when the status quo frustrates.

Whipping your own side is a form of masochism (which is fine, if you’re into that kind of stuff, I guess)

Friday, March 12th, 2010

The US House of Representatives debated whether to end US military presence in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

No surprise, of course, the resolution in question failed, 65-356. But perhaps its real purpose was to give legitimacy to a debate even occurring at all.

In fact, much of the debate from the “no” side came in the form of questioning whether the debate should have happened at all, including speculation that Rep. Kucinich and others had “forgotten about 9/11″ and that they were deliberately trying to undermine America in seeking to end the eight and a half year war.

The last thing any kind of vested interest wants is to start talking about change. But don’t you worry, change-haters– not only the bill got squashed, but press coverage of it was kept to an absolute bare minimum. Nothing to see here. No uncomfortable ideas need pollute the already divided public’s thoughtways here. Any play it did get was devoted to rationalizing what a bad “strategy” it is for peace activists to pick any fight they’re not absolutely sure of winning. Because, after all, “appearances do matter.” It’s interesting to me that this kind of thinking is exactly what gets the United States “bringing democracy” to only the countries that it does. But perhaps I digress.

So what about that there quiet press? What do you think, Trollblog?

…the Times is willing to publish good reporting as long as the topic written about does not have critical day-to-day, life-and-death importance for our lives. So for topics the Sulzbergers regard as peripheral and fluffy, we get good stuff. But when the chips are down and the rubber hits the road, on war and peace or unemployment and depression, other considerations intervene, and the Times becomes the propaganda organ of an unexpressed neo-con, neoliberal non-partisan “centrist” agenda.

The media have chosen sides, and it’s not our side. We have to recognize this before we can deal with it. Even if all of the Democrats and liberals magically wised up about this overnight, I still doubt that we’d be able to overcome the systematic media opposition. But they haven’t wised up; they’re still hoping and praying that their holy fathers, Czar Sulzberger and Czar Graham (or maybe Czarina Weymouth) will hear their pleas.

Fortunately for the Czars, their Cossacks are loyal and up to the job.

Interesting choice of the word, “Cossack”. And will you look at that– reigniting just by chance a couple of days before the house vote on the Kucinich-sponsored bill whether to pull out of Aghanistan, the ongoing campaign to label as “unserious” and “ineffectual” anyone who is seen to fight for anything resembling a meaningful change was given its regular booster shot just in time. The official purpose of this particular Democratic party whipping is to keep Dems in line about the health care bill, and I believe that it probably really is just a fortunate coincidence for those with a neocon agenda, but still the timing is just exquisite, isn’t it? Whistle so blown, out trots Markos Moulitsas and attendant heelnippers.

Charlie Davis:

When not helping raise money for the same party that endorses locking up hundreds of thousands of Americans for non-violent drug offenses — and whose rule has brought us progressive achievements like the surge in Afghanistan and the official policy of killing citizens without so much as a judicial rubber-stamp if they travel to sufficiently swarthy countries and associate with the natives — Moulitsas is busy enforcing Democratic orthodoxy and party dogma, his latest threat of an ineffective primary challenge coming against poor old Dennis Kucinich for the sin of failing to endorse the White House and congressional leadership’s corporatist, pharmaceutical-insurance-complex-boosting joke of a health care reform bill.

“[I’m going to hold] people like Dennis Kucinich responsible for the 40,000 Americans that die each year from a lack of health care,” Moulitsas declared on MSNBC this week. Tough words. Now, here’s who he promised to support primary challenges against after 189 House Democrats voted to extend the war in Afghanistan, against a measure offered by the dastardly Kucinich, thus ensuring NATO forces will continue killing Afghan civilians at a healthy pace: ____________. That silence is a reflection of an awful strange and morally dubious set of priorities.

I’m going to hold people like Markos Moulitsas responsible for, I don’t know, EVERYTHING BAD IN THE WORLD. People like him, who beat down and belittle anyone who dares to actually act on the strength of the convictions that he claims to share, are the ones who keep all the shitty things shitty.

The really ironic thing is how Kucinich only gets into trouble because he’s doing his best to work within the system. Being a Democrat sure can be a problem sometimes, can’t it.

I will not dance to your war drum

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

So I’ve been gone awhile. Work managed to swallow my life, and it’s a long story, but…I will be back in due time.

But I’m back today to break my silence, because today Israeli tanks entered Gaza after air strikes that killed 400 or so people just weren’t enough.

Across the world, people protested. Here’s Toronto’s demo:


It went on much longer than this: thousands and thousands of people. But it isn’t enough.

This is what’s happening. Right now. And while a little over half of Israelis support what their government is doing, only 19% think that a ground invasion is a good idea.

We, here in the West, are complicit. Canada was the first country to refuse to recognize the results of the Palestinian election, after all, the first to cut aid in 2006. And the U.S., of course, largely funds the weapons currently raining down on the people of Gaza. We perpetuate this horror, or, rather, our governments do, and I don’t know any course of sane action beyond taking to the streets and screaming at them until they stop.

Suheir Hammad:

Q: How is a bombing raid in the Great War on Terror like an old-school southern lynching?

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

A: The ones doing the killing never seem to care if the intelligence it’s based on is actually true.

Q: Why not?

Brad Hicks: (emphasis mine)

If you studied American history prior to about 2000, even if you studied it at the college level, you were almost certainly taught something wrong, because the truth was one of America’s last, best-kept secrets. And it has to do with lynching. You see, if you studied before then, one of the things you were told about lynching was that lynching was usually motivated by anger, by hatred, by exaggerated fear of “impurity,” by anger over Reconstruction, by irrational over-reaction to minor black crimes. But then a historian made a lucky find, one that unlocked a whole field of study. A set of records, more or less accidentally compiled, gave us a longer and more comprehensive list of lynchings than we had. A very macabre set of records.

…That made it possible to research not just a few lynchings, but hundreds of them, and to compile statistics on what had happened before and after them. And the terrible, but fascinating, bit of secret history turned out to be the immediate aftermath of over half of those lynchings. Over half of those lynchings turned out to involve black men who owned their own successful farms and/or businesses. And the day after the lynchings, those farms and businesses were sold to white neighbors, in closed auctions, for pennies on the dollar, and the surviving real heirs were run out of town. And in a terrifyingly large number of those cases, historians were able to show one or more of the following facts. The buyer was the person who made the initial accusation against the victim. And the buyer was a relative of one or more of the following: the mayor, the chief of police, the local minister and/or the municipal judge.

I want you to get this through your head, and never forget it. Lynching was not a hate crime. Lynching was an economic crime.

On August 22, the US Military targeted civilian homes in Azizabad, Afghanistan. Depending on which accounts you choose to believe, they either killed 92 innocent civilians, including as many as 60 children; or 30-35 Taliban militants plus “only” 5-7 innocent civilians. (So I guess that would make it okay then.) Ludicrously, US Military sources have been claiming that the discrepancy is due to Taliban convincing the villagers to fake the evidence, even suggesting that they built fake mass graves to fool UN inspectors and international reporters.

The US military said that its findings were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the US force. He was named as the Fox News correspondent Oliver North, who came to prominence in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, when he was an army colonel.

…right. Well then it must be true, because it’s not like Ollie North ever lied on behalf of the US government or anything.

But that’s not where I’m going with this.


Wait, this isn’t from the Onion? Fuck.

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Yet another set of relics from the post-satire age:

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As the keychain says, truly “It don’t GITMO better than this.”

Welcome to “Taliban Towers” at Guantanamo Bay, the most ghoulishly distasteful tourist destination on the planet. As these astonishing mementoes show, the US authorities are promoting the world’s most notorious prison camp as a cheap hideaway for American sunseekers — a revelation that has drawn international anger and condemnation.

Just yards from the shelves of specially branded mugs and cuddly toys, nearly 300 “enemy combatants” lie sweltering in a waking nightmare.

It is six years since foreign prisoners, many captured in Afghanistan, were first taken to this US-occupied corner of Cuba. Yet even now, no charges have been brought against them.

While the detainees lie incarcerated, visitors can windsurf, take boat trips and go fishing for grouper, tuna, red snapper and swordfish.

Hey, in all fairness, if you want to take your family out for a little dunk in the water, does it really matter if there’s a few detainees getting their own “dunk in the water” a few hundred feet away? Where is the line where it’s magically OKAY to start having fun? One mile away? 50 miles? (Don’t say 500 miles, or you’re already to Miami.)


Open Government in Action (laughs evilly)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008


Wikileaks has obtained a sensitive US military counterinsurgency manual. The manual, Foreign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces (1994, 2004), may be critically described as “what we learned about running death squads and propping up corrupt government in Latin America and how to apply it to other places”. Its contents are both history defining for Latin America and, given the continued role of US Special Forces in the suppression of insurgencies and guerilla movements world wide, history making.

The document, which has been verified, is official US Special Forces doctrine. It directly advocates training paramilitaries, pervasive surveillance, censorship, press control and restrictions on labor unions & political parties. It directly advocates warrantless searches, detainment without charge and the suspension of habeas corpus. It directly advocates bribery, employing terrorists, false flag operations and concealing human rights abuses from journalists. And it directly advocates the extensive use of “psychological operations” (propaganda) to make these and other “population & resource control” measures more palatable.

If this gets confirmed as real, and doesn’t get the complete media blackout treatment, it’s HUGE. Yeah, yeah, I know. Fat chance. But I gotta keep on dreaming…


Book Review: Guantanamo’s Child

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Guantanamo's child

I admit to being slightly obsessed with Omar Khadr’s story. Many of us here in Soviet Canuckistan, the one major U.S. ally unwilling to say a peep about America’s human rights violations in Guantanamo Bay, are slightly obsessed with Omar Khadr’s story. I’m not sure if the Khadr family—”Canada’s First Family of Terrorism”—gets as much press down south as they do here, but it was fascinating to watch public opinion change its tune in recent months as first, a military judge threw out the war crimes charges against him last June, and then in February, the not-at-all-surprising revelation that while he had been present at the firefight that killed a U.S. soldier, there was no actual evidence that he threw the grenade. Neither Canadians nor our government have been particularly sympathetic towards the Khadrs, even though Omar was only 15 when the Americans shot and captured him, even though we tend to wring our hands a fair bit over the plight of child soldiers (when they’re attacking someone else, that is). But Michelle Sheppard, the author of Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, is one of the good ones as far as the mainstream media is concerned. Her clear-headed, honest reporting on the case for the Toronto Star has been a breath of fresh air, so of course I was thrilled when her book came out.

It did not disappoint. Sheppard has a keen eye for detail, and she manages to track every key moment in the Khadr’s lives. She paints a vivid detail of the years leading up to the firefight in Afghanistan, as Omar is dragged by his parents between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Canada, indoctrinated into his father’s ideology even as he clings to the trappings of a Western childhood. The descriptions of Guantanamo, of course, are horrific, confirming much of what we already know goes on within those walls:

One evening in March 2003, Omar was taken from his cell and in no mood to co-operate. The guards left him in the interrogation booth for hours, short-shackled with his ankles and wrists bound together and secured to a bolt on the floor. Unable to move, he eventually urinated and was left in a pool of urine on the floor.

When the MPs returned and found the soiled teenager, Omar’s lawyers later said, the guards poured pine oil cleaner on his chest and the floor. Keeping him short-shackled, the guards used Omar as a human mop to clean up the mess. Omar was returned to his cell and for two days the guards refused to give him fresh clothes.

(If you have the stomach to read it, Rolling Stone has more here.)

Beyond telling a gripping, heartbreaking story, Sheppard is also courageous in tackling the motivations of terrorism. By tracing the Khadr family history and Ahmed Said Khadr’s path from being a secular Muslim primarily interested in charity work to the guy that Osama bin Laden kept snubbing at al-Qaeda get-togethers, she of course brings up the West’s involvement in the rise of Islamic extremism and questions what exactly it is that we’re doing in Afghanistan in the first place.

Omar, now 21, has spent a fifth of his life in America’s off-shore gulag. He is the only Western citizen remaining there. Slightly more moral countries have demanded the extradition or repatriation of their citizens, but despite the urging of Amnesty International, UNICEF, and the Canadian Bar Association, Canada has not. Our government has, in fact, acted in a rather callous manner to one of its own citizens. After Omar’s arrest:

Foreign Affairs media director Lillian Thomsen, on instructions from Colleen Swords, now head of the intelligence division, wrote in an email a new press message must “claw back on the fact that he is a minor.”

(The spin hasn’t worked, by the way. A poll last year revealed that slightly more than half of Canadians believe the government should ask for Omar’s repatriation. It’s somewhat of a relief to know that Canadians have more empathy than our minority government.)

Guantanamo’s Child is a brutal read (and for me, all the more depressing since I’ve started working with kids around Omar’s age), but one I hope will be ultimately worthwhile. Sheppard does a phenomenal job of laying out the argument that Omar is a child soldier in need of rehabilitation, not imprisonment and torture, as well as the ethical and legal case against Guantanamo Bay.

Highly recommended.

Good news, bad news

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Prisoner 345
Drawing by Sami al-Haj, imprisoned Al Jazeera cameraman

After over two years, the U.S. military is finally releasing AP photographer Bilal Hussein. Hussein, guilty of practicing journalism while Arab, had been imprisoned without evidence or charges, and presumably will be released without apology.

These days, holding folks for no reason, indefinitely, is apparently no big deal. (Even if they’re journalists.) So don’t expect the countless U.S. military prisoners in Iraq and Gitmo to be as “lucky” as the unfortunate Mr. Hussein, who has had years of his life taken away with absolutely no reason.

Imprisoning or killing journalists is generally thought of (by proponents of democracy, anyway) to be one of those no-nos, even in the middle of a war. But like torture, which also used to be taboo, such crimes have their purpose. They effectively silence freedom of the press without the need to pass any laws that might make people uncomfortable. In the current context, “enemy combatant” refers not only to those on the other side of a war that we declared, but also anyone suspected of dissent or critical thought. Better stick to being an embedded reporter. You don’t want to be Tariq Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk, or Jose Couso. You don’t want your camera mistaken for an RPG, like Mazen Dana’s was.

Every so often, some well-meaning progressive cries: “Why does the press concentrate on McCain’s barbecues or Britney’s escapades? What happened to serious journalism?”

Apparently, it’s been locked away.

Videos for you

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Here’s one, from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, that should put a smile on your face:

Of course, we here in Canada recognize this as satire. I’m not sure that it reads that way to Americans. What do you think?

Hat tip: Audra Williams

And here’s one that really won’t put a smile on your face: American soldiers in Iraq: Protecting you from terrorist puppies.

(Warning: animal cruelty.)

Hat tip: mercenarytoast

Outrage overload

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Spanish Inquisition
If we need to have fascism, can it at least be well-dressed fascism?

Okay, so this fellow Scalia has actually managed the unthinkable, which is to change my mind on the ethics of torture. Previously, as you may recall, I had the sane belief that torture was always unethical, under any circumstances. But this good judge has convinced me that torture is ethical in precisely one situation.

Say you have a batshit insane lawmaker who has never missed a meal, let alone suffered actual deprivation or, say, stress positions or waterboarding. Say he’s trying to remove legal barriers to torture, since there are only legal barriers remaining, and not very many of those. Say he claims torture no big deal. I think it might possibly be okay to give him a little of what he wants to inflict upon random Middle Easterners—if only because this is such an urgent threat that can apparently be stopped by no other means.

The funniest/saddest quote in that article is this one, though:

“We don’t pretend to be Western mullahs who decide what is right and wrong for the whole world,” he said in the broadcast.

The guy is just insane. If we can’t waterboard him, he should at least be locked up for everyone’s protection.

Ultimately, it’s too late. The U.S. has already granted itself the right to abduct prisoners of war and citizens of other countries, imprison them indefinitely without legal recourse, torture them until they make false confessions, and now, it can execute them too.

David Sheldon, an attorney and former member of the Navy’s legal corps, said an execution chamber at Guantanamo would be largely beyond the reach of U.S. courts.

I think this is the point at which I can no longer be accused of exaggeration or Godwin’s Law violations when I make the claim that the U.S. is running concentration camps. Were I an American, I’d be hard-pressed to cast a ballot for any of the candidates right now, since none of them are talking about this no-longer-slow-at-all slide into fascism, let alone planning to put a stop to it.

Putting the “sexy” back in “military”

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Via Pam at Pandagon, it appears our army’s desertion rate has skyrocketed to its highest total in almost 30 years. I’m disappointed that little things like inadequate equipment, extended tours, and, oh, I dunno, being forced to oppress a collection of peoples who hate your guts would bother our soldiers, but I guess they’re just not as tough as the boys of yesteryear.

To keep kids these days engaged in the military, we need to spice up the experience a bit. The Pentagon has traditionally taken its policy cues from punkassblog, and so I feel a responsibility to lend a helping hand. Thus, I present the 5 ways to avoid desertion in the US Army:

5) Make the unis look more like Halo soldiers.

They don’t have to work, they just have to look rad. Melt down old Transformer toys if you have to; just do whatever it takes to make some cool-ass molded plastic gear that would pass as a top-notch Halloween costume. Kids will be lining up to fight as long as their visor is the shit.


Hitchens is no longer Bush’s fanboy

Monday, August 27th, 2007


Add Christopher “gin-soaked ex-Trotskyite poppinjay” Hitchens to the list of people whom it’s almost too easy to poke fun at, were it not so intensely gratifying. Like that other “sensible liberal” Michael Ignatieff, the Hitch has tried for a public retraction of his previous unconditional and vocal support for the Anglo-American genocidal assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hitchens, circa 2002:

MOYERS: Well, [the deaths of American soldiers] was a significant factor, as you know, in the growing opposition to the Vietnam War.

As the body count kept coming back, the reality kept hitting home, and no amount of euphemistic language in defense of south Vietnam would suffice to answer the growing piles of body bags.

HITCHENS: Quite. Well, this won’t be the case this time.

Hitchens, circa 2004:

George Bush may subjectively be a Christian, but he—and the U.S. armed forces—have objectively done more for secularism than the whole of the American agnostic community combined and doubled. The demolition of the Taliban, the huge damage inflicted on the al-Qaida network, and the confrontation with theocratic saboteurs in Iraq represent huge advances for the non-fundamentalist forces in many countries.

Hitchens, circa 2006:

Contrary to innumerable sneers, [Bush in 2002] did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam’s deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that?

Alas, in 2007, it isn’t quite as easy to mount a pseudo-intellectual defense of either failed war, or of the leaders who declared them. So while we irrational bleeding-hearts sadly shake our heads—the “prize” for being right is, unfortunately, a pile of dead Middle Easterners—Hitch is trying to backtrack a bit.

How do I dislike President George Bush? Let me count the ways. Most of them have to do with his contented assumption that ‘faith’ is, in and of itself, a virtue. This self-satisfied mentality helps explain almost everything, from the smug expression on his face to the way in which, as governor of Texas, he signed all those death warrants without losing a second’s composure.

“Faith” that is little different than that of Hitchens himself—who was, through his arguments, perfectly happy to sign the death warrants of Afghanis, Iraqis, and the soldiers of the occupation forces—if you only wish hard enough, your fantasies of a just, liberating, and permanent war will come true.

In this real-world argument, there is a very strong temptation for opponents of the war to invoke the lessons of Vietnam. I must have written thousands of words attempting to show that there is absolutely no analogy between the two conflicts.

Right. He’s still for the war. He’s just against Bush.

The bulk of the article is a bunch of hastily thrown together reasons why Iraq really, really had it coming, and Vietnam didn’t. (Ho Chi Minh quoted Thomas Jefferson, dontcha know? Those jihadis don’t have that much respect for America’s greatness.)

But what’s missing from Hitchens’ article is an honest assessment of why people (the Bush administration excepted; they have their own reasons) tend to make comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. The similarity isn’t between the victims. There’s a continuity, however, in the aggressor’s behaviour—an American-led imperialist adventure war against southeast Asia then, and an American-led imperialist adventure war against the Middle East now. It’s nowhere near as complicated as Hitch makes it out to be.

The problem is, of course, that Hitchens can’t admit that he was wrong, that he put his faith in a lying madman, that he glibly wrote off the human costs of the wars, and that millions of ordinary people, whom he regarded with nothing but disdain, were able to grasp what he couldn’t—that these wars were Very Bad Ideas. Failure to acknowledge this is worst sort of intellectual dishonesty. But would you expect anything less?

(Hat tip: springheel_jack)

“The risk is that it may resemble defeat.”

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

lowered expectations

From the AP, a truly baffling attempt at analyzing the Mess O’ Potamia: Only Iraqis can win the war. With an intriguing headline like that, I had to read it. I was brimming with questions: Is the AP’s military writer promoting a U.S. defeat? Which Iraqis, exactly, are capable of winning (and who are we supposed to be rooting for, again)? And how will we tell when the war’s over?

Predictably, the article neither raises nor answers any of those questions, but it’s a fine piece of creatively muddled thinking.

The harder President Bush has pushed to win in Iraq, the closer he has come to losing.

The question no longer is whether the U.S. military can fully stabilize Iraq. It cannot.

A promising enough start, if Burns didn’t go on to suggest, in the very next paragraph, that there was some sort of brief shining moment sandwiched between the toppling of Saddam and the beginning of sectarian fighting where the U.S. could have “won.” Rubbish, of course, as a passing knowledge of Iraqi politics tells us that Ba’athist dictatorship was the main factor in keeping the various factions from warring in the first place.

Now only the Iraqis can save Iraq.

They need the U.S. military’s help, no doubt. But the Bush administration has made no secret of the fact that the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad is simply buying time for the Iraqis to sort out their differences, create a government of national unity and show they can defend themselves.

So it is not whether the U.S. can win the war. It is whether the Iraqis can, which is in great doubt.

Again, we don’t really know who “the Iraqis” are.