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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 07/18/2010 - 07/25/2010
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The American hikers detained in Iran - a "no-context" triumph for an NYT op-ed

ya gotta love our so-called news media... they never hesitate to step forward with stories and opinions unequivocally stating facts and taking strong positions... yes, they want to appear like they're doing their job and, to all appearances, they are... what isn't apparent, principally because it's almost never there, is the context so vitally necessary to truly understanding anything presented as "news" or "opinion"...

take today's nyt op-ed, calling on iran to follow its own rule of law and to release the three detained american hikers apprehended while hiking along the iran-iraq border (see my previous post here)... now that the hikers have finally been charged, after a year in confinement, with "illegal border crossing," the piece very reasonably lays out a strong argument that iran should observe its own law, a law which states that such an offense is punishable with a fine but not jail time... the piece goes on to lament that iran seems to be treating the three as pawns in its ceaseless game of taunting the united states...

never once in the piece nor in any other mainstream news media reports i've read on the detainees is the broader context mentioned, context that would point out that unlawful detention, detention without charges, and detention under potentially damaging physical and emotional conditions is precisely what the united states itself has been doing and continues to do, all under the justification of our superior moral authority: u.s. = good; iran = bad...

perhaps an even bigger piece of unmentioned context is how united states behavior is mirrored, emulated and even aspired to by other countries... the united states is always pushing its status as a role model in the world of nations and, while there are some who would snicker at such a boast (and i'm frequently one of them), the truth is that the united states does indeed set the bar for nation-state behavior in the foreign policy arena and, to a lesser extent, the internal domestic policy arena as well... i've heard officials of other countries, first-hand and in so many words, say, "well, what's the problem...? YOU do it, why shouldn't we...?"

lack of context in news and opinion reporting, reporting we should be able to rely on as not only factual but textured, complete and fully informative, is a very slippery slope... we need look no further than andrew breitbart's recent deliberate omission of a key part of shirley sherrod's speech to see just how dangerous and manipulative the absence of full context can be, but what we fail to realize is that the breitbart scam is only the tip of a very large iceberg...

why are we given so little context...? i don't think anyone with half a brain could miss the answer to that one... if we did have the full context or even half of it, we might arrive at very different conclusions about the meaning and implication of news events than we do currently... people are not stupid and, in fact, far from it... we are fully capable of rational thought and forming our own conclusions based on information and evidence at hand... when deprived of that information and evidence, we will form conclusions based on the information and evidence we're given... and that, my friends, is the whole idea...

Since their detention, the Americans have been denied access to their lawyer and allowed only one telephone call to their families and one visit from their mothers. There is particular worry now about Ms. Shourd, who spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement — the reason is unclear — and has a precancerous condition on her cervix and a breast abnormality, both of which require monitoring. The Iranians are withholding results of her medical tests.

It’s hard not to compare the hikers’ experience with that of Shahram Amiri, the Iranian nuclear scientist who recently returned to Tehran. He claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency had abducted him in Saudi Arabia. American officials said he was an informant who defected and then got cold feet.

Given the shady world of espionage, we may never know the truth. What we do know is that he was allowed to leave this country and was last seen embracing his family in Tehran. It’s long past time for the three Americans to have the same opportunity.

what about the host of detainees the united states has kept sequestered in places like bagram and guantánamo for years without charges and without any family visits at all...? don't they deserve the same opportunity...? don't they deserve the same empathetic treatment from the nyt...? isn't it important that we see the similarities between the our treatment of detainees and that of iran...?

yes, the circumstances of the hikers and the detainees in guantánamo are different but what isn't different is that we're dealing with real, live human beings... you can't call for decent treatment and following the rule of law for one set of human beings and not recognize that all human beings deserve that same treatment... yet it is the position of organs like the nyt, faithfully mirroring the position of our government, that OUR detainees are somehow in a lesser category, somewhere between wild animal and human... and yet we can still ask with perfectly straight faces, "why do 'they' hate us?"...

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

More things that make me crazy - perversions of journalism

a keith olbermann special comment... worth watching not so much for his take on the shirley sherrod debacle tempest-in-a-teapot farce non-news news but because of his insight on how we're all being conned by our so-called "news" media...

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

ordinarily i choose not to post on the manufactured distractions that pass for news in my country, but what this sad episode points out to me above all else is the vapidity, deceit and manipulation that passes for news in the united states... given all the incredibly, desperately important issues that we should be tackling in our national dialogue, it appalls me beyond words that the past four days has seen our media almost wholly devoted to a fabricated smear deliberately calculated to stoke the never-far-from-the-surface racism that, sadly, still underlies the american state of mind...

once again, glenn greenwald has the definitive view...

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane ... : "Politics in D.C. have become Seinfeldesque. Fights about nothing."

If you read and write about politics full-time and are thus forced to subject yourself to the political media -- as I am -- what's most striking aren't the outrages and corruptions, but the overwhelming, suffocating, numbing stream of stupidity and triviality that floods the brain. One has to battle the temptation to just turn away and ignore it all. Every day, day after day, is consumed by some totally irrelevant though distracting melodrama: what Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page, some "outrageous" snippet of a comment made by John Boehner or Harry Reid, some "crazy," attention-attracting statement from some fringe idiot-figure or TV blowhard that is exploited for superficial partisan gain or distraction value (hey, look over there: I think Michelle Bachmann just said something outrageous!!!!).

there's so much that needs our undivided attention and when i see all of our collective energy being squandered on such idiocy, it makes me C.R.A.Z.Y...!

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Things that make me crazy

i was driving back from a lunch meeting and listening to an interview on public radio international with two of the mothers of the american hikers that have been detained without charges for over a year in iran... the mothers had been allowed to visit their children in tehran in may and, at the time, made a direct appeal to the iranian government for their release without success...

nora shourd, the mother of sarah shourd, one of the detainees, was particularly distressed that her daughter had been kept in solitary confinement for most if not all of her time in prison and was suffering from severe loneliness and appeared to her to be clinically depressed... in so many words, mrs. shourd called her daughter's treatment torture and was appalled that, as a u.s. citizen, she could be subjected to such degradation and made to endure so much personal suffering when she had committed no crime...

as a parent, i would be equally outraged and absolutely beside myself with worry if one of my children was in a similar situation... in fact, i can't imagine any parent anywhere in the world who wouldn't feel the same... but i also couldn't help but think of the parents of all the detainees held by the u.s. in equally troubling circumstances, also without charges, not for one year, not for two years, not even for five years, but for seven, eight, nine and, for some, going on ten years... is anyone interviewing THOSE parents...? did the interviewer even mention that the u.s. is doing the very same thing, only a great deal more of it...? did the mothers bother to acknowledge that there are a lot of mothers around the world struggling with the same situation...? no... of course not...

makes. me. crazy.

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I'm not auditioning for president of the Glenn Greenwald fan club


he made an excellent point this morning when commenting on michael mukasey's wapo op-ed in today's edition...

Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, The Washington Post, today, arguing against civilian trials for Guantanamo detainees:
The civilized world has tried over several hundred years to establish rules of warfare so that those who wear uniforms, follow a recognized chain of command, carry their arms openly and do not target civilians are treated as prisoners of war when captured. Those who follow none of these rules are treated as war criminals, not as ordinary defendants accused of ordinary crimes and entitled to far more robust protection than war criminals.


The irony here is that the decision to declare enemy fighters in Afghanistan as "unlawful enemy combatants" -- which is what, in turn, "justified" denial of Geneva Conventions protections for them (at least until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise) -- was grounded in the fact that they do not, as Mukasey put it, "wear uniforms, follow a recognized chain of command, carry their arms openly." That's what made them, in the U.S. lexicon, not only "unlawful combatants" but even Terrorists. But, of course, exactly the same is true for our countless private contractors who are acting as combatants for the U.S. in multiple parts of the world... .

as i said yesterday, the ability of the u.s. to wax righteous to the rest of the world while blindly justifying its own utter disregard for accountability, the rule of law and internationally accepted standards of conduct is seemingly limitless...

speaking of which, a neighbor of mine in the rv park is on temporary duty here with the air national guard, serving as a mission commander for drone missions in afghanistan and pakistan and probably other places i'll never hear about... as with so many of these guys, he's a decent enough sort, pleasant to talk with, laid back and easy-going... i'm sure he doesn't think of himself as either a war criminal or a terrorist and i'm sure nothing i could say would change that... however, i'd be really curious to know how much and how deeply he actually thinks about what he's doing... i can't believe he doesn't think about it at all but i strongly suspect he tells himself that, unpleasant as it is, it's a job that's got to be done... if pressed, i'd guess most people would respond that way, so thoroughly have we been sold on the unimpeachable rightness of united states behavior in all things...

p.s. how come it is that former officials of a thoroughly discredited presidential administration - rove, cheney, yoo, mcconnell, mukasey, et al, ad nauseam - keep getting trotted back out to spew their fear-based, constitution-shredding garbage...? why do their opinions still matter...? why not john dean...? why not paul craig roberts...? for that matter, why not ramsey clark...? just askin'...

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The War Machine is obligated to shareholders, not the common good

glenn keeps on a-truckin' with the second installment of the dana priest/william arkin wapo investigative report, top secret america...
[I]f you combine this second Post installment with the first one from yesterday, the picture that emerges is that we have a Secret Government of 854,000 people so vast and secret that nobody knows what it does or what it is. Roughly 30% of that Secret Government -- engaged in the whole litany of functions from spying to killing -- is composed of private corporations: "The Post estimates that out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors." That there is a virtually complete government/corporate merger when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State is indisputable: "Private firms have become so thoroughly entwined with the government's most sensitive activities that without them important military and intelligence missions would have to cease or would be jeopardized."

As little oversight as National Security State officials have, corporate officials engaged in these activities have even less. Relying upon profit-driven industry for the defense and intelligence community's "core mission" is to ensure that we have Endless War and an always-expanding Surveillance State. After all, the very people providing us with the "intelligence" that we use to make decisions are the ones who are duty-bound to keep this War Machine alive and expanding because, as the Post put it, they are "obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest." Our military, our CIA, our spying agencies (such as NSA) are every bit corporate as they are governmental: in some cases more so. So complete is the merger that it's the same people who switch seamlessly back and forth between governmental agencies and their private "partners," which means we have not only a vast Secret Government, but one that operates with virtually no democratic accountability and is driven not by National Security concerns but by its own always-expanding private profits.

here's a thought...

once every square inch of the planet is privatized and once unfettered capitalism has become the global religion with social darwinism as its most sacred doctrine, the only accountability left will be to shareholders, at which point our super-rich elites will have arranged it so that THEY are the only shareholders...

ya want accountability...? i got yer accountability RIGHT HERE...!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Every day, [NSA intercepts and stores] 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications

as glenn points out, this headline taken from the the wapo series by dana priest and william arkin, top secret america, captures one of the most stunning points made in the first installment... sadly, however, to those of us who have been paying the slightest bit of attention for the past dozen years, it's only the raw numbers in black and white that are news, not the fact that the nsa is vacuuming up every single byte of electronic data from every single public network around the world and probably most private ones as well...

here's glenn...

Here is [Arkin and Priest's] first sentence: "The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work." This all "amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight." We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government: functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

Anyone who thinks that's hyperbole should just read some of what Priest and Arkin chronicle. Consider this: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications." To call that an out-of-control, privacy-destroying Surveillance State is to understate the case. Equally understated is the observation that we have become a militarized nation living under an omnipotent, self-perpetuating, bankrupting National Security State. Here's but one flavoring anecdote:

Command centers, internal television networks, video walls, armored SUVs and personal security guards have also become the bling of national security.

"You can't find a four-star general without a security detail," said one three-star general now posted in Washington after years abroad. "Fear has caused everyone to have stuff. Then comes, 'If he has one, then I have to have one.' It's become a status symbol."

What's most noteworthy about all of this is that the objective endlessly invoked for why we must acquiesce to all of this -- National Security -- is not only unfulfilled by "Top Secret America," but actively subverted by it. During the FISA debate of 2008 -- when Democrats and Republicans joined together to legalize the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program and vastly expand the NSA's authority to spy on the communications of Americans without judicial oversight -- it was constantly claimed that the Government must have greater domestic surveillance powers in order to Keep Us Safe. Thus, anyone who opposed the new spying law was accused of excessively valuing privacy and civil liberties at the expense of what, we are always told, matters most: Staying Safe.

But as I wrote many times back then -- often by interviewing and otherwise citing House Intelligence Committee member Rush Holt, who has been making this point repeatedly -- the more secret surveillance powers we vest in the Government, the more we allow the unchecked Surveillance State to grow, the more unsafe we become. That's because the public-private axis that is the Surveillance State already collects so much information about us, our activities and our communications -- so indiscriminately and on such a vast scale -- that it cannot possibly detect any actual national security threats. NSA whistle blower Adrienne Kinne, when exposing NSA eavesdropping abuses, warned of what ABC News described as "the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack." As Kinne put it:

By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it's almost like they're making the haystack bigger and it's harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody. You're actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.

The Government did not fail to detect the 9/11 attacks because it was unable to collect information relating to the plot. It did collect exactly that, but because it surveilled so much information, it was incapable of recognizing what it possessed ("connecting the dots"). Despite that, we have since then continuously expanded the Government's surveillance powers. Virtually every time the political class reveals some Scary New Event, it demands and obtains greater spying authorities (and, of course, more and more money). And each time that happens, its ability to detect actually relevant threats diminishes. As Priest and Arkin write:

The NSA sorts a fraction of those [1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of daily collected communications] into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

The article details how ample information regarding alleged Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and attempted Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab was collected but simply went unrecognized. As a result, our vaunted Surveillance State failed to stop the former attack and it was only an alert airplane passenger who thwarted the latter. So it isn't that we keep sacrificing our privacy to an always-growing National Security State in exchange for greater security. The opposite is true: we keep sacrificing our privacy to the always-growing National Security State in exchange for less security.

the 4th amendment...? how quaint...

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The wealth of [society's] most powerful members is never redistributed or put to use for public good

you'd almost think we were talking about the u.s., now wouldn't you...?
Pakistan’s Elite Pay Few Taxes, Widening Gap

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Much of Pakistan’s capital city looks like a rich Los Angeles suburb. Shiny sport utility vehicles purr down gated driveways. Elegant multistory homes are tended by servants. Laundry is never hung out to dry.

But behind the opulence lurks a troubling fact. Very few of these households pay income tax. That is mostly because the politicians who make the rules are also the country’s richest citizens, and are skilled at finding ways to exempt themselves.

That would be a problem in any country. But in Pakistan, the lack of a workable tax system feeds something more menacing: a festering inequality in Pakistani society, where the wealth of its most powerful members is never redistributed or put to use for public good. That is creating conditions that have helped spread an insurgency that is tormenting the country and complicating American policy in the region.

It is also a sorry performance for a country that is among the largest recipients of American aid, payments of billions of dollars that prop up the country’s finances and are meant to help its leaders fight the insurgency.

Though the authorities have tried to expand the net in recent years, taxing profits from the stock market and real estate, entire swaths of the economy, like agriculture, a major moneymaker for the elite, remain untaxed.

This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite,” said Riyaz Hussain Naqvi, a retired government official who worked in tax collection for 38 years. “It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man.”

[emphases added]

the disingenuousness of the nyt is stunning, particularly in a time when the super-rich elites in the united states, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the obama administration, are systematically destroying what's left of the social contract in a process that's continued unabated through the bush/clinton/bush/reagan years...

but, hey... the ability of the united states to point out the sins of others is unparalleled and it seems that everybody in the world accepts that as fact - except us, of course...

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