Candide's Latest: Weekend Edition, Aug. 18-20, 2006
"No Hereditary Kings in America"
Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks
When countries buys American
So this is how it’s going to be. Israel launches arbitrary raids into Lebanon, destroying more lives and infrastructure and justifying it with blank-check reasoning, as it did overnight Saturday: “If the Syrians and Iran continue to arm Hezbollah in violation of the [U.N. cease-fire] resolution, Israel is entitled to act to defend the principle of the arms embargo,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “Once the Lebanese army and the international forces are active...then such Israeli activity will become superfluous.” The reasoning, of course, doesn’t apply to American arms shipments to Israel. The raids are flat-out, cynical provocations, attempts to keep the pilot light of an eventual war with Iran or Syria flaming while preventing the Lebanese from ever feeling past a state of war. Leave it to the Syrians to fuel the pilot light too. They have nothing to lose as long as Lebanon pays the price. Funny how the headlines have it, characterizing Israel as raiding a "Hezbollah stronghold," as if Hezbollah was an occupier in its own country, and Israel the region's law enforcement authority doing valor a favor.
It’s only a District Court decision, but a judge has ruled that Bush’s secret, domestic wiretapping through the NSA is crap: “A federal judge in Detroit ruled yesterday that the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional, delivering the first decision that the Bush administration's effort to monitor communications without court oversight runs afoul of the Bill of Rights and federal law,” in the Washington Post’s words. "There are no hereditary kings in America," in the judge's words, "and no power not created by the Constitution." King George, of course, disagrees. There is, in his view, Sharia Law in America--his law. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page didn’t go into full reactionary mode (how could it go where it always is by default?) so much as hysterics, calling the Detroit judge “President Taylor”: “Unlike Judge Taylor, Presidents are accountable to the voters for their war-making decisions, as the current White House occupant has discovered. Judge Taylor can write her opinion and pose for the cameras -- and no one can hold her accountable for any Americans who might die as a result.” President Bush, accountable? Now, that’s news. At the Los Angeles Times, news of JonBenet Ramsey’s on-again, off-again killer is considered more important than the federal judge’s decision, topping the paper’s line-up. And we wonder why American’s don’t give a flying wire about their diminishing rights.
Saturday's judgments are unkind toward the federal court decision--not because its conclusion is unsound, but because its reasoning is: "The main problems, scholars sympathetic to the decision’s bottom line said, is that the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, relied on novel and questionable constitutional arguments when more straightforward statutory ones were available," Adam Liptak writes in the Times. "Indeed, Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, predicted that the plaintiffs would win the case on appeal, but not for the reasons Judge Taylor gave.“The chances that the Bush program will be upheld are not none, but slim,” Professor Sunstein said. “The chances that this judge’s analysis will be adopted are also slim.” It's an odd story. Judges' styles and routes to their conclusions are always in contention, even (and especially) at the Supreme Court. What controversial decision there hasn't been assailed, regardless of who was doing the assailing, for its "innovative" reasonings, its tone, its contradictions (Bush v. Gore, anyone?). But those elements in rulings generally don't lead to a national newspaper echoing the armchair criticism of blogs and turning that into the focus of the story. There's an interesting disparity between the Liptak story and the six letters the Times ran today (Saturday), most of which keep the focus where it matters: "Now, finally, a federal judge has the courage and the nerve to rule that the White House’s warrantless wiretapping program on Americans is both illegal and unconstitutional.[...] Her clear ruling stands out in sharp contrast to a Congress that has simply supinely acted for so long as the rubber stamp of this White House."
Bush Is Crap, Part II: Yesterday the Independent headlined a comment by British deputy prime minister John Prescott that “Bush is crap.” The Independent interviewed several Labor Party members and returned with a second-day headline: “Labour Agrees: Bush Is Crap.” Glenda Jackson, for example, who represents Hempstead and Highgate: “I entirely endorse his view. This is why Parliament should be recalled. This government is failing miserably as far as our approach towards the Middle East is concerned. We are simply... bag carriers for Bush and all his policies have been a disaster.” But it’s still not news. Bush was crap in 1998, too.
Freshest Lebanese jokes: "Residents fleeing the Shiite suburbs of Beirut were flashing the victory sign -- to indicate that only two buildings were still left standing. It was followed by excited speculation that real estate values in the poor neighborhood of Ain al-Rummaneh, a crowded cluster of aging buildings overlooking the southern suburbs, had shot up by 50 percent. Why? It now has a sea view." Cold Desert's Ahmad alerts us to the jokes, which have infiltrated Lebanon with more rapidity than Mossad agents in the wake of Israel's invasion, and have trickled down to us through a recent article by the Washington Post's other resident Lebanese, Nora Boustany (between her and Tony Shadid, they have us blessedly surrounded with the kind of coverage from Lebanon that shows up the utter idiocy and shallowness of the likes of Anderson Cooper). More: "People are petrified of honoring their dental appointments out of fear they may have bridgework done, goes another favorite. So contagious have these stories been that in one refugee center, Marwa Saad, 15, whose family was driven out by fierce fighting near the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, did not dare utter a word without covering her mouthful of braces." That gratuitous lunge for your attention with that roseate picture in the upper left corner of this paragraph, by the way, is none other than Haifa Wehbe, the (Boustany's word, not mine) "bombshell" of Lebanese videos, also featured in a running joke: She is dispatched by the Hezbollah leadership to Israel to conduct negotiations. "She returns pregnant. When confronted about her condition, the anecdote goes, Wehbe insisted she was only trying to help: "I thought I would get you another small hostage."" See Boustany's full piece...
They’re celebrating all over South Lebanon, where rice-throwing at the latest marching army has become a ritual: first the rice-throwing, then the stone-throwing, then the bomb-throwing. This time the rice and rose petals are finding the Lebanese army for target. The army moved south in small, symbolic contingents, taking up what posts Hezbollah allows it to take up. It’s a start. But it’s a long and winding road, and half the Beatles are dead. But you can’t underestimate the symbolic meaning of Lebanese army uniforms. In my own experience in Lebanon, I remember the sight of Lebanese army soldiers as being the only one approaching something like a sense of security, or a measure of trust. It is a professional army after all, as none of Lebanon’s other bands of goons are, be they Hezbollah, Christian or (and let’s not forget those roaming chargers) Palestinian.
As for that 15,000-strong UN force for South Lebanon, France says count us out. So whatever happened to Lebanon having a special place in Chirac's heart?
Hezbollah’s spoils in Lebanon: Michael Young in today’s Beirut Daily Star: “Near the end of his speech on Monday, Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, began sounding, ominously, like a president. I say ominously, because Nasrallah has not been elected president, though the current tenant of that office does make us pine for better. In outlining his vision of a stronger state, the Hizbullah leader plainly implied he intended to help reshape that state, and how else would he do so except by bending it around his own party's priorities?” See the full column here…And “After the bloody conflict in Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah is gaining thousands of fans, and dozens of tiny namesakes, in the Palestinian territories.
Thomas Friedman howler of the week: “I’m not sure yet who’s the winner in the war between Hezbollah and Israel, but I know who’s the big loser: Iran’s taxpayers. What a bunch of suckers.” Who gives a turish turban about the Iranian taxpayer, Tom, and what blind man on Pluto couldn’t see who the winner was in Lebanon’s war?
The Few, The Proud, the Murderers, Cont’d: “A high-level military investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November has uncovered instances in which American marines involved in the episode appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, according to two Defense Department officials briefed on the case,” the Times reports. “The investigation found that an official company logbook of the unit involved had been tampered with and that an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings was not given to investigators until Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, intervened, the officials said.”
Our Poodle Britain, Our friends the Saudis: From the Financial Times: "Britain and Saudi Arabia have reached agreement on a £10bn ($19bn) deal to replace the kingdom’s fleet of Tornado aircraft with new Eurofighter Typhoons, a contract that will extend the UK’s biggest export deal for the next 25 years. The agreement, a boost to BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest weapons manufacturer, comes 20 years after the UK first signed the controversial Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia." [Thanks Joe.]
In Other Worlds
Saturday promiscuity: The ever-arousing Liz at Blond Sense alerts us to an article in Germany's oddly arousing Der Spiegel (a newsweekly that could teach its pitiful American equivalents a thing or two about humor and style: can Time, Newsweek and US News be more like slef-righteously sleep-inducing church missals?) about South Korea's "Love Land" sex-ed park. "Whoever said the Japanese are prudish?" Der Spiegel's Matthias Streitz asks. "For me it was one of these moments of astonishment tourists often experience in the Far East. You think the whole region is as repressed as a priest's seminary. You see only the most daring teenage couples kissing in public. And then all of a sudden you find yourself sitting next to an office worker on the subway and notice he leafing through a porn mag. Or you discover astounding fertility fetishes in the local temple -- like a penis-shaped bell clapper dangling from the ceiling. But if you really want to learn about the Asian sex life, "Love Land" in South Korea is the place to visit. " Love Land" is a theme park, about the size of two soccer fields, located in the north of Cheju Island. And it's crammed with soft porn memorabilia -- statues, photographs and sculptures that seem like something halfway between a post-modern version of those temple phalluses and a Jeff Koons installation -- just more trashy, if that's possible." So unprudish are those Asians that the park is open to children under 12 as well--as long as they're accompanied by an adult. I wish they'd post that sort of warning at some American parks, like "The Holy Land Experience" near here, in Orlando (that place shouldn't allow children in, period: the malformed kitsch is enough to kill unformed minds.) But so goes the Plymouth Rock progeny of local theme parks. As Liz says, "we have creationist theme parks depicting humans and dinosaurs co-existing, we have Bible theme parks featuring the Holy Rollercoaster and humongous theme parks based on cartoon characters. Are we big babies here or what?" See the full Love Land article, with pictures, here.
The CIA-Contra-Crack connection, 10 Years later: Reporter Gary Webb was the victim of his own hyperbole, but he never got credit for what he got right. Nick Schou, who’s got a book on the subject coming out in October, explains why in the LATimes: “All three major U.S. dailies, The Times included, debunked a claim that Webb actually never made — that the CIA deliberately unleashed the crack epidemic on black America. The controversy over this non-assertion obscured Webb's substantive points about the CIA knowingly doing business south of the border with Nicaraguans involved in the drug trade up north.” It was, in other words, one of the early cases of destroying a message by seizing on minor mistakes in the message in order to discredit the whole thing—as was the case with CBS’ reporting on Bush’s AWOL days in the National Guard or, more recently, the attempt to deflect attention from Israel’s barbarism in Lebanon by hyping up one photographer’s minor idiocy at the photoshop desk. Schou goes on: “Unlike the media pariahs who came after "Dark Alliance" — most notably fabulists Stephen Glass of the New Republic and Jayson Blair of the New York Times — Webb didn't invent facts. Contrary to the wholly discredited reporting on Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction by New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Webb was the only victim of his mistakes. Nobody else died because of his work, and no one, either at the CIA or the Mercury News, is known to have lost so much as a paycheck. The editors involved with the story, including Managing Editor David Yarnold, survived the scandal to receive generous promotions. History will tell if Webb receives the credit he's due for prodding the CIA to acknowledge its shameful collaboration with drug dealers. Meanwhile, the journalistic establishment is only beginning to recognize that the controversy over "Dark Alliance" had more to do with poor editing than bad reporting.”
Andrew Young's rainbow coalition of slurs, with Wal-Mart hypocrisy as the icing: "The civil rights leader Andrew Young, who was hired by Wal-Mart to improve its public image, resigned from that post last night after telling an African-American newspaper that Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners had “ripped off” urban communities for years, “selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables,”" the Times reports. "In the interview, published yesterday in The Los Angeles Sentinel, a weekly, Mr. Young said that Wal-Mart “should” displace mom-and-pop stores in urban neighborhoods. “You see those are the people who have been overcharging us,” he said of the owners of the small stores, “and they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs.”" That, ladies and gentlemen of the geremiads, from a civil rights leader.
Cry me a river of cash: “The taxable profits of corporate America will fall 8 per cent next year and remain on a downward trajectory until 2010, a new study by the Congressional Budget Office predicts,” the Financial Times reports. “The CBO estimates that total taxable profits will inch up in 2008 but fall again in 2009 and 2010, and will not recover their current level in nominal cash terms for almost a decade.” Considering that corporate profits have been breaking records year after year, while wages and salaries have been stagnating, maybe it’s time for a little balancing act.
Paul Krugman on the one subject that’s sinking America, and getting virtually no attention beyond the occasional alert from the desert: Inequality.
Sarin wisps: “The Tokyo High Court on Friday upheld the death sentence for a former top member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult charged with making the sarin nerve gas used in the deadly 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system, and other crimes,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reports. “The ruling said Masami Tsuchiya, 41, played a pivotal role in the attack, and a similar one the year before in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that collectively killed 19 people and left thousands sickened.
Coca-Cola’s Poisons: Has Coke become the New McDonald’s, the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian asks? “A litany of alleged human rights and environmental abuses in developing markets has made Coca-Cola a cause célèbre. The latest issue to hobble the company is the renewed allegation that its flagship drink in India contains 27 times the maximum permitted amount of pesticides.” In some parts of India, Pepsi and Coke are banned from sale, says the Times of India.
Speaking of Jokes...
Remember that one, from March 2005?