Thursday, December 29, 2005


Ick. What a year. First off, we got Smirky's re-coronation (hey, he's king all right; just ask him!) and another "national championship" for the University of Spoiled Children. Those were bad for the whole country. Then, on a more personal level, a series of deaths: my uncle, a dear friend, and my grad school mentor.
Not enough? Ok. TBO's father had to undergo a second angioplasty to place another stent in his heart. My mom broke her other hip and then had to have her own angioplasty to insert 2 stents in some arteries in her heart. And then she was told that the heart medicine that had been working for her for years could kill her so they have to try new meds to see if any of them work. That process lasts months at the very least, and is gravely uncomfortable for her.
And oh yeah, I got cancer and had chemotherapy for 6 months.
(There were bright moments: TBO and I got married (although not in the way we originally planned or wanted); that is no small thing, I promise. The Ducks have had a great, and surprising, season (although that could be compromised as well by a bowl loss tonight). I received a tremendous show of tangible and intangible support and affection from my co-workers and friends (due to my contracting cancer); again, no small thing, I admit.)
2005. What a year. Time for you to end.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Book review--Devil's Game

The US incursion into Southwest Asia has a heck of a lot in common with what we did in (to) Southeast Asia in previous decades, with one major difference. This time we are, all comments by Smirky and his pals to the contrary, fighting a new war against a religion (Islam) instead of the old one against a political philosophy (Communism). The irony of it all is that the fight against Communism--especially Soviet Communism--led the US, under 9 presidential administrations to aid the radical Islamists that are now in control of those nations we most distrust. The story of how the US helped foster these radical right-wing reactionary fundamentalists is told in Robert Dreyfuss's Devil's Game.
Dreyfuss has done a remarkable job in explaining some extremely complicated political and religious maneuverings over the last 100 or so years via a relatively short book. In less than 400 pages readers get a short history of Islam (especially the rise of fundamentalism and its anti-Soviet, anti-leftist adherents), the Middle East, and those parts of southern Asia that have had an impact on (or have been affected by) the "Islamist" movement (mostly Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq). That the US has been putting its fingers into all of these pies since the end of World War II, and almost exclusively to the benefit of those fundamentalist Islamic groups, is a tale that needs to be heard by any and all who want to absolve us of all blame for 9/11 or any other act of violence directed our way. Dreyfuss makes it clear that we do indeed need to "blame America" (as the blind, or those willing to be blinded by, right wingers decry) for many of the ills that are befalling our policies and actions in that region. Without our continual aid, it seems unlikely that radical Islamism would have taken hold of the political processes in any of the countries Dreyfuss has analyzed, even in the absence of any Soviet influence over their opposition. Our wrongheaded pursuit of anticommunism, in other words, led us to support not only corrupt--but relatively peaceful, at least insofar as we were concerned, and certainly pliable--rightist governments like those controlled by the Saudi royals and the Shah of Iran, but also more violent and "unreliable" groups like the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood. Anyone who came to us spouting anti-Soviet rhetoric was given financial and political salvation, regardless of their actual goals or ideals. According to Dreyfuss, the US intelligence agencies (who were notoriously ill-informed and -equipped to accurately assess the politics and societies of the Middle East and south Asia) and the State Departments during the Cold War actually encouraged the pan-Islamic movement as a means of creating a Soviet-free southern border to the USSR, ignoring the increasingly isolated and overlooked factions within those agencies that warned of the potential dangers of Islamism.
Devil's Game is a vital addition to the small but growing body of literature that exists to detail the shortcomings of the CIA and the State Department in its dealings with terrorism, but it is also a necessary history of why people like Osama bin Laden hate us so much. Anti-Islam has a long and unfortunately mostly English-language color to it, but our own blithely ironic and self-serving support of the most virulent strain of Islamism has done us the most damage. It is this ignorance, in addition to the continuing and short-sighted support we give Israel, that the Islamic terrorists hate, not "our freedom" or "our way of life", or whatever nonsense Smirky is touting this week. Dreyfuss details it all, and it is an ugly and sordid story.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Book review--Fooled Again

One of the blogs that I read regularly (dailyKos) has a moratorium on posts or comments concerning the possibility of election fraud in 2000, 2002, and 2004. The ostensible reasoning behind that restriction is that allowing that kind of conspiracy speculation might lend the blog an air of nuttiness that it is trying hard to overcome in its effort to provide the left a serious outlet for discussion. The plausibility of Mark Crispin Miller's Fooled Again, however, might give the Kossacks pause to reconsider that policy.
While not exactly providing a "smoking gun", Miller offers up the only kind of proof that we can have during the secretive years of Smirky's regime in support of his thesis that the right wing has been undermining our heritage of free elections for the last 5 years. Miller uses anecdotal and individual stories of disenfranchisement or threatened violence behind the scenes of our last 3 elections, but all of them are substantiated by the reportage of local sources with little to gain by lying. Nationwide instances of voter intimidation, ballot tampering and destruction, and the notorious and well documented use of "felon lists" by Republican Party workers fill Miller's book, making it virtually impossible to believe that these are simply isolated cases of unsupported wrongdoing by zealots.
Combining these stories with his very real fears (along with more anecdotes) that touch screen voting booths have been tampered with (something that is demonstrably possible) during these elections, and the fact that the manufacturers of those booths are rabid Republicans, Miller makes a believable, although completely "circumstantial", case that Smirky and his pals are rigging the system. Put briefly, Miller has put together too many disparate threads to ignore the existence of his tapestry.
Miller clearly has an axe to grind, but shouldn't we all? I imagine there are actually very few people in this country who are willing to "cheat" this severely, regardless of party affiliation or political persuasion. The problem is that we are all too eager to believe that none of them are running the country, which, if Miller is right, are exactly who are the cheaters. Those of us on the left have to wake up to this possibility immediately, since we are the ones bearing the ideological--and sometimes quite physical--brunt of this assault on our freedoms. (People on the right, having been on the winning side since 1994 (and especially since 2000, of course), have little motive to begin questioning their good fortune--who wants to know that s/he's been played for a chump by her/his own?) Unfortunately, unless someone who happens to be in the right position to know the truth and who also happens to be able to obtain physical proof recovers his/her moral and ethical balance and comes clean publicly, circumstantial evidence is all we can ask for from researchers like Miller. Let's hope that it's enough . . .

Friday, December 09, 2005

Media sickness

A friend and colleague of mine called my attention to a Los Angeles times article that had as its headline "Most in U.S. Say Torture Can Be Just", quoting an AP-Ipsos poll that reputedly stated that 61% of Americans polled agreed that torture is justified on at least rare occasions. The Times merely picked this story up off the AP wire, although they created their own headline. ABC News also ran this story on their website, although their headline was a bit less inflammatory: "AP Poll: Most Say Torture OK in Rare Cases". After seeing this story, I was all set to lambaste Smirky and his pals for leading this country into disregarding its own Bill of Rights (remember that? We're not supposed to allow "cruel and unusual punishment"?), but in order to get my facts right, I went to the poll itself to get the correct numbers.
What the poll actually reveals, if anyone were to take the minute or two to look at it objectively, is that the US respondents are not that far out of line on the issue from what those surveyed in the other 8 countries said, and that the 61% figure used by the AP writer (Will Lester) is extraordinarily misleading. The full breakdown for the US survey was that 11% felt that "torture against suspected terrorists" can "often" be justified, 27% thought "sometimes", 23% said "rarely", and 36% responded "never". And while our figures as a whole do not reflect favorably upon our bloodthirstiness and disregard for human rights in comparison to the other countries polled, the AP writer has chosen an odd way to present the results, doncha think?
Another, more usual, method (combining the results of the "top" and "bottom" two responses) of reading and reporting the same survey results would have been that "59% of US interviewees think that torture is only justifiable in rare circumstances, and a plurality of those surveyed believe it is never justified". How different would the body of a story with that lede be from what we actually saw? Granted, an objective observer would also point out that the only other countries' citizens that reported as low a figure were Mexico (at 58%) and South Korea (perhaps not surprisingly the lowest, at 43%)--not exactly the countries with which most Americans would want to be compared; the lowest European country was France (!), at 65% using this method.
So the question becomes, why did Lester choose to combine the top 3 responses? Is the person who says torture is only "rarely" justified really similar to a person who believes torture is ok "often"? Those seem to me to actually be diametrically opposed responses. What is the effect of Lester's method and report on the reader? In my opinion, by stating that 61% approve torture, Lester is trying to do a number of things: 1) downplay the actual revulsion most Americans actually have to Dick Cheney's avowed support for torture; 2) convince those who do support torture that they are in the majority, making it even more unlikely that they should change their minds; and 3) giving the loons on the right wing "evidence" that they are in the mainstream of public opinion, so that they can hammer away at those who disagree with them with claims of merely following the public's lead on the issue.
The next question becomes, why did these mainstream media editors simply affix their own headlines to a spurious report instead of doing the 5 minutes of digging I did to find out the truth of the poll numbers? Those of us on the left (and those on the right as well, who have been taking advantage of this fact for a quarter of a century) who have been paying attention already know the answer to that--the mainstream media has either become shills for the Radical Right or are simply filled with lazy "journalists" unwilling to do their jobs. Whichever of those two is correct bespeaks volumes about the downfall of democracy in this country, since most people are too busy to do the digging for the truth themselves and have relied on the media to perform their role. Trusting the mainstream to report the truth has become too dangerous for us; we have been misled by them for too long, and now people are dying because of it. Will even more people now be tortured because of it?