Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hillary the Hawk

Medea Benajamin and I make the anti-imperialist case for Hillary Clinton. Or do we? Guess you'll have to read it.

What six weeks at Vice looks like

Pieces I wrote:

“America Helped Make the Islamic State,” by Charles Davis (August 12, 2014)

Israel's War on Palestine: It's Bad, but Is It 'Genocide'?” by Charles Davis (August 13, 2014)

A Reddit Thread Claims a Hookah Lounge in Los Angeles Banned Jews,” by Charles Davis (August 14, 2014) [EDITOR'S NOTE: It didn't; I investigated.]

Instead of Killing Lawns, We Should Be Banning Golf,” by Charles Davis (August 15, 2014)

“It’s Not Just Ferguson: Protesting Police Violence in LA,” by Charles Davis (August 18, 2014)

This Teen Wants to Abolish School as We Know It,” by Charles Davis (August 20, 2014)

The LAPD Thinks It’s at War and Now It Has Drones,” by Charles Davis (August 22, 2014)

The US Government Will No Longer Trick People Into Deporting Themselves,” by Charles Davis (August 27, 2014)

Hollywood's Latest Garbage: Our Tax Dollars at Work,” by Charles Davis (August 28, 2014)

Liberals Won’t Let the Death Penalty Die,” by Charles Davis (August 29, 2014)

Immigrants Are Going to Have to Keep Waiting for Change,” by Charles Davis (September 3, 2014)

Why Should We Care What Mitt Romney Has to Say About Foreign Policy?” by Charles Davis (September 5, 2014)

The Establishment Turns Against the Drug War,” by Charles Davis (September 9, 2014)

Is Obedience the Only Way to Avoid Police Brutality?” by Charles Davis (September 15, 2014)

California Lawmakers Want to Limit Police Drones, but Activists Want Them Banned,” by Charles Davis (September 16, 2014)

Read the rest of my archive here:

Pieces I wrote during this time but were published elsewhere:

Payment on an Unpaid Basis,” by Charles Davis (The Baffler; October 1, 2014)

Why are banks opening branches… in high schools?” by Charles Davis (Salon; October 16, 2014)

Pieces I edited:

"Seattle's Former Police Chief Speaks Out Against Police Brutality," by Leighton Woodhouse (August 18, 2014)

In New York City, Police Brutality Is Bringing People Together,” by Aaron Miguel Cantú (August 19, 2014)

Republicans Hate the New AP History Exam,” by Avi Asher-Schapiro (August 20, 2014)

"People Are Blocking Cargo Ships to Protest Israel," by Charlotte Silver (August 21, 2014)

We Asked a War Correspondent About the Origins of ISIS,” by Leighton Woodhouse (August 25, 2014)

Gross Old Men Are Hot and Bothered by War,” By Belén Fernández (August 26, 2014)

Al Sharpton Is a Huge Fraud,” by Michael Tracey (August 26, 2014)

The Police Aren't So Brave When Someone Has a Weapon,” by Lucy Steigerwald (August 26, 2014)

We Asked an Iraqi Teen What She Thinks of ISIS and America,” by Zach Schwartz (August 29, 2014)

Can the Feds Fix Local Police?” by Lucy Steigerwald (September 2, 2014)

This Tribe Wants to Kick Rich People Out of the Hamptons,” by Justin Doolittle (September 3, 2014)

The Pentagon Is Giving Grenade Launchers to Campus Police,” by Hannah K. Gold (September 5, 2014)

Cops Can Take Your Stuff Without Convicting You of Anything,” by Lucy Steigerwald (September 8, 2014)

Rich Millennials on Trains Won’t Save America,” by Aaron Miguel Cantú (September 10, 2014)

Militarized Cops Pretend to Fight Terrorists in Oakland,” by Julia Carrie Wong (September 12, 2014)

It’s Time to Start Boycotting the NFL,” by Michael Tracey (September 12, 2014)

Anonymous Border Patrol Agents Keep Killing People,” by Lucy Steigerwald (September 15, 2014)

Child Refugees Are Pleading for Asylum in Downtown LA,” by Leighton Woodhouse (September 17, 2014)

Pieces I commissioned but which ran elsewhere:

Against Sharing,” by Avi Asher-Schapiro (Jacobin; September 19, 2014)

Prison Smells Like Balls: The Hidden Stench of Mass Incarceration,” by Elizabeth Renter (Playboy; October 28, 2014)

On and Off the Record with Graham Nash,” by Mr. Fish (Huffington Post; November 23, 2014)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Netanyahu, Sisi and Assad: Peas in a pod

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened Hamas to al Qaeda, ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups Tuesday as he implored the international community to hold Palestinian militants responsible for the bloodshed in Gaza. Israel's top politician said Hamas must be held accountable for rejecting multiple cease-fire agreements and a relentless attack on Israeli civilians.
Netanyahu made his comments at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv alongside U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. "What we're seeing here with Hamas is another instance of Islamist extremism, violent extremism that has no resolvable grievance," Netanyahu said. "Hamas is like ISIS, Hamas is like al Qaeda, Hamas is like Hezbollah, Hamas is like Boko Haram."
A month after an Egyptian court ruled that Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was a terror organization, another court on Saturday branded the entire group — including its political wing — with the same designation.
Since Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the authorities have accused Hamas of aiding jihadists who have waged a string of deadly attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
Syria (note: Resistance State):
The Syrian regime no longer has any relationship with former ally Hamas and will never trust the movement again, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Friday.
"There is no relation at all on the formal level or on the popular level," the president told Swedish newspaper Expressen, adding, "I don't think the Syrian people will trust them anymore."
Assad alleged that the movement had allied itself with extremist militants fighting in Syria.
He said that recent events in Yarmouk refugee camp "have proved that part of Hamas, which is basically a Muslim Brotherhood organisation, supports al-Nusra Front."

Monday, April 20, 2015

On claims in the Argentine media

As a writer, it’s always nice to find that something you wrote did not just disappear into the worldwide abyss, but was actually read by someone – someone who liked it, even. So as I was sitting in my living room on Sunday night engaged in my biweekly pondering of whether or not I should quit journalism and go work at the artificial flower factory, I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat alarmed when a user of the social network “Twitter” alerted me to the fact that a two-part series I wrote for Inter Press Service back in 2013 was making the rounds in Argentina and was being cited by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (or, presumably, an intern) on her official website.

“Wait, what?” was my in-real-time response, but I’ve since pieced together and here’s the deal: That two-part series – part one; part two – concerned U.S. hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s attempts to defame Argentina as a deadbeat backer of international terrorism as part of his campaign to shake down the South American nation for billions of dollars. In 2002, the Argentine government defaulted on its debt and while it reached deals with 93 percent of its bondholders to pay them back a fraction of what they were owed, people like Singer – people who run what are called “vulture funds” that do this sort of thing all the time – bought up a bunch of those defaulted bonds and took Argentina to court in New York City, de facto finance capital of the world, where he insisted it pay all that was owed. So far he’s winning.

In addition to the legal battle, Singer has been fighting in the court of public opinion, using millions of his ought-to-be-confiscated wealth to fund a whole bunch of far-right hacks and the think tanks that employ them to link Argentina to terrorism by way of Iran. At the same time, in Argentina, prosecutor Alberto Nisman was investigating the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. Nisman was murdered in January, found in his apartment with a bullet in the head, but before he died he alleged that the Kirchner government was helping Iran cover up its role in that bombing so as not to jeopardize its expanding economic relations with the Islamic Republic. Singer, naturally, exploited this, with Nisman becoming a hero to neoconservatives and Republican lawmakers in Washington who are ever eager to allege that Iran is engaged in the same nefarious actions in Latin America as a previous generation accused deceased bogeyman, the Soviet Union; now as then, the allegations make headlines, but they rarely stand up to scrutiny.

I don’t know who carried out the 1994 bombing: Some have charged that Iranian officials, acting officially or not, ordered the attack, while others claim right-wing elements in Argentina’s intelligence service did it (the Kirchner government has accused these same alleged elements of feeding disinformation to Nisman and then killing him the night before he was set to deliver his findings to Congress, presumably an attempt at a “false flag”). What I do know is that in my reporting on Paul Singer I never uncovered any direct financial links between him and Alberto Nisman, though that appears to be the charge now being made by Kirchner and Jorge Elbaum, writing in the pro-government newspaper, Página/12 (there’s an English translation on Kirchner’s website, seemingly thanks to Google). It’s a convenient allegation, combining two problems facing the Argentine state into one neat little enemy, but it's also not one that my reporting made. I’m not saying Nisman definitely didn’t get any of that sweet Singer cash or steer some of it to his allies, just that from what I know Nisman’s crusade – he was appointed as a special prosecutor to look into the AMIA bombing by Kirchner’s deceased husband – was merely exploited by Singer and his allies in pursuit of their own, what-appears-to-be-separate agenda, not directly funded by his ill-gotten wealth.

Anyway, as far as being cited by a head of state goes, it could be worse but I don't really want it to happen again.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Now accepting editor applications

When you write for the same outlet for a year or two, you end up building a rapport with the editor you deal with, a relationship that, over time, makes it easier to get pitches accepted – or at the very least gets those pitches acknowledged. When that editor leaves, though, often enough so does the relationship with that outlet; oh, you’ll get an email for the new guy or gal you are supposed to deal with from there on out, but to that new person you are just another poor scrub filling up their overcrowded inbox with a proposal for a think piece on what “Game of Thrones” can teach us about the conflict in Syria.

Which brings me to my point: I need another editor, my last one at a national publication choosing to leave me for some hot new sketchy start-up. Could it be you?
My ideal partner is: Compassionate, but not a pushover; firm, but gentle; rigorous, but not a god damn pedant; and good with words, but not intent on replacing every other one that I write with a synonym.

What I can offer: A rollicking but respectful back-and-forth regarding every little edit you make – I’ll keep you honest! – and, of course, exposure. You could be my editor; just think of all the doors that will open. If you think you have what it takes, submit an application to Be sure to include a paragraph or two on why I should choose you out of the dozens of other qualified candidates to edit the words that I write. And good luck!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The week (so far) in links

The New York Review of Books has a . . . review . . . of a book . . . about the 1939-1941 alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Fun quote:
“I know how much the German nation loves its Führer, I should therefore like to drink to his health." -- Josef Stalin, who in a wink-and-a-nod toward Hitler's anti-Semitism sacked his Jewish foreign minister ahead of the negotiations to divvy up Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, in the former Soviet Union:
Sergei Baryshnikov, one of the leading local ideologists of Novorossiya and the rector of Donetsk University, told me that we were now “at the first stage” of the recreation of a Russian state that would eventually take in everything that had once belonged to pre-revolutionary, imperial Russia. That would mean most of modern Ukraine and the three Baltic states. The exception would be Lviv and the far west of Ukraine, which before 1941 had belonged to Poland, and to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. They might be left out of the new expanded Russia. But he sees the restoration of the imperial Russian borders as “our historical mission.” The very idea of a Ukrainian nation was like a cancer and needed to be extirpated, he said.
Whether or not everyone in the local leadership agrees with Baryshnikov and his call for a struggle that he believes could last years or decades is not so important. What is important is that his are ideas that feed into the creation of a general worldview, not just of the rebels but in policymaking circles close to Putin, whom Baryshnikov described as “our president” and “de facto, our leader.”
The National Security Archive at George Washington University has released U.S. government documents concerning the Eisenhower administration's discovery that Israel had developed nuclear weapons:
In the last months of 1960 as the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower was coming to a close, the U.S. government discovered that Israel had been building, with French assistance, a secret nuclear reactor near Dimona in the Negev Desert that could give Israel a nuclear weapons potential. The discovery caused apprehension within the Eisenhower administration by invoking concerns about regional stability and nuclear proliferation, but it also produced annoyance because Israeli officials at all levels provided less than credible answers to U.S. questions about Dimona.
One episode that helped create a sense of deception was that, in response to initial U.S. official questions about the construction site, the Israelis said it would be a textile factory. Over the years the "textile factory" story has acquired legendary status, but exactly when the story came about has been a mystery. But recently unearthed U.S. government documents — an embassy telegram and a memorandum by the Deputy Chief of Mission — help solve this historical puzzle. They show that during a helicopter flight in September 1960, with American Ambassador Ogden Reid and others of his staff on board, not far from the reactor site, Ambassador Reid (or one of the travelers) asked what the big construction site was. Their host, Addy Cohen, a senior Treasury Ministry official, replied, "Why, that's a textile plant." In December 1960, when the Dimona issue was publicly exposed, Cohen was asked why he had said "textile factory." He responded: "that was our story at the time." Cohen acknowledged that "we have been misbehaving" by keeping Dimona secret, but justified the project as a "deterrent" against Arab neighbors.'
Every denial of Mass Murder by State sounds exactly the same, Armenian genocide edition. From The New York Times:
The Turkish government acknowledges that atrocities were committed, but says they happened in wartime, when plenty of other people were dying. Officials stoutly deny there was ever any plan to systematically wipe out the Armenian population — the commonly accepted definition of genocide.

“The Armenian diaspora is trying to instill hatred against Turkey through a worldwide campaign on genocide claims ahead of the centennial anniversary of 1915,” Mr. Erdogan said recently. “If we examine what our nation had to go through over the past 100 to 150 years, we would find far more suffering than what the Armenians went through.”
Speaking of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Here's a woman who once claimed she had evidence that Turkish intelligence was blackmailing a US congresswoman with a secretly recorded tape of her engaged in lesbian sex -- evidence she gathered from her couple months spent as an FBI translator -- promoting another sounds-legit theory while appearing on a right-wing crank's conspiracy show:


Huge, as they say, if true. Whatever one thinks of Edmonds, though: Donate! Buy her book! This DVD too! And #StayWoke!

Moving on: Russia's state media reports that Libya's internationally recognized government, which controls the Eastern half of the country, plans to revive some Gaddafi-era contracts with the Russian Federation. It's unclear which contracts are being referred to there, but back in February Al-Monitor reported that Russia was using Egypt as a middleman to sell arms:
During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Cairo Feb. 9, the Libyan army’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Abdulrazek Al Nadoori, also arrived in the Egyptian capital in an unannounced visit, in which he met with Russian officials to sign agreements for the supply of Russian weapons to the Libyan army.
Col. Ahmed al-Mismari, the spokesman for the Libyan chief of staff, told Al-Monitor, “Arming the Libyan army was a point of discussion between the Egyptian and Russian presidents in Cairo.”
Libya, however, technically remains under a United Nations-imposed arms embargo, which the U.K. and U.S. have thus far been unwilling to remove. The Libyan government (or, again, one of its governments) is asking for Russia's help in lifting it. My humble, personal opinion: The last thing Libya probably needs right now is more guns.

Finally, ON TWITTER (collective "ugh"), imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning -- loved by those who love to see war crimes exposed; loathed by liberals for exposing the wrong party's criminals and Undermining Faith in Government -- has sent a handwritten note verifying that her social media account is not in fact a deep-state PsyOp meant to make us all love Spotify and Hillary Clinton or whatever online's #justaskingstupidquestions crew thought her use of emoticons was supposed to achieve.

Still, though: Why hasn't questioned the official narrative on 9/11 or, more importantly, linked to my blog? I, for one, will continue to keep one eyebrow raised.

LATE ADDITION: Corporate media coverage of the conflict in Syria continues to be abysmal, bad reporting aided by the fact there are precious few reporters on the ground. Case in point: While it may make for a good, sensationalist headline, not all rebels who are Muslim are "Islamists," not all Islamists are Al Qaeda and, as during the US occupation of Iraq, not all members of Al Qaeda's declared affiliate are actually true believers in its hermit leadership's ideology.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Saudi air strikes, backed by America, kill 38 civilians a day

Saudi Arabia began bombing its neighbor, Yemen, on March 26, responding to a call from the country's unelected president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, for intervention to beat back a military campaign by Houthi rebels -- allied with former strongman and erstwhile U.S. ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh -- who the Saudi monarchy claims are nothing more than a proxy force backed by Iran in order to destabilizing the Islamic Republic's foes in the Arabian peninsula. That claim, making a complex power struggle out to be a Iranian proxy war and nothing more, if self-servingly reductionist, the product of Saudi paranoia that its own repressed population might see what's happening next door and rise up too (which would, of course, be blamed on Iran, just as other actors in region dismiss the idea their own brutality is the root of their problems in order to cast blame entirely on "outside agitators").

The rebels may not be saints, but even if Iran were providing the Houthis with every bullet they fire (ignoring for argument's sake that, in fact, many of those bullets were originally provided by the US government to Yemen's military before the rebels took them, while some weapons were reportedly handed to them directly by US personnel evacuating the country), the reality is that only one party to the conflict is bombing the country from the air with the support of the world's leading imperialist power. And that's killing a whole lot of innocent people.

From The Wall Street Journal:
At least 648 civilians have been killed since the intervention began, and Saudi-led strikes have hit hospitals, schools, a refugee camp and neighborhoods, according to U.N. officials.
That works out to be at least 38 civilians killed by U.S.-backed Saudi air strikes each day, on par with Israel's last bombing run on the densely populated prison of Gaza, which reportedly worries U.S. officials who want the conflict to be over so they can resume killing alleged members of Al Qaeda (and, of course, whoever happens to be in the vicinity). I'd suggest the more powerful, morally defensible argument against the Saudi campaign is that it's killing 38 civilians a day, but there's a reason, I guess, that I'm writing on Wordpress and not being anonymously quoted in the WSJ.

Relatedly: I'd like to take this moment to caution against suggesting that this war places the war criminals "on the same side" of Al Qaeda, as Glenn Greenwald stated on Twitter in order to score points against the US and the Saudis; it's a good way to get retweets -- and bashing the American government and its awful allies is indeed a worthy endeavor -- but Greenwald's take is, alas, a hot and vulgar one that unfortunately has the effect of erasing the fact many of those fighting the Houthis on the ground in southern Yemen consider themselves socialists. I think these people would probably object to being cast as "on the same side" of a reactionary terrorist organization, whether that organization is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or the Saudi military, just as peace activists objected to the neoconservative smear that they were apologists for jihad because they were "on the same side" as jihadists in opposing the U.S. occupation of Iraq. All I am saying is: Give nuance a chance.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

All the news I feel like printing

"The Starving of Yarmouk, Then the Capture"
After Bashar al-Assad’s regime spent nearly two years massacring Palestinians in Yarmouk camp, after regime bombardments destroyed nearly 70 percent of the camp, after thousands were arrested and tortured to death, and after civilians were forced to resort to scavenging through trash and weeds to ward off starvation — after all this, the world is finally paying attention to the situation in this long-suffering southern Damascus neighborhood. And all they want to talk about is the Islamic State. I think this is a disgrace.
Fellas: If you're going to commit war crimes and, unlike the Islamic State, you don't want to attract the world's attention -- make sure you shave.

"Palestinian Envoy Broke PLO Line to Agree Yarmouk Deal With Assad Regime":
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official who announced an agreement for a joint military operation between the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Palestinian factions against ISIS in Yarmouk refugee camp did so against PLO wishes and policies because of allegiances to the Syrian government and may be removed from his position as a consequence, Newsweek can reveal.
This week, Ahmed Majdalani, the former Palestinian Authority Labour minister, headed a delegation to the Syrian capital, Damascus, from the West Bank for talks with the Syrian government and yesterday confirmed that a “joint operation centre” will be created for Palestinian groups in Syria and the Syrian regime to coordinate an offensive against ISIS after the terror group captured large parts of the encampment last week.
However, a senior official within the PLO, speaking on condition of anonymity to Newsweek, said that members of the Palestinian executive body were “very upset” with Majdalani’s breaking of the PLO’s official line to announce cooperation with the Syrian government, claiming that he did so because the faction of which he is the secretary-general, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, is supported by the Assad regime.
Another PLO official, Wasel Abu Yousef, said that the Syrian regime may destroy the encampment by bombing the site behind the claim of attacking ISIS, as eyewitnesses revealed to Newsweek yesterday that the regime had barrel-bombed the camp’s main hospital.
"We know that if the [Syrian] army, with its planes and tanks, would interfere, this would mean the complete destruction of the camp," Yousef told the Associated Press.

"Reuters Iraq bureau chief flees after death threats over story"
The Baghdad bureau chief for Reuters has left Iraq after he was threatened on Facebook and denounced by a Shiite paramilitary group's satellite news channel in reaction to a Reuters report last week that detailed lynching and looting in the city of Tikrit. The threats against journalist Ned Parker began on an Iraqi Facebook page run by a group that calls itself "the Hammer" and is believed by an Iraqi security source to be linked to armed Shiite groups. The April 5 post and subsequent comments demanded he be expelled from Iraq. One commenter said that killing Parker was "the best way to silence him, not kick him out."
Here's the story that has these Iranian-organized and U.S.-armed militias so upset. Meanwhile, from the BBC: "Karl Marx on Alienation." Gillian Anderson (yes) explains Marx's theory on how capitalism alienates workers, reducing them to cogs in the machine who only truly live a few hours a day when they're not toiling away making products they themselves can't afford so a rich person they've never met can become even richer.

Alienated though they may be, workers have not lost their humanity. "If We Left, They Wouldn't Have Nobody":
When an assisted living home in California shut down last fall, many of its residents were left behind, with nowhere to go. The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor. "There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says. "If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says. Their roles quickly transformed for the elderly residents, who needed round-the-clock care. "I would only go home for one hour, take a shower, get dressed, then be there for 24-hour days," says Alvarez.
Finally, a blast from the not-so-distant past, when another dictator beloved by the pseudo-left was cozying up to the absolute worst the imperialist West has to offer. "Gaddafi wants EU cash to stop African migrants":
"Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in," said Col Gaddafi, quoted by the AFP news agency. He was speaking at a ceremony in Rome late on Monday, standing next to Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "We don't know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans," Col Gaddafi said. "We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions."

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

On Russia, Ukraine and different brands of imperialism

I spoke to a left-wing activist in Moscow about the state of the opposition in Russia, what's happening in Ukraine, and whether one form of imperialism can be an effective, desirable counter to another. You can read the transcript over at Salon.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Our terrible world, in links

The United States may have pulled its personnel out of Yemen, but its allies are continuing its ignoble tradition of carrying out war crimes there from the cowardly comfort of a jet fighter. As The New York Times reports, "Apparent Saudi Strike Kills at Least Nine in Yemeni Family:"
SANA, Yemen — At least nine people from a single family were killed when what appeared to be an airstrike by the Saudi-led military coalition struck a home in a village outside Sana, Yemen’s capital, officials said Saturday.
Village residents gave a higher toll, saying that as many as 11 members of the Okaish family, including five children, were killed in the bombing on Friday. The airstrike may have been intended for an air defense base about a mile and half away, a Yemen Interior Ministry official said.
Meanwhile, in Asia, the United States is encouraging its ally, Japan, to abandon its U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution so it can offload some of the cost of militarily containing China, something the country's ultra-nationalist prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has been more than willing to do, fond as he is of his nation's much maligned war criminals. Some still remember history, however, and are warning against this. Again, in the Times, "Retired Japanese Fighter Pilot Sees an Old Danger on the Horizon":
“I fought the war from the cockpit of a Zero, and can still remember the faces of those I killed,” said Mr. Harada, who said he was able to meet and befriend some of his foes who survived the war. “They were fathers and sons, too. I didn’t hate them or even know them.”
“That is how war robs you of your humanity,” he added, “by putting you in a situation where you must either kill perfect strangers or be killed by them.”

“I realized the war had turned me into a killer of men,” he said, “and that was not the kind of person I wanted to be.”
A theocracy that casts itself as "resistance" power, albeit one that helped Israel help the United States help the counter-revolutionary Contras in Nicaragua, is now being governed by social justice warriors. "Iran Will Allow Women in Sports Stadiums, Reversing a Much-Criticized Rule":
A Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports official told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency that women and their families would be allowed to attend most athletic events, except for those of “masculine” sports, like wrestling or swimming, during which male athletes wear uniforms or suits that cover little of their bodies.
Speaking of the Islamic Republic, one of the more curious things to me is that the recently agreed upon framework for a deal with Western powers over its nuclear program is that members of United Against Nuclear Iran, a billionaire-backed alarmist group that many have perceived as an Israeli proxy, are cautiously supportive even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bellowing that the deal threatens the whole existence of his white supremacist settler colony:
The Iranians won the right to research, but not to use more modern machines for production for the next 10 years.
At Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, another pathway to a bomb, Iran agreed to redesign a heavy-water reactor in a way that would keep it from producing weapons-usable fuel.
Those conditions impressed two of the most skeptical experts on the negotiations: Gary Samore and Olli Heinonen of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and members of a group called United Against Nuclear Iran.
Mr. Samore, who was Mr. Obama’s top adviser on weapons of mass destruction in his first term as president, said in an email that the deal was a “very satisfactory resolution of Fordo and Arak issues for the 15-year term” of the accord. He had more questions about operations at Natanz and said there was “much detail to be negotiated, but I think it’s enough to be called a political framework.”
I realize all these stories are from the Times. What can I say? They had a good week. I'll do better next time.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Iraqi State

Reuters reports on the liberation of Tikrit:
"They waved their knives in the air, to cheers from the crowd, and chanted: 'We will slaughter him. We will take revenge for Colonel Imad. We will slaughter him.' 
The policemen laid the Egyptian's head over the curb. Then one of the police pushed the other out of the way and he swung his whole body down, landing the knife into the Egyptian's neck. 
The cop lifted the knife and thrust the blade in the Egyptian's neck a second time. Blood gushed out, staining the boots of the cheering onlookers. 
The killer started to saw through the neck, but it was slow-going. He lifted the blade again and slammed it into the Egyptian's neck another four times. Then he sawed back and forth."

Friday, April 03, 2015

In 2011, Syria 'did not know poverty'

A delegation of old crackpot commies associated with the Workers World Party, for whom every despotic government is either "U.S.-backed and bad" or "not U.S.-backed, so actually good and even communist," recently travelled to Syria to commend dictator Bashar Assad for killing tens of thousands of poor Syrians in his fight against imperialism and "a mercenary invasion of more than 20,000 fighters," by which they don't mean the more than 20,000 mercenaries and militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan being paid to fight for a regime running out of actual Syrians willing to take up arms on its behalf.

The trip is grotesque enough: Dialogue is one thing, lending "left" cover to a man whose family has grown extremely wealthy by exploiting the working class is quite another. What's especially galling is that, in an article recounting their fantastic journey, these "anti-imperialist" authoritarians allow a regime official to say the following:
“Syria was formerly one of the fastest developing countries in the world,” [Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban] continued, “and one of the safest. We have free education and health care. We did not know poverty; we grew our food and produced our own clothing. At universities, 55 percent of the students were women. In whose interest is it to destroy this heritage? Who is the beneficiary of this?”
One adequate response to this might be: "LMAO, what?" But seeing as this is a blog on the Internet and I have all the space in the world, allow me to quote another article, this one from the World Socialist Web Site.

"But aren't they Assad apologists too?" an earnest reader asks. And I'm glad they did because yes, the folks at WSWS kinda actually are -- but this article is from 2010, back before some leftists decided that "anti-imperialism" requires dismissing the efforts of tens of thousands of regular people to overthrow their neoliberal oppressors, U.S. aligned (Libya) or not (Syria), and reducing said uprisings to Zionist/American/Saudi imperialism. Back in 2010, some socialists were reporting on the actual factors that would cause the residents of rich, tranquil Syria to later rise up against their benevolent leader:
Poverty in Syria has increased significantly in the past five years. The United Nations Human Development’s study of Poverty in Syria 1996-2004 is the most comprehensive statistical report currently available. It found that the wealth gap widened and 11.4 percent of people, or 2.2 million of Syria’s 21 million population, lived in extreme poverty, defined as unable to obtain their basic food and non-food needs, a sum equal to SYP92 or US$2 per capita per day. Syria Today reports that a new United Nations Development Programme report due out shortly states that this figure rose to 12.7 percent in 2007.
A 2007 Central Bureau of Statistics report shows that the number of people living in poverty—those only able to cover a “reasonable amount” of their basic needs—rose from 30.1 percent to 33 percent between 2004 and 2007. But since 2007, the situation has deteriorated sharply. The property real estate boom and the removal of some of the subsidies have increased the cost of living.
The turn to the market and inward investment has led to few new decent-paying jobs, while the lifting of trade restrictions has increased imports and led to a fall in exports to Turkey and other countries, forcing small traders and services out of business. Unemployment is officially about 8 percent, but unofficial estimates put it at about 20 percent, with many more under-employed.
Real wage growth has fallen, according to official data, from 9.9 percent in 2005 to 3.2 percent in 2007, implying a fall in living standards as prices have risen, with little left over for education, culture or leisure activities.
On top of all this, Syria suffered a severe drought in the years leading up to the 2011 uprising, with 1.5 million people leaving their arid lands for the city, which "had a catalytic effect" in a country, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 While foreign meddling of the Russian, Iranian, Saudi, Qatari, Turkish and American variety has no doubt had a negative impact on Syria, leftists would do well to remember that outside agitators are historically ineffective at getting tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in a totalitarian state where chanting "down with the dictator" might very well earn one a bullet in the head. Imperial powers will always attempt to shape events in their favor, with varying degrees of success, but the masses are not as easily manipulated as the likes of Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney; when poor people rise up, it's generally because they have nothing left to lose. That some of these superficially "left" Assad apologists would present a neoliberal dictator's denial of the existence of poverty in Syria as truth in the service of an easier to digest "anti-imperial" narrative speaks pretty loudly to the intellectual and moral poverty of the authoritarian left.

(h/t Ben Norton)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

My journalism requires free alcohol

My first reaction to journalist Ken Silverstein's piece in Politico on why he hated his last employer was: Thank the good lord I said “eh, no” when editors asked me to write something like this after leaving Vice, which in my self-serving defense at least entailed questions about ~ethics in journalism~ but, even still, who wants to read a white guy complaining about his dream job not working out? Oh, boo hoo. And check that privilege. My god, man.

My second thought: Nobody loves stories about journalists as much as other journalists, which leads to their proliferation in the media, but why, when the author himself says there was no “editorial meddling from the top,” must we be subjected to thousands upon thousands of words about “epic managerial incompetence”? At least the former has the benefit of at least ostensibly being a story about something other than thoroughly typical inter-personal drama; of being about Issues, not just office politics. This, though? If First Look Media were an Applebee's, Silverstein would staple 8 sheets of paper from a yellow legal pad to the comment card on the table detailing, precisely, how the entire damn team working that Wednesday night, from host to busser, was incompetent and grossly unprofessional. His complaints might even have the merit of being true, but we would all have a good snicker at the entitled guy freaking out over a lukewarm mozzarella stick on a dirty plate.

This is even worse that, which we would read only after the busser leaked it to Gakwer: It's as if Silverstein read that comment card back to himself and said, bewilderingly, "Let's get long-winded whine that makes me look angry and petty and difficult to work with out there so everyone can read it." We've all been tempted to write something like it, and some of us have blogs where we sometimes do, but this is the sort of situation where a friend, family member or editor should step in and say, "You're upset and we get that it's totally justified but maybe sit on this for a few weeks or, perhaps, until the end of time."

Silverstein's piece does, however, speak to what I think is a generational divide in journalism: The expectation that one's job isn't supposed to suck is not one that those under 40 have ever really had. To get at what I mean, here's Silverstein, complaining:
Employees were initially told that we were free to spend whatever we needed for our reporting and the company simply asked that we spend its money responsibly, as we would if it were our own. But soon new orders came down from management that made it difficult to pay for a source’s drinks—and to report, at least in Washington, it is pretty much required that you be able to take sources out for drinks to have discreet, relaxed conversations. Over time, management began closely scrutinizing expense reports. Some of us became so frustrated, and intimidated, that we decided to simply stop expensing some legitimate reporting costs because it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to get reimbursed.
The next nine words, in bold, are sincere: Silverstein has a done a lot of good journalism, if not so much at The Intercept (EXCLUSIVE: PROSECUTOR SAYS HE GOT THE RIGHT GUY.). He was a reliably good read at Harper's and I have no reason to doubt some of that good journalism was indeed helped along by a source drinking seven Manhattans on the company dime. But most journalists – I want to say the vast majority of journalists, including those in Washington – are expected to churn out journalistic content, including “exclusives” that can go “viral,” without any sort of expense account and usually without health insurance or even a business card on which the words “staff writer” are printed. I have had outlets offer to publish stories that could get me sued but which declined to offer me any legal protection; they were happy to take the clicks, but the liability was to be all mine. Freelancers in war zones are paid as little as $50 a piece and it isn't much better in more peaceful places with higher costs of living. Reporters are expected to take all the risks, getting the story however they can, a process made harder by the fact no one just hands scoops to journalists who lack reliable access to major platforms, with the expectation they will be paid primarily in exposure. (“And maybe that will lead to something,” every freelancer's mother says on the phone when they aren't in the mood to broach the subject of law school again).

Silverstein is certainly right to knock a billionaire for being a cheapskate – just pay for the god damn booze, Pierre – but his complaints are remarkably tone-deaf in an age when most of his peers would gladly trade the hassle of filling out an invoice every time they write a $150 article for the extreme hassle of saving receipts from the bar. I don't blame anyone for wanting the free drinks and editors who will just hit “publish” on whatever one sends in, but you can tell he comes from the shrinking but comfortable world of staff writing, where the concept of an "expense report" isn't just an inside joke among jaded freelancers. If alcohol is an essential part of reporting, it's largely because journalists use it to cope with the conditions of journalism, which the 1 percent of journalists at the top would do well to acknowledge lest they come off as a bit spoiled and out of touch. The problems Silverstein details might make for good gossip over a beer, but they are also the sort of problems many others would love to have.
Finally, much has been made about the fact Silverstein says he never bothered to Google “Pierre Omidyar” before going to work for Pierre Omidyar.

Understandably, thise strikes some as unbecoming of an investigative journalist, but truth be told: All billionaires are terrible people and in journalism, as in most professions, there are really no “good bosses” (not even Amy Goodman). Maybe it would've been smart to dig up a little dirt before accepting the gig, but what would Silverstein have found? That this obscenely rich individual offering to fund his journalism was motivated by something other than the pursuit of truth and justice? That a billionaire surrounded by people whose job it is to praise him would have an inflated sense of his own abilities? Because that's the case everywhere and every writer who wishes to do more than just wank off on WordPress in front of a dozen people who already agree with them (hello) is forced to deal with the same thing no matter where they work: Capitalism.

In the absence of viable alternatives, the journalist who aspires to be more than just a transcriptionist for power but needs money to live is required to accept that money from people they probably would not want bring home to meet Mom and Dad, at least if they desire a platform that makes the sacrifice of journalism worth it (and if one's writing and politics are more than just an attempt to fashion an online identity, with no real attempt to change minds much less the world, platforms do actually matter). If one finds the positives, such as access to food and an audience, don't outweigh the compromises? Charge one last drinking binge to the company and move on -- but if you're privileged enough to have that expense account, which you use to file two to three stories a month, not two to three every single day about what's trending on Twitter and Reddit? Forego the "Why I Left _________" essay and, now that you're freelancing, write about the exploitation of independent contracting; you'll have to buy your own booze, but at least the source who will be drinking it will be you.

That said, Have you at least thought about law school?