ll leave it to the reader to pick apart all the propaganda tricks Mr Leibler deploys in his article – ‘already reeling from the onslaught of massive waves of anti-Semitism’, indeed! But I do want to draw attention to how comfortable this champion of diaspora Jewry is drawing the diaspora into the crimes of the Zionist state, seamlessly weaving the first person plural personal pronoun through his narrative. Zionists correctly deplore this as anti-Semitic when their perceived enemies do it, but it is a fundamental part of their own rhetorical arsenal. As a Jew resident in ‘the Muslim world’, it is still Zionism that makes me most uneasy and I find more anti-Semitism on the Jerusalem Post’s website than on al-Jazeera’s. So go figure.

Monday 27 November 2006

More than just cluster bombs; The rise and fall of the yes person

Today’s Times sported some truly shocking revelations. In an editorial entitled ‘Learning from Iraq’, they divulge that the function of the euphemistically labeled ‘Department of Defence’ in reality is much more sinister than we thought.

despite six years of ideologically driven dictates from Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, Army leaders remain usefully focused on the real world, where actual soldiers daily put their lives on the line for their country and where the quality of military planning goes a long way toward determining whether their sacrifices help achieve America’s national purposes.

Achieving ‘America’s national purposes’. Whatever those might be. In any case, at least we know it’s not to defend US citizens from marauding barbarians. But I guess we already knew that. It’s just kind of interesting for one of the premier instruments of propaganda lay it all out in black and white. It’s not entirely obvious what they aim to achieve by placing distance between ‘America’s national purposes’ and what’s ‘ideologically driven’. Are we supposed to be more comfortable that what drives ‘our’ heros to face down bows and slingshots with 500kg bombs, helicopter gunships, and remote controlled drones is naked greed?

But wait, there’s more!

Modern innovations in warfare make it possible for America’s technologically proficient forces to vanquish an opposing army quickly and with relatively few troops. But re-establishing order in a defeated, decapitated society demands a much larger force for a much longer time.

It’s just one astonishing revelation after another. The principal function of the ‘technologically proficient forces’ is to create disorder.

Correcting deficiencies in American military training is also essential, since the biggest reason the United States has not been able to withdraw significant numbers of its own troops over the past three years has been the lack of adequately prepared and reliable Iraqi security forces.

It’s true that it has largely been the peaceloving Democrats who have been braying for more troops, but it’s news to me that the Bush regime has been trying so hard to withdraw significant numbers of its own troops over the past three years. But on reflection, I suppose it’s obvious that it would have been far better if the Iraqi troops had been sufficiently reliable to bomb Fallujah hospitals and snipe at pedestrians from the rooftops.

when a host government lacks the will to rid its security forces of sectarian militia fighters more intent on waging civil war than achieving national stability. That so far has been the biggest obstacle in Iraq.

The ‘host government’, the puppet regime holed up in the Emerald City and owned lock, stock, and barrel by the occupiers – they’re the ones who are responsible. And fancy treating their invited guests this way by not trying to achieve the national stability. It’s all ‘we’ have ever asked for. And what is all this an obstacle to? Why, of course, America’s national purposes!

Also in today’s Times, one Alan Ehrenhalt, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of William H Whyte Jr’s Organization man, writes in his op-ed,

What we can say with confidence half a century later is that Whyte got the future almost entirely wrong. He saw conformity and the social ethic as the values that would shape America — much to its detriment — for the remainder of the century.

But was Whyte really so wrong? In a world where alternative sources of information are so readily available, the vast majority of people seem content with the pablum they get from the educational system and the Times. I read an article by Howard Zinn about American exceptionalism yesterday on ICH (originally from the Boston review), and I couldn’t believe that he still thought he had to say those same old things about the annexation of most of Mexico in the 1840s, about the slaughter in the Philippines after the Spanish American War, about the twenty year military occupation of Hispaniola – both Haiti and the Dominican Republic – from 1915…

On the eve of the war with Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, just after the United States annexed Texas, the editor and writer John O’Sullivan coined the famous phrase “manifest destiny.” He said it was “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” At the beginning of the 20th century, when the United States invaded the Philippines, President McKinley said that the decision to take the Philippines came to him one night when he got down on his knees and prayed, and God told him to take the Philippines.

It’s as if people live in the world, even in cyberspace, and somehow remain insulated from the history that would let them make sense of what they observe around them? Sure, they don’t teach this stuff in school. But if all you knew was what they told you in school, you’d be pretty bloody ignorant, now wouldn’t you? Worse. You’d be actively disinformed. Are there really still people around who think the US removed Saddam Hussein from power, but didn’t put him there in the first place? Well, it would seem so, judging from the kind of stuff I found on the Dilbert blog yesterday after Scott Adams put in his two bob about why he reckoned ‘we’ should get out of Iraq. So where does this come from? Presumably not from the independent thinking iconoclasm that Ehrenhalt imagines has replaced the organization persons of the mid fifties.

In case you were concerned about the ‘one million cluster bombs dropped by Israeli aircraft during the July-August war against Hizbullah remain unexploded in south Lebanon, where they continue to threaten civilians’, the Jerusalem Post reports that they are not the only little traps the moral Israeli military left behind for Lebanese children.

After ‘two European disposal experts’ lost their feet ‘and a Lebanese medic’ was wounded, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center in south Lebanon divulged that

The detonating object was an Israeli anti-personnel land mine placed in a mine field newly laid during the fighting in July and August… Lebanon's south is riddled with land mines, laid by retreating IDF soldiers who pulled out of the region in 2000…Lebanon has long called for Israel to hand over maps of the minefields.

Now what good would those mines be against unsuspecting terrorists if they had maps showing just where they were? Preposterous!

Sunday 26 November 2006

High on what?

According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Thursday,

"In one case you could have, for instance, a very objectionable intent - the intent to harm civilians, which is very bad - but effectively not a lot of harm is actually achieved," she said. "But how can you compare that with a case where you may not have an intent but you have recklessness [in which] civilian casualties are foreseeable? The culpability or the intent may not sound as severe, but the actual harm is catastrophic."

Believe it or not, she is attributing the objectionable intent to those firing Qassam rockets. I suppose it should be welcome that she at least recognizes that the IOF is culpable for the foreseeable, but of course unintentional, Palestinians who just happen to be accidentally killed and injured by Israeli artillery barrages, missiles, bullets and other obviously harmless projectiles.

On CounterPunch the other day, Kathleen Christisson issued a moral challenge,

…any Jew anywhere who allows Israel to commit these acts and pursue these policies in the name of all Jews -- for Israel does claim to act in the name of Jews everywhere -- without speaking out against Israel, without screaming protests, must be ashamed. Any American who allows the United States to support Israel -- to support it militarily with infusions of arms in the billions of dollars every year and to sustain it morally and psychologically -- without loud protest should be ashamed.

Further on the Gemayel assassination, Charles Glass writes,

So, what can the United States do? I can tell you what it has done. In 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger approved the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. In 1982, his successor, Al Haig, encouraged Israel's invasion. Then, in 1990, another American secretary of state, James Baker, gave the go-ahead for the Syrian army to return to the parts of Lebanon from which it had been excluded in 1982. Neither Syria nor Israel entered Lebanon without an American okay. An American diktat could keep them both out, if the US cared as much about Lebanon as its politicians claim.

Jonathan Cook, as always worth a read, makes a convincing, if admittedly inconclusive, case that the Syrians are not necessarily the ones with most to gain from the assassination,

Gemayel's death, and Syria's blame for it, strengthens the case of the neoconservatives in Washington -- Israel's allies in the Administration -- whose star had begun to wane. They can now argue convincingly that Syria is unreformed and unreformable. Such an outcome helps to avert the danger, from Israel's point of view, that White House doves might win the argument for befriending Syria.

For all these reasons, we should be wary of assuming that Syria is the party behind Gemayel's death -- or the only regional actor meddling in Lebanon.

In much the same vein, Robert Fisk writes,

That little matter of the narrative - and who writes it - remained a problem yesterday, as the Western powers pointed their fingers at Syria. Yes, all five leading Lebanese men murdered in the past 20 months were anti-Syrian. And it's a bit like saying "the butler did it". Wouldn't a vengeful Syria strike at the independence of Lebanon by killing a minister? Yes. But then, what would be the best way of undermining the new and boastful power of the pro-Syrian Hizbollah, the Shia guerrilla army which has demanded the resignation of Siniora's cabinet? By killing a government minister, knowing that many Lebanese would blame the murder on Syria's Hizbollah allies?

For another take on the NYT coverage of the assassination, Chris Marsden writes in WSWS,

What the Times presents as an accidental result of Gemayel’s assassination provides a more convincing argument for anti-Syrian forces being responsible than its own efforts to blame Hezbollah or Syria.

As the Times predicted, Hezbollah has been forced to put the planned anti-government rallies announced earlier by its leader Sheik Hasan Nasrallah on hold. Instead, Gemayel’s funeral yesterday was the focus of a massive demonstration by anti-Syrian and pro-government forces.

In today’s Times, Steven Erlanger, always ready to cast a critical eye on events in Palestine, writes,

After another surge of violence in and around the Gaza Strip over the past month, Israel and the Palestinians moved gingerly on Friday toward reinstating an often-broken cease-fire between them.

Not worth mentioning in the newspaper of record is that the surge of violence has been perpetrated by the occupying military force. Not worth mentioning is that artillery and firearms are discharged with an intent to cause harm. And above all, it is not only not worth mentioning, but forbidden to mention, that the ‘often-broken cease-fire’ was unilateral, that Hamas refused to respond to Israeli provocation for over a year and a half.

True to form, history in the NYT’s view, began on 25 June,

Israel re-entered Gaza in late June in response to the capture of a soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, by a group of Palestinian militants that included Hamas.

That the Israeli military kidnapped two Palestinian civilians the previous day, civilians, not coincidentally, whose names the NYT will not publish, couldn’t possibly have anything whatever to do with Shalit’s capture. Once again, small mercies. At least Mr Erlanger has managed to temper his language – usually, Shalit is ‘kidnapped’ or ‘abducted’, as if his tank crew were not a legitimate military target. As if it was some kind of crime. Which of course it was. By definition. What the occupied and oppressed do is criminal, what the occupiers and oppressors do is anticipatory retaliation, or the like.

Sometimes I feel like it must be tiresome reading about the cynical bullshit I see in the media. But people read the bullshit itself every day, day in day out – I know people who actually subscribe to the hard copy of the Times, so I guess I’ll just keep it up.

Friday 24 November 2006

There is a solution, after all!

In case you were wondering what to do about all those Qassam rockets terrorizing the innocent Israelis whose precious lives American Friends of MDA enjoin us to save, Evelyn Gordon has the answer. In today’s Jerusalem Post, she writes,

…a military solution not only exists; it is already being successfully employed in the West Bank: a Defensive Shield-type operation followed by a long-term deployment aimed at achieving comprehensive territorial control.

Sderot residents can’t relax yet, though,

Israel must prepare for a military operation …the government must begin preparing the diplomatic case for such an operation. Currently, most of the world views the rocket attacks as a mere annoyance, and one does not launch a major invasion in response to a minor annoyance.

That shouldn’t be too difficult, considering the ‘world’ response to the Beit Hanoun slaughter.

Human Rights Watch has now come out against people protecting each other’s houses from Israeli Air Force attacks. They would be right if someone were actually forcing people to act as human shields, but how can it be a war crime for people to do a courageous thing and for their elected representatives to praise them for it?

Even if the houses were not legitimate military targets, added HRW, it was still a violation of international humanitarian law to call on civilians to protect them.

Of course HRW must always be and appear to be even handed.

At the same time, HRW demanded that Israel explain what its military objective was in seeking to destroy the houses.

And once they have the explanation of the military objective, it will be ok, then.

The cynicism and hypocrisy sometimes reaches shocking proportions. Today’s NYT editorializes, in the wake of the murder of Falangist politician, a member of a party inspired by Franco and directly responsible for Sabra and Shatila, ‘Lebanon’s pro-Western government’ is in danger of collapse. Obviously, the Times reckons that would be a bad thing, although I’m not convinced it goes without saying.

In a Middle East plagued by constant tragedy and defeat, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution and the ousting of Syrian troops last year was a rare and precious victory. The United States and the international community must now rally to support Prime Minister Fouad Siniora — with cash, security advisers, and anything that might help him and his government survive.

Clearly it won’t do to speculate on the sources of the tragedy and defeat. Nor about why it wasn’t so important for the US and the ‘international community’ to rally in support of the Cedar Revolution in July, when it wasn’t just one politician, but over a thousand regular people who were being murdered.

Damascus must also be told that it will pay a high price — in scorn, isolation and sanctions — if it is found to have ordered Mr. Gemayel’s death, or the deaths or maiming of a half-dozen other anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.

It’s curious that Syria will have to pay a price if accusations of involvement in half a dozen murders turn out not to be entirely baseless, while another of Lebanon’s two neighbours, about whose culpability there has never been any doubt for far far graver crimes, has only rewards to look forward to – a blank check to replace their cluster bombs, carte blanche to shell civilian areas of Gaza, the right to violate the ceasefire and Lebanese airspace at will with impunity, not to mention all the other privileges, and international law get out of jail free cards they have always enjoyed. The Times editorialists haven’t entirely forgotten about July, though.

We would urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to go immediately to Beirut, except we’re not sure she would be welcome after President Bush’s failure last summer to restrain Israel’s disastrous air war.

Failure? Or refusal? Sometimes I think I’d like to see the expression on their faces as they write this stuff, but I’m afraid I’d find out they actually take themselves seriously.

For a more informed account of Friedman's work than I could hope to offer, check this link. Also, a fawning encomium, cynically entitled ‘The Great Liberator’ by none other than the disgraced former President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers.

For more on Altman, David Walsh in WSWS.

Thursday 23 November 2006

A safe haven

When I heard Milton Friedman had died, I rejoiced. And then I read that he was 94 and died in the bosom of his loving family. Surely he, if anyone, deserved an earlier and more uncomfortable death? The father of the Chicago Boys and godfather of Pinochet?

And now Robert Altman is dead, at 81. Why couldn’t he have lived to 94? Then maybe we could have been spared 13 years of Friedman, quite apart from the obvious benefits of Altman sticking around until 2019?

I’m a big fan of Altman’s, although I confess I’ve never seen some of his films, like McCabe and Mrs Miller, and barely remember others, like Popeye and Gosford Park. When I use the term Altmanesque, it means more than one thing. There are the big movies with lots of characters and interlocking plots, if they’re plots, like MASH, Nashville, Short Cuts, Kansas City, Cookie’s fortune, and my personal favourites, which got pretty short shrift in the NYT obit, A wedding and Pret a porter. But then there are those amazing films with five characters and one set – Streamers and Come back to the five and dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Of course the dude also made what I think of as conventional films like The player.

According to the Times’s obituarist, Rick Lyman, Altman is responsible for these immortal words, “What is a cult?...It just means not enough people to make a minority.”

This morning I found this appeal from American Friends of Magen David Edom (Red Star of David – the Israeli Red Cross) in my intray:

“In light of the increasing missile attacks on Sderot, we call for immediate support from MDA and its supporters to help us build out emergency facilities. We need help more than ever.”

Eli Moyal, Mayor, Sderot, Israel

MDA paramedics race t the scene to care for the wounded every time a rocket strikes.

American Friends of Magen David Adom is building a new, reinforced, state-of-the-art MDA station in Sderot.

In any case, where do they get off with this amazing level of cynicism? One or two precious Israelis injured a year and pull out all the stops, state of the art facilities, paramedics rush to the scene. But a few hundred metres away, dozens are slaughtered weekly and the most they can hope for is that the beneficent occupiers’ 155mm shells miss the ambulance and the paramedics who rush to their aid. Maybe they will even condescend to open the border crossing to allow some medical supplies in for a few hours.

There used to be an old saying. They taught it to us in school. ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Nowadays, you might prefer to say, ‘28.35g of prevention is worth 435g of cure’, or perhaps more euphoniously, ‘a gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure.’

In this light it would benefit the poor North African immigrants cynically sent off to live in the desert adjacent to Gaza more if Magen David Adom’s American benefactors saved the money they were sending to MDA and the money they were spending for the 155mm shells, as well. Then they could not only save precious Jewish lives in Sderot, but worthless Palestinian lives in Beit Hanoun, to boot.

Monday’s NY Times is scandalised over the new UN Human Rights Council. This is the result of the touted UN ‘reform’ that was supposed to fix the discredited Human Rights Commission. Now, all of a sudden, it’s ‘a weak-kneed compromise from which the United States stood honorably apart’. Among its crimes,

The council is new, but its deliberations have already fallen into a shameful pattern. When it comes to the world’s worst and most consistent human rights violators, like China, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar and Sudan, there has been a tendency to muffle words and conclusions and shift the focus from individual and political rights to broader economic and social questions.

So, notwithstanding the expressed opinion of all those ‘members of the international community’ who have ratified the basic human rights Covenants and pay lip service to the Universal Declaration, the Times’s editorialists, in their wisdom, have decided that the UN body purported charged with enforcing those instruments has been remiss in focusing on ‘economic and social questions’, as if these were not at least as important in international human rights ‘law’, and indeed, in reality, as ‘individual and political rights’.

I squandered a significant portion of my life writing letters to governments pointing out where their actions departed from their commitments under these treaties they had signed. So I am not about to repeat the litany of individual and political rights denied the long suffering people of the US. I will, however, note in passing that when it comes to the rights that are universally regarded as most fundamental, even, presumably by the Times, the right ‘to life, liberty and security of person [that is, not to be wounded]’ (UDHR Article 3), the US is far and away the preeminent violator. We now know that just in the last three years, the US has, on demonstrably and demonstratedly false pretexts, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, perhaps as many as a million, who would otherwise be alive and kicking today. They have displaced hundreds of thousands more and nobody has even tried to estimate the number wounded, maimed, crippled, blinded, etc. The numbers imprisoned and tortured are probably well known to their captors, but they’re not saying. It makes Darfur and Western Congo look like child’s play, which of course those tragedies are not.

But when it comes to criticizing Israel for violations committed in a wartime context that includes armed attacks against its citizens and soldiers, the council seems to change personality, turning harshly critical and uninterested in broader contexts.

And, now, in case you hadn’t noticed, it turns out that Israel is at war! And here’s me thinking Israel had occupied territory by force, in clear and undeniable violation of ‘international law’, and were holding the population in siegelike conditions, also in violation of international law, while their captives lash out as best they can in a vain attempt to end the occupation, as they are entitled to under international law. Or at least that’s how I read the preamble of the UDHR, ‘…it is essential, if man [sic] is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law’.

‘Armed attacks against its citizens and soldiers’ [my emphasis]! If Israel is indeed at war, as the Times avers, then since when is an attack on a military target grounds for retaliation and collective punishment? There’s really only one explanation that will account for the Times’s, and MDA’s, concern about Israeli civilians and soldiers to the exclusion of Palestinian children, and that is racism.

To add insult to injury, quite literally, it turns out that the humanitarians who run the Zionist state are not just racist against the Palestinian Arabs whose land they covet. In the 1950s, they believed that the inferior Arab Jews who were ‘making aliyah’ in large numbers at the time were carrying parasites, specifically, the Microsporum canis and Tricophyton verrucosum fungi that cause scalp tinea. Clearly these Untermenschen made exemplary experimental subjects and were ‘treated’ not with topical fungicides, but radiation. Under the 1994 Tinea capitis law, the victims are entitled to compensation. But when they undergo questioning to determine whether they are eligible, if they should fail to remember the experience they had at the age of three or four fifty years ago accurately in every detail, they are denied compensation. In fact, even if they misinterpret their correctly remembered experience by, for example, reporting that the radiation was painful, when in reality what hurt them was having their hair torn out by the roots, that is sufficient to disqualify a claim. A safe haven indeed.

Wednesday 22 November 2006

Grossman, etc.

Grossman’s speech continues to elicit comment. I neglected to mention Uri Avnery’s critique. Jonathan Cook takes on both Grossman and Avnery and is as incisive as usual. While crediting Avnery’s decades of mainly principled leadership of the Israeli peace movement, such as it is, he hits the nail on the head when he points out,

The bottom line in any peace for Avnery is the continued existence and success of Israel as a Jewish state. That rigidly limits his ideas about what sort of peace a "radical" Israeli peace activist ought to be pursuing.

Like Grossman, Avnery supports a two-state solution because, in both their views, the future of the Jewish state cannot be guaranteed without a Palestinian state alongside it. This is why Avnery finds himself agreeing with 90 per cent of Grossman's speech. If the Jews are to prosper as a demographic (and democratic) majority in their state, then the non-Jews must have a state too, one in which they can exercise their own, separate sovereign rights and, consequently, abandon any claims on the Jewish state.

Meron Benvenisti wrote in Ha’aretz the other day,

In the present reality, when the very concept of "peace" has become subversive, bringing it up again might be considered a stirring event and a cardinal text. But the passive stance taken by the spokesman for the peace camp should be noted: all that a fighter for peace has to do is preach to the hollow leadership.

Where is the call to join the struggle against the injustice of the security fence, the choke-hold of the roadblocks, the siege on Gaza, the killing of women and children, the destruction of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, the deporting of Palestinian families "without documents"?

The Times also editorialized a few days ago on the opportunity Rumsfeld’s resignation present to build ‘The army we need’.

Part of the problem, it turns out, is that Rumsfeld ‘didn’t like the Clintonian notion of using the United States military to secure and rebuild broken states.’ Like Somalia? And Haiti? And Kosovo?

And ‘circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq called for just the things Mr. Rumsfeld didn’t like’, and that is the problem, obviously.

According to George Friedman, in his Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report for 11.21.2006,

New York Democrat Charles Rangel, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called for the reinstatement of the draft…Rangel's essential point is that the way the United States has manned the military since World War II is inherently unjust. It puts the lower classes at risk in fighting wars, leaving the upper classes free to pursue their lives and careers… When those who benefit most from a society feel no obligation to defend it, there is a deep and significant malaise in that society.

There is no inherent reason why enlistment -- or conscription -- should be targeted toward those in late adolescence. And there is no reason why the rich themselves, rather than the children of the rich, should not go to war…Rangel is correct in saying that the upper classes in American society are not pulling their weight…If Americans are serious about dealing with the crisis of lack of service among the wealthiest, then they should look to the wealthiest first, rather than their children.

Unlike his namesake, Thomas L., George Friedman has an interesting way of thinking. At least he knows there’s a class war going on. If only he could get past the idea that ‘nations’ have geopolitical interests independent of the interests of their ruling classes…well, then he wouldn’t be writing these analyses, and Stratfor wouldn’t attract the clientele they seek, would they?

Sunday 19 November 2006

Masterians move to prevent terror

Today’s Times reported on a new Dutch proposal to ban wearing the burqa in public. Meanwhile in nearby Mastersland…

Masterians move to prevent terror


MERDATHEN, Mastersland, 17 November - Mastersland’s Minister for Immigration and Culture, Vita Dronker, announced here today a bold proposal to combat terrorism in the tiny state, beleaguered by asylum seekers wishing to maintain the cultures of their countries of origin while enjoying the protection of Masterian society. Some refugees were also suspected of terrorist inclinations.

The proposal has two aspects.

First, Ms Dronker announced, ‘all residents and visitors to the country will be issued ‘smart’ identification cards.’ A chip embedded in the card will enable authorities equipped with card readers to identify the holder by fingerprint or iris scan, while a conventional photograph will adorn the front of the card.

Furthermore, ‘The chip will also hold data on the holder’s net worth and available credit. A nationwide wireless network will keep the credit data up to date at all times in accordance with work done and the performance of investments. Retailers and service providers will debit cards when cardholders make purchases.’

The second aspect of the proposal will ban all garments. ‘This will ensure than no unauthorised person carries a weapon or explosive and will make the country entirely safe from the threat of terrorism,’ Ms Dronker stated.

All opaque backpacks, handbags, briefcases, and the like, will also be banned, although the Minister was quick to point out that, ‘everyone will be permitted to carry a transparent plastic bag around their neck, containing their smart card and a tube of sunscreen, in case it stops raining.’ It will also be permitted to carry a bottle of sports drink in one hand, but not both sunscreen and a sports drink, in the interests of security.

An earlier version of the proposal entailed installation of xray machines at the entrances to all buildings and public vehicles and along all thoroughfares. However, ‘in the interests of public health,’ she went on, ‘to avoid excess exposure to radiation, everyone will instead submit to body cavity searches on entering and leaving buildings and public conveyances, as well as at intervals elsewhere.’

The Minister was confident that everyone would be delighted to accept this small inconvenience in the interests of security, ‘After all, better safe than sorry,’ she said.

‘Furthermore, the initiative will mean that people don’t go around emphasizing their differences by wearing different kinds of clothing. In Mastersland, we are all equal, after all,’ she concluded.

Masterian legal experts have already determined that the new arrangements are in strict accord with international human rights standards and encouraged their adoption by all civilized nations.

Friday 17 November 2006

Large scale

The Jerusalem Post reported the other day

If moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority don't get stronger, the IDF must prepare for a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, said Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.

What we have been witnessing since June, and before, in Gaza, must therefore be something other than a large scale military operation, presumably a small scale military operation, so watch out.

Gideon Levy points out what is apparently too obvious for anyone else to notice,

Nineteen inhabitants of Beit Hanun were killed with malice aforethought… anyone who bombards residential neighborhoods with artillery can't claim he didn't mean to kill innocent inhabitants.

In an article on CounterPunch, Norman Finkelstein quotes some ‘key statements’ from Jimmy Carter’s new book on Palestine, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, among them,

The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Some of these vetoes have brought international discredit on the United States, and there is little doubt that the lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiment and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world. (pp. 209-10)

I suppose it must be to Carter’s credit that there was only one such Security Council veto exercised during his administration, against draft resolution S/13911 on 30 April 1980. That draft, moved by Tunisia, basically reaffirmed previous UN resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied since 1967 and so forth.

US Ambassador McHenry concluded his statement explaining the Carter regime’s objection to the draft resolution,

I know that in many quarters there is skepticism that negotiations in this [Camp David] framework can succeed. The road ahead will be difficult. But together with Israel and Egypt, we ask only that we be judged on the results we obtain.

…It is to the end - the attainment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East - that my government has committed itself. We solemnly reaffirm that commitment here today.

The United States will oppose the resolution before us. [emphasis added]

Thanks in large measure to the cynicism of Carter, his predecessors and successors, twenty-six years down the track, the results he obtained in this way are no peace and certainly no justice. But it seems he no longer wishes to be judged on that basis. At the risk of repeating myself, as the old saying goes, ‘Embarrassing a politician with accusations of hypocrisy is like embarrassing a dog with accusations that he licks his own balls.’

Israeli author David Grossman gave a speech at the Rabin memorial event on 5 November that has received a lot of comment. It was purportedly a masterpiece of Hebrew rhetorical prose, composed by a literary master. I won’t take issue with this assessment, because it is unsurprising in any case that the literary qualities are not evident in the translation.

Gilad Atzmon has already pointed out the contradiction inherent in Grossman’s ‘secular miracle’,

I am totally secular, and yet in my eyes the establishment and the very existence of the State of Israel is a miracle of sorts that happened to us as a nation - a political, national, human miracle.

Gilad also mentions his problem with Grossman’s ‘Jewish and universal values’. One of the thins that struck me about the speech was his description of Israel as

a state that holds as an integral and essential part of its Jewish identity and its Jewish ethos, the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens

Even if there weren’t a contradiction inherent between a state with a ‘Jewish identity’ and a ‘Jewish ethos’ somehow observing ‘full respect’ for non Jews, who do not comprise part of the state’s ‘identity’ and whose ‘ethos’ is excluded, it takes a very blinkered approach to the history of the Zionist project to miss one of its central aspects - ethnic cleansing of the non Jewish population and marginalization of those who managed to remain. Benny Morris was quite clear a couple of years ago when he characterized Ben Gurion’s failure to ‘cleanse the whole country’ as a ‘fatal mistake’. Ilan Pappe’s new book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is now out and on its way from Amazon. I understand it fleshes out this story in considerable detail, amply documented.

Gilad also makes this cogent observation about Grossman’s quite blatant racism,

The critical reader may ask oneself what really Grossman refers to when he says “people with our powers of creativity and regeneration”? It is rather simple. Grossman truly believes in the uniqueness of the chosen people. In other words, Grossman is not more than a biological determinist…I find it hard to believe that the Guardian would give a voice to a German philosopher who praises Aryan people’s ‘powers of creativity and regeneration’.

Some comments that I’ve come across let Grossman get away with,

Yitzhak Rabin took the road of peace with the Palestinians, not because he possessed great affection for them or their leaders.

It’s true that the Nobel committee awarded Rabin its coveted Peace Prize, and I’ve written elsewhere what that indicates. The point is that Grossman accepts at face value and promulgates as fact that the Oslo Accords had something to do with achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, when it was never anything other than a stalling tactic that created the bloated and ineffectual quisling Palestine Authority while doubling the Jewish population colonizing the West Bank with a view to its ultimate annexation.

One, however, published on the Electronic Intifada on the 9th, by Raymond Deane, certainly hasn’t missed this crucial point, or many others.

With Lieberman you know where you stand, and self-styled democrats and peaceniks can polish their humanistic credentials by flinging mud at him. With David Grossman, however, the same premises lead to a discourse in which everything has become muddied and inverted, the occupier has become the victim, the victim has become a twisted fanatic, and only the humanistic man of letters has retained any kind of wistful integrity. This discourse is understandably popular with those who, sometimes with honourable if misguided motivation, wish to believe that Zionism can be a liberal, humanistic ideology rather than one that is supremacist and racist to the core.

His ‘Anatomy of a Beautiful Soul’ pulls no punches and I recommend it highly.

On a lighter note, I recently reminded myself to check out David Pope’s website, which I have to recommend visiting more conscientiously than I seem to manage. I reckon he is consistently the most incisive political cartoonist I know of, although some of his material will be obscure to those who do not recognize Australian politicians or keep track of developments in Australian politics. An example (which will not display in this blog)

For more laughs, I found a link to the Dilbert site not long ago from Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning blog, of all places!

Thursday 16 November 2006

Finally, the end of paper!

Do you ever find longer articles on the internet and wish you could take them with you to read on the bus or something? I used to print them out at work and do just that. Now I don’t have access to a laser printer, so that’s not a solution. Anyway, I usually ended up just throwing the paper out afterwards, unless I could find someone to pass the articles on to.

Well, the other day I did a little search and came up with a solution. You can download all that text, save it as a plain text file and put it on the iPod! This blogger provides full instructions, including a link to this site, which converts large text files into linked 4kb files that the iPod Notes facility will accept. The print on the iPod screen is awful small, but clear enough for even me to read.

One tip I can add is, if you are downloading http from the web, copy it and ‘Edit\Paste special’ as ‘Unformatted text’ into a Word document, then Save as Plain text. The paste special gets rid of all the http formatting junk. If you do this a lot, try downloading Steve Miller’s brilliant little PureText application, which lets you assign a key to accomplish the paste special in one keystroke.

And if you need sources of text to read, perhaps the most amazing resource on the web is the Marxist Internet Archive, a gigantic library of essential and not so essential reading, including, for example, the Helen Keller archive! It’s definitely worth spending some time exploring the site, which is also available on DVD.

Actually, this might be an opportune time to recommend ‘the four essential classic pamphlets’:

The Communist manifesto (of course!)

Socialism: utopian and scientific (extract from Engels’s Anti-Dühring)

Reform or revolution (Luxemburg’s comprehensive rebuttal of the whole reformist project)

State and revolution (Lenin’s explanation why we can’t turn the bourgeois state to our own purposes)

Project Gutenberg has been going for at least 20 years or so and claims 19,000 free books.

Most of it won’t save as plain text, so probably isn’t suitable for the iPod, but for the scholarly, almost all your favourite Greek and Latin authors, many in English translation , as well, along with such classic reference works as Liddell and Scott, and Slater’s Lexicon to Pindar. Sanskrit texts, along with Monier Williams…

Saturday 11 November 2006

Accidents will happen

If it wasn’t so sick, it’d be funny. If it wasn’t so commonplace, it’d be incredible.

The Economist’s headline accepted Israeli claims at face value, calling it ‘Israel’s bloody blunder’.

As the Jerusalem Post reports,

"Although the Palestinian civilians killed in this incident may have been killed by Israeli fire, they are in fact the victims of Hamas terrorism," [Israel's deputy UN Ambassador Daniel] Carmon said, condemning the Hamas-led Palestinian government for rejecting international demands that it recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Scores of people blasted to smithereens, 19 dead, can only be because their powerless ‘authority’, which doesn’t even have authority to collect the rubbish unimpeded by occupation forces, refuses unilateral recognition of the legitimacy of the occupation and to unilaterally relinquish the use of force. Nothing could be more obvious than that!

"The Palestinian leadership cannot demand national rights, while refusing to fulfill its national responsibility," he said. "The Palestinian Authority must be held accountable for what happens in its territory and population."

US Ambassador John Bolton called for restraint on all sides.…saying "there is no question that Israel has a right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens."

The sages writing NY Times editorials concur,

There is more than enough blame to go around…The Hamas movement — voted into power last winter — is refusing to even implicitly recognize Israel…Hamas’s military wing has called for attacks on American targets in retaliation for the Gaza deaths.

How dare they call for retaliation!

In another Post article, ‘Error caused Beit Hanun tragedy’,

Maj.-Gen. Meir Klifi, who headed the investigation into the incident… said his team found that the "Shilem System" kit had been installed in the cannon by IDF technicians five days previously…The kit had been in use since the 1980s and after "hundreds of thousands" of firings showed a margin of error of 25 meters, Klifi said. However, for reasons that ar e not entirely clear, the system failed - with tragic results. [emphasis added]

Now let’s get this in perspective. An artillery shell is not a weapon that puts small hole in the victim’s body. It creates a blast that destroys everything in the area of impact. And the targeting technology is only accurate to 25 metres, so instead of destroying everything in the area of the target, it could destroy everything in any other area within 25 metres of the target. And the media excoriate those firing Qassem rockets because they are not accurate and could inadvertently harm noncombatants?! And now, when one of these Israeli shells is even more inaccurate than they expected, it becomes a tragic error? Get real!

A few points that may be pertinent:

· Gaza is not a country, it is a small area under Israeli occupation, notwithstanding the ‘withdrawal’ last year and leaving aside all the other depredations inflicted since June, etc.

· Gaza is not at war with Israel.

· Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.

· Israel is firing weapons into this densely populated area that are at best only accurate to 25metres.

· These weapons routinely take out noncombatants.

· This time the weapons were allegedly more inaccurate than usual and killed a large number of people in their sleep.

· The shelling of the allegedly untargeted area went on for a full fifteen minutes

So a ‘sincere’ apology makes everything alright!

It’s just like the shelling of the Gaza beach in June – ‘Sure, we were shelling the beach and people were having picnics there, but it’s not our fault that some of them got hurt.’

If any kid anywhere doing something they knew was dangerous inadvertently hurt someone, nobody would accept their claim that they didn’t intend to hurt anyone as a valid excuse, nor their apology as ample redress.

Israeli satirists, Shai and Dror, summed it up nicely in Ma’ariv,

…We have done our part. We did the killing, we did the apology. Now the ball is in your court. You are stubborn. You don’t know how to forgive. You have no compassion, somebody makes a mistake and you just pounce and take advantage of it…Know what? Our conscience is clear. We have apologised. As far as we are concerned, the case is closed. Do you want to go on being stuck on the same point? That’s your problem. We are moving on.

The next artillery shell is already on its way, followed by the next apology. And then one more shell and one more apology. That’s the way we are. Moral and considerate, killing and apologising. Thanks, sorry for the killing and see you next time.

Anyway, it wasn’t just an apology,

Peretz reiterated his regret for the tragic accident and, in an effort to aid the victims, he ordered the Rafah border crossing to be opened until 5 p.m., with preference given to ambulances, medical and humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip

That is just so magnanimous, allowing humanitarian aid for a change. It shows the remorse is real.

So what gives here?

Wednesday 8 November 2006

A few points of clarification

Someone wrote to take issue with my assertion that Saddam ‘probably’ deserves to die.

To clarify, first of all, if what I’ve heard about Saddam's activities over the last forty years or more are true, death is really much too lenient a punishment.

Second, he has been so demonized by the global media that it is inconceivable that he could receive a fair trial – even by the pathetic standards of fairness we observe in, say, the US or Australia - anywhere on the planet, least of all anywhere in Iraq, less still under military occupation. I, myself, have just betrayed an entirely unacceptable predisposition to punish the bastard.

Finally, I do not accept the right, much less the competence, of any court to sentence anyone to death, or any of the more gruesome punishments one might imagine Saddam merits.

Tuesday 7 November 2006

Does he deserve to die?

Well, probably. But we may never know for sure because he was not accorded the scrupulous safeguards that the Iraqis are entitled to in their justice system. And of course, it is not theirs, anyway. That’s just the fiction the occupation has put on the whole quisling structure they’ve established in Iraq. As if they would take anyone in but a handful of international relations academics!

In an uncharacteristically sensible opinion, considering the auspices under which it was carried out, Leandro Despouy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers ‘voiced “strong objections” regarding the conduct of the trial’, as reported on the UN website.

Despouy cogently observes,

The tribunal has been established during an occupation considered by many as illegal, is composed of judges who have been selected during this occupation, including non Iraqi citizens, and has been mainly financed by the United States.

…lack of observance of a legal framework that conforms to international human rights principles and standards, in particular the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal which upholds the right to a defence… risks being seen as the expression of the verdict of the winners over the losers…Since its beginning one of the judges, five candidate judges, three defence lawyers and an employee of the tribunal have been killed.

Furthermore, the body had no mandate to address “the war crimes committed by foreign troops during the first Gulf war (1990), nor the war crimes committed after 1 May 2003, date of the beginning of the occupation.”

He also discouraged Saddam’s execution which would be an open contradiction to the growing international tendency to abolish capital punishment.

Perhaps more importantly, it lets Saddam’s main backers entirely off the hook, as Robert Fisk chronicled in yesterday’s CounterPunch, citing US and British supply of a range of biological and chemical agents that they were perfectly well aware were being used against the Iranian conscripts in the first Gulf War in the 1980s, as well as the Halabja massacre, which the US cynically tried to blame on Iran when Saddam was their buddy. Norman Solomon provides a list of compelling accusations specifically against US Secretary of ‘Defense’ Donald Rumsfeld.

Indeed, a really thorough investigation would have to go right back to the late Fifties and examine how the Ba’ath came to overthrow the Qassem government in the first place, and how Saddam rose to preeminence in that august institution. And it might even determine who needs to stand trial for the crimes against humanity of the UN sanctions regime, characterized by its administrators, Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, as ‘genocide’.

If Saddam doesn’t live to testify in all those trials and help bring his backers to justice, it will be, if possible, even more obvious that the principal function of this kangaroo court has been to protect the guilty.