Thursday Thirteen Ed. #63

by Steve, October 18th, 2006

politicsIt’s been a while since I’ve done a Thursday Thirteen list, and even longer since I’ve written about anything but hockey here. (And there’s been some damn good hockey so far this season!) But this being election season, I am bound to get into politics again sooner or later. So why not start with Thirteen Failures of Geo. W. Bush ?

1. Iraq. Wrong target, wrong reason, wrong plan. Now we find ourselves backing a Shi’a regime (which also enjoys the backing of our fundamentalist extremist friends in Iran). We are fully engaged in a civil war, with our troops used to prop up an Islamist regime with direct ties to unlawful militias and death squads. We’re on track to lose around 100 US service men and women this month. Nice. Way to support the troops. Thanks, George.

2. Afghanistan. We went in there to… get bin Laden? Bzzt! Failure. To defeat the Taliban? Bzzt! They’re coming back with a vengeance. Liberate women from the Burqa? Bzzt! Didn’t happen (To quote Arundhati Roy, “It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, we are being asked to believe that the U.S. marines are actually on a feminist mission. If so, will their next stop be America’s military ally Saudi Arabia?”)

3. North Korea. This will probably go down in history as his greatest failure, even bigger than Iraq. Why? Because when Bush took office, the US had a working policy, the Agreed Framework, that had successfully contained North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. This Framewok had been in place since 1994, and under it North Korea had halted all nuclear development. Bush promptly discarded the Framework, and North Korea promptly went back to the nuclear drawing board and—surprise!—produced a nuke. And Bush has the chutzpah to suggest that dialog with North Korea had failed. Wrong George! Withdrawing from the Framework is what failed!

4. Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Another brilliant example of the complete lack of realpolitik in Bush’s foreign policy. In the Bush world view, we don’t talk to our enemies, and—surprise!—they don’t do what we want them to do. Because of the Bush policy of freezing out the relatively moderate Fatah government, Fatah became completely ineffective. And they were voted out in favor of the religious fundamentalist Hamas party. Had we worked with Fatah, this could have been avoided. Really.

5. Lebanon. Again, Bush’s failure to talk to non-allies (in this case Syria and Iran) and his green light to Israel led to the near destruction of Lebanon and it’s fragile coalition government. For all its talk of promoting democracy in the Middle East, the Bush administration has all but destroyed the only two democratically elected Arab governments in the region.

6. Iran. Another case where not talking to our enemies has emboldened them.

7. Privatizing Social Security. For this failure, I am glad. Bush’s only significant domestic policy push wildly misjudged the popularity of one of the last vestiges of New Deal Social Democracy in this country.

8. 9/11. First, in not taking the specific threat seriously. Second, for completely freezing in the face of the attack. Third, for running away like a scared child instead of going back to Washington to take charge.

9. The Patriot Act. His first giant swipe at the constitution. (This is more properly thought of as a Bush success that is a failure for democracy and human rights.)

10. The Military Commissions Act of 2006. This suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus for anybody Bush arbitrarily determines to be an “enemy combatant”. One little problem: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” (US Constitution, Article 1, Section 9) I don’t see no Rebellion or Invasion here, so this law is clearly unconstitutional. This is Bush’s most flagrant power grab, and, again, a Bush success at the expense of liberty.

9. Enron, Halliburton and the culture of corporate corruption.

10. No Child Left Behind. Better to call it “No Child Left a Dime.”

11. The tumors on my dog’s ass. I don’t know how, but somehow Wacky Mommy thinks we should be able to blame Bush.

12. Global Warming. Bush refuses to submit the Kyoto protocols for ratification. The US stands alone with Australia in its refusal to ratify this treaty.

13. The loss of Congress in the ’06 mid-term elections. I’m calling this one in advance.

My favorite bumper sticker of late has a very simple, very encouraging message: “January 20, 2009”.

Juan Cole on the “stupid war”

by Steve, August 16th, 2006

I know I say this too much, but you really should read Juan Cole every day if you have any interest in what’s going on in the Middle East. Here’s his take on the Israel-Hezbollah war:

It was such a stupid war. It was thick-as-two-blocks-of-wood strategy on all sides. It was moronic for the Israelis to plan it out last year. It was idiotic for Hizbullah to cross over into Israel, kill soldiers, and take two captive. It was brain dead for the Israeli officer corps and politicians to think they could get anything positive out of bombing Lebanon back to the stone age and making a million people homeless. It was dim-witted for Hasan Nasrallah to threaten Israelis with releasing poison gases from Haifa chemical plants on them. It was obtuse for the Israelis to confront a dug-in guerrilla movement with green conventional troops marching in straight lines. It was dull of Hizbullah to fire thousands of katyushas into open fields where they mainly damaged wild grass. The few times when the rockets managed to kill someone, it was often an Arab Israeli civilian. Stupid.

Less Hockey More War

by Steve, August 15th, 2006

hockeyIt’s been a long offseason, in which war has flared up in a most grotesque way in Lebanon. Israel has the obvious edge in civilian kills, but there is no clear military advantage coming into the first intermission:

non-combatants killed:
Israel: approximately 1,000 Lebanese civilians.
Hezbollah: 43 Israeli civilians.
combantants killed:
Israel: unknown number of Hezbollah fighters.
Hezbollah: 114 IDF troops.
source: BBC

A sickening first period, and that’s just the dead. Are the Lebanese dead are better off, considering the literal and figurative rubble the nearly million displaced living Lebanese are coming home to? How many more children and old people will die horrid deaths in Lebanon due to destroyed infrastructure and leftover ordnance? No matter who “wins”, it is Lebanese civil society that is the biggest loser. In many ways, this has been a war on democracy and pluralism, to the extent that that’s what Lebanon represents in the region.
Beirut in ruins (BBC)(See more pictures here) Politically, the war criminal Hassan Nasrallah has won a huge victory in the Muslim world. Hezbollah has stood up to the previously invincible Israeli millitary machine like no Arab army before. The IDF was unable to take and hold small villages a short distance from their own border, much less destroy Hezbollah. The war criminal Ehud Olmert, with the blood of 1000 unarmed men, women and children on his hands, is facing a gathering political storm in his own country. Armed with the most modern millitary technology available, in overwhelming quantities, Olmert was unable to stomp out a small militia, armed with WWII era anti-personnel rockets, anti-tank weapons and small arms. Instead, he has emboldened Hezbollah as a mass popular movement and left its military wing intact.

As thousands of dirt poor, rural Lebanese make there way to pick through the shattered remains of their lives, the truce looks highly questionable. I fear the potential for a gruesome second period, with peasants killed by bombs from 30,000 feet as they dig up and re-bury their dead, and Hezbollah launching more Katyushas on Israel. The US is already saying the French-led UN force will not disarm Hezbollah. The Lebanese army is politically and militarily incapable of doing so. Will Israel be willing to walk away with Hezbollah intact? What will Israel have accomplished, other than inflaming its enemies and destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure?

Meanwhile, did anybody notice that 3,400 civilians died in Iraq in July? I am really, truly ready for More Hockey and Less War. Bring it on! Drop the puck!

Time well spent

by Steve, August 8th, 2006

politics“…this has been time that’s been well-spent over the last couple of weeks.”Condoleeza Rice August 7, 2006

Yes, over the last few weeks, entire villages in Lebanon and neighborhoods of Beirut been bombed to dust. All major highways have been bombed in all parts of the country. The economy is crippled, the environment despoiled. Fully one quarter of Lebanon’s population is displaced. A fourth of a nation! As Juan Cole points out, this would be like 70 million Americans displaced. The US and Israel are wilfully destroying a nation, against all reason (strategically, this is breeding more support of the extremist and criminal Hezbollah, not isolating it).

The Bush administration, fronted by the offensively pugnacious John Bolton and the dangerously incompetent Rice, refuse to talk to any party to the conflict save Israel. They call it a breakthrough when they manage to negotiate an absurdly pro-Israel plan… with France! Memo to Bolton and Rice: France is not a party to this conflict! You need to negotiate with Hezbollah by way of Syria or the Lebanese government! They want to talk to you! They are willing to agree to a cease fire!

But their mission really seems to be the destruction of Lebanon, the only multi-ethnic democratic bastion in the Arab world. I thought neocons were all about spreading democracy, not destroying it.

Meanwhile, I continue to be disappointed by the so-called “left” in the US, and their tepid response to the rape of Lebanon. Take, for example, Norm Ornstein’s harsh words for the UN online and on the air with Al Franken yesterday. He’s sounding an awful lot like a neocon apologist for Israel. He takes great pains criticize Hezbollah for their civilian attacks (as do I), but then dings the UN for saying nothing of it. Well, the UN has had plenty to say about atrocities on both sides. Ornstein gets in a tizzy about Katyushas packed with ball bearings (these are anti-personnel weapons, designed to inflict maximum carnage in a small package), but he’s got little or nothing to say about Israel’s wholesale destruction of towns and villages, except that Israel warned the people to leave first. (Franken at least pointed out that many people are too old, sick or poor to leave, and that many have been killed trying to flee.)

It is useful to note that we (the US) stand alone in the world in backing Israel.

Subject for another day: evangelical Christians, the apocalypse, and Israel.

Edited 8/8/06, 3:04 Pacific:I forgot to mention, while Condi and Bolton fan the flames of Israeli aggression, Bush plays war at his ranch. Steve Holland, who accompanied the president on a bike ride writes, “Bush does not ride quietly…’Air assault!’ he yelled as he started one of two major climbs….” Shit. This is our president?


by Steve, July 30th, 2006

politics“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech: “The Chance for Peace,” delivered to the American society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D.C., April 16, 1953.

Hardly a leftist, Eisenhower. How far we’ve regressed as a civilization that the words of a great warrior from a generation ago would today be seen as nearly treasonous.

Israel murdered 37 children last night as they destroyed the farming village of Qana, then reluctantly agreed to give the remaining civilians in the south of Lebanon 24 hours to get out. Trouble is, they’ve destroyed the main roads and bridges, and many that are left don’t have the means to move, or any means of support if they do move. Dropping leaflets does not excuse Israel from the laws of war. Both parties in this fight are clearly guilty of war crimes, with civilians of Lebanon bearing the brunt by at least a ten-to-one ratio. Read this and tell me Olmert and Nasrallah shouldn’t be brought up on charges:

Geneva Conventions, Protocol I, Chapter II, Civilians and civilian population

Art. 50. Definition of civilians and civilian population

1. A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4 (A) (1), (2), (3) and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.

2. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.

3. The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.

Art. 51. – Protection of the civilian population

1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.

2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.

4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are: (a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective; (b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or (c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol;

and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.

5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: (a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects;


(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

6. Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.

7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.

8. Any violation of these prohibitions shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians, including the obligation to take the precautionary measures provided for in Article 57.

…and the “War” Rages On

by Steve, July 28th, 2006

politicsWhile Condi Rice and George Bush fiddle, Lebanon burns. The U.N. now estimates 600 dead, the vast majority civilian, and a third children. Children! Where the hell is the outrage? The U.N.’s Jan Egeland visited the region and said, “It’s been horrific… There is something fundamentally wrong with the war, where there are more dead children than armed men.” This is not war, this is slaughter of innocents.
South Beirut

destroyed apartment buildings in South Beirut

Fleeing civilians continue to be targeted. This is not “collateral damage”. Mitch Prothero writes in Salon that “Hezbollah fighters — as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers — avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators — as so many Palestinian militants have been.”

It is obvious that Israel is, in the best light imaginable, targeting civilian infrastructure. This is abhorent, as it inevitably leads to the death of civilians (especially the very young, very old and the sick). But it is difficult to refute that they have been specifically targeting civilians. These are war crimes. Hezbollah, too, is engaging in war crimes, but the carnage of children in Lebanon is simply overwhelming.

The U.S. could step in and stop this bloodshed, but we haven’t. We were operating on the assumption that Israel could simply take out Hezbollah, and then we could have a cease fire. Unfortunately, this plan backfired. Israel underestimated Hezbollah, and Hezbollah now has a stronger political position than when they started this whole mess. And the U.S. position is severely weakened. And children are being immolated by bombs paid for by you and me.

Egeland is right: There is something fundamentally wrong with this war. I am just sick over this.

Thursday Thirteen Ed. #51

by Steve, July 26th, 2006

meWow, looks like Thursday Thirteen is the only thing getting me to blog this week. I am thoroughly, utterly depressed about the continuing carnage in Lebanon. The mainstream media can’t seem to draw the distinction between direct armed conflict between Hezbollah and the I.D.F. and the morally indefensible bombardment of civilians and infrastructure. It’s all “fighting”, as in “fighting continued today across Lebanon”. Bombing apartment buildings in South Beirut is not fighting, it is arguably an ongoing war crime. Likewise for lobbing rockets at Haifa.

And the U.S. position on this? We want a speedy resolution, just not yet. The Israeli strategy (backed up by expedited arms shipments and diplomatic foot-dragging by the U.S.) is to turn the Lebanese against Hezbollah. From the Washington Post:

According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to “create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters.” The message to Lebanon’s elite, he said, is this: “If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land.”

Zbignew Brezinski put it like this: “I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect — maybe not in intent — the killing of hostages.” Juan Cole, as usual, has perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of the situation available on the Web.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. No! It’s time for another Thursday Thirteen, and, like last week, I’m doing a light-hearted one to contrast the deeply troubling times we are in the midst of. This week: Thirteen Things I’m Looking Forward To:

Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday Thirteen Ed. #50

by Steve, July 19th, 2006

meTime again for the Thursday Thirteen. It’s been a tough week for those of us who don’t like war. I’m tempted to list thirteen reasons war sucks, like charred bodies of children scattered like dry leaves by the side of the road, killed while fleeing with their families. Like bombed out airports, roads, bridges, dairies, factories and power plants, part of a pattern of mass destruction of civilian infrastructure. Like missiles lobbed blindly towards civilian centers in hopes of killing innocents. But I’ve been writing about this shit all week.

So herewith are Thirteen Things That Give Me Hope:

Read the rest of this entry »

So long, Kos

by Steve, July 17th, 2006

politicsI’ve never been a huge fan of Markos Moulitsas Zniga, but I’ve tried to like his mega meta blog. I’ve even posted a diary entry on his site. I’ve had Daily Kos linked from here since I started this blog, but today I’ve removed the link.

Today, under the title Why I won’t write about Israel/Lebanon/Palestine fighting”, Moulitsas writes:

It’s clear that in the Middle East, no one is sick of the fighting. They have centuries of grudges to resolve, and will continue fighting until they can get over them. And considering that they obviously have no interest in “getting over them”, we’re stuck with a war that will not end in any forseable future…. It doesn’t matter what the President of the United States says. Or the United Nations.

This is, of course, ahistorical bullshit. Of course it matters what the POTUS says. With Israel as the single largest recipient of US military aid, the president has enormous influence over the Israeli war machine. We don’t have to pay for this!

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to read a little history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but suffice it to say, Moulitsas is taking the easy way out and showing his stripes as a main-stream Democratic Party operative, unwilling to take a stand on issues that really matter. “I just hope that war-fatigue sets in at some point,” writes Moulitsas, washing his hands of the whole matter. Tell that to the children dying by bomb, bullet, and lack of clean water. If you can’t take a stand against war, what can you stand for?

Read the rest of this entry »

Arrested development

by Steve, July 17th, 2006

politicsWatch as our President smacks his lips, talks with his mouth full and tells Tony Blair “What [the United Nations] need to do is to get Syria to stop Hezbollah from doing this shit.” Syria, which the U.S. pushed out of Lebanon, has little or no sway on the ground there now. Is our leader really this ignorant? It would seem so.

Israel’s attacks are destroying civilian infrastructure and human life at a sickening pace. Hezbollah is responding with its own barbaric escalation, led by the evidently criminally insane Hasan Nasrallah. Israel seems bent on pushing Lebanon back into civil war and Gaza back into the stone age. Your tax dollars at work, America! Hezbollah has nothing to lose, and in fact has gained popular support in Lebanon.

Please read Juan Cole’s blog. He has daily reports from the Arab press rarely reported in the west, as well as expert, well-reasoned analysis. Also, the Nation has a good summation of the folly of “the Israeli doctrine of absolute security and massive retaliation–the notion that any attack or threat of attack on Israel will be met with a disproportionate response”.

Lest we forget what the victims of war look like, read this story in the Guardian about children murdered by bomb while trying to flee the violence. The vast majority of the 150+ killed in Lebanon since Wednesday have been civilians. Lebanon is one of the few democracies in the Arab world (and a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic one at that). What happened to Bush’s policy encouraging democracy in the region?

This is a critical time in the middle east. What is happening now will ripple outward across the entire region, indeed the entire globe. And the one man who could actually do something about it sits around stuffing his face, flaunting his geo-political ignorance and duplicitiousness. Shame.