Sunday, March 25, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

A recent article on Iraq Body Count's web site detailed the struggles of a soldier who came home from the war with devastating injuries. Blind, brain damaged, and missing both hands from an explosion, he is one of the many casualties of the Bush/Cheney debacle. This soldier is 25-years-old.
I walk the streets of New York City amid a rush of people who span the age spectrum. Many are young adults near the age of this maimed soldier-near the age of so many of our troops who have been killed or disfigured in the neocon nightmare of multiple tours of duty, improvised explosive devices, depleted uranium exposure, the obliteration of a culture, and a humanitarian crisis. And, most likely, they are near the age of many of the Iraqi suicide bombers who are fighting against American occupation.
Sometimes, during my walks, I overhear conversations. Often, the topic is American Idol, Apprentice, or something equally banal. I rarely hear mentioned the crimes and outrages of a president whose policies have resulted in wretchedness at home and in the Middle East.
I remember in the run up to the Iraq war, there was discussion of whether or not Bush would invade the country. My neighbor across the hall was sure Bush was bluffing. I was certain he wasn't. I recall sitting in a restaurant, having lunch, when three young men (probably not much older than many of our soldiers) in business suits, were seated at the table next to mine. One of them began to praise the toughness of George Bush and gushed about our high-tech arsenal. "Smart bombs," he repeated. "We have these smart bombs."
My head began to pound. Finally, finally, I said, "These weapons of war that you believe are so precise aren't. Bombs aren't smart and neither is George Bush. Tough and stupid are a terrible combination."
This guy let me know that he wasn't interested in my opinion. My friends tried to distract me. His seemed a little embarrassed. One of friend of mine said she knew I was going to say something. She just knew. I left, thinking that war to him must be a video game.
Now that this atrocity has moved into its fifth year, I don't overhear any street-corner, café, or waiting-room debate about what is being done in my name and yours. Of course, the war and endless war are the main topics when I'm with my friends and fellow members of the different peace organizations.
Which leads me to ask: Are many of our young so captivated by entertainment that there is no interest in reality? Or is the drama of television competition their reality?

The above, noted by Mia, is from Missy Comley Beattie's "Calling Youth and Young Adults" (CounterPunch). Also covering this topic is Tom Englehardt's "Americans in the Opinion Polls, Not in the Streets: Demobilizing AmericaOutsourcing Action in an Imperial World" (TomDispatch). It's an important topic and, when it's covered seriously, we'll note it. Covered seriously? The desk jockeys and their "Oy vey, kids today" tired, dusty columns aren't being serious -- they're self-stroking.

So both Comley Beattie and Englehardt are addressing the numbers with the question of where are the people? It's a good question and we need to note that those of the Baby Boom generation should be present. Many are retired (some retired early), many are on flex schedules and they make up a larger portion of the population. (Hence the term "baby boom.") (And, because that actually came up in Colorado recently, a student knew the term but didn't know what it meant, post WWII, there were a large number of births -- that's the "boom" in babies. Depending upon whether someone's a demographer or a tired reporter, the generation spans a limited time or way too much to be considered one generation. Due to their large size, they impacted society in many ways. The term "teenager" becomes popular as a result. They influence music trends -- and send many singers and bands packing. They influence fashion, they influence TV . . . It's due to their size. They also influence politics. Due to their size, they should be present in greater number than any other age group at today's protests.)

Where are the "kids"? The young people are there. I've said before, I'm more concerned with the generations between the boomers and the young adults today. (Though it should be noted, many are working multiple jobs, in two-parent families where both work, in single-parent families, and it's true that we, as a country, have far less leisure/down time than we did in the sixties and that real wages have fallen considerably.) Englehardt writes of attending a local protest. He may have brought someone with him -- there's nothing in the article that says he did or did not -- but I think that's one of the main issues right now. Just as Tom Hayden has rightly noted that it's up to all of us to educate on the issue of withdrawal, it's also up to all of us to do more than show up at a protest. Englehardt does a strong job of noting the various overlaps during the sixties and, though he doesn't word it this way, I think there's an "excitement" issue that translates to awareness (or lack of in this case).

In the sixties, for those old enough to remember (and whose minds are not so baked that they can't), there was excitement if you were a part of the peace movement. That excitement translated to awareness of upcoming events and they were as much social as they were anything else. (I'm not referring to what happened at the podium, I'm referring to the fact that there were groups of friends you were going with and you were generally -- or my friends and myself -- frequently saying something to the effect of, "You're not going? Oh come, you have to be there. You have to.")

At that time, there was already concern of the atomistic age. Words influence and science influences. The belief of some was that we'd learn to split everything up (and sometimes study it) but hadn't yet learned how to put it all together. Many, including Anais Nin, saw hope in integrated circuits and believed that would allow for closer connections (societal, personal, on every level). Did it?

I don't think so. I understand (and was nodding) when I was reading the excerpt Mia provided of Comley Beattie's about American Idol, et al. There is a healthy segement of the population (of all ages) that are obsessed with AI which, as a hobby or a distraction, isn't necessarily a bad thing. (It's not my thing. I don't mistake gymanstics for art.) But in the current landscape there are distractions and little else. In terms of local alternatives, where is the vibrant weekly? The ones that piss you off or leave you stunned? The majority of the local weeklies today are disappointing -- and that's due to management. They love to go to town, for instance, on a Meg Ryan movie (or, more to the point, on Meg Ryan) and seem to feel that, having done that, they've done some amazing reporting or commentary and now it's time to rush off to the "dining" section. There are some good weeklies (a very few) out there today. But most don't even seem to know a war is going on by what they publish. (Most, also, barely cover their local politics.) They rush to do the sports cover and they're so far from what they started as that it's disappointing. They have no fire in the belly and no desire to tackle the war (with few exceptions) and the alternative press, the local weeklies, were important during the Vietnam era. Reading the bulk of them today there's no moment of "Did they just say that?"

Alternative weeklies have also (as a group) demonstrated very little interest in war resisters. That wasn't true during Vietnam. Last week, we spoke here of the awful Rolling Stone panel that was hailed by many as just amazing. It wasn't. We didn't link to it -- as I noted Friday, I don't need to hear the non-stop complaints from friends with the mag and friends who've left. But that doesn't mean it's still not a big topic on the phone these days. There was a call tonight from a former RS-er who put his finger on the problem: During Vietnam the magazine would have been embarrassed to have run that piece. It's what we call "conventional wisdom" today but would have been seen as "the establishment" back then. Had ex-generals been included, the point would have been for them to have been asked difficult and uncomfortable questions. Instead, the whole thing reads like a transcript of PBS' The NewsHour and the choices of who made up the panel seem to refute everything RS ever stood for (even after it left the Bay Area). I know many sites have linked to it (some of them very good sites) but it's an embarrassing article for today and it's an embarrassing piece coming from Rolling Stone. There was shock, in the 80s, when Jann allowed the military to advertise in the magazine (which they still do) but that panel, for people who have worked for the magazine and who work for it now, is worse than any ad.

Rolling Stone was a national weekly, not a local one. And, unlike today's version, it didn't run rah-rah pieces. (As bad as the panel is, I still believe the rah-rah piece on the slaughter of Falluja is the ultimate embarrassment/betrayal of what the magazine stood for.) As it disrobes one flavor of the week after another on the cover, it's obvious that even their entertainment section is suffering (and not just from Jann ordering non-stop, repeated coverage of his personal friends). Were there any bravery left in the magazine, you would have seen Joan Baez on the cover -- not disrobed, but looking very seriously from the cover and inside you would have had a wide ranging RS Interview (not the quick reads that try to pass for an RS Interview these days) about Iraq, about the differences between now and then. But that didn't happen and they really haven't provided that from anyone. Not Jackson Browne, not anyone. Right now the biggest question is how much influence did Jane actually have over the magazine and that may just be due to the fact that we've all seen it go downhill and are trying to find an easy answer but the complaints are from people who were with the magazines and who are at it now today. (On the latter, a suggestion for stronger coverage was shot down with a reply of "No one really reads the magazine now." Wow. What a way to build up the writers' beliefs in what they can accomplish.)

I'm ragging hard on RS and that's mainly (a) because it's earned it and (b) because I'm tired of phone calls on the subject. But RS was one of the big weeklies and a driving force. So far this year it hasn't even offered a minor contribution. (In fairness, like SNL, the death of Rolling Stone has been much predictied --which I am *not* doing here -- and it's usually managed to bounce back in some way.)

Turning to other national weeklies, there's The Nation. And it didn't offer anything amazing in 2006 or even adequate. If you read every print issue of The Nation in 2006, the impression you most likely would have been left with is that the most important issue in the world was the 2006 US elections and that Iraq wasn't all that important because it was so rarely even mentioned. The horrors of what happened to Abeer (gang-raped while her parents and sister were murdered and then murdered herself) was apparently so unimportant to everyone at the magazine that not even the resident feminsit beat column could take time to cover it.

It's really easy to say, "Oh, why do they watch that crappy show?" I do it too, I've said that many times. (I've not bragged about watching The Apprentice with my children -- surely something that puts me far and ahead of one biggie at independent media whose parents did not encourage that sort of thing in their own childhood but expected the person to be well versed in what went on in the world around them -- even as a child.) But those are distractions and there have always been distractions (and sometimes we sorely need them for an hour or a day). So American Idol is no more of an escape than, say, Batman during Vietnam. (It is more of an escape than American Bandstand because that program could -- and sometimes did, not all the time, but sometimes -- feature performers singing about the world around them.) But, my opinion, everything is going for escapism these days. That's as true of our indendent media (such as local weeklies with their "dining" sections but unable to address the illegal war). Holly Near, while we're on music, has a wonderful new CD (Show Up). More people are stepping up. (And for those commentators who keep noting that music is doing more than films -- there is a greater time lag in film production than in music. Also, my personal opinion, if you failed to note ER's multi-episode, hard hitting take on Iraq from this time last year, you really don't have much place criticizing what is and isn't being covered. ER went full out on that story. Disclosure: I have friends working on ER. But I'd say that even if I didn't -- and before they got off their butts and got serious, Ava and I gave the show a lousy review -- which it had earned at that point.) But it's all distraction these days.

The Nation can't cover political music (in their arts section, the reviews) to save their life or ass. Neil Young released the amazing Living With War last year. Where was the review? Or didn't they have any d.s. for Tracks (thankfully, a magazine that is no more) that they could farm that out too? Did you read about Bright Eyes' amazing moment on Leno, the performance of "When A President Talks To God?" in the pages of The Nation? Nope. It's a weekly and it wants to cover the arts. So where is the coverage? (As noted before, Richard Goldstein should be given free reign. Instead, they end up farming out pieces -- when they bother to cover something -- and it's to really bad writers who aren't bound by facts when they try to be 'amusing.' The Courtney Love slam still calls for an apology -- for the errors if not the attitude of the piece.) There is no reason that The Nation can't have something every week on the war -- an editorial, a feature, a column, a review of a film or album. But that doesn't happen. Week after week, it doesn't happen.

So I understand what Comley Beattie and Englehardt (who is part of The Nation) are saying but I think the issue isn't people being apethetic for the sake of being apethic (though idiots, like the one Comley Beattie writes about at the coffeehouse, will always be idiots), I think it's the media failing them. There's been little sense of urgency in the media -- big or small -- on the topic of Iraq.

It's also true that people don't like being lied to. There were lies about the big protest before the war that Englehardt writes of (writes of the protest, not the lies). People were told, you turn out, we're a crowd, and it will stop the war. The peace movement didn't advance that but others did. And some advancing it may have honestly believed it but some were just lying. I started speaking on campuses about the war at that time (Feb. 2003) and I heard over and over in the first months of the war statements about how they turned out and nothing stopped it (even though they were told a huge turnout would). For many people, that big pre-war protest was their first activism and a lot of people believed that protest was going to stop the war. (And a lot of people wanted to believe. A friend in her forties got very angry at me when I said -- and I participated in the protest -- a week before it that, no, it wasn't going to stop the war.) Those who weren't in college at that point are actually more vocal today and I do sometimes wonder if that's due to the fact that so many still feel hyped? If you're told it will end the war and it doesn't, you can be left with a sense of what's the point?

(I'm not justifying "what's the point" translating into non-action. I am noting the very real feeling of betrayal and being lied to that some young people spoke of repeatedly in the early months of the war.)

Englehardt makes the point that it's only become more obvious that Bully Boy doesn't listen. It doesn't matter whether he listens or not. It's about pressure. (That's not disagreeing with Englehardt -- he doesn't claim that we're protesting to gain an audience with the Bully Boy.) And it's about awareness. And the movement is building and continues to build but it does that with little to no help from independent media (I'm referring to print and radio).

And the lies are just disgusting. We did a feature at The Third Estate Sunday Review that was supposed to include this (Ava and I had to write the TV review so we left before the feature was completed and it went another way):

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

That of course was Molly Ivins -- a truly brave voice (and a sorely missed one). But she was truly someone who believed that people matter in a democracy. What did we get last week? We got David Sirota telling people to shut up. We got David Sirota and others telling people they weren't as 'realistic' as he was or as smart as he was. What they weren't was as big an ass as he is. Sirota, who has appointed himself Congress' Ambassador to the People but really wants to run the Thought Police, should have been shouted down loudly and repeatedly. Don't you ever order people to settle. That's not your determination to make. You can make the decision that you're going to support a measure and that you think it's the best one possible, but lose the authoritarian streak because no one needs marching orders from you (or from anyone else).

Now Ivins column was widely applauded (more so after she died -- a number of people ducked their heads in real time, as she knew they would) so where was the left saying, "Sirota, back off"? No where to be found. KPFA avoided the entire issue of the criticism of MoveOn last week -- while actively promoting the website as though it were a part of the Pacifica Radio network which, for the record, it is not.

So on the one hand, you had Molly Ivins going out with the need for people to take the streets and make demands and, on the other hand, you had David Sirota hectoring and lecturing, tarring and feathering (he really should lose his post at both The Nation and In The Toilet after that "conspiracy theorist" column -- and for not disclosing that he worked on the governor's campaign that he praises for tricking voters). Where are the protests, where is the action? That's the question at the heart of both Comley Beattie and Englehardt's pieces. At some point, if they're going to carry that further, they need to acknowledge the damage that David Sirota and others continually do to the movement. He is a party hack and he has no business at any supposed independentt press. He's a non-thinker who writes poorly so there was never an excuse for either to run his scribbles. But, having confessed that the whole point of the campaign he worked on (while not noting that he worked on the campaign) was to trick voters, he really should be shown the door unless The Nation and In The Toilet are now in the business of promoting that you should lie to people in order to win votes. And since he's already applauded lying to voters, there's no reason any person should ever believe a thing he says or that an independent press should continue to print his writing. It's akin to The Nation announcing that they'll be adding Dick Morris to their columnist staff.

He is dishonest and he is intellectually bankrupt, there is no reason that independent media should feature him. He appears to think it was okay to trick/lie to voters because they were independents or Republicans. It's not okay to trick voters period. But someone who gets excited by putting one over on the people has no place in the left independent media. He's not a reporter, he's not a writer, and he's not even an honest communicator by his own statements. That should be it for him.

But because it wasn't already for him, a lot of people read his nonsense (or his quotes in other publications) and thought, "Oh well, we should be happy." Were you happy with the measure?
I wasn't. But I'm not talking about me here. If you were honestly happy with it, you should have been and you should have expressed your personal happiness. If you weren't, you shouldn't have had to face a scold -- with the backing of two independent magazines -- telling you that you were, basically, stupid and that a 'player' like himself knows far better what's right for you then you do.

But to know what you felt you would have needed information on what the Pelosi measure was and media -- small media -- failed you. To use KPFA as an example, the same voices they regularly feature were strong in their opposition to the Pelosi measure but none of them were anywhere to be found on the KPFA airwaves. Are we to believe Medea Benjamin said, "You know what, I'm just in the mood to talk to NPR this week. So thanks, but no thanks."? That Antonia Juhasz, who was taking part in a non-MoveOn action on Monday that KPFA seemed to think was MoveOn related to judge by the constant promotion of MoveOn's website throughout Monday -- was eager to talk on Monday but suddenly shy the rest of the week? Our blushing Juhasz? Is that what we're to believe?

Somewhere in the e-mails, I'm looking for it but not finding it, someone forwarded something (probably from FAIR or Media Matters) about Charlie Gibson being corrected on air. No, it's in Englehardt's piece which was noted by Markus:

The two categories are now so conveniently blurred that it would be pardonable if few Americans grasped the difference any more than did Charles Gibson, anchor of ABC's World News Tonight. On last Friday's news, he claimed the House had voted to get "all U.S. forces" out when his own White House correspondent used the correct phrase, "combat forces."

KPFA could have used someone correcting them on air about that and other news items on the Pelosi measure last week. The privatization of the Iraqi oil, the Iran measure dropped, the loopholes created -- written into the measure -- for Bully Boy, none of that was seriously addressed until after the measure passed.

I think Comley Beattie and Englehardt are seriously addressing an issue but, as Peter Hart noted on CounterSpin regarding the poll where Americans were asked to estimate how many Iraqis had died in the illegal war, if the people don't know something that goes to the media's coverage. Word of mouth is still largely the way the peace movement grows and information gets out. All this time after the illegal war started.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the American military fatality count in Iraq, since the start of the illegal war, stood at 3217 (AP) and 3218 (ICCC). Tonight? 3239 is AP's count. 3241 is ICCC's which also notes 75 deaths for the month thus far. Thank goodness the escalation has answered all problems, right? Of course, it hasn't and, check the figures, the number of US service members who died in March of 2006 was 31. Kim Gamel (AP) notes that 114 of the deaths have occurred since the latest juiced up version of the eternal 'crackdown' began. A capital under lock and key -- since June of 2006. So another seven day period and over 20 are reported dead. Today, the US military announced: "While conducting a route clearance mission, a MND-B Soldier died when an improvised explosive device detonated near the Soldier's position in a northwestern section of the Iraqi capital March 25, wounding two others." And they also announced: "Four Task Force Lightning Soldiers were killed Sunday when an improvised explosive device exploded near their patrol in Diyala Province."

Iraqi deaths, Gamel (AP) notes that Saturday's Baghdad bombing's death toll has risen from 20 to 33. Reuters notes a Baghdad mortar attack that killed 2 (5 wounded), a Baghdad roadside bombing that killed an Iraqi soldier, a man shot dead in Baghdad, a roadside bombing in Tirkit that killed a police officer and left three wounded, Ali Amain was shot dead in Mosul, and 5 corpses discoved in Mosul.


THE DEMOCRATS ARE FUNDING IRAQ ESCALATION: The Democratic leadership has proposed $100 billion of supplemental funding for an increased troop presence in Iraq. The leadership opted for the "slow bleed" policy over a month ago. This extends the occupation for at least another 18 months, and allows permanent placement of troops thereafter for "training" or "combating terrorism". It also will permit the Bush Administration to initiate a war with Iran without Congressional oversight. The surge of 20,000 troops recently increased to 30,000 and will likely increase to 100,000 by year-end. Will the hapless Democrats then claim, "If only I knew then what I know now" as they have for the past year?
The "slow bleed" policy has some toothless requirements for presidential assertions of progress like those we’ve heard for the past four years from the Administration; these reporting requirements allow "slow bleed" proponents to make the preposterous claim they are "ending the war" by funding it. Amendments that would require withdrawal of US forces this year, the policy overwhelming favored by Americans, and the troops themselves, are not even being allowed for a vote by the leadership! The shameless short-term purpose of the Democratic policy is to embarrass Republicans with a Senate filibuster of the supplemental, or a presidential veto, and the longer-term aim is to help Democrats in the 2008 election by saddling the Republicans with intervention in an untenable civil war.
In 2002 the Democrats authorized Bush to invade Iraq (or any other country he deemed to support terrorism, for example Iran) in hope he would become involved in an unpopular war which would produce a Democratic White House. The Democrats 2007 policy is equally political, and may have the paradoxical effect of producing Republican victories in 2008. The prolongation of the occupation is now opposed by two-thirds of all Americans; we want our troops safely home by this Christmas, not political chicanery. As a consequence Americans now think even more poorly of Congress than ever; the failure to withdraw from Iraq dropped Democratic support of Congress from 44% to 33% according to the latest Gallup poll. The Democrats failure to stem what has become a Democrats war will be a factor in the 2008 elections.

(And, yes, Kayla, in case I don't have time to reply tonight, I've passed on the other section you highlighted to Elaine via e-mail -- and called her to make sure she was aware of it. She says she'll note it tomorrow.)

Pru gets the last highlight, from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

This article should be read after: » Delegates flock to anti-war People's Assembly
People's Assembly reaffirms opposition to Blair's war -- full report online only"
by Esme Choonara
"We here at this assembly represent the opinions of the people far more than those in houses of parliament," said Tony Benn, president of the Stop the War Coalition, to hundreds of delegates at the People's Assembly held in central London on Tuesday.
Organised by the Stop the War Coalition as part of a series of global events to mark four years since the invasion of Iraq, the assembly brought together over 1,000 delegates from trade unions, schools and colleges, stop the war groups, Muslim organisations and other campaign groups to hold "the debate that parliament won't have".
The assembly was addressed by a number of MPs as well as leading figures from the anti-war movement. Delegates also spoke from the floor.
Fakey, a part-time student from Glasgow, was one of about 20 people who came to the assembly from the city. He told Socialist Worker that he had been on several anti-war demos but had only recently got involved in the stop the war group in Glasgow. He said that he was really impressed with the People's Assembly.
"It's great to see such a broad range of opinion united in pushing forward against the occupation of Iraq.
"I think the next task for the movement is to stop an attack on Iran," he added.
Asim Haneef from Croydon told Socialist Worker, "I really like the idea that we can come together at this assembly and have a voice.
"If you look at the opinion polls, most people in Britain are against the war and against Trident but the government goes ahead with these things regardless.
There were three sessions at the assembly -- on Iraq, on Iran, and on foreign policy after Blair.
Many delegates from the floor joined calls for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
Katy Clark Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran told the assembly that being against the war was one of the reasons she was selected by Labour party members in Ayrshire as their candidate. She said, "We have no military role to play in Iraq and should get out."
Many delegates and platform speakers warned of the impending threat of a military attack on Iran by the US or one of its proxies. Speakers also condemned the recent parliamentary vote to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system.
Michael Meacher MP told delegates, "We should establish our own agenda of peace -- not the George Bush agenda of a 'war on terror'. This is a bogus war -- a cover for extending US power across the globe."
Nazira, a delegate from Newham Unison union branch, told the assembly, "I left Iran when I was 16. Many of us have suffered under the Iranian government.
"But there is no excuse for an attack on Iran.
"The threat to Iran is not about atomic weapons -- it is about the US showing they are the only world power, and it is about oil.
"It is important that trade unions do whatever they can to stop an attack on Iran -- petitions, lobbying MPs, strikes, demonstrations."
The assembly voted to adopt resolutions from the three sessions. The resolution on Iran called for mass civil disobedience in the event of an attack.
Chris Nineham, an officer of the Stop the War Coalition, said, "If there is an attack on Iran, we will call civil disobedience in every community, walkouts in every school, protests and strikes in every workplace.
"If Bush bombs Iran, we should bring this country to a standstill -- and we are asking everyone to prepare for this escalation."
John Rees, secretary of Respect, spoke in the final session of the assembly. He argued that the key question for the future of war and the future of the movement is the balance of forces, pointing out that currently the anti-war movement is on the advance and the warmongers are retreating.
Delegates applauded as he said that the anti-war movement in Britain needs to “break the link between this government and US foreign policy.”
The following should be read alongside this article: »
Delegates flock to anti-war People's Assembly» Picture of the People's Assembly» Hundreds of thousands march against war across the world» Figure it out: statistics on Iraq
To read the resolutions from the assembly, go to
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cindy sheehan