Thursday, August 03, 2006

Amateur Hour

Does anybody know what's going on here?

Or here?

If you do, please send your resume to the White House.

The situation in the Levant, in particular, is especially disturbing and just flat out bizarre. CNN recently reported on new attacks in the south of Beirut in areas the reporter believed had not been forewarned with leaflets from the IAF and in which no Hezbollah institutions appear to reside. The Israeli attacks would be almost cartoonish if not for the misery and devastation they're causing. The Israeli air attacks remind me of one of those Bugs Bunny skits where Yosemite Sam or Wiley Coyote is coming up with all the Acme weapons of mass destruction to pound Bugs with but inevitably only ends up blowing himself up. Or someone trying to kill a fly in the house with a baseball bat.

I really don't get it. Neither apparently do Bilmon or The Belgravia Dispatch, a thoughtful conservative who's urging Rumseld be fired and replaced with Richard Armitage.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cuba, Castro, and Democracy Now!

I usually enjoy Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! newscasts. Locally, Democracy Now! airs at 8 am and 6 pm on WPFW 89.3. It's an important, alternative source of news in this age of conglomerized, cookie cutter, big business media. Some of the stuff on Democracy Now can be a bit obscure, but in a way that's the point--focusing on individual cases of government abuse in far away lands that aren't named Aruba. They give more attention to Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky than I think is necessary or useful, but other than that, I generally appreciate the show's commentary and that of their guests.

But this morning was just beyond the pale. They had a report concerning Fidel Castro, who's been in the news these last few days because of his health.

The report started off describing "President Castro's" condition and (temporary) transference of power to his brother. Goodman continually refers to the "president of Cuba" and "President Castro", seeming to forget that Castro is dictator, a term Goodman readily ascribes to Castro's predecessor, Batista, who was overthrown by Castro's forces (including Che Guevara) in 1959. Castro has never been elected or stood for re-election. Nor does he apparently take criticism, much less official challenges, very well.

The show was slated to have the "President of the Cuban National Assembly" on, as if this body was a real legislative actor in Cuba, as well as an interview with Peter Bourne, the author of an apparently sympathetic biography of Castro, and a clip from what sounds like a hagiographic movie: Fidel: The Untold Story. Here's the transcript of the movie, and here's the transcript of the interview with the "President of the Cuban National Assembly".

This is just terrible stuff. Yes, talking to someone in Cuba, particularly someone presumably among it's "leadership" is important and unique, but to act as if Cuba's government is just some oppressed, legitimate governing democracy is just nuts. You don't have to favor the almost 50 year U.S. policy of exclusion and embargo. I certainly don't. I'd like to see the embargo ended, it's not a rational or humane policy; it's just pandering to a very small slice of the electorate. And given that short-sighted, prejudiced policy, I wouldn't be surprised that Cuban officials, and probably much of the country's people don't like the U.S. much.

But from what we know of Cuba, the government is a one-man autocracy where information is tightly controlled and state run, there is no self criticism of the government or its dictator, and in which there are no meaningful elections and no political rights; dissidents are imprisoned or worse. That Goodman and Gonzalez (her cohost) didn't feel obliged to confront a representative from Cuba's repressive government on these matters is appalling. That Goodman would also use the interview to give Alarcon (the president of the national assembly) a platform to criticize U.S. actions (or lack thereof in Lebanon) is similarly ridiculous.

Democracy Now! has an admirable record of supporting freedom and democracy across the globe, and speaking on behalf of oppressed minorities, but on Cuba they seem to be either silent or outright supportive of a repressive, albeit left-wing, dictatorship. Right wingers deserve scorn for simultaneously demanding that the nation fight for "freedom and democracy" in the Middle East and against Communist countries while lovingly appeasing right wing dictatorships. But we on the "left" don't need to mimic the right wing's hypocrisies by giving left wing dictators a pass.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

From CNN:

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday again demanded an immediate halt to violence between Israel and Hezbollah, condemning an Israeli airstrike that killed more than 50 people.

He told the Security Council he was "deeply dismayed" that his previous calls for a cease-fire had gone unheeded.

At an emergency meeting of the council called to address the killings, Annan said the region was growing impatient that U.N.'s most powerful body had yet to issue any meaningful response after three weeks of war in Lebanon.

"We meet at a moment of extreme gravity first and foremost for the people of the Middle East, but also for the authority of this organization and especially this council," Annan told reporters before heading into the meeting.

"Action is needed now before many more children, women and men become casualties of a conflict over which they have no control."

Annan told reporters during a news conference that the 15 members "are aware that if we don't handle it right, it could lead to further escalation and could spread."

Qatar later circulated a draft statement on behalf of Arab nations meant to address Annan's concerns.

It would call for an immediate cease-fire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and condemn the "loss of civilian lives in the town of Qana due to the deliberate targeting" by Israel. It would also seek an international investigation "into the Israeli massacre."

Yet the sharply worded draft had virtually no chance of being accepted by the full council for the same reason that the council has been able to do little up until now.

The United States has so far refused to back Annan's call for a cease-fire, and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States does not want any condemnation of the attack.

He repeated the American insistence that any statement must address what the U.S. says is the root cause of the conflict -- Hezbollah's continued grip on southern Lebanon and its attacks on Israel.


In the three weeks since fighting began, the Security Council's only response has been a weak statement expressing shock and distress at Israel's bombing of a U.N. post on the Lebanon border Tuesday that killed four unarmed military observers.

The Unite States, Israel's chief ally, is primarily responsible because of its refusal to agree to seek a cease-fire.

In unusually frank terms, Annan said the council risked undermining its own authority if it does not do something.

The concern was underscored by attacks on the U.N. headquarters in Beirut earlier Sunday, when protesters angry about the Qana attack smashed windows and hurled stones, he said.

"People have noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly during this crisis," Annan said. "I am deeply dismayed that my earlier calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities were not heeded, with the result that innocent life continues to be taken and innocent civilians continue to suffer."
Lebanese special envoy Nouhad Mahoud echoed those complaints.

"Israel is committing atrocities against humanity," Mahoud said. "The fact that such massacres are yet ... to be taken up by resolutions of this august council, condemning an Israeli airstrike that killed at least 54 people . . . does not mean that the truth is to remain hidden."

UN authority? Hmmm. When have we heard that before? Oh yeah:

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

UN authority good. Glad we have that straight.

Meanwhile, before you think disarming Hezbollah is a necessary and sufficient condition of a cease-fire, read Matt.

A Voice in the Wilderness

From today's NYT.

Although I disagree with conservative evangelicals over most of these issues, the morally relativistic militarism and rabid nationalism is perhaps the most disturbing of these items. I appreciate this pastor's courage. There's a lot of pressure on pastors to build their memberships, which in turn, is an incentive to pander to conservative ideologues. But as this article shows, not all of the flock are Republicans and at least some appear tired of conservative bullying.