Friday, May 21, 2004

Oh unfair New Mexico

Our hearts with shame o'erflow...
In March 2003, a teenage girl named Courtney presented one of her poems before an audience at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Albuquerque, then read the poem live on the school's closed-circuit television channel.

A school military liaison and the high school principal accused the girl of being "un-American" because she criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's failure to give substance to its "No child left behind" education policy.

The girl's mother, also a teacher, was ordered by the principal to destroy the child's poetry. The mother refused and may lose her job.
But, as with horseshit everywhere, it's spread farther and deeper than just little old Rio Rancho High.
Writers and editors who have spent years translating essays, films, poems, scientific articles and books by Iranian, North Korean and Sudanese authors have been warned not to do so by the U.S. Treasury Department under penalty of fine and imprisonment. Publishers and film producers are not allowed to edit works authored by writers in those nations. The Bush administration contends doing so has the effect of trading with the enemy, despite a 1988 law that exempts published materials from sanction under trade rules.
I've reformatted Korean and Arabic healthforms...does that make me an enemy combatant?
Thanks to bartcop entertainment for the link.
Eric A.'s column in The Nation
These are the men not just the neocons but self-described progressives and human-rights advocates believed capable of carrying out the delicate and difficult mission of bringing democracy and modernism to the Arab world, while safeguarding the security and good name of the United States. Excuse me, but just what was so hard to understand about this bunch? We knew they were dishonest. We knew they were fanatical. We knew they were purposely ignorant and bragged about not reading newspapers. We knew they were vindictive. We knew they were lawless. We knew they were obsessively secretive. We knew they had no time or patience for those who raised difficult questions. We knew they were driven by fantasies of religious warfare, personal vengeance and ideological triumph. We knew they had no respect for civil liberties. And we knew they took no responsibility for the consequences of their incompetence. Just what is surprising about the manner in which they've conducted the war?

It's hard to welcome the disillusionment of so many chickenhawks. As much as I'd like to be happy that they are finally growing a brain, I find myself even more angry at their surprise and dismay. Eric's right. How the hell can you be surprised at a catastrophe played out in plain sight?
The Ryan campaign is paying somone to stalk Barack Obama (via Josh Marshall)
In what has to be a first in Illinois politics, Republican Jack Ryan has assigned one of his campaign workers to record every movement and every word of the state senator while he is in public.

That means Justin Warfel, armed with a handheld Panasonic digital camcorder, follows Obama to the bathroom door and waits outside. It means Warfel follows Obama as he moves from meeting to meeting in the Capitol. And it means Warfel tails Obama when he drives to his campaign office.

"It's standard procedure to record public speeches and things like that," Obama told reporters as the bald, 20-something operative filmed away. "But to have someone who's literally following you a foot and a half away, everywhere you go, going into the restrooms, standing outside my office, sitting outside of my office asking my secretary where I am, seems to be getting a little carried away."

Warfel interrupted Obama several times with heckling questions, but wouldn't respond when reporters asked him about who he was and why he was filming Obama's every move.

"You'll have to speak to the campaign office," Warfel said tartly to practically every inquiry.

Yeah, I know.

ADDED: Here's Jack Ryan's contact info
Jack Ryan for U.S. Senate
118 N. Clinton St., Suite 305
Chicago, IL 60661

312.258.8601 (fax)
888-880-2004 (Toll-free in Illinois)


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Jon Stewart's Commencement Speech at William and Mary
Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I…I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it.

Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize.

But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.

We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror—it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.

We had Robert Pinsky speak. He read a poem about death.
Regulating Atrocity

Sy Hersh's follow-up piece is the crown jewel of this week’s New Yorker but be sure to look at Hertzberg’s column. He touched on something that I’ve been mulling over for the last few days.
There is something a little unsettling about the suggestion that war is just another routine human activity, like driving or stock trading, that needs to be conducted according to the rules lest someone get hurt. Baroness Bertha von Suttner, the 1905 Nobel Peace laureate, once remarked that improving the laws of war was like regulating the temperature while boiling someone in oil.

I’ve always been confused by the concept of the “fair fight.” If the object is to pulverize your opponent why set parameters? And yet from the schoolyard to the war zone, we believe that within every aggressive situation there are lines that we don’t cross. Systematic extermination is barbaric, whereas collateral damage is merely unfortunate. We’ve so internalized the idea that war is necessary that we agree to this absurd notion of systemic killing “within reason.” Hence the Geneva Conventions, The Hague, etc. We also assume that we can objectively identify a war crime when we see one.

Except that there is no objectivity in the perception of a war crime. If we assume that the basis for war is just, or at least justified, we can very easily slant the actions of soldiers, leaders, and etcetera however dubious or criminal as all part of the same just cause.

That is what has made the War on Terror rhetoric so effective. It is a failsafe. We can persuade the weaker minds of this country that there is no possible comparison between anything the terrorists do and our own actions at Guantanomo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. They want to destroy freedom and we want to spread democracy, therefore we have a moral justification for all of our actions whereas they do not.

Right now most the regular readers here are going, “Duh.”

If you look at this debate over the Abu Ghraib scandal it clearly illustrates how the rhetoric of the war on terror has forced us to have this absolutely absurd argument comparing the crimes of Saddam Hussein, and the actions of the terrorists who killed Nick Berg *, and Daniel Pearl, to our own at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. There seem to be following under three categories.

1) Yeah what we did was wrong but what they did was worse.
2) What we did wasn’t wrong because they’re all terrorists and enemies.
3) I went to a very bad high school and can't tell the difference betwee hijinks and torture.

To which our response should be

1) What we did was wrong; end of story.
2) See number 1.
3) (Don't speak to this person. Walk away quickly and avoid eye contact.)

What’s more complicated about this debate, is the "Bad Apple" quandary. And this is something those of us in the anti-war camp should have known better to get tangled up in.

When we first went to war, we let ourselves get caught up in the “Support our troops,” meme which is why we find ourselves fighting this idea of just a few bad apples. Leaving aside the question of Rumsfield’s responsibility (and at this point there isn’t really a question about it) why should it surprise us that soldiers whether ordered to or not tortured prisoners? It doesn’t occur to us that a person who has been trained to kill people labeled as the enemy is probably capable of any amount of abuse. This isn’t to say that all of our soldiers have the capacity to do this. But the fact that this scandal is growing beyond the seven initial suspects illustrates that this is more common than we know. And isn’t a tad bizarre that we are willing to accept the deaths of at least 10,000 Iraqi civilians during major combat, but we are shocked and disgusted at the photos and the stories that are coming out now?

When John Kerry was protesting the Vietnam war he said this on Meet The Press in 1971:
There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones.  I conducted harassment and interdiction fire.  I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people.  I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages.  All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare.  All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down.  And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.

I wish he'd stood by that statement, but I still think that it's relevant. An unjust war compromises everyone involved and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to distiguish between the good and the bad apples. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't continue to support our troops nor that to do so was wrong. But what we are seeing now is a merely a preview of things to come and it is entirely likely that the longer our troops are in Iraq the harder it will be to support them.