Friday, August 31, 2007

The Price of Dissent

One of the disadvantages of living the life of an activist for progressive causes in the US is that you are virtually guaranteed at some point in this country's history of being hounded by federal, state, and/or local law enforcement, not infrequently arrested, beaten, shot, rounded up and forcibly expelled, or spied on relentlessly. I suppose at some level all states, even democratic ones, are the same. They like to control people.

Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a great civil rights advocate in her own right, died this last year. Finally, it was revealed in her FBI file (sometimes I wonder if I have one) that she was spied on by federal law enforcement, several years after the assassination of her husband. For all of you who think the government will not abuse your rights when allowed:


Documents: FBI Spied On Coretta Scott King
POSTED: 3:41 pm EDT August 30, 2007
UPDATED: 3:52 pm EDT August 30, 2007

Federal agents spied on the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. for several years after his assassination in 1968, according to newly released documents that reveal the FBI worried about her following in the footsteps of the slain civil rights icon.Coretta Scott King might try to tie "the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement" according to some of the nearly 500 pages of intelligence files, which go on to show how the FBI trailed King at public appearances and kept close tabs on her travel.The documents were obtained by Houston television station KHOU in a story published Thursday. Coretta Scott King died in January 2006. She was 78.One memo shows that the FBI even read and reviewed King's 1969 book about her late husband. The entry made a point to say that her "selfless, magnanimous, decorous attitude is belied by ... (her) actual shrewd, calculating, businesslike activities."

The documents also focus on her relationship with Stanley Levison, who was a close adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and a person the government long suspected was a communist.There is also evidence that the Nixon administration and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were kept informed of the FBI's surveillance.Martin Luther King Jr.'s activities were long known to have been monitored by the federal government. News of intelligence gathering on famous Americans and war critics became so infamous that rules to curtail domestic spying were put in place in the 1970s.


It should be noted that the US government spied on Coretta Scott King expressly because of her anti-war views, and the fear that she might carry on her slain husband's work of combining the anti-war and civil rights movement. These movements were by definition non-violent, meaning there was no issue of "terrorism," fear of violence, but simply because the bureaucrats in control of the US government did not agree with Coretta's views.

This is pertinent today because the same FBI, entrusted with the Patriot Act to decide what constitutes a terrorist to be monitored off your dollar, has by its own admission on numerous occasions used its power to spy on your transactions and moves without anything resembling a warrant. Of course, this is allowed under the Patriot Act (including the right to break into your residence to confiscate any property considered evidence without telling you). In the abuse cases in the recent news, these actions were only a violation of the law because the FBI did not follow the guidelines to spy on you without a warrant. Never mind that the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees your right as a citizen not to be spied on or have any property seized by the state without a warrant. That has already been jettisoned. They are in trouble because they could not follow the guidelines of their own legally-permitted violations of our Constitution.

And this is a government whose law enforcement agencies still consider progressives as "terrorists." So, if you are a vegan or anti-war activist, in all seriousness, be aware. There is a good chance you already have an FBI dossier chronicling your movements, your internet activity, as well as all of your phone calls being cataloged by our friends at the National Security Agency. This is all to catch terrorists, naturally, which now includes people that do not want you to eat meat, chop down trees, or those Americans who make phone calls to each other.

Since the Bush Presidency, I sometimes try to reconcile how an ideology predicated on smaller government could degenerate itself to this point. Maybe this is the logical conclusion of small government, a larger and more regulated state that operates as a guardian to keep people in line and outwardly supportive of such a belief system. It is sort of a marriage of Lord Acton and Plato's Republic. Unfortunately, we are living it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Senator Hands: The Life and Times of Larry Craig

I do not know what has happened to the political class of late. Apparently, there are a lot of closeted politicians who enjoy sexual contact in public places. Maybe it is in the water? Meet Senator Larry Craig, representing the barely-a-state of Idaho. When not ranching, and preaching the virtues of gun ownership and hatred of gays, Senator Craig likes to snort blow and staff members. According to law enforcement, he also likes to cruise the men's room in search of male companionship.


Police report: Senator signaled desire for 'lewd conduct

(CNN) -- Sen. Larry Craig peered through a crack in a restroom stall door for two minutes and made gestures suggesting he wanted to engage in "lewd conduct," according to the police officer who arrested him.

Craig's blue eyes were clearly visible through the crack in the door, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia wrote in the report he filed on the June 11 incident.

"Craig would look down at his hands, 'fidget' with his fingers, and then look through the crack into my stall again," Karsnia wrote in documents accompanying the arrest report.

The Idaho Republican later said the officer misinterpreted his actions.

But Craig, 62, pleaded guilty August 8 to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge in the incident, according to Minnesota criminal records.

The officer wrote that he was on a plainclothes detail in the restroom because of citizen complaints and arrests for sexual activity there.

Karsnia wrote that when the person occupying the stall beside his left, Craig entered it and blocked the door with his rolling suitcase.

"My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall," the officer said in his report.

The senator then tapped his right foot, "a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct," Karsnia wrote, and Craig ran his left hand several times underneath the partition dividing the stalls.

"The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area," the officer's report said.

When the police interviewed him later, the senator said that "he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom" and that was why his foot may have touched the officer's, the report said.

Craig also told police that he had reached down to the floor to pick up a piece of paper, the officer wrote.

"It should be noted that there was not a piece of paper on the bathroom floor, nor did Craig pick up a piece of paper," Karsnia wrote.

"During the interview, Craig either disagreed with me or 'didn't recall' the events as they happened."

After Craig ran his hand underneath the partition wall three times, Karsnia held his police identification down by the floor so the senator could see it, the report said.

"With my left hand near the floor, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, 'No!'

"I again pointed towards the exit. Craig exited the stall with his roller bags without flushing the toilet," Karsnia wrote.

The senator initially resisted the officer's request to go to the police operations center, he said, but finally did. There, he was read his Miranda rights, interviewed, photographed, fingerprinted and released, the report said.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call first reported the arrest Monday.

In a statement released Monday evening, Craig denied any inappropriate conduct and said he regrets his guilty plea, which he entered without having an attorney present.

"At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct," he said. "I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."

Craig paid a $500 fine when he entered his guilty plea in Hennepin County Municipal Court in Bloomington, Minnesota, according to state criminal records.

He resigned Monday night as a Senate liaison for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Romney's son Josh canceled a trip to Idaho on Tuesday.

Craig, Idaho's senior senator, is married with three grown children and nine grandchildren. A former rancher, he was first elected to the Senate in 1990 after serving a decade in the House of Representatives. His seat is up for re-election in 2008.

Last fall, Craig's office publicly denied assertions by Internet blogger Mike Rogers that the senator is gay. Craig's office dismissed speculation about the senator's sexuality as "completely ridiculous."

In 1982, Craig denied rumors that he was under investigation as part of a federal probe into allegations that lawmakers on Capitol Hill had sexual relationships with congressional pages, saying the "false allegations" made him "mad as hell."

He was never implicated in that investigation, which led to ethics charges against two other congressmen.

In recent years, Craig's voting record has earned him top ratings from social conservative groups such as the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council.

He has supported a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, telling his colleagues that it was "important for us to stand up now and protect traditional marriage, which is under attack by a few unelected judges and litigious activists."

In 1996, Craig also voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages and prevents states from being forced to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples legally performed in other states.

Craig also has opposed expanding the federal hate crimes law to cover offenses motivated by anti-gay bias and, in 1996, voted against a bill that would have outlawed employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, which failed by a single vote in the Senate.

CNN's Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.

I suppose he should get some credit. After all, State Assemblyman Allen blamed his offering of sex to an undercover cop on blacks. What makes Craig even more laughable is that he swears he meant nothing sexual, even though he pleaded guilty to committing a lewd act. Every man who reads this can attest that there are certain things you avoid in a public restroom. Eye, verbal, and physical contact with other men are among those not-to-dos. When I last checked, trying to cop a feel by reaching under a stall is on the list. But, hey, do not fret, right-wingers. He still opposes gay marriage.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

US Problems with the Left in Latin America

The surest sign that the United States government does not get along with you is when it starts to complain that you lack “freedom” and “democratic principles.” Of course, such principles need not apply to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other allied OPEC countries (or for that matter Saddam Hussein before he invaded the wrong neighbor). One of those countries not on Uncle Sam’s Christmas card list is Venezuela.

The reasoning is obvious. Hugo Chavez is entering nearly a decade in power and he governs the most openly-elected socialist government in the world. Unlike the sheikdoms in the House of Saud, Chavez does not have any new deals with US-based oil companies, but instead decided to use the power of the state to take over the private enterprises running its oil exports, and then use the monies accrued from the export of its national resource for education, housing and, dare the thought, welfare spending for the country’s poor. For this heretical act, and many like it, he has been labeled a Communist, socialist, dictator, and even worse.

To be sure, Chavez is hardly a perfect. He is a military officer who tried to seize power in a military coup back in 1992 (which failed and earned him a couple of years in the slammer). After coming back from this abyss, he was able to get himself elected President in 1998, largely on the votes of the poor, as well as those frustrated with the corruption and cronyism of Venezuelan politics. While popularly elected and supported, he has ruled almost by decree this last year (obtaining near absolute powers to shape and implement economic policy). Debate is hard to come by these days in Venezuela, as the political situation has become so exacerbated between those who hate or love Chavez’s rule that even eliminating term limits for the Presidency is coaxed in the language of democracy vs. totalitarianism (interestingly, the people who complain the most about Chavez’s anti-democratic behavior were the ones that supported the attempted military coup against him five years ago).

Chavez’s foreign policy is even more flamboyantly conflictual with the US than his nationalization of the economy. A friend of Iran, Chavez has pledged his government’s support for President Ahmadinejad (supporting Iran’s nuclear aspirations and offering military cooperation in case of a US attack). It is a strange ideological grouping, a Latin American socialist and Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalist, but the pairing has played into American perceptions of the Chavez Presidency as overly radical and dangerous. For his part, Chavez’s hate-hate relationship with the US was sealed following the failed 2002 military coup attempt against his government (a coup which the US recognized and almost certainly sponsored [against the wishes of the UN and the OAS]).

From 2002 onwards, US-Venezuelan relations have been on a collision course. Many people in the US feigned shock and outrage at President Chavez last year for coming to American soil, under the auspices of speaking before the UN, to announce his hatred for George Bush, comparing him to the devil, but this should not have been a surprise. After all, it was under pressure from the Bush Administration that the US was the only country in the world that recognized the coup plotters back in 2002 (and continues to give sanctuary to the deposed leader of that coup, Pedro Carmona).

Why Latin America?

On first glance, one has to wonder why the US has such problems with social movements in Latin America. After all, the US government had no qualms about cooperating with the Left in Western Europe during the Cold War. There was no coup attempt against Clement Attlee after he defeated British wartime Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There was no attempt by the Nixon Administation (who helped overthrow the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile) when West Germany’s Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt pursued a policy of rapprochement with the Eastern bloc. President Ronald Reagan never roused up the French version of Robert D’Aubuisson when Francois Mitterand was elected President (and whose socialist coalition responded to its electoral victory by nationalizing the country’s banking sector). Indeed, Mitterand was a close Cold War ally of the US.

Then why is it that historically the US responds so violently to the same political movements in Latin America? This is a question that has not been adequately examined in my view, but much of it likely rests in the paternalistic attitude of American political elites. To paraphrase John Foster Dulles (ex-Secretary of State under President Eisenhower), “Latin America is our own back yard.” As elementary as this sounds, it is merely an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, which was not only a declaration excluding the Europeans from Latin America, but maintaining US prerogative to politically shape the Western Hemisphere. It is no coincidence that soon after the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine precipitated the creation of Manifest Destiny, sort of the white man’s call to arms to make the US into a continental power. US military involvement in Latin America quickly followed the issuance of these doctrines.

From the beginning of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny’s existence, US political elites looked upon Latin America as a semi-civilized paradise for expansion and control. This sounds like a harsh judgment, but it is not. Since 1846, there have been 79 US military interventions in Latin America (impacting most every country in the Americas at one time or another). It was the US government that opposed, even before the Monroe Doctrine, the Haitian revolution in the 1790s (the first successful African slave revolt in history) and eventual independence in 1804 (even though it was modeled in part on the American revolution). This was because, as Thomas Jefferson said, the US could not fathom the thought of a black republic, whom he considered to be a nation of “cannibals” (the US at that time went so far as to impose a complete trade embargo on the country). When the US invaded Mexico, there was some sentiment for expropriating and annexing all of Mexico, but a coalition of southern Democrats (the main forces that helped generate the war to begin with) disagreed on the grounds it would mean having to govern Latinos under “white American” law.

When President Woodrow Wilson was expressing his lovely sentiments for pluralism, liberalism, and democracy in post-war Europe, he was simultaneously invading Haiti, propping up a US-backed dictatorship that lasted until the 1930s and killed thousands of people. When American adventurer William Walker came to Nicaragua in the middle part of the 19th century, he helped lead a revolt of local property owners against the government, landing himself in power, at which point he tried to reintroduce African slavery to the Central American country (and remarkably enough, while hated by Nicaraguans during the short period he was in power, Walker was a beloved political figure back in the US, especially in the South). Nicaragua would be invaded several more times by the US military before the Sandinistas came into power in 1979 (in fact, the Sandinistas were named after a local revolutionary who was killed by the US Marines back in the 1920s).

This history of invasion, occupation, and humiliation is something that is common knowledge in Latin America. If you go to Mexico City and ask about the war, the poorest street merchant can tell you about Los Niños Héroes (heroic cadets) who defended their city from the US military in 1847. I doubt seriously that more than 10-15% of the non-Latino American population even knows that the US military once occupied Mexico City. Is it any wonder that so few say anything about the 250,000 people killed by US government-backed juntas and militias in Central America throughout the 1980s?

What About Chavez?

This does not exculpate President Chavez from criticism, however (his support of Ahmadinejad should call into question his own views on the Holocaust or an Islamic state that single-handedly wiped out people like him in the Tudeh Party three decades earlier). Quite often the Left has a love affair with anyone that claims to govern in the name of the people. I ran into this during the NATO-Yugoslavia War in 1999, when I encountered some people on the anti-war Left who thought I was an employee of the CIA for daring to criticize President Slobodan Milosevic (even going so far as to defend Milosevic’s coalition with the openly neo-fascist Seselj and Serb Radical Party). I never understood the fixation that people have with anyone that simply says they are for them, but I surmise that quite often humans want to believe that there is a higher power representing their interests. At some level, we all do this, I suppose. Admittedly, I fall into this trap sometimes myself, as I am certainly more inclined to President Chavez than the average member of the American Enterprise Institute, although I try to keep myself honest and critical in assessing anyone in a position of authority.

Overall, sadly, I do not foresee any change in American attitudes about Chavez. Much of this is also fueled by the fact the US has historically taken in the losers of revolutions (be it Venezuela’s Carmona or the anti-Castroites in Miami), and these political losers exert a disproportionate influence on US policy towards the countries whose governments expelled them. It is why to this day the US remains one of the few countries with an embargo on Cuba (as we buy our Chinese-made trinkets from Wal-Mart and Target). It is why people in this county write articles on how the toleration of Hugo Chavez’s existence is making us susceptible to Islamic terrorism.

For this to change, people in the US are going to have to start educating themselves on the region and start asking more pointed questions as to why we maintain some of the policies that we do. Until then, we will continue to be treated to descriptions of democratically-elected heads of state as "dictators" and an entire community trying to kidnap a 6 year old stowaway.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Iraq: The Other Vietnam

Here is something you will not see on Fox News, CNN, or read about in the upcoming doctored Iraq War Report from General Petraeus (actually, the report is to be written by the White House, another little tidbit of information most Americans are not being given). It turns out that our "successful" surge is increasing the exodus from Iraq. Of course, maybe these people forgot that they live in a democracy now and that their country is so much safer than a few months before.

More Iraqis flee since troop rise

BAGHDAD: The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has soared since the American troop increase began in February, according to data from two humanitarian groups, accelerating the partition of the country into sectarian enclaves.

Despite some evidence that the troop buildup has improved security in certain areas, sectarian violence continues and American-led operations have brought new fighting, driving fearful Iraqis from their homes at much higher rates than before the tens of thousands of additional troops arrived, the studies show.

The data track what are known as internally displaced Iraqis: those who have been driven from their neighborhoods and seek refuge elsewhere in the country rather than fleeing across the border. The effect of this vast migration is to drain religiously mixed areas in the center of Iraq, sending Shiite refugees toward the overwhelmingly Shiite areas to the south and Sunnis toward majority Sunni regions to the west and north.

Though most displaced Iraqis say they would like to return, there is little prospect of their doing so. One Sunni Arab who had been driven out of the Baghdad neighborhood of southern Dora by Shiite snipers said she doubted that her family would ever return, buildup or no buildup.

"There is no way we would go back," said the woman, 26, who gave her name only as Aswaidi. "It is a city of ghosts. The only people left there are terrorists."

Statistics collected by one of the two humanitarian groups, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, indicate that the total number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled, to 1.1 million from 499,000, since the buildup started in February.

Those figures are broadly consistent with data compiled independently by an office in the United Nations that specializes in tracking wide-scale dislocations. That office, the International Organization for Migration, found that in recent months the rate of displacement in Baghdad, where the buildup is focused, had increased by as much as a factor of 20, although part of that rise could have stemmed from improved monitoring of displaced Iraqis by the government in Baghdad, the capital.

The new findings suggest that while sectarian attacks have declined in some neighborhoods, the influx of troops and the intense fighting they have brought are at least partly responsible for what a report by the United Nations migration office calls the worst human displacement in Iraq's modern history.

The findings also indicate that the sectarian tension the troops were meant to defuse is still intense in many places in Iraq. Sixty-three percent of the Iraqis surveyed by the United Nations said they had fled their neighborhoods because of direct threats to their lives, and more than 25 percent because they had been forcibly removed from their homes.

The demographic shifts could favor those who would like to see Iraq partitioned into three semi-autonomous regions: a Shiite south and a Kurdish north sandwiching a Sunni territory.

Over all, the scale of this migration has put so much strain on Iraqi governmental and relief offices that some provinces have refused to register any more displaced people, or will accept only those whose families are originally from the area. But Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the migration office, said that in many cases, the ability of extended families to absorb displaced relatives was also stretched to the breaking point.

"It's a bleak picture," Tschannen said. "It is just steadily continuing in a bad direction, from bad to worse."

He also cautioned that reports of people going back to their homes were overstated. As the buildup began, the Iraqi government said that it would take measures to evict squatters from houses that were not theirs and make special efforts to bring the rightful owners back.

"They were reporting that people went back, but they didn't report that people left again," Tschannen said. He added that Iraqis "hear things are better, go back to collect remuneration and pick up an additional suitcase and leave again. It is not a permanent return in most cases."

American officials in Baghdad did not respond to a request for comment, but the national intelligence estimate released Thursday confirmed that Iraq continues to become more segregated through internal migration. "Population displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues," it found, "imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states."

Dr. Said Hakki, director of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, said that he had been surprised when his figures revealed that roughly 100,000 people a month were fleeing their homes during the buildup. Hakki said that he did not know why the rates were so high but added that some factors were obvious.

"It's fear," he said. "Lack of services. You see, if you have a security problem, you don't need a lot to frighten people."

It is clear that military operations, both by American troops and the Iraqi forces working with them as part of the buildup, have something to do with the rise in displacement, said Dana Graber Ladek, Iraq displacement specialist for the migration organization's Iraq office.

"If a surge means that soldiers are on the streets patrolling to make sure there is no violence, that is one thing," Ladek said. "If a surge means military operations where there are attacks and bombings, then obviously that is going to create displacement."

But Ladek added that, in contrast to the first years of the conflict, when major American offensives were a main cause of displacement, the primary driving force had changed.

"Sectarian violence is the biggest driving factor — militias coming into a neighborhood and kicking all the Sunnis out, or insurgents driving all the Shias away," Ladek said.

Her conclusions mirrored the experiences of Iraqis who had fled their homes.

Aswaidi and her family were driven out of the Dora section of Baghdad five months ago when Shiite snipers opened fire on their Sunni neighborhood from nearby tower blocks, shooting through their windows "at all hours of day and night."

Returning covertly to check on the property in mid-August, she found Sunni insurgents occupying the building and neighboring homes, walking unchallenged through the deserted streets. Nearby, she claims, the same insurgents captured one of the Shiite snipers who drove the residents away, and claimed that he was a 16-year-old Iranian.

She now fears that her entire neighborhood will be taken over by Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

"I don't want them to take my town, but I think they will," Aswaidi said. "It will change from Sunni to Shia. The Americans can't stop it."

Shiites face similarly overwhelming odds. In Shualah, on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, 400 Shiite families now live in a makeshift refugee camp on wasteland commandeered by Sadr's followers.

In a sprawl of cinder block hovels and tin and bamboo-roofed shacks, families have stories of being expelled from their homes by Sunni insurgents.

Ali Edan fled Yusifiya, a Sunni insurgent haven south of Baghdad, when his uncle was killed. He has no intention of returning, even though American commanders claim Sunni sheiks there have begun cooperating with them. "It is still an unsafe area," said Edan.

Both humanitarian groups based their conclusions on information collected from the displaced Iraqis inside the country. The Red Crescent counted only displaced Iraqis who receive relief supplies, and the United Nations relied on data from an Iraqi ministry that closely tracks Iraqis who leave their homes and register for government services elsewhere.

Before the troop buildup, by far the most significant event causing the displacement of Iraqis was the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra in February 2006. The bombing set off a spasm of sectarian killing, but the rate at which Iraqis left their homes leveled off toward the end of that year before accelerating again as the buildup began, the Red Crescent figures show.

The United Nations figures also include a little over a million people it says were displaced in the decades before the Samarra bombing, including the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The Red Crescent data does not include them.

In Baghdad, the latest migration involves an enormously complex landscape in which some people flee one district even as others return to it.

In Ghazaliya, a mixed but Sunni-majority district of north Baghdad, one 30-year-old Shiite said his family was driven out by Sunni insurgents a year ago with just two hours notice to leave their home.

Five months ago, the troop buildup brought American soldiers and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army onto his street and his family returned. But even as it did, Sunni neighbors fled, knowing that the army had been infiltrated by Shiite militias.

"They are afraid, because the army has good relations with the Mahdi Army," said the 30-year-old man, who said he was too afraid to give his name. "My area used to have a lot of Sunni. Now most are Shia, because Shias expelled from other places have moved into the empty Sunni homes."

As unfortunate as all this may be, these Iraqis can still take solace: our government is "staying the course" in their democratic paradise because we do not want them to think Iraq is any different than Vietnam. Yes, that is right. The man some of my other fellow citizens elected President is now making correlations between Iraq and Vietnam (but in a positive way). What makes this even more poignant is that before this last week, comparing Iraq to Vietnam was considered a borderline treasonous offense to the supporters of the war. How comforting to know the man who started the war now considers himself his own enemy. So, dear refugees, you may not realize it yet, but you should be happy after all. Who knows, maybe you will be able to return home, before 2032.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Journey's New Lead Singer

I have been a lifelong fan of Journey (OK, the band did not start until I was maybe 1 or 2, but close enough). Unfortunately, the band has come on hard times since their reunion over a decade ago. It started in the late '90s when ex-lead vocals Steve Perry bailed out on the band before their reunion tour. It poisoned the well for this band, from which it has yet to recover.

Instead of calling it in, Schon and company went on without the man who symbolized Journey during its successful years, employing lookalikes and wannabes to serve as lead vocals. Of course, I am sure they did it for the money, to which I do not begrudge them (after all, it is how they make their living), but it was embarrassing to listen to Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto sing songs in a way that only made me miss listening to Steve Perry. This made it all the more difficult because of what Perry did in deserting the band and riding Columbia records with millions of dollars lost in their investment.

Once they went on the road with the pretenders to Perry's throne, Journey basically became its own cover band. Sloshing through the hits for the few extra pieces of silver and gold, it became such that I could not bring myself to listen to them anymore (choosing, instead, to go back over old songs and albums, when they were worth listening to).

But a strange thing happened on the way to oblivion. Then-lead vocals Steve Augeri suffered a throat ailment, replaced by hard rock-sounding Soto, who was every bit as mediocre as Augeri. Then the band started to use its drummer Deen Castronovo more for vocals. His singing voice's range, while not up to par with Perry at his apogee (before he started losing his voice following the release of Frontiers), is by far the best amongst the leads since Perry's departure.

Just how good is Castronovo? Alongside being a great drummer, which is what he has been known for over the past couple of decades, he can sing.

Yes, I know, they are still their own cover band, but at least the singer is doing the songs justice. Hitting those notes on Mother, Father is no small feat (Perry himself lost the ability to hit those notes by 1983-84). Here is to hoping the best for Deen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Return of the D-Word

I do not want to give too much credit for a military general admitting that the US should consider the option of a military draft, because it has been known for quite some time, but General Lute, appointed adviser to the President on military affairs in the Middle East, finally broke the silence from the military establishment about the problems of having an empire without the means to support it. This last week, in a PBS interview, General Lute considered the need for a military draft.

“I think it makes sense to certainly consider it [military conscription]…And I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table. But ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another.”

And why consider it now?

“There's both a personal dimension of this, where this kind of stress [of continuous deployment] plays out across dinner tables and in living room conversations within these [military] families. And ultimately, the health of the all-volunteer force is going to rest on those sorts of personal family decisions.”

This is nothing new. The friends and family in the military who I have spoken to over the years, including those who have been deployed to Iraq, have commented on this incessantly. The sad part is that it took until August 2007 for someone amongst the military brass to state it aloud to the media. Not coincidentally, it took an active duty general to declare this after being appointed to a position of advisement on Iraq and Afghanistan, and even then only obtained the position when several other retired generals turned down the job.

Of course, this proposal is going nowhere. There is no political will for a draft, as there should not be, in my view, but why is it that those who think we should imitate the British Empire or even the Romans will avoid being held accountable for refusing to explain how we are to cash these interventionist checks with the bodies of soldiers we do not have to fulfill their vision of forced global democracy? If that sounds harsh, consider these statements by Michael Ledeen, a leading neoconservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute:


“No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

“Scowcroft has managed to get one thing half right, even though he misdescribes it. He fears that if we attack Iraq ‘I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a caldron and destroy the War on Terror.’ One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. If we wage the war effectively, we will bring down the terror regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and either bring down the Saudi monarchy or force it to abandon its global assembly line to indoctrinate young terrorists. That’s our mission in the war against terror.”

“Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace...[W]e must destroy them to advance our historic mission.”

“First and foremost, we must bring down the terror regimes, beginning with the Big Three: Iran, Iraq, and Syria. And then we have to come to grips with Saudi Arabia. ... Once the tyrants in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been brought down, we will remain engaged....We have to ensure the fulfillment of the democratic revolution....Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize.”

“[The] only coherent strategy for the United States is one that defeats the Islamic Republic [of Iran] and the PLO, along with the other terror masters in Riyadh, Damascus, and Baghdad. The talk about peace, and the endless ‘plans’ that emerge from one capital or another, are no more and no less than stalling tactics by those who oppose the president's vision. Peace in this world only follows victory in war.”

Here is sweet Mike the day before President Bush declared that all major combat in Iraq was over, back in 2003.


"The time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon."


The number of days Mr. Ledeen has ever spent in combat practicing the art of war he sees as being so beautiful? Zero. And Mr. Ledeen’s views on a military draft, which would compel younger civilians who think like him to participate in all of his lovely wars that our children apparently want to sing about? Opposed.

Say what you will about General Lute and Congressman Rangel's position, but it is at least more realistic than one where 150,000 American troops are going to simultaneously oversee elections in Iraq, Syria, and Iran.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rudy's Straight Talk

Fending off criticisms from questioners about his previous failed marriage and bitterly divided family unit the ex-New York Mayor, and current Presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani defensively retorted, "Leave my family alone." This is politico-speak for, 'My kids and ex hate my guts, so stop asking about them.' Fair enough.

Such a response may not sound like much to those of us in the normal world who do not want to waste our personal lives on someone who dumped his wife and family to house up with a younger nurse and "fund raiser" that he was screwing around with, but for those who pretend our lives must be affected by this, because the Almighty commands us, it may serve to further damage the beloved one in a party he has little in common with ideologically (outside of invading Middle Eastern countries, of course).

Then there are the Gays for Giuliani. Yes, the satirical gays. Warming the hearts of Republican voters everywhere, apparently, Rudy has a list of once gay supporters who are not afraid to tell us about their admiration for America's Mayor, as a means of deterring conservatives from voting for a man you will never see mentioning the words 'gay' and 'abortion' in any Republican campaign setting.

Nothing against my friends in the gay community, but I think I still prefer Obama Girl.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The China Toy Syndrome

Ah, the sweet joys of Chinese toys. Just in time to remind all of those democratizers-through-cluster-bombs, who see China as the next big threat, as to why our Communist brothers and sisters will be lucky to survive themselves, the recent toy recall bonanza comes on the heel of the tainted pet food scandal several months back--further damaging the prestige, if it ever had any, of made in China.

The interesting aspect in all of this, outside of the obvious domestic political use by fellow protectionists in the US, who will see this as a golden opportunity to finally stick it to Beijing, is whether or not the Chinese are going to muster up the state capacity to actually enforce its already-existing safety laws that are supposed to prevent the kids from chewing on lead-laden Polly Pocket dolls.

As I noted in a previous post about the recent government-assisted checkout of China’s ex-food safety chief, it is still debatable to me whether China possesses the state capacity to enforce some its undesirable laws. You may take for granted the desirability of safe toys, but your desire for cheap products as global consumers unfortunately conflicts with the economic and financial demand for diminished costs on the part of manufacturers. Thus, to get your dog food for the same price as you paid several years ago, in a global market, too many consumers expressly support the poisoning of their pets. Why? Because to have a regulated market in China on par with what we expect in a wealthy country like the US would compel the Chinese government to crack down on the very people they depend on for their 7-10% annual GDP growth rates.

A few years ago, inside of China, which was barely reported on in the US, there was a problem with baby milk.
Apparently, the local producers thought it swell to sell fake baby milk to the population, not considering that feeding your newborn with non-milk could lead to such maladies like malnutrition and death. As a result, on upwards of a fifty or so Chinese babies died, and hundreds more hospitalized, throughout China. In a country with a one child policy, where most men obtain vasectomies upon the completion of their siring a youngster, it led to massive protests from the families, the media (yes, the repressed Chinese media), and eventually culminating in a response from the government (which, as you can guess, carted out a few responsible executives for an early departure and several more for lengthy prison sentences).

This is a government that still struggles with the concept of prevention, preferring to react to crises, which is why the toy recall and tainted pet food is likely to continue in other products.
And the Chinese are going to learn the hard way when those Western manufacturers come to the conclusion that they should not subcontract the production of their goods in China. Once the ripple effect starts to damage its economic growth (the holy grail that the CCP uses to justify its maintained empowered status), then you will finally see a changing of the reactive bureaucratic culture in the PRC. Until the arrival time of regulatory nirvana, I suppose we will have to be satisfied with the offending toy producing CEO taking the ultimate plunge to accountability. In his favor, the boss at least paid his workers before hanging himself in his own place of employment (it makes one wonder how our own inept officials would hold up in such a society).

Speaking of which (the dangers toys, that is), all of this reminds me of my favorite safety-impaired childhood toys.
When I was a boy, I was a huge fan of the tv show Battlestar Galactica (the one in the late ‘70s, with the cool Egyptian pilot helmets and Lorne Greene). Even then, at the tender age of 8, I had a huge crush on Jane Seymour.

Well, the toys for this show were the best.
My personal favorites were the colonial Vipers, which were not only aesthetically pleasing (as you can see above), but contained two honest to goodness missile launchers that doubled as a pellet gun--providing you with endless hours of fun target shooting a deck of playing cards strategically stacked throughout your bedroom. Of course, you know the fun could not last, as some kid “accidentally” shot himself in the mouth with one of the projectiles, causing him to choke to death (I had this toy for almost a year [before it was involuntarily confiscated by my mother] and it never occurred to me to be so stupid as to shoot one of those missiles down my throat). Within days, my beloved show’s toys were taken off the market, and later replaced with wimpified versions of the Vipers that could do no harm. Leave it to the kid that almost nukes himself with the Atomic Energy Lab play kit to ruin it for the rest of us.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

So Goes Antioch.......

Antioch College is an anachronism in many ways, but a unique institution amongst branch colleges. Started in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1852 by Horrace Mann (the famous 19th century education reformer and abolitionist), it remained one of the most dedicated liberal arts schools in America, until this year. The college experienced many financial difficulties over the last several years, disputes with its governing board, and a shrinking student body, culminating in the cessation of operations following the 2007-2008 school year. It is supposed to re-open in 2012, although at this point one has to be doubtful. There are not too many universities that remain closed for almost five years and come back, particularly when the student body was already contracting my the hundreds every year.

The Bad

Antioch in Yellow Springs is a distinct place. It gives the air of what the world would have been like had the hippies won. It is also a harshly contested campus, inside and especially from an outside world that looks upon it with such disdain. Resting in southwestern Ohio, the Buckeye State’s Bible Belt and base of the Ohio Republican Party, it was not always a well liked or appreciated college. When graduating students several years ago decided to “invite” convicted cop-killer and current resident of Pennsylvania’s death row, Mumia-Abu Jamal, to deliver a commencement address to the graduating class, it brought unwelcome attention to that region of the state (this is an area where George Bush received over 70% of the vote in 2004). Overnight, right-wing radio talk shows inundated the airwaves with an oratory offensive (I guess it is only harassment when the denunciations are against them), leading to hundreds of death threats to Antioch’s President, some of its graduating students, and even the village of Yellow Springs itself.

Antioch was also lampooned for its sexual harassment policies in the early ‘90s, which bordered on something from a Southern Baptist lawyer’s convention (requiring an aspiring courter to receive verbal confirmation and permission for every advance and move prior to the execution of the said overtures). I will never forget the Saturday Night Live skit making light of the policy, which became ammunition during the PC wars of the 1990s. Conservative talk show hosts and columnists led the charge of self-victimized fulminations about the college’s liberalism and leftist “concentration camp” atmosphere, which included a student newspaper that printed anonymous denouncements of students, by name, who were considered ideologically deficient in their dedication to the people's cause. It was a practice that was tolerated by the college’s admin until recently.

The Great

What is forgotten about Antioch, however, is its institutional commitment to justice and citizenship, which you rarely, if ever, see in academia anymore. Offering majors in community organizing, human rights, campaigning, and social activism, Antioch is one of the few colleges in this country that is motivated almost with the singular task of promoting progressive politics.

Its list of alumni is a who’s who of academic and political luminaries. The great scientist, and fellow baseball fan, Stephen Jay Gould, was an Antioch grad. So was Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, actor Cliff Robertson, and DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Norton Holmes. Probably the most famous Antioch graduate is the late civil rights activist Coretta Scott King. All of these alumni were politically active in their fields (having read Gould’s books on evolution and religion, and witnessed the career and honor of attending a speech by Coretta Scott King), and all of them helped shape in their own way the landscape of this country.

Conservatives may laugh at their demise today, but the reason why colleges like Antioch had come into existence to begin with was to offer a collegiate education for everyone, not just white males. It was one of the first colleges in the country that offered interracial scholarships. It was on the frontline of the civil rights movement, in the 1940s, long before the Civil Rights Act and before most on the Right would finally own up that their southern brethren were wrong on the issue. These are not accomplishments to ignore. They go to the heart of the institution, its mission, and why it has such a loyal group of alumni.

The “Comeback”?

As it is, the college has run out of money, or is close to running out. I have personally visited the campus twice, once in the late 1990s and again about three years ago (one of my colleagues actually taught there for a while), and in between that time I could tell that the buildings were not doing quite well. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is a college with money problems. Worse, the student body had shrunk over the years (from over 2,000 in the late ‘60s to around 500 today).

There are many reasons for this drop. One, the corporatization of colleges, universities, and American life in general, which compels one to have a resume that appeals to people and institutions with money (i.e., meaning you need a business, marketing, or a science degree to accompany any major/minor in English or politics). This is not such an easy concept for a college like Antioch, which does not dole out grades or offer degrees in finance. Two, an increasingly conservative student body. My fellow leftists in academia like to recount their youth, about how liberal young people are, but young people today are less liberal and politically active than in the late ‘60s, conservative groups on campus are better organized, and profs quite often relegated to defending liberal values with their own students. I have experienced this in a classroom setting as a professor more than once (usually playing the devil's advocate), although the university I teach at is located in a hyper red state area.

More ominously, the current (and soon-to-be ex) Antioch President Steve Lawry announced in June that the college is to close its doors in July 2008, and then re-open in 2012. Between that time the college board is to raise money, have the current dilapidated buildings demolished, and replaced with, I kid you not, a corporate training center, and a smaller building representing the smaller size of the student body. It will apparently be combined with neighboring Antioch University McGregor, also in Yellow Springs, which offers management and some graduate degree training (and is part of Antioch’s branch campus ring stretching from Keene, New Hampshire, to Seattle, Washington).

Not surprisingly, the alumni of Antioch College are not too enthused about their college being shut down with virtually no notice from its President. Many of the professors were also upset, as the board of trustees issued its decision without much guidance or input from its employees. Just as terrible, the incoming freshman class at Antioch was never informed of this decision, either. After going through the process of applying to the college, and getting accepted, they find out a few months later that their first year at Antioch is to be their last (as it is too late for them to re-apply to another university for this school year). Currently, the Antiochians, a group formed by alumni of Antioch College, are trying to raise enough money to keep the college open. To date, they have raised over $600,000. There is even some expressed interest from the alumni group, along with professors, to keep the college open in an alternative form, if the board refuses to reverse its decision to close the campus.

To be honest, as noble as the gesture is to keep the college open, Antioch faces an uphill struggle. If and when it does come back, it is likely to be a shrunken satellite branch of its former self. That President Lawry announced his retirement from the college after giving it the death penalty is a pretty clear sign of what he thinks of its chances. I genuinely hope that Antioch can survive.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Creationism and ‘Science’: Not just for Fundamentalist Christians Anymore

Apparently, some Islamists in Turkey have caught the creation science fever. Parroting those American Evangelicals who think the world is less than 6,000 years old, and we are just one natural disaster away from the rapture, Turkish Islamists have initiated the Foundation for Scientific Research, whose goal is to disseminate the “science” of God, Yahweh, Allah, whoever’s creation of our beloved and peaceful planet.

Islamic creationist group launches glitzy, global blitz

By Yigal Schleifer Fri Aug 3, 4:00 AM ET

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - On a recent afternoon inside Istanbul's busiest subway station, a young man beckoned commuters into a subterranean "fossil exhibit" full of skulls and insects dating back millions of years.

But this was no mainstream scientific display. One colorful poster advertised the "myth" of the evolution of the horse. Another, displaying a flying pterodactyl, denounced the evolution of birds as "fake."

The display is one of many traveling shows put on by the Foundation for Scientific Research, an Islamic creationist group that has become a household name in Turkey. Now, the groups says it is distributing its books – published in 59 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Swahili, and Polish – to 80 countries.

"Turkey is now the headquarters of creationism in the Islamic World. This is no longer only Turkey's problem, it is now the problem of the whole civilized world," says Haluk Ertan, a professor of molecular biology at Istanbul University. He's one of a handful of Turkish scientists who have been working to counter creationism's spread in the country.

Emboldened by its success at home over the past decade, the foundation, known by its Turkish acronym BAV (for Bilim Arastirma Vakfi), is now aggressively trying to export its unique brand of Islamic creationism well beyond the borders of Turkey to the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States.

In the past year, BAV has blanketed several European countries and the US with its glossy "Atlas of Creation," a lavish 768-page tome weighing more than 13 pounds, sending it to scientists, professors, journalists, and schoolteachers.

One member of the organization estimates that it distributed well over 20,000 copies of the "Atlas," which, like all of the group's books, is written under the name of Harun Yahya. hosts a virtual bookstore that sells "Atlas" ($99) and other Yahya books, and booksellers across Europe have it on their shelves.

"Every Islamic bookshop I know of stocks Harun Yahya's material. It is so glossily produced. It is very attractive and very colorful and outclasses everything else," says Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim British Council, speaking by phone from London.

"It is having an effect. Even among Muslim medical students there are a number now who are speaking out against Darwin."

In France, the Harun Yahya book offensive led the government to issue a warning for schools to be on the look out for the "Atlas" before it makes it into their classrooms. Meanwhile, the increasing European activity of the BAV, as well as of Christian creationist groups, recently prompted a committee of the Council of Europe – a 47-nation group that acts as a kind of continental watchdog – to issue a report strongly warning about its dangers to education.

"Today, creationists of all faiths are trying to get their ideas accepted in Europe. As a result, we have seen several initiatives from these various movements on the Eurasian continent in the last few years, with schools apparently the main target," the report, released in June, said.

Blames Darwinism for terrorism

In real life, Harun Yahya is a 51-year-old former interior-design student named Adnan Oktar. Since founding the BAV in 1990, Mr. Oktar has been responsible for ushering more than 250 books into print, though many observers agree he serves more as the chief overseer of a group of writers rather than as a solo author. The series includes titles such as "The Dark Spell of Darwinism" and "Why Darwinism is Incompatible with the Koran."

Oktar's brand of creationism is not only religious, but also political and even messianic, seeing most of the world's ills – terrorism and fascism among them – as stemming from Darwin's theory of evolution.

"Hitler, Mao, and Lenin were Darwinists. At the root of wild capitalism is also Darwinism. I think if we no longer believe in Darwinism, people will no longer be conditioned to believe in those things," the normally reclusive Oktar said during a recent press conference, held aboard a hired yacht cruising Istanbul's Bosphorus strait.

"Folks, there is no such thing as what you call evolution. If there was, it would be in the Holy Bible or the Koran," added Oktar, dressed in an ivory-white raw silk suit and wearing gold cufflinks and a matching gold belt buckle with Arabic inscriptions on them.

"The sweet dream of the Darwinists and the world is to ban my books," Oktar said, sipping glass after glass of sour cherry juice. "What I'm saying is true. They cannot disprove it."

Unlike fundamentalist Christian creationists, Oktar does not claim the earth was created only a few thousand years ago. Instead, he argues that fossils show that creatures from millions of years ago looked just like the creatures of today, thus disproving evolution.

Harmonizing modernity, Islam

While giving creationism a scientific veneer, "Scientifically speaking, the whole Harun Yahya corpus is a bunch of nonsense, but it is unfortunately very popular," says Taner Edis, a Turkish physicist who teaches at Truman State University in Missouri.

Professor Edis says the success of the Harun Yahya books, at least in the Islamic world, can be attributed to a need for harmonizing modern life with traditional Islamic beliefs.

"Something has to reconcile these two things and it becomes very attractive when someone comes out with a well-packaged message, that they can have both – be fully modern and at the same have science … affirm most of their very deeply held religious and ethical perceptions," says Edis, whose "An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam" was published by Prometheus Books this spring.

"That's a pretty attractive package and that's mostly what the Harun Yahya material provides," he says.

In Turkey, Oktar and his books certainly appear to be having an impact. When Science magazine conducted a survey of 34 countries last August, Turkey had the second-lowest acceptance rate of the theory of evolution (the United States had the lowest).

Creationist curriculum since '85

Creationism has actually been a part of the Turkish science curriculum since 1985, when it was added by government order, and many scientists now fear that it will soon be too hard to uproot.

"The general state of science education is very bad in the sense that evolution and creationism are taught together, and they can't be taught together. If they are, no scientific thinking can be established in these students," says Aykut Kence, a professor of biology at Ankara's Middle East Technical University.

"We are going to fall behind the modern countries in terms of development, economy, culture. Everything."

Of course, like with the Christian scientists, the Islamist creationists have difficulty in explaining the Neanderthals, who predate homo sapiens (i.e., us), and were clearly human, making their own hunting instruments, even burying their dead in quasi-religious ceremonies. For that matter, they have difficulty in explaining the planet earth, since it has existed beyond the literal interpretation of our timeline as a species in both the Holy Bible and the Quran (although the Islamic "scientific" group refuses to own up to this and claims the world is probably older, even millions of years old [in spite of the fact the Quran dates the world between 6,0000 and 300,000 years old]). Even if you wanted to be nice and give them the 300,000 year mark, they would be off by about 4.4997 billion years. Maybe God-Yahweh-Allah-Whoever took a long lunch.

Notice also the fellow who founded this group for creation science makes his living in that most noble of all scientific endeavors, interior designer (alas, the Roter-Rooter/Ghost Hunters). And like the recently departed Reverend Falwell, Mr. Oktar blames terrorism and all the world’s ills on Darwinism (he was kind enough, however, to avoid blaming it on the US and saying we “got what we deserve,” like Falwell did following 9/11). The incongruity in all this is that the people who wrecked those planes into our buildings six years ago did so in the name of Mr. Oktar’s creator, not Charles Darwin.

But the Islamists are still behind their Evangelical brethren in the US, especially the Creation Museum in that bastion of scientific research, Petersburg, Kentucky. You have to love these people, especially since their first Adam was a porn star. I guess someone forgot to remind him that the man upstairs wants his scientists to be pure and moral. And they never even made it to the Sodom and Gomorrah exhibit.