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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The First President to Admit to an Impeachable Offense (Con't): Ruminations on the Gay Terrorist Threat 

As an update to Joe's post earlier today on the subject of domestic surveillance, consider the following, from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

According to recent press reports, Pentagon officials have been spying on what they call “suspicious” meetings by civilian groups, including student groups opposed to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel. The story, first reported by Lisa Myers and NBC News last week, noted that Pentagon investigators had records pertaining to April protests at the State University of New York at Albany and William Patterson College in New Jersey. A February protest at NYU was also listed, along with the law school’s LGBT advocacy group OUTlaw, which was classified as “possibly violent” by the Pentagon. A UC-Santa Cruz “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” protest, which included a gay kiss-in, was labeled as a “credible threat” of terrorism.

Such absurdity indicates that the purpose of the program is multi-dimensional. On one level, as Joe emphasizes, who were the real priority targets of this operation? It's hard to believe that OUTlaw is one of them. Instead, individuals like Cindy Sheehan, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, George Galloway, al-Jezeera journalists and servicemembers involved in the conscientous objection and counter-recruitment effort are all plausible possibilities.

Meanwhile, there is also the benefit of unleashing the New Model Army within law enforcement, people with positions as cops, sheriff's deputies, FBI agents, Secret Service agents and MPs, to engage in investigatory masturbation, whereby they can give expression to their social and political biases by surveilling controversial political activism. Certainly, it appears that the police in Denver have joyously seized the opportunity.

While seemingly innocuous, these activities raise the prospect that conservatives may successfully create cells of law enforcement within law enforcement, accountable to others outside of the conventional, civilian chain of command. The intersection between the Pentagon and Protestant fundamentalism, as suggested by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and revealed more explicitly by complaints of harassment and proselytizing by fundamentalists at the Air Force Academy, is most troubling in this regard.

Hat Tip to Sam Smith at the indispensable Progressive Review.

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The First President to Admit to an Impeachable Offense 

Barbara Boxer just sent a letter to four "presidential scholars" asking whether the scholars believe Bush can be impeached for authorizing the NSA spying program. The genesis of Boxer's actions apparently was a conversation with John Dean in which Dean called Bush "the first president to admit to an impeachable offense."

Meanwhile, on CNN and elsewhere Republican spokespeople seem to be suggesting as a sort of a meta-talking point that the NSA spying story will ultimately play well for Bush, that it is surprising that the Democrats are pushing the story so strongly when it can so easily be spun into a pro-Bush strong-on-terrorism narrative -- see, for instance, here. The idea of taking something negative and spinning it into a positive story is pure Karl Rove, and probably would have worked just fine a year ago. The problem for Bush apologists, however, is that times have changed. In order to pull off this sort of Rovian jujitsu you need to have absolute loyalty and message discipline among your foot soldiers, which is exactly what the Republicans no longer have. How are the spin doctors going to paint Democrats as wishy-washy terrorist-lovers on this issue when Lindsey Graham is running around implying that the program amounts to "set[ting] aside the rule of law"? The congressional opposition to the program includes a number of Republicans: Hagel and Snowe are joining Democrats in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, and apparently Specter is already on board.

Anyway, it's a curious story. The question is why did the Bush administration do what it did? It's pretty mysterious and I think that BushCo is acting a little bit more freaked out by this story than it acts about any old run-of-the-mill scandal, but maybe that's my imagination. I'm sure you have all read about the Bush administration's defense of its actions elsewhere so I need not go into it here i.e. Why is speed being used as a reason to make an end run on FISA when FISA warrants are routinely issued retroactively? etc. Since the official explanation makes no sense one starts to wonder if it's the identity of the targets of the spying that the White House is concerned about concealing. John from AMERICAblog was the first to speculate that the NSA might have been tapping conversations between US journalists and Middle-Eastern sources, and today Robert Parry wonders if the targets may have been "political opponents or journalists, rather than terrorists."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Witness Against Torture on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, California 

As some of you are aware, I also co-host a public affairs program on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, California. On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with Jackie Allen, a participant in the Witness Against Torture march and fast at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We attempted to include Anna Brown, another participant and political science professor at St. Peter's College in Jersey City, New Jersey, but, regrettably, we could not keep her on the line.

If you are interested in Allen's blunt spoken assessment of our policy of torture, you can download an MP3 file of the interview, until this Friday, 12/23, at 5pm. It starts at about 30-35 minutes into the program. For additional information about her experiences and insights, as well as those of others, visit the Witness Against Torture website. The interview follows an equally enlightening conversation with Tom Barry of the International Relations Center about the movement towards increasingly restrictive immigration measures.

Finally, for voyeurs, this is your chance to hear what I sound like on the radio. It's all part of the American Leftist multimedia octopus, where an internet blog, alternative radio and digital art is being synthesized into a new media conglomorate. Comcast and ClearChannel beware!


Bolivia 

Man, if there's one thing Bush is good at it's getting leftists elected in Latin America. Evo Morales claims victory in what Jim Schultz of the Cochabamba-based Democracy Center called a "stunning, historic win for Morales and MAS." Here's Reuters:

Evo Morales, who challenges U.S. anti-drug policies, was set to become Bolivia's first Indian president and join Latin America's shift to leftist leadership after winning an unexpectedly large majority in Sunday's elections.

Morales' rivals conceded defeat when results tabulated by local media showed him taking slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, much higher than predicted.

With 8 percent of the official ballot tallied, Morales led with 47 percent to 37 percent for Jorge Quiroga, a conservative former president. The official tabulation will take several days but based on exit polls the final result is expected to remain close to 50 percent.

Should Morales capture more than half of the votes he would avoid facing a congressional vote between the two top vote-getters as requried by Bolivian law.

"Beginning tomorrow Bolivia's new history really begins, a history where we will seek equality, justice, equity, peace and social justice," Morales told hundreds of supporters amid chants of "Evo President! Evo President!" at his campaign headquarters in the central city of Cochabamba on Sunday night.

Landlocked Bolivia, South America's poorest and most unstable country, has seen two presidents in three years toppled by large-scale demonstrations led by out-of-work miners, disenfranchised Indians and coca-leaf growers.

It will be interesting to see what happens. Hard leftists in Bolivia think that Morales is too moderate and are pushing for total nationalization of Bolivia's natural gas industry whereas Morales is in favor of some form of partial nationalization. Now that he has power from an election victory that can be honestly read as a mandate perhaps Morales will swing leftward... Anyway I wonder how long we will have to wait before FOX News spews out a news story titled "The Iron Fist of Evo Morales"?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Guantanamo Protesters 

So this story has gotten no play. There are currently a group of American activists protesting outside the gates at Guantanamo Bay:

Twenty-five American peace activists are ready to begin fasting Monday at the gates of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after completing a 50-mile trek in protest of prison conditions and reported torture of detainees. The group, members of the Catholic Worker movement, seeks U.S. authorization to enter the base and meet with prisoners—some 500 of which are held there on suspicion of terrorist activities.

If the activists are granted access to the base, Cuban authorities have agreed to provide them with a military escort through the miles-wide Cuban base, littered with mines, that surrounds the U.S. facility. If denied, group members plan to hold a vigil and fast until their scheduled return to American ground on Saturday.

The New Chalabi on the Block 

So as it becomes increasingly clear that Ahmed Chalabi has a very good chance of becoming Iraq's next Prime Minister (he's deputy PM now), his daughter Tamara is blogging the Iraq elections for Slate. Farhad Manjoo, in Salon, argues that the Slate feature is part of a new campaign to rehabilitate Chalabi's image in the US by establishing his daughter as a bigtime pundit with Middle Eastern politics as her forte:

Tamara, Ahmad's daughter, is an author in her 30s who recently earned a Harvard Ph.D. by studying the Shiite community in Lebanon. Her book on that experience, "The Shi'is of Jabal'Amil and the New Lebanon," will be published next month by Palgrave Macmillan. Now, according to the New York Observer's Gabriel Sherman, she's apparently set her sights on something grander -- making it as a pundit in some of America's highest-profile publications.

This week, Tamara made her debut in Slate, where she's writing diary entries as she travels along with her father's campaign in southern Iraq. Sherman reports that Juleanna Glover Weiss, a former press secretary to Dick Cheney who now works as a lobbyist for John Ashcroft's firm, has been shopping Tamara around to editors at other national newspapers and magazines. Weiss says that Tamara's "intellect and access" make her uniquely poised to work as one of the few female commentators on the Middle East. Sherman writes that "staffers at The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Hotline have received entreaties from Ms. Glover Weiss on her new protégée's behalf."

At this point, I'd just like to say that the primary Chalabi conspiracy theory has become remarkably tenable -- the belief that the US's break with Chalabi in the spring of 2004 was a ploy designed to bolster Chalabi's popularity in Iraq. This business with Tamara Chalabi becoming a pundit really looks like the work of some John Rendon or other...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Air War 

Dahr Jamail corroborates the claims made by Hersh in "Up in the Air" and stresses the scale of the current use of of air power in occupied Iraq:

But visions of a frightful future in Iraq should not be overshadowed by the devastation already caused by present levels of American air power loosed, in particular, on heavily populated urban areas of that country.

CENTAF reports, for example, that on November 14th of this year, "Air Force F-15 Eagles, MQ-1 Predators unmanned aerial vehicles and Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft flew air strikes against anti-Iraqi forces in the vicinity of Karabilah. The F-15s dropped precision-guided bombs and the Predators fired Hellfire missiles successfully against insurgent positions." The tactic of using massively powerful 500 and 1,000 pound bombs in urban areas to target small pockets of resistance fighters has, in fact, long been employed in Iraq. No intensification of the air war is necessary to make it a commonplace.

The report from November 14th adds, "Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons flew air strikes against anti-Iraqi forces near Balad. The F-16s successfully dropped a precision-guided bomb on a building used by insurgents. F-16s and a Predator also flew air strikes against anti-Iraqi forces in the vicinity of Karabilah. The Predator successfully fired a Hellfire missile against insurgent positions."

The vagueness of certain aspects of such reports from CENTAF is troubling, however. The reasons for bombing raids are usually given in generic formulas like this typical one found in official statements released on November 24th and 27th: "Coalition aircraft also supported Iraqi and coalition ground forces operations to create a secure environment for upcoming December parliamentary elections." Such formulations, of course, tell us, as they are meant to, next to nothing about what may actually be happening -- and as the air war is virtually never covered by American reporters in Iraq, these and other versions of the official language of air power are never seriously considered, questioned, explored, or compared to events on the ground.

Another common mission, as stated on the 17th, 22nd and several other days in November (and used again in CENTAF's December statements) has been the equally vague: "included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities, and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."

One of the busier days for the U.S. Air Force in Iraq recently was the last day of November, when 59 sorties were flown. CENTAF reported that "F-15 Eagles successfully dropped precision-guided munitions against an insurgents' weapons bunker near Baghdad. F-16 Fighting Falcons, an MQ-1 Predator and Navy F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats provided close-air support to coalition troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Al Hawijah, Al Mahmudiyah and Fallujah." In addition, Royal Australian Air Force were also flying surveillance and reconnaissance missions that day, as the British Air Force often does on other days.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Uh-oh 

On July 22, 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was shot numerous times and killed by police as he entered a train at the Stockwell tube station in South London. Officers followed him from a residence believed to be associated with terrorist activity into the station. Metropolitan police commissioner Ian Blair conducted a press conference afterwards, and said that Menezes had "acted suspiciously" and fled from officers when challenged. Subsequent evidence, including videotape, contradicted his statement, as well as the claim that Menezes had been wearing a bulky coat, indicative of the possibility that he was a suicide bomber. Blair also denied independent investigators access to the scene of the shooting, maintaining that it would impair an ongoing terror investigation. An inquiry into Blair and officers involved in the shooting is ongoing, with a recently announced effort into the dissemination of this false information by Blair.

Fast forward to Miami: yesterday, air marshals shot and killed an agitated man, Rigoberto Alpizar, after he boarded a flight, claimed to have a bomb in his pack and then, upon being confronted by marshals, ran down the aisle and left the plane. A bomb squad thereafter blew up the pack, which spread clothing across the tarmac. Of course, the White House quickly commented that the marshals appeared to have acted appropriately, and the New York Times, that essential newspaper of record, published a story that, typically, highlighted statements from official sources, and strongly implied that the account of the marshals involved in the incident was correct.

Good ol' Art Sulzberger, doing his good deed for the day, getting his paper out of the blocks fast to help shape public opinion in support of the government, especially when violent action is involved. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times conveniently entitled its story "Man Dies in Airline Threat", again heavily relying upon accounts from official sources, apparently dispensing with the effort to require eyewitness corroboration as superfluous, consistent with frequent uncritical acceptance of the claims of military publicists in Iraq.

But is this what really happened? Is is it possible that this is Menezes and the Stockwell tube station revisited, with law enforcement putting out false information to conceal misconduct? For example, is Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, the Ian Blair of South Florida? Like Blair, he quickly appeared to inform the media that Alpizar had run up and down the aisle of the plane yelling, "I have a bomb in my bag".

Such impertinent questions come to mind, because the normally sonambulent American media is discovering disturbing information that casts serious doubt on the marshals' account of the incident. As CNN has reported today:

Investigators are trying to piece together the final moments before the shooting as questions are rising about whether Alpizar made a bomb threat.

The marshals say Alpizar announced he was carrying a bomb before being killed.

However, no other witness has publicly concurred with that account. Only one passenger recalled Alpizar saying, "I've got to get off. I've got to get off," CNN's Kathleen Koch reported.

Similarly, TIME has obtained an eyewitness account that also contradicts the marshals:

At least one passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 924 maintains the federal air marshals were a little too quick on the draw when they shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar as he frantically attempted to run off the airplane shortly before take-off.

"I don't think they needed to use deadly force with the guy," says John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla. "He was getting off the plane." McAlhany also maintains that Alpizar never mentioned having a bomb.

"I never heard the word 'bomb' on the plane," McAlhany told TIME in a telephone interview. "I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous." Even the authorities didn't come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. "They asked, 'Did you hear anything about the b-word?'" he says. "That's what they called it."

When the incident began McAlhany was in seat 24C, in the middle of the plane. "[Alpizar] was in the back," McAlhany says, "a few seats from the back bathroom. He sat down." Then, McAlhany says, "I heard an argument with his wife. He was saying 'I have to get off the plane.' She said, 'Calm down.'"

Alpizar took off running down the aisle, with his wife close behind him. "She was running behind him saying, 'He's sick. He's sick. He's ill. He's got a disorder," McAlhany recalls. "I don't know if she said bipolar disorder [as one witness has alleged]. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He just wanted to get off the plane."

Nor, according to McAlhany, were the marshals very gentle with the passengers who remained on the plane:

"I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized it was an official."

In the ensuing events, many of the passengers began crying in fear, he recalls. "They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing them to the ground," he says "One little girl was crying. There was a lady crying all the way to the hotel."

Very interesting, and suggestive of numerous possibilities that should be pursued by an inquisitive media. After all, the New York Times relied upon six, yes six (!), journalists for its uninspiring article. Perhaps, with such resources, it can find other passengers who will confirm the marshals account, and, if not, reveal what really transpired and why. It is still 'early innings' as they say. And, of course, if some journalists from across the pond want to fly over and start rooting around, especially ones from the Guardian and the Independent, ones that have done such a good job with the Menezes shooting, so much the better. For now, it's stayed tuned, as I wonder, why does it seem like only people of color die this way, and would the marshals have been more responsive to Alpizar's wife's entreaties that he suffered from a mental disorder, and had not taken his medication, if he had been white?

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Two Years Down 

Today is the second anniversary of the first post of American Leftist.

I probably did a better job as a blogger in 2004 but 2005 wasn't all bad. I had the thing in The Nation. Richard went from being a commenter, to a guest poster, to a co-blogger, and I got to post a picture of a monkey.

In 2006 I'd like to get back to more frequent but shorter posts and would like to do some more political art pieces, but we'll see. Also, I'm open to adding a third co-blogger; in particular it would be nice to find someone who could write about identity politics and gender issues etc., which, at the moment, are woefully under-reported on this blog.

Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting, etc.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rejectionists and the British Poll 

In his most recent Iraq speech, Bush stuck to the characterization of the Iraqi insurgency that began to creep into his public statements sometime last summer: he admitted that the insurgency is not comprised entirely of terrorists. This time around there are "rejectionists", "Saddamists", and "terrorists".

Rejectionists are defined as follows:

The rejectionists are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein. They reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group.


I think his speech writers did a nice job on this one. If Bush has to mention non-terrorist insurgents -- and, lord knows, he has to ... the US has been regularly negotiating with insurgent groups for something like a year now-- have him imply that they are just a bunch of sour grapes.

Now here's the thing ... it's well-known that terrorists and foreign fighters make up a relatively minor portion of the insurgency as a whole; therefore, since most of the insurgency is composed of these non-terrorist insurgents, according to Bush's speech writers it follows that the goal of most insurgents is a return to Sunni dominance of Iraq. If this is the case then why do 65% of Iraqis support insurgent attacks on Iraq's occupiers, given that Sunnis make up only, I think, 20% of Iraq's population?

For the 65% figure I am citing a secret poll conducted by the British military, the leaking of which was the biggest under-reported story of October. Here's The Sunday Telegraph

Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.

The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shows that up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country.

Andrew Robathan: Government policy 'disastrous'
It demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation.

The nationwide survey also suggests that the coalition has lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which Tony Blair and George W Bush believed was fundamental to creating a safe and secure country. [ ... ]

o Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

o 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

o less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

o 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

o 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

o 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.


In other secret-British-poll-related news, as Juan Cole points out, Howard Dean just cited the 80% "strongly opposed" figure in his recent we-can't-win-in-Iraq speech, which led to this amusing exchange with RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman:

Host: "Well I think what's interesting also to add here, Ken, is that John Kerry also came out after the President's speech the other day and what he said was we don't want to redeploy; we don't want to get the troops; we just want to have a time frame for victory. So, again, in the Democratic party itself, there are varying answers. I want to throw this at you because Howard Dean brought this up yesterday, that 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out. And I asked him what is the source of that? Who exactly did the survey? Who did the poll and who exactly did they ask? And he didn't have an answer. Have you seen this poll that shows that 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out?"

Ken Mehlman: "No, not at all. I've seen polling that shows something very different, in fact, and that is that Iraqis increasingly understand and believe that they need their country is heading in the right, not the wrong, direction. They're optimistic about the future in a way they haven't been. ... Fundamentally it comes down to this. Do you believe this in the war on terror is victory versus defeat has a huge consequence for American security? Answer is unquestionably yes."

Deal with a piece of inconvenient data by claiming that it doesn't exist -- I think this strategy could really go places for the Republicans... uh, wait, I guess it already has...

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