Saturday, March 11, 2006


The new McCarthyism: First they came for the Arabists ...

Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, has decried in a number of his writings the assault on academics, especially those in the field of Middle Eastern Studies who have difficulty concluding that the Israeli government is acting to promote peace in the region. Taking a position that is even vaguely pro-Palestinian can get you in hot water with the Israeli agents provocateurs in our society who have the resources to make life miserable for the lowly college professor. Cole identifies these efforts to intimidate as the new McCarthyism.

Perhaps the attacks on professors of Middle Eastern Studies partly explain the dearth of students of Arabic. In December 2004 Cole offered some reasons for the shortage of Arabic scholars:

5) The recruiters for the US security agencies don't want Americans who have spent long periods abroad, lest they have developed local sympathies. This foolish approach excludes the most knowledgeable US citizens....

6) The recruiters even advise Americans studying Arabic not to go on summer or semester-long study abroad programs, since apparently even that much living outside the US could permanently injure their loyalty to their country. But such study abroad is essential to gaining fluency!

7) Being involved in Arabic studies and Middle Eastern studies in the United States is extremely controversial and often leads to character assassination, and you just have to have an iron constitution to put up with all the junk that gets thrown your way by the bigotted....

Not only is being misrepresented and smeared painful to most people, but trying to be even-handed on the Middle East will get a person called "racist" (i.e. insufficiently enthusiastic about Ariel Sharon), Orientalist (insufficiently enthusiastic about radical Muslim fundamentalism), or "terrorist-lover" (i.e. insufficiently enthusiastic about aggressive imperial warfare by the Bush administration). Since such epithets can harm careers, any sensible person would just stay away from Middle Eastern languages, or study something safe like Spanish.

Well, with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and the general tilt to the Left throughout Latin America, Spanish may not be as safe a language as Cole supposed. It appears that professors of Latin American Studies are beginning to come under fire.

According to Caroline An, writing for the Daily Bulletin of Ontario California,

A Pomona College professor said he believes his academic freedom was violated when he was interviewed by counterterrorism investigators about his ties to the Venezuelan government.

Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor in Latin American studies, said two detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department questioned him Tuesday for nearly 25 minutes at his office about whether he had any contact with the Venezuelan embassy or consulate recently.

The detectives said they were interested in compiling a profile of the Venezuelan community in America and that other academics would be interviewed as well, Tinker Salas said.

Questions also included where a gathering place would be for community members ...

Chilling? You bet! But the cops always leave a little room for farce—

... and the location of the nearest consulate or embassy.

"I was very surprised by the questions they asked because they are public information," Tinker Salas said. "They could get that information on Google."

Professor Tinker Salas, of course, is making the good faith assumption that the police were actually after information.

Although the interview was conducted by members of the LA County Sheriff's Department, it was apparently held at the behest of the FBI, which promptly confirmed by denial its intent to intimidate —

In a written statement Friday, the FBI said its state, local and federal task force partners routinely conduct interviews and shouldn't suggest any wrongdoing on the part of the interviewee.

"The purpose of the interview was to seek information. There was no intent on the part of the FBI, regarding the timing or location, to place the professor, his students or Pomona College in an uncomfortable situation," the statement said.

A tactful inquiry

So regarding the timing and location, just how did the police go about the interview?

Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan native and American citizen, said students waiting outside his office were interviewed and was alarmed when he saw a copy of his profile from the college's Web site in their notebooks.

"I could hear the buzz from outside, and I began preparing myself for who was coming through the door," he said.

John Macias, a first-year Ph.D candidate, was one of the students waiting to speak with Tinker Salas. The detectives were obviously not students and aroused suspicions immediately.

"They just stood there and observed everything," Macias said. "After they went in, we knew something was wrong."

Nothing to suggest even a hint of an intent to intimidate, would you say?

Venezuela, a major exporter of oil, is not known as an exporter of terrorism. It is, however, exporting certain Leftist ideas that are considered anathema by the Bush administration. Could Professor Tinker Salas be a fellow traveler?

Tinker Salas said that the detectives asked numerous questions about terrorism. He told them that the Venezuelan community doesn't support terrorism.

"At the end of the questioning I asked them what they were fishing for," he said.

Tinker Salas said that as critic of U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America, his statements, through his books or comments in the media, were the reasons he was targeted. He viewed the incident as the larger erosion of civil liberties in the wake of Sept. 11 and the recent wiretapping of U.S. citizens, he said.

What actually set the FBI in motion is unknown. The account of the incident by Richard Winton and J. Michael Kennedy in the LA Times suggests that Tinker-Salas's contribution to a story in the press might have been to his detriment—

Tinker-Salas figured in a Christian Science Monitor story last month dealing with whether Iran and Venezuela could forge a political counterweight to U.S. power.

But his most radical thought, as given in that story, is that—

People see a certain hypocrisy in US actions, and what we're seeing from people like Chávez and Iran's president are attempts to exploit that," says Tinker-Salas.

Pretty strong stuff.

The police intimidation merited a response from Venezuela—

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela considers this incident a violation of the freedoms of expression, thought and academic inquiry, and views the move as a desperate attempt to link Venezuela to terrorism. The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela also believes this incident draws comparisons to the Cold War, when academics and activists were regularly questioned and intimidated by government officials for their political views.

The new McCarthyism.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Statistics of the Day

Between 1972 and 2001, the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent.

—Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?" as quoted by Paul Krugman in "The 80-20 Fallacy"

Related post
Have you been trickled on yet? (7/28/04)


Lie of the Day

The Bush team repeatedly declared that it had enough troops in Iraq and that no one on the ground was asking for more. Totally untrue. As Paul Bremer, who led the U.S. civilian administration in Iraq, reveals in his new book, "My Year in Iraq," he repeatedly asked for more troops but was ignored. —Thomas L. Friedman in "Iraqis must now tell the U.S. whether to stay or go"

Related post
They lie, they lie again ... and then they lie some more (3/9/06)

Thursday, March 09, 2006


They lie, they lie again ... and then they lie some more

Perhaps you've met a compulsive liar. I certainly have. There are several features of the syndrome that stand out. First is the obviousness of the lying, once you catch on. In short order you can be an expert lie spotter. Second is the ineffective and even self-defeating nature of the lies, so that you end up shaking your head and thinking "That sonuvabitch will lie when the truth would serve him better."1 And third is the motive: the escapism—the utter anxiety-lowering reality-disconnect—that the lying serves.

But I had never extrapolated the notion of the compulsive liar to include entire government administrations—until now. From the petty to the grand, from the general to the particular, from the tragic to the farcical, from the avoidable to the inevitable they lie. The members of the Bush Administration (in which we must include top military leaders and the enabling, mostly Republican legislators) lie severally and jointly.

Lying is the primary job qualification. If you cannot or will not lie, you will find yourself very quickly in retirement, if not worse. And if you do lie, and lie with aplomb, your chance of advancement, rewards and awards is practically assured.

Now I could write a book consisting entirely of examples in support of this thesis, but fortunately you've been paying attention so I don't have to. You already know about General Shinseki and Paul O'Neill and Pat Tillman on the one hand and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet and General Myers on the other, to name but a few.2

Still, as with the individual compulsive liar, you can't help but be amazed by the ubiquity and brazenness of the lies of the Bush Administration.

You may remember my little post from the end of January "The Palestinian election outcome: We are shocked, shocked." In it I focused on the efforts of public television's NewsHour to play along with the notion that the Administration had no idea that Hamas was going to win the Palestinian election. As usual, the transparency of the Administration's lies was apparent to everyone but the media. I wrote,

Of the pundits the NewsHour managed to interview, they could find only one to tell the truth—Robert Malley, a staff member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

In these sorry times the member of the mainstream media that has perhaps acquitted itself the best is the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain (now up for sale and likely to be weakened in the process). Last Friday their reporter Jonathan Landay didn't fail

WASHINGTON - A State Department-commissioned poll taken days before January's Palestinian elections warned U.S. policymakers that the militant Islamic group Hamas was in a position to win.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after the election that they had no advance indication of a major Hamas triumph.

The poll found that Hamas had been gaining support in previous months and was running neck-and-neck with the secular Fatah party - 30 percent vs. 32 percent - among likely voters. It was distributed within the State Department on Jan. 19, six days before the elections.

The poll found that corruption in the Palestinian Authority was the leading issue among Palestinians, and that 52 percent believed that Hamas was more qualified to clean it up, compared with 35 percent who put their faith in Fatah, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' moderate faction.

"I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by its very strong showing," Rice said on Jan. 29 as she flew to London for talks on the election results with her counterparts from the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. "I think what was probably underestimated was the depth of resentment of the last, really, decade of corruption and the old guard."

Rice said that she had directed State Department officials to determine "why nobody saw it coming ... because it does say something about perhaps not having had a good enough pulse on the Palestinian population."

Of course, the Bush administration has even developed the "meta-lie," which is a lie about a lie—

On Friday, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "I don't think the poll and the secretary's remarks are in conflict. She didn't say we were surprised that they won.

"I think what took people by surprise was the margin of victory," Ereli said. "Nobody foresaw that huge a sweep."

A spokesman for the group that obtained this information—a group devoted to reducing government secrecy wherever possible—unfortunately tried to flog a horse that Condi Rice wasn't riding and ended by making it appear that she may have been duped by her own bureaucracy—

The poll was obtained by the Project on Government Secrecy, a program run by the Federation of American Scientists, a policy research group, which provided it to Knight Ridder.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy, said that while the poll didn't predict Hamas' big win, it clearly showed a trend toward victory for the Islamic militants.

"Either Secretary Rice was being disingenuous or else her department has a serious information-sharing problem, because INR could not have done a much better job of assessing the Palestinian election than they did," said Aftergood. "No one else did a better job than INR. So to profess surprise of the outcome is incomprehensible.

"This is secrecy squared," he continued. "It's one thing to keep secrets from the public. But when the bureaucracy is keeping secrets from itself, policy is compromised."

It is possible, even likely, that the State Department has an information-sharing problem. But you can be damned certain that Condoleezza Rice was being "disingenuous"—or less politely, that she was lying as usual.

Previous post
The Palestinian election outcome: We are shocked, shocked! (1/31/06)


1A friend once advised that you should always tell the truth so that people will believe you when you really need to lie. [back]

2Of course I could list George Bush. But he is so incompetent—even at lying—that they would fire him if they could. [back]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Vermont towns vote for impeachment

According to David Gram of the AP, voters in at least 5 Vermont towns have asked Vermont's only Representative, Bernie Sanders, to draw up articles of impeachment "alleging that Bush misled the nation about Iraq and engaged in illegal domestic spying."

The honor roll of cities includes Newfane, Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney.


Rhetorical Trick of the Day II

From Mark Kaplan's Notes on Rhetoric

Demand evidence: Always refer to it as "empirical." If actually offered, criticize the methodology.

Remember that this is a "trick." You're not really interested in evidence but in discomfiting the writer or speaker.

If you really want to ask about the evidence, try this.

Previous post
Rhetorical Trick of the Day (3/7/06)


Religious activists and mainstream churches under government control

Your First Amendment rights to assemble, to petition the government and to freely exercise your religion apparently do not apply on foreign territory. In fact, your freedoms, including the implied freedom to travel, may be stripped away by something so simple as a few pieces of legislation.

This becomes relevant when you want to protest, say, the illegal detention and torture of inmates at Guantánamo in Cuba, as the Catholic religious group Witness Against Torture attempted last December before the gates of the prison. To exercise their rights to assemble, petition the government and freely exercise their religion they traveled to Cuba, an act which is now forbidden to ordinary American citizens. (Remember how the U.S. government used to rail about the Soviets' refusal to allow its citizens to travel to the West?)

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) delivered papers of inquiry to the group last month, presumably in preparation for prosecution. According to the group's press release, each traveler to Cuba faces a $250,000 fine and a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

The major media outlets haven't seen fit to pass this news along to the public, though UPI carried the story (undoubtedly because of their Moonie interest in all matters religious). Oddly, if you live in Australia or New Zealand, you were quite well informed about it.

If Americans weren't informed of the Guantánamo protest and its aftermath, they may be getting some information about the government's Cuba policies through their churches, which are feeling the Bush effect. Adelle Banks tells us in Monday's Washington Post that

More than 100 members of Congress have signed a letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow questioning changes in his department's rules that have halted the ability of some religious organizations to travel to Cuba.

"We understand the complicated political reality that exists between the United States and Cuban governments," reads the March 3 letter spearheaded by Reps. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Barbara Lee (D) of California.

"However, we believe it is inappropriate and unacceptable for politics and government to serve as a hurdle and now as a barrier to faith-based connections between individuals. If anything, these connections foster greater religious freedom in Cuba and contribute to a severely-lacking free-flowing exchange of ideas between the two countries," the letter states.

The concerns addressed in the three-page letter with 105 signatories are also scheduled to be the subject of a Capitol Hill meeting March 15 among politicians, administration officials and religious leaders....

The letter's signatories and religious leaders say they are perplexed by actions of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which has given individual congregations less restrictive licenses than the ones national religious organizations have had.

"That seems to be making decisions ... on religious matters that's beyond the competence of the government."

I'm sympathetic to their concern of course, but the real trick is to discover in just what area of public life this government has demonstrated competence.

The growing reaction to regulation changes comes after the policy was modified in September 2004 and some religious organizations were issued warnings about it in March 2005. Since then, some mainstream religious organizations have found that their requests to the Office of Foreign Assets Control for license renewal were denied.

"OFAC previously issued religious organizations broad licenses that allowed them to select who they wanted to travel and placed no restriction on the number of travelers," said Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise.

Of course, no story on foreign policy would be complete without some thoughts from Secretary of State Condi Rice, who is apparently practicing to be a logician when her employment runs out—

"I will say that I don't think that there is anything that passes for religious freedom in Cuba," Rice added during a mid-February appearance before the House International Relations Committee. "And so the notion that somehow our churches going there are contributing to religious freedom in a place where religious freedom is so clearly denied, I think I would question the premise."

I would question whether governments that restrict and/or forbid their own churches to travel have the right to lecture other governments about religious freedom.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Rhetorical Trick of the Day

Mark Kaplan has assembled a fine collection of rhetorical shenanigans (he calls them "tools") from which I'd like to offer the "Rhetorical Trick of the Day." I very much agree with the epigraph on his site—
"..the knowledge of rhetorical forms by the listener can in fact jeopardize the effect the speaker hopes to arouse with those forms, in that the effect is subjected to the listener's control"

These "tools" are frequently used in the Comments section of blogs and especially among the ideologically committed of whatever persuasion. If you think of (or spot) additional "tools," please share them so that we can add to the list.

Psychologize: If your opponent criticises you more than once, he is evidently obsessed/fixated by you. You are being stalked by him, and his objections are to be reread as ‘symptoms’ of his disorder. [edited]

Random example drawn from Google: I'll type slowly so you can follow along. You seem to be obsessed with cyber-stalking Ethan's blog. You claim to despise him and his topics, yet you continue to show up here. Why? Are you that desperate for attention? Did mommy not hug you enough as a child? If you don't like this blog, stop showing up!


Political Wire: Democratic Leaders Back Away from Impeachment Talk

Taegan Goddard alerts us to an article in the Wall Street Journal that avers that the leaders of the Democratic Party are dismissing the idea of impeachment. (Sorry no link. WSJ is subscription-only.) Goddard quotes
Democratic strategists remember the fallout Republicans suffered among swing voters in 1998 amid their bid to oust Mr. Clinton. The National Republican Congressional Committee sank $10 million into a last-minute advertising blitz focused on Mr. Clinton's character, only to lose five seats and see House Speaker Newt Gingrich pressured to resign.

The "Democratic strategists" must be very young indeed to have created such a false analogy—if they're sincere. The Clinton impeachment was a transparent effort by the Republicans to unseat a popular President over what most people deemed a quibble.

The analogy for the impeachment of George Bush is not the Clinton impeachment but the Watergate hearings. Those hearings effectively did impeach Richard Nixon and forced him to resign or face formal impeachment proceedings. The hearings also left the Democrats in an even more powerful position.

George Bush is no longer a popular President, and if hearings leading toward impeachment were held, I would expect an outcome along the lines of the Nixon Presidency. George would resign in a heart beat. Despite the hype, staying to fight is not his style—at least when he's the one doing the fighting. Bill Clinton he ain't!

Related post
Rep. Conyers works toward Bush impeachment (12/21/05)


Not baking cookies

TEHRAN, Iran — Veiled women training in shooting on the outskirts of the city, 1986.

Photo by Jean Gaumy. From the Magnum Photo collection at Slate

Monday, March 06, 2006


Gandhi shrine defiled by Bush visit

Hindu priests have had to purify the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. One media account says that American sniffing dogs desecrated the shrine before the President's visit. So why did they wait until after Bush had left to perform the purification ceremony?


Israeli troops in "Iraq"

The de facto partition of Iraq occurred prior to the invasion, at least the separation of the Kurdish areas from the areas dominated by the Sunnis and Shias. And its utter separation from the rest of Iraq can be seen in this brief paragraph, if Sarah Baxter and Uzi Mahnaimi (in Israel) have told it like it is—

Israel’s special forces are said to be operating inside Iran in an urgent attempt to locate the country’s secret uranium enrichment sites. “We found several suspected sites last year but there must be more,” an Israeli intelligence source said. They are operating from a base in northern Iraq, guarded by Israeli soldiers with the approval of the Americans, according to Israeli sources.

Are we to believe that the "sovereign" government of Iraq is countenancing Israeli soldiers on its territory?

[9/1/07 — The original link to the Times Online is now pointing to a different article in that journal. A very odd system they have. Fortunately a blogger posted the article in its entirety. I've modified the link accordingly.]

While waiting for the civil war ...

The Sunday Times account by Hala Jaber of the arrest-abduction and murder of two Sunni government employees is too horrible in its details for a Monday morning. The headline gives the flavor: ‘Driller killers’ spread a new horror in Iraq. Torture by power tool: an idea with deep roots in Texas. But there are features to this new Reign of Terror from which we shouldn't avert our eyes.

There was no sign of danger as Mohammed Sammarai arrived at his brother Mustafa’s home for lunch last week, no hint that this would be their last meal together.

It was not until after they had been joined by their old friend Ali Ahmad that they heard a commotion outside and realised something was wrong....

First two police vehicles pulled up outside their house in the Hay al-Jihad district of Baghdad’s sprawling southern suburbs. Then came a convoy of up to 10 black BMWs and Opels — the favoured cars of the Shi’ite militias. Suddenly masked men brandishing Kalashnikov automatic rifles were storming inside.

Ahmad was arrested. Mustafa protested. Mohammed fled upstairs....

“Who are you?” the family demanded to know.

“We are from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq,” one of the men is said to have shouted.

To their horror, the captives found themselves in Sadr City, a Shi’ite stronghold in Baghdad. “A crowd gathered to watch what was going on,” Ahmad said.

“The armed men told them we were terrorists and the crowd began to curse us.”

The Sunni brothers and their friend were bundled back into the car boots and driven off again. The next person they saw was an imam, but he was not there to save them.

I saw an imam peer into the boot with a policeman,” Ahmad said. According to his account, the imam condemned Mustafa and Mohammed with the chilling words: “Kill any identified suspect immediately.”

Ahmad was freed on the imam’s orders, apparently because he had merely been a guest of the brothers and had not been suitably identified.

“I walked home barefoot in a terrible state,” he said. “I could not call any official to report this. How could I when they were involved?” Two days later he found his friends’ bodies in the city’s Teb al-Adli mortuary.

Their widows have now moved in with relatives and Mustafa’s empty home has already been vandalised.

John Pace, the outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Baghdad, said the vast majority of the bodies arriving at the mortuary showed signs of summary execution and many had their hands tied behind their backs. “Some showed evidence of torture, with arms and leg joints broken by electric drills,” said Pace, a Maltese official.

He claimed that militias were integrated with the police and were wearing police uniforms. One in particular was singled out: the Badr organisation that used to be the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the political party mentioned by one of the men in the Sammarais’ home.

“The Badr brigade are in the police and are mainly the ones doing the killing,” Pace was quoted as saying. “They’re the most notorious.”

According to Pace, the cases of torture and extrajudicial executions now exceed those under Saddam’s rule.

“Under Saddam, if you agreed to forgo your basic right to freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less okay,” he said. “Now you have a primitive, chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone.”

The Iraqi government and U.S. and British military insist there is no civil war going on. Assuming they're right, would someone ask how long they expect events such as this to continue before the civil war begins?

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