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Daily Journal: Monday, February 12, 2007

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Bush Junta Locks and Loads
Iranian Gulf of Tonkin

On Sunday, every national newspaper in the United States—the Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today— not only bought into the Bush junta’s latest PR offensive linking Iran to weapons-peddling in Iraq, but led with it at the top of their web pages. After so many years of manipulative mendacity on the part of the Bush White House, it’s still that easy to lead the press where the junta will, and blind the press to matters the Bushies don’t want us to see. Or remember. This isn’t to dispute the fact that Iran may well be flooding Iraq with weaponry. But the more pertinent questions are this: so what? And why is the Bush junta making such a big stink out of the obvious? Administration flackers spent Sunday distributing “damning” pictures of Iranian weaponry circulating in Baghdad—rocket-propelled grenades, mortar tails “believed to be from Iran and assembled in Baghdad,” as the Los Angeles Times wrote in one of its captions, anti-tank grenades, and so on. The startling thing about all that “evidence” is how pitiful it is, how run-of-the-mill, small-arms-fire it is, and, despite all, how possibly doubtful its origins may well turn out to be. The markings on the weaponry, in suspiciously clear and distinct English and without a single hint of Farsi, look more like those of an arms plant in Texas than in Teheran. But even if the weaponry’s origin is the basement of the mullah’s whorehouse in Teheran, the question remains: so what? More pertinent questions remain as well: And would the junta care to make an equally vigilant analysis of where the Sunni insurgency—and indeed much of Iraq’s Shiite militias—is getting its weaponry? Wasn’t it just last week that we discovered that under U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer, “nearly $12 billion in cash shipped to Iraq between May 2003 and June 2004,” shipments that “weighed 363 tons and had to been flown in on wooden pallets aboard giant C-130 military cargo planes,” and that Bremer purposefully kept no accounts of, “might have ended up with the insurgent groups now battling American troops”? Wasn’t it late last year that the Saudi government brazenly and publicly announced that it would be first in line to support insurgents, in cash (which means in weaponry, and the Saudi arsenal is almost exclusively American) should the Americans begin to withdraw? Wasn’t it in October that the U.S. government’s own auditors, looking into the training and arming of the Iraqi army, discovered that hundreds of thousands of military weapons sent to Iraq for use by Iraqi Security Forces went missing and were presumed to be in the hands of insurgents? Isn’t it every other week that we discover that Pakistani intelligence is helping, and perhaps arming, Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives long the Afghan border and, quite possibly, ensuring that Osama bin Laden (remember him?) remains uncaptured? And with all this the press is still capable of immediately biting on the most obviously irrelevant bit of news to come out of the Iraq war since the latest attempt by Centcom’s public information officers to remind us that yes, a school here and there is still getting a fresh coat of paint and the sun did rise yesterday in Baghdad. The fact that Iranians are arming insurgents in Iraq is, both strategically and politically, no more alarming, to Iraqis (and in fact may be less so) than the continuing fact of the American occupation and its variously harebrained strategies to “secure” Baghdad. It is also much less alarming than the Bush junta’s strategy ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran to justify an eventual attack. Patrick Cockburn in the Independent:

The United States is moving closer to war with Iran by accusing the "highest levels" of the Iranian government of supplying sophisticated roadside bombs that have killed 170 US troops and wounded 620. The allegations against Iran are similar in tone and credibility to those made four years ago by the US government about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion of 2003. Senior US defence officials in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed the bombs were manufactured in Iran and smuggled across the border to Shia militants in Iraq. The weapons, identified as "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs) are said to be capable of destroying an Abrams tank. The officials speaking in Baghdad used aggressive rhetoric suggesting that Washington wants to ratchet up its confrontation with Tehran. It has not ruled out using armed force and has sent a second carrier task force to the Gulf.

That is what Sunday’s weapons bazaar by the Bush junta really adds up to. It’s one more step in the march toward war with Iran, which we’ve now come to expect to the point of taking it for granted. But not to belabor the point: what’s astounding is the press’ virtual acceptance, uncritically and complicitly, of the White House’s saber-rattling despite having vowed to be less gullible and more critical this time. Not even close.

The latest weapons of mass delusion brought to you by the Pentagon

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Border Patrol
Vigilantes and Murderers

Borderline banditry

Last week in the Daily Journal I referred to the new Anti-Defamation league report that points to a resurgence in Ku Klux Klan membership. The reason: anti-immigration rabidity is a great recruiting card. The Minuteman Project is the most prominent of that new breed of vigilante groups that now “patrol” the U.S.-Mexico border (and are establishing little branches around the country) to prevent uncodumented people from crossing over. They call their bigoted hunts a service to the nation. They say they’re not violent. They say they follow the law. Their mere existence, of course, is an act of violence, of intimidation. Their existence also creates a climate of fear, and the longer actual police and Border Patrol allow them to exist (as they certainly and encouragingly do, even if not officially) the more likely the acts of violence. Case in point. This from the Associated Press by way of the Houston Chronicle:

Gunmen stopped a pickup full of illegal immigrants, shot some and took the rest captive [February 8] in an attack that left at least three men dead and two people wounded, authorities said. Authorities were trying to determine who the gunmen were and said some of the immigrants remained missing. The men shot three people, one fatally, along a known smuggling corridor near Tucson, then forced several other immigrants in the group to leave with them, Pima County sheriff's officials said. The bodies of two of those immigrants were found about 10 miles north in the truck that had been carrying the group.

The stories, including the one that ran in the Times the following day, focused on the criminal aspect of the incident. Extortion. Robbery. Bandits. Those are the words used. But if the border is being so judiciously patrolled by vigilantes, the case just as clearly proves to what extent that claim by vigilantes that they’re there to protect the border falls flat on its occasionally murderous face. When individuals are in trouble, be they illegal or not, it’s anyone’s responsibility, “patrolling” volunteers especially, to assist. Certainly, there can’t possibly border guards or vigilantes at every mile. But to posit that the attackers were “bandits” leaves the most essential question unanswered: what if they were the same vigilantes who know the lay of the land and claim to be protecting it—and are now implicitly enjoying the protection of both the Border Patrol and the local police? To the police and the Border Patrol, illegal immigrants are today’s niggers: deserving of no rights, no protection, no recognition as human beings so long as the Border Patrol and the local authorities can get away with it. And the less murders like last week’s are investigated as equally and vigilantly as if a white landowner and his family were killed, the more encouraged vigilante groups will be, and “bandits” will be, to go after illegal immigrants like they were an afternoon’s prey.

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Corporate Woody
Fox Goes Silicone

Corporate whoring tumescent

There’s a myth in the air, every day and on every cable- and satellite-ready television set: that there’s no porn on free American TV. Of course there is. 24/7, and on several channels. It’s business porn, brought to you by CNBC and CNN primarily, but also by the other networks periodically, through what they still insistently call the evening news, when a more apt description, like Katie Knows Best or Lives of Brian or Debbie Gibson’s World News would give accuracy a better name. The television networks report on business the way CBS News once covered the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, or the way Entertainment Tonight “covers” the lives of the ripped and famous—as a lavish, submissive show whose lingua franca is lap-dog deference. That’s not to say that great business reporting doesn’t exist. It does, in small if significant doses: the Wall Street Journal may have reactionary nut cases putting out its editorial pages, but it’s the unquestionable king of critical, often uncompromising business and finance reporting in the United States, and lacking that there’s always The Economist, which doesn’t suffer muck in its palaces. Otherwise, good luck. Most local papers cover business the way CNBC and CNN do, as extensions of advertising or entertainment. As favors. As admiring vassals. Not as reporting. That’s why labor is no longer covered in the United States, why business from the perspective of the worker, of families, of minimum wage earners, of the employees getting it up the rear at Big-Box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot aren’t covered—or if they’re ever mentioned, are portrayed as sniveling idiots who should be thankful for what the corporation grants them. Business is America’s untouchable caste. So it was quite surprising to hear of Rupert Murdoch last week announce that he was launching a Fox business channel that will distinguish itself from other such networks by being more “corporate friendly.” How could a network possibly become more corporate friendly than CNN and CNBC already are? Well, the question might have been asked this way, if it’s Fox you had in mind: How could a news network possibly become more of a propagandist than, say, Centcom or the White House communications office? Fox News readily answers the question every day. How could a business network become more craven than CNN and CNBC? Fox is about to oblige. From the Times:

The new service, currently named Fox Business Channel, will be developed and overseen by Roger Ailes, the chairman and chief executive of Fox News, with Neil Cavuto, the managing editor for business news for Fox, anchoring and overseeing the channel’s content. […] At a media conference in New York yesterday, Mr. Murdoch said the Fox Business Channel would be “more business friendly than CNBC,” which he said was quick to “leap on every scandal,” according to a report on his remarks by, whose parent, McGraw-Hill, sponsored the conference. In a separate interview, Mr. Ailes elaborated. “Many times I’ve seen things on CNBC where they are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be.” He added: “We don’t get up every morning thinking business is bad.”

So at a time when corporations like Exxon rake in $39 billion profits in a single year when the rest of the world was reeling from skyrocketing gas prices, at a time when corporations like Wal-Mart find ways to swindle state governments of their due corporate taxes by paying rent to itself and writing off the expense, at a time when corporations are whining because corporate profits in 2007 may not grow between 10 and 30 percent as they have every single quarter since January 2003—at a time like this, yes, we really do need to go easy on corporations and wake up every morning thinking: How the hell can we make it even easier on corporations than they’ve had it. And Fox, of course, will have the answer. But don’t just blame Fox. This is a lavishly, ridiculously, irresponsibly pro-business climate created and abetted by the mainstream media day in and day out. Fox is just joining the laird.


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Short Tales
Fifth-Grade Homophobia

Not quite elementary, Watson

From the old files: Here’s a letter parents we know sent their daughter’s fifth-grade teacher some time back. Some of the names have been changed because they weren’t interesting as given.

Dear Mrs. Brunhill,

It’s embarrassing for us to have to write you on this matter, as I’m sure you’ve wasted enough time on it and have far more pressing things to waste time on, like FCAT testing. But these things do need to be dealt with honestly. Forgive the soap-opera prose, but here goes: Leila tells us that she reported to you that Chastity told Hester that Leila was a lesbian. Leila, apparently, was bothered by the alleged outing, to the point of bringing the matter to your attention. In other words, tattling.

We’ve raised Leila to not only be tolerant of such differences, mere tolerance being rather wimpy, but to be proud of their existence the way she should be of any other form of diversity, to champion them and to defend them when need be, without being worried of necessarily becoming what she defends (not that, as I remember my Seinfeld, there’s anything wrong with that). As parents we not only respect anything gay, lesbian, transgender or anything else that doesn’t conform with our homophobic culture; we prize it: the more non-conformists, the better. So we imagined that Leila would take someone calling her a lesbian as something like an ordinary honor — something along the lines of being called, say, a liberal, or the daughter of an Arab. We were stunned to learn that she had actually reported it as some form of offense. We were doubly stunned by the manner in which she reported it: rather than speak to Chastity directly, rather than check Chastity’s claim for herself, Leila took it on herself to accuse Chastity of a perceived offense based on hearsay. We thought we had taught her the many wrongs of that approach, too (using our political age so rich in such wrongs as examples). It seems we still have a lot to teach her along those lines. Regardless of what Chastity did say or did not say, we very much hope that she did not get in trouble over Leila’s hearsay. If she did, we owe her an apology, and so does Leila.

But tattling on hearsay is only half the issue. Tattling as a result of some homophobic reaction is the other, equally serious half. We realize that kids like nothing better than to throw around words they barely have a clue about, like gay and lesbian, in hopes of scoring dartish hits. That, unfortunately, is the result of a social climate where certain bigotries are accepted and even encouraged. (Our dourly undeparted president has something to do with that, given his strange and somewhat Freudian desire to make homophobia constitutional.) It isn’t clear to us from Leila how you handled the matter. We’re pretty sure you kept it in its proper perspective (as one of the idiotic things our most beloved children are wont to do from time to time). But Cheryl and I, being phobic about being perceived phobic about anything, also wanted you to know that we’ve talked about this at home with Leila for a very long time, openly and compassionately, I’ve made it the subject of countless columns and editorials (most recently about Florida’s barbaric law against gay adoption), and talked about it again tonight, with Leila, this time shaking our heads a lot and wondering what we could possibly have done wrong that our daughter is speaking in reactionary tongues. We’re hoping that next time she sees a boy wearing pink she won’t call the cops.

Mr. & Mrs. Harvey Firestein

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Mao's Little Witches Say
No Spitting
Harper's Weekly called spitting in public "our loathsome vice" in 1896. So did China under Mao, as this propaganda video reminds us. Thanks to Andrew Linh.


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A Marine Marries
Home from Iraq
World Press Photo contest winner, first place, portrait category, 2007.


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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Friends
Bruneian Sense of Humor

Ahmadinejad's little buddy

From the Brunei Times: “His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam sent a congratulatory message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the occasion of Iran's National Day, which also commemorates the victory of the Islamic Revolution. In a statement, released from the Office of His Majesty, the monarch expressed his satisfaction with the warm and friendly relations and deep understanding between Brunei Darussalam and the Islamic Republic of Iran. His Majesty hopes that this relation will be further maintained and enhanced in the future for the good and mutual benefit of the two countries and its people. His Majesty expressed his hope that President Ahmadinejad would always remain in good health and happiness and for the people of Iran to always enjoy continued progress and prosperity. Meanwhile, His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade also sent a similar congratulatory message to his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki. "I have great pleasure in presenting my congratulations to you and to the government and people of Iran on your national day. I look forward to continuing our work together to enhance the friendship shared by our governments and people," stated the release from the foreign minister.”

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Bravehart Developers
Edinburgh Goes Florida

Edinburgh or Fort Lauderdale?

From The Scotsman: “Scotland's capital risks losing the "distinctive character" that makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site if it fails to get the balance right on new development, the director of the city's heritage trust has warned.Zoe Clark, director of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, said the Old Town, in the historic heart of the city, was facing "unprecedented pressure for redevelopment". Edinburgh's Old and New Towns were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust struggles to conserve the city's architectural heritage with a budget of just £1.1 million a year. And the city centre is facing a string of developments worth hundreds of millions of pounds that could reshape its face from Princes Street to the Royal Mile. At the £200 million Caltongate development, plans to demolish two buildings on the Royal Mile, along with a listed Victorian school, have been bitterly opposed. The development would produce a five-star hotel, apartment and conference complex in the Waverley Valley. Trust staff are now voicing concerns over other sites, such as the 16th century Advocate's Close, where former council properties in some of the oldest areas of the Royal Mile are being sold. UNESCO - the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation - has become more active recently in defending 800 World Heritage sites around the world, particularly in Europe. It placed the Elbe Valley in Germany on the "endangered" list over a proposed bridge, persuaded Vienna to block a high-rise building and last year sent inspectors into the Tower of London over the threat of looming new skyscrapers. [...] The medieval character of the Royal Mile lies in its narrow wynds and closes, arching down in a herringbone shape, where wynds open to magnificent views. By contrast new buildings, from the Caltongate to the £40 million new glass-domed hotel planned on the Cowgate fire site, make their first appearance via computer simulations. The heritage trust is currently drawing up a new statement setting out the significance of the Edinburgh World Heritage site. The trust says major projects - from Quartermile and Caltongate to plans to replace and enlarge the St James Centre on the east end of Princes Street - should be considered together, not one by one. [...] Heritage staff feel they have already lost one major battle over the £400 million Quartermile development - which overlooks the Meadows from its site at the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary - where 19th Century buildings by classic architects were demolished. [...] Maintaining and using Edinburgh's architectural heritage is not cheap. Even the cobbles on the Royal Mile have their price. Edinburgh City Council fought a court battle with a contractor paid £4.5 million to re-cobble the famous road in the mid-1990s after it was alleged stones had begun giving way under vehicles. Meanwhile, after nine years and £7 million repairing stonework and stained-glass windows, the 900-year-old St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is nearing the end of its revamp. A fundraising bid is now under way to buy a £2 million lighting system with 24 chandeliers to better illuminate the building's glories. To date, work has run from repairs on the tower and crown spire to a restoration of the Thistle Chapel.” The full story...

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