Human suffering as entertainment


Hat tip to this blogger for exposing a rather strange, bizarre and macabre travel tour, euphemistically called the ‘ultimate mission‘ whose features include:

  • Inside tour of the IAF unit who carries out targeted killings.
  • Live exhibition of penetration raids in Arab territory.
  • Observe a trial of Hamas terrorists in an IDF military court.

and when you get tired of all that real world entertainment you can retire to your five star Sheraton Plaza Jerusalem hotel accommodations and return to the world of make believe.

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Words have meaning or maybe they don’t


Iraqis seem to have a better appreciation for the English language than American policy makers, so when it’s said ‘the two countries have agreed that timetables should be set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the battle-scarred country’, all that’s left for the Iraqis is to set a date.  Not so say the Americans.  Look at the hedging and dodging:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States and Iraq have agreed to a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the battle-scarred country.

Appearing with her Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari (HOH’-shayr zuh-BAH’-ree), Rice acknowledged at their joint news conference Thursday that the two parties have not yet finalized the deal. She said it close [sic] at hand, however.

Rice called her talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “very good and fruitful” and said an agreement is near that would “solidify the significant gains” in security in Iraq over the last year.

Meanwhile the Iraqi prime minister is on record saying there is a fixed date.

The US has agreed to withdraw all troops from Iraq by 2011, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, said yesterday…”There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil,” said Mr Maliki yesterday, speaking at a gathering of tribal leaders in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The US has hung its acceptance of any agreement on the word “aspirational” which has now appeared in several stories which talk about the agreement.  What the Iraqis don’t understand is that “aspirational” means conditions which have to be negotiated, such as immunity for American troops or mercenaries from prosecution for crimes committed in Iraq, the number of military bases and their location allowed in Iraq, etc before any agreement can be cemented.  That reality is something the Iraqis probably hadn’t counted on.  Surprise! The Bush administration has never really wanted to be tied down to a date for withdrawing troops because they don’t want to leave for years to come.  Being an occupier means they can “negotiate” this point much more from a position of strength.  After all, what’s Iraq going to do, kick the US out?

Onward Christian soldiers!


Some don’t want to say it but the invasion of Iraq is about getting back at Islam and Muslims for their transgression of not accepting Christian ideology which we’ve managed to cloak in terms like “democracy” and “freedom”, etc. That’s not to say ours is not a “Christian” nation, but it’s also a “Jewish”, “Islamic”, “Buddhist” and “pagan” nation as well because our beloved Constitution says government is not a tool for religion, although it can allow for the safe and unfettered expression of any and all religion. However, the Bush administration and some inside the military don’t necessarily see it that way and instead allowed their representation of goverment to be an expression of Christian intent. That’ll get you in a lot of hot water constitutionally, and so it has with General Petraeus, leader of American forces in Iraq, who has “endorsed” a book entitled, Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel . Christian evangelism has been going on in the US military for sometime, but collectively it’s been demoralizing to those not Christian and is against military policy. A very diligent group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has been keeping an eye on this phenomenon for some time and much of what they discovered can be seen here. I hope to write more about what they’ve found in the months ahead. In the meantime that group, MRFF is calling for the immediate dismissal of General Petraeus because of his endorsement and nothing less than that should happen, the offense he committed is just that serious!

They’re at it again!


Neocons are very good at challenging national masculinity with such phrases as ‘bring ’em on’ or others which imply if we aren’t with their program we’re cowards.  Of course such language has to be answered in the collective affirmative in the neocon call for war.  This technique they have of denigrating the national will is a corruption of the civil discourse when it’s accompanied with the lack of perspective and reality that should come with war and the devastation it brings.  Hence, the public is actively denied seeing the images of dead bodies, ours or Iraqis/Afghanis, and instead we are treated with expressions like precision strikes, collateral damage, post traumatic stress, etc all designed to dampen the impact of killing and death. I don’t understand why we fall for it, but we do, so it’s no surprise  that the neocons are doing it again.  Check out how facts and history don’t matter to this guy who wants the US to confront Russia for its sin of invading Georgia and then hits the American mentality in the gut by saying

Europeans and Americans, including very senior officials in the Bush administration, blame the West for pushing Russia too hard on too many issues.

Blaming America is simply not acceptable to the average American, otherwise how could we justify our invasion and occupation of Iraq.  But neocons always work in a cabal, in tandem, never alone, so Kagan’s is not the only voice beating the drums for war. Neocons are persistent and I don’t necessarily think that’s a good trait, by the way, especially when used for their call to falsely defined wars, like Iraq and now Russia. So the mere fact they are making the claims seen in the link above means it will be a constant theme which they will go to for as long as it takes.  We saw that with PNAC and their appeal to invading Iraq even back during the Clinton terms when Iraq was but a blip on the national conscious, but which has now become our Waterloo.

Unless we recognize the language and psychology used by the neocons, they will always be able to push our buttons for their own narrowly defined interests.  I suggest the first question we should ask when their drums start beating is ‘which relative are they willing to sacrifice on the battlefield to fight their war’.

There’s more than one way to compete


The women’s movement of the sixties and seventies guaranteed women the right to choose for themselves the lifestyle they wanted to lead.  It also asserted that women were able to speak for themselves, and that when they spoke their words had meaning which we were to take at face value.  So it is that in the 21st century women are expressing themselves when it comes to athletic competition. This news story gives more detail about who is talking and what it is they’re saying.  I note with a certain amount of tongue in cheek that one of the women wearing a scarf is from the American liberated country of Afghanistan, where we were told a sign of the subjugation of women was the headscarf.

Muslim patriotism in the US military


I’ve heard a lot from people especially on the right about problems associated with having Muslims involved in anything American, as if the presence of Muslims is a threat to the process or would somehow leave it tainted. I remember vividly during the first Gulf war when America was concerned about its image, a lot was said about Muslims in the US military and especially those who converted to Islam because of their exposure to the Gulf. Now, however, those same people some of whom are still in the military and those who joined later are “tainted” goods, worthy of suspicion and distrust. America is cannabalistic in that sense when it comes to anyone other than blond hair and blue eyed soldiers fighting its wars. From the Civil War upto the Vietnam war people of color have always been looked down upon as unworthy of service in the US military. Today is no different, except now we have bloggers who point out to those who care to know stories of patriotism in the US military that work for the country. Check out this story of a young man who volunteered to join the military in response to Bush’s war on terror.

State sponsored terrorism


Will Grigg has an excellent blog that talks about the abuses of the federal government against its own citizens in the war on terror.  It’s a compelling blog with plenty of examples of government’s terrorism directed towards its own.  The state wasted no time solidifying its hold on Americans after 911.  Homeland security swelled the ranks of people on no fly lists and interrogates randomly people who enter airports, either checking for terrorists or making them.  What follows is another story of many that is a first hand account of what happens to everyday citizens in airports across this country.  I have had friends who’ve recounted experiences similar to the one written about by Feder, making these kinds of encounters more the rule than the exception.  We are told this is necessary to protect the “homeland” and while  you are digesting that remember no amount of protection is worth the erosion of even one of the rights we have guaranteed us under the Constitution.

I arrived at JFK Airport two weeks ago after a short vacation to Syria and presented my American passport for re-entry to the United States. After 28 hours of traveling, I had settled into a hazy awareness that this was the last, most familiar leg of a long journey. I exchanged friendly words with the Homeland Security official who was recording my name in his computer. He scrolled through my passport, and when his thumb rested on my Syrian visa, he paused. Jerking toward the door of his glass-enclosed booth, he slid my passport into a dingy green plastic folder and walked down the hallway, motioning for me to follow with a flick of his wrist. Where was he taking me, I asked him. “You’ll find out,” he said.

We got to an enclosed holding area in the arrivals section of the airport. He shoved the folder into my hand and gestured toward four sets of Homeland Security guards sitting at large desks. Attached to each desk were metal poles capped with red, white and blue siren lights. I approached two guards carrying weapons and wearing uniforms similar to New York City police officers, but they shook their heads, laughed and said, “Over there,” pointing in the direction of four overflowing holding pens. I approached different desks until I found an official who nodded and shoved my green folder in a crowded metal file holder. When I asked him why I was there, he glared at me, took a sip from his water bottle, bit into a sandwich, and began to dig between his molars with his forefinger. I found a seat next to a man who looked about my age — in his late 20s — and waited.

Omar (not his real name) finished his fifth year in biomedical engineering at City College in June. He had just arrived from Beirut, where he visited his family and was waiting to go home to the apartment he shared with his brother in Harlem. Despite his near-perfect English and designer jeans, Omar looked scared. He rubbed his hands and rocked softly in his seat. He had been waiting for hours already, and, as he pointed out, a number of people — some sick, elderly, pregnant or holding sobbing babies — had too. There were approximately 70 people detained in our cordoned-off section: All were Arab (with the exception of me and the friend I traveled with), and almost all had arrived from Dubai, Amman or Damascus. Many were U.S. citizens.

We were in the front row, sitting a few feet from two guards’ desks. They sneered at each bewildered arrival, told jokes in whispers, swiveled in their office chairs and greeted passing guards who stopped to talk — guards who had a habit of looping their fingers into their holsters. One asked his friend how many nationalities were represented in the room. “About 20. Some of everything today.”

No one who had been detained knew precisely why they were there. A few people were led into private rooms; others were questioned out in the open at desks a few feet from the crowd and then allowed to pass through customs. Some were sent to another section of the holding area with large computer screens and cameras, and then brought back. The uninformed consensus among the detainees was that some people would be fingerprinted, have their irises scanned and be sent back to the countries from which they had disembarked, regardless of citizenship status; others would be fingerprinted and allowed to stay; and the unlucky ones would be detained indefinitely and moved to a more permanent facility.

There was one British tourist in the group. Paul (also not his real name) was traveling with three friends who had passed through customs soon after their plane landed and were waiting for him on the other side of the metal barrier; he suspected he had been detained because of his dark skin. When he asked if he could go to the bathroom, one of the guards said, “I wouldn’t.” “What if someone has to?” I asked. “They will just have to hold it,” the guard responded with a smile. Paul began to cry. I watched as he, over the course of four hours, went from feeling exuberant about his trip to New York to despising the entire country. “I speak the Queen’s English,” he said to me. “I’m third-generation British. I came to America because I’ve always wanted to come here, and now they’ve got me so scared that all I want to do is go home. We’re paying for your stupid war anyway.”

To be powerless and mocked at the same time makes one feel ashamed, which leads quickly to rage. Within a few hours of my arrival, I saw at least 10 people denied the right to use the bathroom or buy food and water. I watched my traveling companion duck under a barrier, run to the bathroom and slip back into the holding section — which, of course, someone of another ethnicity in a state of panic would be very reluctant to do. The United States is good at naming enemies, but apparently we are even better at making them, especially of individuals. I don’t know if it’s worse for national security — and more embarrassing for Americans — that this is the first experience tourists have of our country, or that some U.S. citizens get treated this way upon entering their own country.