Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: 40th Anniversary Of The Beatles' Rooftop Concert



It was 40 years ago yesterday: The Beatles went to the rooftop to play. Their concert on January 30, 1969, on top of Apple Studios came at the end of "Let It Be." The film, recorded at Twickenham Film Studios and Apple, both in London, shows the band rehearsing for a regular concert that never took place and captures an undercurrent of tension just before their breakup–tension that each one spoke about subsequently. 

The rooftop concert served as a reminder of the music that brought The Beatles and their fans worldwide so much joy. It was their first live performance since their concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966, and, broken up by the police in the midst of a workday, it was to be their last. After their rendition of "Get Back," shown above, John Lennon said, "I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!" Indeed they did, but they were soon to go their separate ways.

Friday, January 30, 2009

President Obama Criticizes Huge Wall Street Bonuses Following Bailout



Late last year, the Republicans blamed workers and organized labor for auto industry problems while ignoring skyrocketing CEO salaries. Their accusations came against a backdrop of eight years of Bush administration hostile labor policies.

It was refreshing, therefore, to hear President Obama speak about the irresponsibility of Wall Street executives who, after a disastrous year capped by a $700 billion taxpayer bailout, gave themselves $20 billion in bonuses. His statements, captured in the video above, come at a time when he may appeal to Congress for more money to help the faltering financial industry, while encountering demands for accompanying restrictions in pay. The president also referred to bailout recipient Citigroup's plans, recently abandoned, to buy a $50 million corporate jet.

Regarding the bonuses, President Obama said, “That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful. And part of what we’re going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility... There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now's not that time.”

Like FDR criticizing the "economic royalists" at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, it takes a Democratic president to speak out against Wall Street excess and greed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Limbaugh Wants Obama To Fail–And, Ultimately, America



President Obama told Republicans, "You just can't listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." Despite such wise advice, they listened to Limbaugh anyway, as evidenced in the fact, pointed out in the video above, that not one House Republican voted for the stimulus bill.

What specifically did the conservative talk-show host tell his dittoheads regarding the new president? "I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail, if his agenda is a far-left collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?"

Take heed, comrades: the ultimate goal of the Obama presidency is to place you on a collective farm toiling under the Five Year Plan.

Limbaugh also stated, "Why is it any different, what’s new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don’t care what the drive-by story is. I would be honored if the drive-by media headlined me all day long: 'Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.' Somebody’s gotta say it."

Yes, folks, it's liberalism that took us "close to the precipice." Liberalism waged two wars, slashed taxes on the wealthy to make sure we couldn't afford them, and deregulated the financial industry. 

Limbaugh is, of course, a hypocrite, having condemned liberals in July 2006 for supposed defeatism when Republicans were in power. “I’m getting so sick and tired of people rooting for the defeat of the good guys,” he complained.

More than that, Limbaugh's patriotism applies just to ideology, not to the country. His only loyalty is to conservatives in power. America is in dangerous financial straits and is facing a troubling international situation. Limbaugh wishes to cast a double whammy on the nation: first by supporting the administration that got us into this mess, then by saying that he doesn't want the new administration to fix it. His wish for Obama to fail is also a wish America to fail.

In a way, it's understandable. What would Limbaugh say to his dittoheads if Obama provided solutions to the economic and global dilemmas left to us by the Republicans?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

House Passes Stimulus Bill With No Republican Support



The House passed President Obama's $819 billion stimulus bill by a vote of 244-188, without one Republican vote of support. That's despite the overtures that the president made to GOP lawmakers in terms of addressing their concerns. 

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky states in the video above that the president wanted the package to be "earmark free," as if infrastructure development and federal relief for struggling states in terms of unemployment benefits, health care and education are newfangled ideas cooked up by a Democratic cabal. The one proposal that McConnell refers to, restoring the National Mall, was stripped out of the bill.

McConnell also states that the package, which contains $544 billion in federal spending and $275 billion in tax cuts, still doesn't contain enough–you guessed it!–tax cuts. That Republican panacea supposedly results in a thriving economy–particularly if the cuts go to the wealthiest, who supposedly "trickle down" their billions to the rest of us. That one and only fiscal solution worked wonders over the past eight years, right?

If anything, the plan could use more in the way of infrastructure development, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, who recently reported that the nation's bridges, sewage systems and roads are in dire straits. More investment in those areas, as well as in mass transit, would create more jobs and lay the foundation for future economic development. If the Republicans want to call such investments "earmarks," that's fine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bush Administration Left Gitmo Files A Mess, Complicating Center's Closing

President Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center have been complicated by the discovery that the files on its prisoners are in complete disarray, The Washington Post reports:

[Legal and national security officials] found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

Of course, the Bush administration, through the Military Commissions Act of 2006, denied habeas corpus, the right of a detainee to legally challenge his or her imprisonment. So why bother worrying about prosecutions when it's so much simpler to lock prisoners up and throw away the key?

They hit one snag, however: the Supreme Court ruled that the denial of habeas corpus is unconstitutional. Glenn Greenwald explained the historic and legal context of the Court's decision:

The Court's ruling was grounded in its recognition that the guarantee of habeas corpus was so central to the Founding that it was one of the few individual rights included in the Constitution even before the Bill of Rights was enacted. As the Court put it: "the Framers viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and they understood the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom." The Court noted that freedom from arbitrary or baseless imprisonment was one of the core rights established by the 13th Century Magna Carta, and it is the writ of habeas corpus which is the means for enforcing that right. Once habeas corpus is abolished -- as the Military Commissions Act sought to do -- then we return to the pre-Magna Carta days where the Government is free to imprison people with no recourse.

The Bush administration, in its incompetence and arrogance, didn't prepare for the possibility of this action by the Supreme Court. So what was their response to this stinging legal rebuke? The Washington Post continues:

Justice Department lawyers responding in federal courts to defense challenges over the past six months have said repeatedly that the government was overwhelmed by the sudden need to assemble material after Supreme Court rulings giving detainees habeas corpus and other rights.

It seems that the former administration handled crucial files on alleged international terrorists with the same care in which many teenagers maintain their rooms:

In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."

He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."

It's all part of the monumental mess left behind by the Bush administration, both domestically and abroad, that the Obama administration has now been charged with cleaning up.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"No Logo" Remains The Essential Critique On The Injustices Of Globalization

No Logo by Naomi Klein. Illustrated. 522 pp. Picador. $15.00 (paperback)

Naomi Klein’s No Logo is essential to understanding the anti-globalization protests against the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, including the 1999 protests against the latter in Seattle.

Klein outlines the strategy behind corporate branding, in which lifestyle and image are emphasized over products: “The old paradigm had it that all marketing was selling a product. In the new model…the brand, and the selling of the brand acquired an extra component that can only be described as spiritual.”

One result of the disassociation from products is the farming out of labor to the Third World, often to export processing zones where multinationals find “…tax breaks, lax regulations and the services of a military willing and able to crush labor unrest.” If sweatshop workers try to unionize for better wages and conditions, there is always the threat of factories pulling up stakes and relocating. The companies can directly affect public policy by “help[ing] draft international trade agreements to reduce quotas and tariffs, or even lobby a government directly to loosen regulations.”

While conditions in western countries are not as dire, the rise of temps, part-timers and freelancers are symptomatic of the same marketing strategies: “The underbelly of the shiny ‘brands, not products’ revelation can be seen increasingly in every workplace around the globe. …offering employment–the steady kind…has fallen out of economic fashion.” Again, companies such as McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Starbucks regularly resort to union busting at home, just as they do abroad.

Klein describes various tactics employed against corporate abuse, including selective purchasing agreements in which local legislators refuse to buy goods and services from targeted companies. She criticizes voluntary codes of conduct drawn up by corporations and advocates enforceable international laws: “The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights already recognizes the right to freedom of association. If respecting that right became a condition of trade and investment, it would transform the free trade zones overnight.”

The author is somewhat vague when she describes “participatory democracy at the local level” to counteract the “centralization of power and distant decision making” represented by multinationals and the bodies that fashion laws favoring them. Nevertheless, No Logo remains the most influential analysis of globalization and its many attendant injustices.

Seeger And Springsteen Sing Uncut "This Land Is Your Land" At Inauguration



Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen's inspiring Inauguration rendition of "This Land Is Your Land" contained all of the original lyrics, including those once deemed subversive. When it was originally recorded by The Weavers in the 1950s, the folk group left out the controversial lines, points out public interest lawyer and activist John Atlas:

"This Land Is Your Land," written in the shadow of the Great Depression by Woody Guthrie, captured the hurt and hunger endured by ordinary Americans as well as the push back by workers and farmers who organized across the country.

..."This Land is Your Land" recorded in the CD "The Weavers Greatest Hits" left out the provocative left wing verses written by Guthrie, an act of self censorship caused no doubt by the Weavers' fear of being attacked as communists.

Seeger was a member The Weavers, which had a tremendous hit with "Goodnight Irene" in 1950, but were later blacklisted by McCarthy era politicians. Their fortunes revived following a successful New Year's Eve 1955 concert and a popular record based on that performance. The Weavers eventually broke up and Seeger was blacklisted for almost two decades.

Atlas concludes:

Watching Seeger and Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, singing the original uncut version of "This Land is Your Land," reminded me what these two have long understood: progressive change requires hope, the joining of different generations and ethnic groups, and an activism infused with the communal joy that comes with shared singing. Who could have known that all my son's generation needed to help bring about the change we need was an African-American community organizer turned authentic political leader, who was capable of inspiring them to action.

Here are the original uncut, subversive words of "This Land is Your Land" as it was sung Sunday at Obama's Inaugural. Feel free to use these words from now on.

"In the squares of the city -
By the shadow of the steeple

By the relief office - I saw my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."



Chorus [this land is my land...]



"There was a big high wall there - that tried to stop me;

Sign was painted - it said private property;
But on the other side - it didn't say nothing;

That side was made for you and me."



Chorus



"Nobody living can ever stop me,

As I go walking - that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back

This land was made for you and me."

In recognition of Pete Seeger's political activism in behalf of social justice and peace, his admirers have started a campaign to award him the Nobel Peace Prize, reports The Huffington Post. To sign the petition, click here. (H/t The Quaker Agitator.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Janis Triumphs At Monterey 1967



Janis Joplin's career took off after her astounding performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. She held nothing back in her onstage delivery of raw, raspy emotion, influenced by African-American female blues artists Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton. A non-conformist and outcast growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis went to San Francisco and joined Big Brother & The Holding Company, which wedded the blues to the psychedelic sound.

Janis's performance of "Ball And Chain," a Thornton composition, is excerpted from the 1968 film "Monterey Pop." Take note of the rapt attention of singer Mama Cass in the audience (including her apparently saying "wow" at the song's end) and of Janis's delight at the crowd's thunderous applause. This groundbreaking, hard-living artist had three more years to live before accidentally overdosing on heroin, at age 27, alone in a Los Angeles motel room.

An Appreciative Look Back At George Bush's Oratory



Now that George Bush has left the White House, perhaps we can finally appreciate his oratorical skills. I'm specifically referring to his moments of high comedy. Though Bush cost this country dearly, one simply cannot buy the type of entertainment he brought us as a speaker, particularly when he was unscripted. His mangling of the English language and of logic is rare even among politicians. 

Now that we have a president who writes and speaks brilliantly and never says "noo-cular" and "misunderestimated," we know what we're missing. We share the wistfulness of David Letterman as he introduces his "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" above.

Friday, January 23, 2009

President Obama Signs Order To Close Guantanamo, Restore American Values



In a move to restore America's values and image, stop the gathering of unreliable information presented by desperate detainees and cease practices that ultimately endanger our troops, President Obama signed an executive order closing Guantanamo in a year.

As shown in the video above, Obama referred to officers standing behind him who "...made a passionate plea that we restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great, even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism. They made an extraordinary impression on me, they are outstanding Americans who have fought and defended this country and for them to fight on behalf of our constitutional ideals and values I think is exceptional..."

In addition to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center, Obama also signed orders to "shut down secret overseas CIA prisons, review military war crimes trials and ban the harshest interrogation methods."

Related to the officers who support Obama's executive order is an article that appeared in the Washington Post on October 6, 2008, concerning ceremonies honoring World War II interrogators. 

These American war veterans criticized the Bush administration's embrace of torture and spoke of interrogations that did not follow Dick Cheney's advocacy of working on "the dark side." Instead, they extracted information through actually forming a relationship with their prisoners:

When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects. 

Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners' cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.

"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.

Blunt criticism of modern enemy interrogations was a common refrain at the ceremonies held beside the Potomac River near Alexandria. Across the river, President Bush defended his administration's methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects during an Oval Office appearance.

Several of the veterans, all men in their 80s and 90s, denounced the controversial techniques. And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army's Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.


..."We did it with a certain amount of respect and justice," said John Gunther Dean, 81, who became a career Foreign Service officer and ambassador to Denmark.

The interrogators had standards that remain a source of pride and honor.

"During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone," said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. "We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity."

Oath Of Office "Controversies": New Administration, Same Old Fox

Administrations come and go, but the clown show that passes for news at Fox continues. In a world in turmoil, there's something reassuring about that, yes?

After President Barack Obama and Chief Justice John G. Roberts stumbled over each other's words during the oath of office ceremony, Chris Wallace wondered whether Obama "really is the president of the United States":


Just to make sure, Roberts re-administered the oath to Obama on Wednesday in the White House Map Room. Sure enough, a new controversy took hold at Fox. This time, Glenn Beck, talk show host and theologian, was dismayed to find that the ceremony took place without a Bible:



Beck stated that we've never had a president sworn in without a Bible. According to Think Progress, Beck is incorrect; Teddy Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson and John Quincy Adams also didn't use one. But since when did the facts make a difference at Faux News?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hillary Clinton Speaks Of Value Of Diplomacy At State Department



Hillary Clinton arrived at the State Department and was greeted like a rock star. The Secretary of State told her colleagues, "...robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America’s future." 

After eight years of "You are either with us or against us," scorn for "old Europe," rejection of the Kyoto Protocols on global warming and refusal to talk to those we consider enemies, this is a much-needed departure. In the spirit of openness, the Secretary of State invited her staff to "think outside the proverbial box" and let them know that "there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue that will make us better."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama Pledges A New Respect For Freedom Of Information Act



In an immediate and most welcome departure from the Bush administration, President Barack Obama has made it clear that government openness is the new order of the day. At a White House ceremony, he stressed the importance of the Freedom of Information Act (video h/t Talking Points Memo):

"The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent... ...The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. ...this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known. ...the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret doesn't mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent and of holding it accountable, and I expect members of my administration not simply to to live up to the letter, but also the spirit of this law. I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness. Going forward, any time the American people want to know something that I or a former president wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the attorney general and the White House counsel whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law..."

Compare the president's stance with that of the previous administration, as reported in 2003 in The New York Times:

The Bush administration has put a much tighter lid than recent presidents on government proceedings and the public release of information, exhibiting a penchant for secrecy that has been striking to historians, legal experts and lawmakers of both parties.

...A telling example came in late 2001 when Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the new policy on the Freedom of Information Act, a move that attracted relatively little public attention.

...The Ashcroft directive encouraged federal agencies to reject requests for documents if there was any legal basis to do so, promising that the Justice Department would defend them in court...

Generally speaking, said Alan Brinkley, a Columbia University historian, while secrecy has been increasingly attractive to recent administrations, ''this administration has taken it to a new level.''

Its ''instinct is to release nothing,'' Professor Brinkley said, adding that this was not necessarily because there were particular embarrassing secrets to hide, but ''they are just worried about what's in there that they don't know about.''


Consider the reversal in role that Obama envisages for the attorney general. The attorney general now stands as a safeguard against excessive governmental secrecy, including on the part of the president. Attorney General Ashcroft, in stark contrast, urged the government to reject requests for information just for the sake of rejecting. Then again, a former administration that held secret energy task force meetings, practiced extraordinary rendition of detainees and leaked the names of undercover agents for revenge may have had good reason to constantly cover its tracks. 

Gaza Cease Fire: The State of Ambiguity

Israel’s leaders know that, given the state of the Gaza Strip, it will be difficult to achieve a total, unambiguous military victory. Instead, we are more likely to return to the state of ambiguity we know so well from Lebanon.-David Grossman, The New York Times

Prominent Israeli author and essayist David Grossman, writing during the outbreak of hostilities in Gaza, was prescient enough to sense the ambiguous state of affairs following the war (Grossman published another article following the cease fire in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz). There is no agreement among the warring parties, who don’t recognize each other. Their main demands remain unresolved: for Hamas, an end to Israel’s economic blockade and an opening of the crossing points; for Israel, an end to Hamas’ rocket firings and a closing of the tunnels through which weapons are smuggled.

Israel will state that it established deterrence and therefore won. It can point to the example of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which didn’t provide any support to Hamas beyond the rhetorical. Hamas will state that it is still in charge and therefore won. Hamas can also look toward Lebanon, where Hezbollah gained in political power following the 2006 war there. Time will tell whether these claims are true; both sides can look toward the ambiguous example of Lebanon in interpreting the ambiguous results in Gaza.

I’ve maintained that Israel had to respond militarily to Hamas rocket fire–and it most probably will have to in the future. At the same time, I’ve questioned the scale of Israel’s attack. The main problems are smuggling through tunnels near the Egyptian border and rocket fire near the Israeli border. Why wasn't a campaign of surgical strikes in these areas viewed as a sufficient response to the resumption of rocket attacks? The massive invasion of Gaza caused a humanitarian catastrophe among a civilian population trapped in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. I asked similar questions regarding the two wars in Lebanon, in which Israel initially and justly responded to border violations. What was the purpose, though, in driving toward Beirut?

So with this unresolved result, what next? I have three hopes: that, in their elections, the Palestinians will reject Hamas and the Israelis will reject Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party, in favor of pragmatic leaderships that recognize that only a political solution can solve the conflict–and that the only viable political solution is two states for two peoples.

I also hope and trust that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton will remain engaged in negotiations (I’m much more confident of that than I am of the warring parties picking sensible leaderships). The Bush administration thought that it could ignore the conflict for seven years and pick it up in the eighth. That approach cannot succeed, since the two parties are absolutely incapable of solving the conflict on their own. Left alone, the situation will always deteriorate. Israelis and Palestinians must be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward a more peaceful future.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Olbermann On The Bush Presidency: 8 Years In 8 Minutes



Following my posting of the 30-second Bush retrospective, I became aware of Keith Olbermann's "Bush Presidency: 8 Years In 8 Minutes."  Olbermann provides a masterful recitation of the high crimes (unaccompanied by mere misdemeanors) of the Bush era. W's greatest hits, so to speak, are all here, from the fixing of intelligence for war to the denial of habeas corpus to ill-advised financial deregulation to the politicization of science and much more. 

The most immediate concern is the damning legacy that Bush is leaving us with in terms of economics, health care, domestic security, foreign affairs and the environment. The entire survey reads like a prose poem on power, destructiveness and incompetence. The full transcript is available at truthout.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Classic Brando

"There's no one before or since like Marlon Brando. The gift was enormous and flawless, like Picasso."–Jack Nicholson

Marlon Brando internalized and embodied a role like no one else, as the prime exemplar of an acting technique known as the Method, advanced by Lee Strasberg in the Actors Studio, New York, in the 1940s and 1950s. Playing the role of a rebel in many of his movies, Brando bucked the glamorous star image of the time in real life and went around Hollywood in T-shirts and jeans. The following four scenes demonstrate the passion and integrity he brought to his most enduring roles.

In "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951), directed by Elia Kazan and based on the Tennessee Williams play, Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) is compelled to respond to her husband Stanley in  a scene featuring the most famous series of screams in cinematic history:



"The Wild One" (1953) finds Johnny Strabler, leader of the outlaw Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, falling for the sheriff's daughter, Kathie Bleeker (Mary Murphy), while causing a ruckus in the small town of Wrightsville:



In "On The Waterfront" (1954), an anguished Terry Malloy accuses his brother Charley (Lee J. Cobb) of allowing him to take a dive in a prize fight instead of standing up for his boxing career:



Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the novel by Mario Puzo, "The Godfather" (1972) opens with Amerigo Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto) seeking "justice" from Don Vito Corleone following the beating of his daughter by two male companions. The Godfather agrees to this "gift" after chastising his supplicant for his disrespect:


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Bush Presidency: A 30-Second Cinematic Retrospective



I've been conducting something of a retrospective on the Bush administration, trying, in my small way, to push back against the Bush legacy project. That's the attempt by Bush and his cohorts to convince us that his presidency hasn't been that disastrous, and that history will even look back kindly. Yes, kindly at Iraq, Katrina, the tanking economy, torture, environmental degradation, the disdain for science and diplomacy, rampant cronyism and incompetence...to name just a few hallmarks.

Above, courtesy of The Sexy Patriot, is the cinematic retrospective of the Bush years. It's only 30 seconds long–but after the past 8 years, 30 seconds is quite enough, thank you. What do I see? Indeed, one disaster after another. I'm reminded, but in a dark way, of the Grateful Dead's line from the song "Truckin' ": "What a long, strange trip it's been."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Were 104,500 Lives Lost In Iraq Worth It? Cheney: "I Think So"

PBS Newshour host Jim Lehrer recently asked Vice President Dick Cheney whether the war in Iraq was worth so much loss of life. The dialogue (h/t Think Progress):

Lehrer: But Mr. Vice President, getting from there to here, 4,500 Americans have died, at least 100,000 Iraqis have died. Has it been worth that?

Cheney: I think so.

Lehrer: Why?

Cheney: Because I believed at the time what Saddam Hussein represented was, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, was a terror-sponsoring state so designated by the State Department. … He had produced and used weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological agents. He’d had a nuclear program in the past. … And he did have a relationship with al Qaeda. […]

And so I think given the track record of Saddam Hussein, I think we did exactly the right thing. I think the country is better off for it today.

Note that Cheney expresses not a word of remorse about the deaths of 104,500 people. That's completely in character with a vice president who, after being told by ABC reporter Martha Raddatz, "Two-third of Americans say it's not worth fighting," replied, "So?"

Also reprehensible is the fact that Cheney continues making the same discredited justifications for the war. The Senate Intelligence Committee's findings in June 2008, as reported by The New York Times, contradicts Cheney's assertions:

It took just a few months after the United States’ invasion of Iraq for the world to find out that Saddam Hussein had long abandoned his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. He was not training terrorists or colluding with Al Qaeda. The only real threat he posed was to his own countrymen.

...The report shows that there was no intelligence to support the two most frightening claims Mr. Bush and his vice president used to sell the war: that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons and had longstanding ties to terrorist groups. It seems clear that the president and his team knew that that was not true, or should have known it — if they had not ignored dissenting views and telegraphed what answers they were looking for.

It was not just the dishonesty that was so reprehensible in the Bush administration; it was also that this dishonesty, exemplified so callously by Cheney, was put at the service of an unnecessary war that resulted in the deaths of so many.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush Administration Official Will Not Prosecute Case Tainted By Torture

"We tortured [Mohammed al-Qahtani," Susan J. Crawford (left; photo h/t Liberaland) told Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. As a result, this retired judge, whose job is to decide whether to bring Guantanamo detainees to trial, decided to drop war crimes charges against the prisoner and not prosecute. Crawford is a Bush administration official and lifelong Republican.

Qahtani was denied entry to the United States and allegedly would have been the 20th hijacker on September 11th. Captured in Afghanistan, he was transported to Guantanamo in January 2002. Crawford decided that the evidence was so tainted and Qahtani so abused that a trial was no longer viable.

So not only is the information received through torture tainted, since it may be offered in order to stop the pain, but it also can end efforts to prosecute an individual who may have intended to harm the United States.

Even though George Bush and Dick Cheney would not consider the techniques used against Qahtani to be torture, Crawford found that the "combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion":

"The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture.

The techniques included "...sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a 'life-threatening condition.' " Crawford elaborated:

"For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators. Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches..."

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani "was forced to wear a woman's bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation" and "was told that his mother and sister were whores." With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room "and forced to perform a series of dog tricks," the report shows.

The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani's heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.

Crawford came to some sobering conclusions:

Torture impedes the pursuit of justice: "...there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.... You don't allow [coerced testimony] in a regular court."

Torture endangers our men and women in uniform: "If we tolerate this and allow it, then how can we object when our servicemen and women, or others in foreign service, are captured and subjected to the same techniques? How can we complain? Where is our moral authority to complain? Well, we may have lost it."

Torture has caused enormous harm to the reputation of the United States and its military judicial system: "There's an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn't tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality... Certainly in the public's mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community" [the system may be forever tainted.] It may be too late."

Torture and President Bush: "I think he hurt his own effort. . . . I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it...I think the buck stops in the Oval Office."

Far from taking responsibility, Bush and Cheney remain unrepentant advocates of torture. Now that the Bush administration is passing from the scene, it's time to restore American values–starting with President-elect Obama's plans to close Guantanamo.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Last Press Conference Of A "Misunderestimated" President



Highlights from President Bush's last press conference (in italics), followed by my observations (video h/t Talking Points Memo):

"Sometimes you misunderestimated me."

Only because you never stopped saying "noo-cular." And there were a few issues that you mishandled, to put it mildly. I'll elaborate below.

"I inherited a recession and I'm ending on a recession."

Is that an achievement? Actually, you inherited a surplus from the Clinton administration. The National Bureau of Economic Research tracks the recession starting in March 2001 (h/t Liberaland).

"One thing about the presidency is that you can only make decisions, you know, on the information at hand. You don't get to have information after you've made the decision. That's not the way it works."

Of course, you can also slant your "information" around the action you've already decided to take. Remember the Downing Street Memo? "Seven months before the invasion of Iraq, the head of British foreign intelligence reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair that President Bush wanted to topple Saddam Hussein by military action and warned that Washington intelligence was 'being fixed around the policy,' according to notes of a July 23, 2002, meeting with Mr. Blair at No. 10 Downing Street."

"Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment."

You appointed an attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, who called provisions of the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete."  Your vice president admits to approving torture. How disappointed could you have been? Abu Ghraib was the result of policies that flowed from the top?

"Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment."

Really? According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, "The report shows that there was no intelligence to support the two most frightening claims Mr. Bush and his vice president used to sell the war: that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons and had longstanding ties to terrorist groups. It seems clear that the president and his team knew that that was not true, or should have known it — if they had not ignored dissenting views and telegraphed what answers they were looking for."

"I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be damaged amongst some of the elite."

I Googled "restoring America's standing in the world" and came up with 292,000 entries. Apparently there are a lot of elitists concerned with this issue.

"Parts of Europe have said that we shouldn't have gone to war in Iraq without a mandate. But those are a few countries."

Just a few countries? The non-partisan Pew Research Center surveyed 38,000 people in 44 nations in 2002 and followed up with 16,000 people in 20 nations. Their findings, according to Andrew Kohut, Pew Center director: ''The war has widened the rift between Americans and Western Europeans, further inflamed the Muslim world, softened support for the war on terrorism, and significantly weakened global public support for the pillars of the post-World War II era -- the U.N. and the North Atlantic alliance."

"You remember what it was like right after September the 11th around here? I do. When people were hauled up in front of Congress: 'how come you didn't know this, that or the other?"

What do you expect when you see a memo from the CIA, "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside The United States" and your national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, dismisses it as "historical information based on old reporting -- there was no new threat information"?

"And then we started putting policy in place, legal policy in place to connect the dots. And all of a sudden people were saying, 'How come you're connecting the dots?' "

And if your policies were illegal, such as using phone companies to cooperate in the National Security Agency wiretapping program, you made sure that Congress made them legal after the fact.

I've "thought long and hard about Katrina - you know could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge?"

No, the question isn't whether you showed up in New Orleans. The question is over the way you placed cronies in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) instead of qualified personnel and over your administration's, shall we say, unhurried response to the disaster.

There's no way to spin it. On issue after issue, this is a failed president whose administration has been an absolute disaster. On that, there's no "misunderestimation."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ken Blackwell, Candidate For RNC Chair: Gays Make A "Choice" And Can "Change"

Ken Blackwell is a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, and he has the proper conservative alliances: the Family Research Council, the Club for Growth, the National Taxpayers Union and the National Rifle Association.

To top it off, he's a homophobe. Bingo! He's a natural for the position.

In a July 2006 interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Blackwell, who lost the 2006 Ohio gubernatorial election, compared gays to arsonists and kleptomaniacs. But there's hope! They can "change":

"I think homosexuality is a lifestyle, it's a choice, and that lifestyle can be changed... I think it is a transgression against God's law, God's will... The reality is, again...that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one's genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes."

In a subsequent interview with radio host and blogger Michelangelo Signorile in September 2008 at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Blackwell elaborated on how gays can "change":

Blackwell : ...What I said is that, in that regard, you can choose, people choose to be who they are, as they choose to break civil law and God's law...I think you can choose not to be homosexual...

Signorile: Did you choose to be heterosexual? Did you wake up one day and say I want to be heterosexual?

Blackwell: The answer is that I've never had to make the choice because I've never had the urge to be other than a heterosexual, but if in fact I had the urge to be something else I could have in fact suppressed that urge.

Signorile exposes the contradiction in the right wing religious view of gay sexual identity: Straights don't decide to be straight, yet gays decide to be gay. Genetics or environmental influences can simply be brushed aside.

Why this insistence on the part of right wingers that being gay is a "choice"? That allows them to blame gays for their "choice" and insist that they can be "cured." Thus we get inane programs like "Celebrate Recovery" in the Saddleback Church of Pastor Rick Warren (who is to deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20th. I was glad to learn, though, that the openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson was also chosen to deliver an invocation at an inaugural event). Such a program has the potential to lead to self-hatred and confusion, as one who recovered from "Celebrate Recovery" wrote in Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish.

If someone told me that I "decided" to be straight and through therapy, willpower and prayer, could become gay or at least suppress my heterosexuality, I would take that person to be a fool or a madman. Yet that's the type of transformational advice given to gays by Ken Blackwell, who knows that had he had the gay "urge," he could have willed himself out of it. We're supposed to listen to all this quackery with a straight face.

Another candidate for the RNC chair, Chip Saltsman, recently distributed a racist Obama parody, "Barack The Magic Negro" (Blackwell dismissed the negative response as "hypersensitivity"). Now we have Blackwell advising gays on "changing" their "transgressive" behavior. What does it say about the Republican party that these are two of the candidates for chairman of their national committee? Is this the way the Republicans intend to recover from their losses and reach out to national constituencies? 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Israeli Writer Amos Oz On Gaza And Two-State Solution

Amos Oz is an outstanding Israeli writer whose novels and essays I recommend without reservation. His autobiographical "A Tale of Love and Darkness," set in the war-torn Jerusalem of the forties and fifties, features a breadth of remembered detail that I found astonishing. A longtime advocate of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, Oz is one of the founders of the Israeli group Peace Now. He should have received a Nobel Prize a long time ago.

Oz is always worth listening to. From a recent interview on National Public Radio:

Gaza War: "I object to the ground offensive; I think this went out of proportion. I thought after the aerial raid, Israel should have stopped the operation and waited to see the response from Hamas. If Hamas ceases the fire, then there would have been a cease fire."

Two-State Solution: "In the long term the only thing that will work for Israel and for the Palestinians is the unavoidable one and only political solution, which is the two-state solution. The Palestinians are in Palestine for the same reasons for which the Norwegians are in Norway. It is their homeland and they are not going away. The Israelis are in Israel for exactly the same reason and they are not going anywhere either. They cannot become one happy family because they are not one and because they are not happy and because they are not even a family. They are two unhappy families. ...the good news is that the majority of the Israeli Jews and the majority of the Palestinian Arabs know now in their heart of hearts that at the end of the day, there will be a partition and a two-state solution... We know the solution. We know the way out. We don't like this way out. It's like a patient who has to undergo a painful surgery, an amputation, and dividing the country into two nation states is going to be like an amputation both for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. But it has to be done and it's time for both leaderships on both sides to carry out this solution..."

To listen to the entire interview, click here.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: T. Rex Rocks And Struts



T. Rex, AKA the late guitarist, singer and songwriter Marc Bolan, was known for setting his surreal, sexually suggestive lyrics to a driving beat, as in this performance of "Jeepster." The singer proclaims his willingness to travel where his heart takes him: "Girl, I'm just a jeepster for your love." T. Rex was evidently something of a strutting peacock; a giant cardboard cutout of himself stands on stage and he's also shown wearing a T-shirt of himself. He clearly had a blast up there.

Thousands Rally For Peace In Tel Aviv



In case one thought that Israeli opinion on the war in Gaza is uniformly supportive, the 10,000 who gathered in the heart of Tel Aviv on January 3, 2009, as seen in the video above, offered a contrary view. According to the peace group Gush Shalom, the mile-long  demonstration was organized by 20 Israeli peace organizations. Banners condemned the war and the occupation. Some of the crowd was harassed by right wing forces.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Will Hamas Gain Or Lose Support Following Gaza War?

Diana Buttu (left), Palestinian attorney and spokeperson of the PLO's Negotiations Support Unit, contends that "the Israeli assault had strengthened short-term solidarity with Hamas, but was likely to have weakened the group politically." She continues:

"People in Gaza are under assault right now so they're going to support Hamas. But when the dust settles I think we'll get a very different perspective, a lot of questioning about whether Hamas has the right strategy.

"I think what's going to happen will be similar to what happened when [
Yasser] Arafat was besieged in the mukata [the Palestinian presidential compound] in 2002. People who were very critical of Arafat before said 'we're supporting him 110%.' A few weeks later ... you started to get the introspection of 'is this really what we need, is this really what we want?' "

I hope that Buttu is right. The idea of Hamas being interested in good governance is a macabre joke; in reality, it is a death cult that thrives on turmoil. Hamas threw Fatah out of Gaza in a fratricidal war, then refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous agreements. A political party does not have the right, according to accepted international legal and governmental practice, to abrogate treaties made by a party previously in power. 

The Israeli economic blockade against Gaza was collective punishment and a futile attempt to turn Gazans against Hamas. Nevertheless, targeting rockets at southern Israeli towns cannot be justified in any way as a form of protest; such actions placed both Israeli and, ultimately, Palestinian citizens in danger. An Israeli military response against sites of rocket launching and weapons smuggling was inevitable.

In returning to whether the people of Gaza will turn against Hamas, though, we must consider the massive scale of the Israeli response, in which tanks and F-16s have been employed for about two weeks in one of the most crowded civilian population centers in the world, one that includes hospitals with inadequate resources and no bomb shelters. So while I hope that the citizens in the area turn against Hamas for its provocative and destructive actions, I can't help but wonder whether this terrorist group is gaining adherents, the same way that Hezbollah gained in political strength following the 2006 war in Lebanon. I'm reminded of Henry Kissinger's observation, "A conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla army wins if it does not lose."

Recently I read of two circumstances in which Palestinians who were not necessarily for Hamas turned toward it. In the West Bank, engineer Sari Sa'adi stated, "Before, I was against Hamas, against their political and religious points of view, but after what happened… I'm supporting Hamas." Following Israel's shelling of a United Nations school, the IDF said that Hamas was firing from the school compound, a point disputed by the U.N. The discussion, even if he were aware of it, would be lost on Abdel Minaim Hasan, who wept by the body of his daughter Lina, 11, and said, "From now on I am Hamas! I choose resistance!"

Were the two responses just made in the heat of the moment? Is Diana Buttu correct? Will Hamas, assuming it survives, gain or lose in political strength and popular support following this war?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Victim Of Extraordinary Rendition Held For 6 Years, Never Charged With A Crime

The New York Times reported about the case of Muhammad Saad Iqbal, (left) who was arrested in 2002 in Jakarta after Indonesian intelligence heard him boasting to an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb. After the information was passed to the C.I.A., Mr. Iqbal underwent two days of interrogation. American officials concluded that he was a "braggart" and "wannabee" and should be released.

Nevertheless, Iqbal was sent to Egypt for further interrogation under the Bush administration's practice of extraordinary rendition, which sends detainees to countries that practice torture. Iqbal said he was "beaten, shackled, covered with a hood, subjected to electric shocks and, because he denied knowing Mr. Bin Laden, deprived of sleep for six months."

Eventually Iqbal wound up in Guantanamo, where he was "diagnosed with a perforated left eardrum, inflammation of the left external ear canal and inflammation of the left middle ear." He arrived home in Pakistan with his left ear severely infected, had difficulty walking and was dependent on antibiotics and antidepressants. 

Mr. Iqbal must have been a dangerous criminal, right? He was ultimately judged as follows:

Mr. Iqbal was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantánamo with a routine explanation that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant, part of an effort by the Bush administration to reduce the prison’s population.

"No longer"? Beyond his bragging, was he ever an "enemy combatant"? Iqbal is now suing the U.S. government for unlawful detention and has also filed a lawsuit for the release of his medical records in Guantanamo to confirm his accounts of torture in Egypt.

Extraordinary rendition has perhaps been the most disgraceful aspect of the torture policies of an administration whose former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, supposedly charged with enforcing the law, stated that the Geneva Conventions were “quaint.” During extraordinary rendition, we have no control over what happens to a detainee sent abroad. We do know, however, that we have sent a prisoner to a country that practices torture. That in itself makes us complicit in whatever happens.

Barack Obama recently named Leon Panetta, former congressman and White House chief of staff, to be C.I.A. director, after the president-elect had difficulty naming someone from within who was not tainted by association with Bush administration policies. There has been criticism of the pick due to the fact that Panetta is an outsider. John McCone, during the Kennedy administration, and George H.W. Bush, during the Nixon administration, however, also came in as outsiders.

Judging by two of his statements, Panetta demonstrates that he brings to the post an orientation that's a welcome change from the past eight years:

“Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise.” 

“We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"Waltz With Bashir": War's Horrors Recaptured



War, guilt, memory and suppression are powerfully evoked in "Waltz With Bashir," Israeli director Ari Folman's remarkable animated film about Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon. This autobiographical account focuses on Folman's memory loss of his experience as a 19-year-old soldier. 

Folman visits middle-aged members from his former unit, all in an attempt to dredge up his experiences into consciousness. Dreams and visions alternate with harrowing war scenes, in animation noteworthy for its vivid, three-dimensional style.

As Folman continues his search, the centrality of one horrific event becomes apparent: the massacre of as many as 3,000 Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian Phalangist miltiamen, enraged by the assassination of their leader, President Bashir Gemayel. The Israeli Defense Forces let them into the camps, ostensibly to root out terrorists. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was judged by Israel's Kahane Commission as having indirect responsibility for "having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance," and he was stripped of his post. In the film, newscaster Ron Ben-Yishai relates a conversation in which he wakes Sharon up to tell him of accounts swirling around the camps; Sharon gave no indication that he was ready to take immediate action.

The Israelis were stationed outside the camps; some, like Folman, set off nighttime flares after being told that they were helping the Phalangists remove terrorists. The fact that the main character didn't take direct part in the massacre and was unclear about what was going on does not assuage his inner guilt, which leads to memory suppression. His therapist friend Ori connects his trauma to an earlier nightmare: Folman's parents were Auschwitz survivors.

"Waltz With Bashir" is set within Israel's war in Lebanon and could attract further attention due to the current conflict in Gaza. Ultimately, though, the film makes a searing, universal statement, through groundbreaking animation, about the suffering of innocent civilians and the trauma of combatants in war.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Small Story Of Hope: Israeli And Palestinian Doctors Save A Child's Life



"Amidst all the violence and confrontation, Jafar's healthy, beating heart is a symbol of healing and the humanity and cooperation that take place despite the raging conflict."

Amen. 

The story (h/t Haaretz) of Israeli and Palestinian doctors working together to save the life of Jafar, a Palestinian baby, captured in the video above, is especially moving during the current conflict. I know that every topic in the Middle East becomes politicized, but I think that an event like this offers hope. It's a small story in the midst of regional events, but it's also the largest one in the world: the saving of a child's life. 

This endeavor involved the cooperation of people of goodwill on both sides. Such goodwill and hope will also be needed for 2009 to end on a much more positive note for the Israelis of Sderot and the Palestinians of Gaza City.

The Israeli organization that carried out this operation, Save A Child's Heart, has provided free treatment to more than 2,000 children suffering from heart disease around the world.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Interpreters Of Dylan

A few Saturday nights ago, I put up a post, "Dylan Goes Electric, Newport 1965." While Bob Dylan upset the folk purists at that folk festival by plugging in, he has never been an artist who stood in one place. In addition, Dylan has always influenced other artists through his various phases, many of whom have presented cover versions of his songs. Here are four sets of prominent interpreters of Dylan, two from the acoustic and two from the electric periods.

Peter, Paul & Mary's spirited rendition of The "Times They Are A Changin' " was recorded in 1995 for PBS's "Great Performances." John Sebastian, former leader of The Lovin' Spoonful, accompanied them on harmonica:


Joan Baez has had a long personal and musical association with Dylan. Here she performs "Love Is Just A Four Letter Word" on Austin City Limits in 1990:



Dylan's electric performance at Newport gave rise to a new hybrid sound, folk rock. The Byrds, prime exemplars of the genre, lip-synced their hit cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man" on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965:


The Grateful Dead incorporated Dylan's music into their remarkably varied repertoire. This rendition of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" was recorded in Oakland, California, in 1987:

Israel Launches Ground Invasion: To Topple Or Not?

Now that Israel has launched a ground invasion of Gaza, questions remain regarding its ultimate strategic goals. The main issue is whether Israel intends to topple Hamas, and the ramifications of whether or not it does so. It is possible that Israel doesn't know what it intends, and that the entire operation may be subject to "mission creep," with the goals becoming more ambitious–and possibly grandiose–as the war continues. Larry Cohler-Esses and Nathan Guttman analyzed the confusing picture in The Forward

The apparently contradictory developments starkly highlighted the question of Israel’s war aims. One path could take Israel toward a limited end that garnered international support and a greater chance of achievement. The second — regime change — could plunge Israel into an abyss.

...A wide spectrum of policy and military analysts in Washington and Jerusalem warned the Israeli government against taking a path leading to regime change in Gaza. Many pointed to grandiose Israeli declarations in 2006 about destroying the Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, touching off a war. But the goal of destroying Hezbollah proved unachievable, handing the Islamic group a propaganda victory.

...there was no guarantee that Israel could completely stop rocket launches without militarily retaking Gaza. Israel directly controlled the district from 1967 until its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. The military and diplomatic costs of that control have left Israeli leaders almost viscerally opposed to trying to govern Gaza again.

...“I think there is a heavy tactical quality to Israeli policy,” said Phillip Wilcox, a former State Department Middle East specialist who is now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a group critical of Israeli settlement policies. “I don’t think over the years there has been a lot of attention to strategy — that is, what’s going to happen after the war? I don’t think they thought about it in Lebanon. And I don’t think they’ve thought about it in this war.”

Anthony Zinni, a retired American four-star general, agreed.

“I think they are trying to either eliminate or severely damage Hamas and to find a way to drive them out of power, but unfortunately, at the end, it will only strengthen them,” said Zinni, who was appointed President Bush’s special envoy to Israel and the P.A. in 2002. “It creates another generation of supporters for the Hamas and also increases pressure on the Arab governments."

The New York Times also outlined Israel's dilemma:

“If the war ends in a draw, as expected, and Israel refrains from re-occupying Gaza, Hamas will gain diplomatic recognition,” wrote Aluf Benn, a political analyst, in the newspaper Haaretz on Friday. “No matter what you call it,” he added, “Hamas will obtain legitimacy.”

...Implicit in Mr. Benn’s argument, however, is that the only way to stop Hamas from gaining legitimacy is for Israel to fully occupy Gaza again, more than three years after removing its soldiers and settlers. That is a prospect practically no one in Israel or abroad is advocating.

Moreover, while it may sound decisive to speak of taking Hamas out of power, almost no one familiar with Gaza and Palestinian politics considers it realistic. Hamas legislators won a democratic majority in elections four years ago, and the group has 15,000 to 20,000 men under arms...

...The likelier result of a destruction of the Hamas infrastructure, then, would be chaos, anathema not only to the people of Gaza but also to those hoping for peace in southern Israel.

The ground invasion, as it continues, will force Israel to choose between two undesirable alternatives. If Hamas remains in power, it, like Hizbullah in Lebanon, will claim victory through survival and gain in political power. If Israel topples Hamas, it will have to reoccupy a hostile, chaotic area. The United States has provided an example of the difficulties of declaring "mission accomplished" following a regime change. In this case, who would be in charge of the new regime?

Robert Fisk Poses A Northern Ireland-Gaza Analogy

Longtime Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk (left), writing in The Independent, compared the way the British responded to the IRA to the way the Israelis are responding to Hamas in Gaza:

We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them." Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.

Like the British in confronting the IRA, the Israelis must have a military option in dealing with Hamas. But the British never resorted to bombing raids over primarily civilian populations. Ultimately the British forged a political rather than a military solution, just as Israel must do. We can only speculate as to whether such a solution would have been made more difficult had the British resorted to bombings. Nevertheless, the overall comparison is worth pondering. Is Robert Fisk's analogy valid?

"Cadillac Records" Captures Birth Of Electric Blues In Chicago



"Cadillac Records" captures a significant part of American musical history, when the blues traveled from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. As they arrived up north, the performers plugged in and transformed the blues from acoustic to electric style.

Instrumental to the new sound was Chess Records, founded by two Polish Jewish immigrants, Leonard and Phil Chess (strangely, Phil is missing from the film). Adrian Brody plays a determined Leonard Chess, who starts out with a South Side nightclub and eventually realizes that his acts don't have a record label. Eventually he opens up a studio and records Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Etta James, Chuck Berry and a host of other blues and early rock masters. He does all he can to publicize his artists, grouped in the early 1950s under the category "race music," including bribing disc jockey Alan Freed, who was eventually blackballed because of the payola scandals.

Jeffrey Wright's Muddy Waters and Eammon Walker's Howlin' Wolf are natural rivals in terms of both music and women, and they form an interesting character contrast. When Chess gives Waters a Cadillac, the latter gleefully calls him his "white daddy." Wolf, on the other hand, prefers the battered truck that he paid for and makes it clear that all musical decisions regarding his band's recording sessions are to go through him.

Playing Etta James, Beyonce Knowles sings outstanding renditions of "At Last" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," all the while battling heroin addiction. Also struggling with substance abuse was influential harmonica player Little Walter, shown in all his volatility by Columbus Short.

By the time Chuck Berry makes his way to the studios, Chess recognizes that, as the Muddy Waters song goes, "The blues had a baby and they called it rock 'n' roll." Mos Def's Chuck Berry is an exuberant performer, but he's also resentful of white artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys (as in "Surfin' USA") whom he sees as ripping off his musical style while earning more.

The artists gain their true recognition and a surge in their careers during the 1960s from English performers like the Rolling Stones, who acknowledge the influence of the American blues masters. "Cadillac Records" brings their accomplishments to light as well, as it pays fitting tribute to those who were at the forefront of a new electric sound in Chicago.