Piracy On The High Seas!

February 6, 2009

This post by British blogger Dangerous Creation shows the desperate situation of the besieged people of Gaza as more of their life-saving  supplies are cut off:

Friends, you may think that this is a scene from off the coast of Somalia but in fact it’s not! It’s off the coast of Gaza and the Israeli Navy has boarded this vessel and is taking it to their port in Ashdod.

Was this vessel bulging with weapons of mass destruction you may ask? No, it was filled with humanitarian supplies for the besieged Gazans, things like food and medical supplies like blood plasma.

Were the people on board terrorists? No, 20 in number, they were peace activists and half were journalists.

Read the rest of this post here.

Correction: The author of Dangerous Creation
is Australian, not British as I mentioned above.

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Tomgram: Waltz with Bashir, Part 1

January 26, 2009

January 24, 2009

As a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Ari Folman took part in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was on duty in Beirut during the notorious massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Just a week ago, Waltz with Bashir, the animated documentary film Folman directed in which he explores his own nightmarish, half-suppressed memories of that period, was given its first underground screening in Lebanon — not far, in fact, from Hezbollah headquarters in southern Beirut — though the film is officially banned in that country. It has also been screened in Palestinian Ramallah and is reportedly soon to be shown in the Arab Gulf states. It has already won six Israeli Academy Awards, best foreign film at the Golden Globes, and is now nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film.

Waltz With Bashir

At this moment, when the Israeli assault on Gaza has ended in catastrophic destruction and death, director Folman’s remarkable voyage — he calls it a “bad acid trip” — into the oblivion of war trauma and the horrific recent history of the Middle East is as stunning, moving, and unnerving an experience as anything you’ll see this year, or perhaps any year. A no less remarkable graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, was developed in tandem with the film. It will be in your bookstores in a couple of weeks, but can be ordered in advance by clicking here. Not surprisingly, the book and film have some of the impact that the first “graphic novel,” Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, had when it came out in 1986, and that assessment comes from the fellow — me, to be exact — who published MAUS back then.

The single best piece on Waltz with Bashir and its relevance to the recent invasion of Gaza was written by Gary Kamiya of Salon.com. He concludes: “Of course, Israel’s moral culpability for the 1982 massacre [in Sabra and Shatila] is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. Sooner or later the patriotic war fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing. And perhaps in 2036, some haunted filmmaker will release ‘Waltz With Hamas.'”

Given the power and timeliness of this thoughtful, dreamlike memoir from a living hell, it’s a particular honor for TomDispatch to be releasing two long excerpts, exclusively, over the next two Saturdays. Thanks go to Metropolitan Books, the book’s publisher, for allowing it to happen. I hope what follows stuns and intrigues you. Keep an eye out for part 2 next Saturday. Tom

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Finally, the Oil…

July 12, 2008

This excellent Tomgram by my friend Tom Engelhardt arrived from him in my inbox from a few weeks ago. That was when I had lots of problems with my computer and wasn’t online, hence missed posting it here until I found it among my huge backlog now:


Tomgram: Finally, the Oil…

[Note for TomDispatch readers: It’s worth mentioning that the missing Iraqi oil story — see below — wasn’t missing online, and certainly not at TomDispatch. This site’s newest book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, has a section labeled “The Petro-Industrial Complex and its Discontents,” including striking pieces by Michael Klare and Michael Schwartz on our gasoholic Pentagon and the prize of Iraqi oil. Again, I urge readers to consider supporting TomDispatch and its efforts by picking up a book that should, I think, be in any serious library of our mad age of Bush the Younger. Tom]

No Blood for… er… um…

The Oil Majors Take a Little Sip of the Ol’ Patrimony

By Tom Engelhardt

More than five years after the invasion of Iraq — just in case you were still waiting — the oil giants finally hit the front page…

Last Thursday, the New York Times led with this headline: “Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” (Subhead: “Rare No-bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards.”) And who were these four giants? ExxonMobil, Shell, the French company Total and BP (formerly British Petroleum). What these firms got were mere “service contracts” — as in servicing Iraq’s oil fields — not the sort of “production sharing agreements” that President Bush’s representatives in Baghdad once dreamed of, and that would have left them in charge of those fields. Still, it was clearly a start. The Times reporter, Andrew E. Kramer, added this little detail: “[The contracts] include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today’s prices: the [Iraqi oil] ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash.” And here’s the curious thing, exactly these four giants “lost their concessions in Iraq” back in 1972 when that country’s oil was nationalized. Hmmm.

You’d think the Times might have slapped some kind of “we wuz wrong” label on the piece. I mean, remember when the mainstream media, the Times included, seconded the idea that Bush’s invasion, whatever it was about — weapons of mass destruction or terrorism or liberation or democracy or bad dictators or… well, no matter — you could be sure of one thing: it wasn’t about oil. “Oil” wasn’t a word worth included in serious reporting on the invasion and its aftermath, not even after it turned out that American troops entering Baghdad guarded only the Oil and Interior Ministries, while the rest of the city was looted. Even then — and ever after — the idea that the Bush administration might have the slightest urge to control Iraqi oil (or the flow of Middle Eastern oil via a well-garrisoned Iraq) wasn’t worth spending a few paragraphs of valuable newsprint on.

I always thought that, if Iraq’s main product had been video games, sometime in the last five years the Times (and other major papers) would have had really tough, thoughtful pieces, asking really tough, thoughtful questions, about the effects of the invasion and ensuing chaos on our children’s lives and the like. But oil, well… After all, with global demand for energy on the rise, why would anybody want to invade, conquer, occupy, and garrison a country that, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz once observed, “floats on a sea of oil”?

And let’s be fair. At the time of the impending invasion, reasonable people couldn’t possibly have imagined that it had anything to do with oil, not while George W. Bush was politely ignoring the subject, except when referring obliquely to Iraq’s “patrimony” of “natural resources.” Forget that our President had had an 11-year career in the energy business (and had been Arbusto-ed); or that his Vice President had been the CEO of a giant energy services corporation, Halliburton — retiring during the presidential campaign of 2000 with a $34 million severance package; or that, back in those distant years, he had not hesitated to talk about the necessity of getting a tad more oil into the international pipeline. (As he told an oil industry crowd back in 1999, “By some estimates there will be an average of two percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from?” Where indeed? He then answered his own question: “While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”)

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Bush Administration Strikes Oil in Iraq

July 8, 2008

…and speaking of oil, just when we were barely getting used to Big Oil and Iraq hitting the front pages of American newspapers in tandem, here comes Afghanistan! Who now remembers that delegation of Taliban officials, shepherded by Unocal (“We’re an oil and gas company. We go where the oil and gas is…”), back in 1999, that made an all-expenses paid visit to the U.S. There was even that side trip to Mt. Rushmore, while the company (with U.S. encouragement) was negotiating a $1.9 billion pipeline that would bring Central Asian oil and natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan? Oh, and who was a special consultant to Unocal on the prospective deal? Zalmay Khalilzad, our present neocon ambassador to the U.N., George W. Bush’s former viceroy of Kabul and then Baghdad, and a rumored future “Afghan” presidential candidate.

Those pipeline negotiations only broke down definitively in August 2001, one month before, well, you know… and, as Toronto’s Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin put it, “Washington was furious, leading to speculation it might take out the Taliban. After 9/11, the Taliban, with good reason, were removed — and pipeline planning continued with the Karzai government. U.S. forces installed bases near Kandahar, where the pipeline was to run. A key motivation for the pipeline was to block a competing bid involving Iran, a charter member of the ‘axis of evil.'”

Well, speak of the dead and not-quite-buried. It turns out that, in April, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India (acronymically TAPI) signed a Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement to build a U.S.-backed $7.6 billion pipeline. It would, of course, bypass Iran and new energy giant Russia, carrying Turkmeni natural gas and oil to Pakistan and India. Construction would, theoretically, begin in 2010. Put the emphasis on “theoretically,” because the pipeline is, once again, to run straight through Kandahar and so directly into the heartland of the Taliban insurgency.

Pepe Escobar of Asia Times caught the spirit of the moment perfectly: “The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which cannot even provide security for a few streets in central Kabul, has engaged in Hollywood-style suspension of disbelief by assuring unsuspecting customers it will not only get rid of millions of land mines blocking TAPI’s route, it will get rid of the Taliban themselves.” Nonetheless, as in Iraq, American (and NATO) troops could one day be directly protecting (and dying for) the investments of Big Oil in a new version of the old imperial “Great Game” with a special modern emphasis on pipeline politics.

There has been a flurry of reportage on the revived pipeline plan in Canada, where — bizarrely enough — journalists and columnists actually worry about such ephemeral possibilities as Canadian troops spending the next half century protecting Turkmeni energy. If you happen to live in the U.S., though, you would really have no way of knowing about such developments, no less their backstory, unless you were wandering the foreign press online.

Nick Turse, author of the indispensable new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, considers the Iraq oil story that did, at last, hit the mainstream news here (only a few years late in the Great Game) and offers suggestions for mainstream reporters now ready to pursue the story wherever it leads, even back into an ignored, and oily, past. Tom

The Iraqi Oil Ministry’s New Fave Five

All the Oil News That’s Fit to Print (Attn: The New York Times)
By Nick Turse

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: The Natives of Planet Earth

April 7, 2008

[Note to Tomdispatch Readers: Last week, I appealed to you to consider writing your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and workmates to suggest that they go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of the Tomdispatch main screen, put in their e-addresses, and sign on for an email notifying them whenever a post goes up. (Word of mouth is, of course, the only kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and TD got a flood of new subscribers. So, many thanks indeed! If some of you meant to do this and didn’t quite get around to it, now’s a perfect time. Plenty of exciting material, including new pieces by Ira Chernus, Rebecca Solnit, Patrick Cockburn, and Michael Klare in the coming weeks!

I also wanted to add a note of appreciation for all your letters. I now think of the Tomdispatch email in-box as the university of my later life. Your tips, your encouragement, your descriptions of worlds I would otherwise never encounter, and even your fierce critiques have been most welcome. I read everything that arrives with care and try, as best I can, to respond, at least briefly, if only to acknowledge that I have indeed seen them. Sometimes, however, being but one person, I get swept away and simply can’t respond. For that, my apologies. Tom]

American Grand Delusions

Why the Testimony of General Petraeus Will Be Delusional
By Tom Engelhardt

Yes, their defensive zone is the planet and they patrol it regularly. As ever, their planes and drones have been in the skies these last weeks. They struck a village in Somalia, tribal areas in Pakistan, rural areas in Afghanistan, and urban neighborhoods in Iraq. Their troops are training and advising the Iraqi army and police as well as the new Afghan army, while their Special Operations forces are planning to train Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps in that country’s wild, mountainous borderlands.

Their Vice President arrived in Baghdad not long before the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched its recent (failed) offensive against cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the southern oil city of Basra. To “discuss” their needs in their President’s eternal War on Terror, two of their top diplomats, a deputy secretary of state and an assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, arrived in Pakistan — to the helpless outrage of the local press — on the very day newly elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was being given the oath of office. (“I don’t think it is a good idea for them to be here on this particular day… right here in Islamabad, meeting with senior politicians in the new government, trying to dictate terms…” was the way Zaffar Abbas, editor of the newspaper Dawn, put it.)

At home, their politicians have nationally televised debates in which they fervently discuss just how quickly they would launch air assaults against Pakistan’s tribal areas, without permission from the Pakistani government but based on “actionable intelligence” on terrorists. Their drones cruise the skies of the world looking for terrorist suspects to — in the phrase of the hour — “take out.” Agents from their intelligence services have, these last years, roamed the planet, kidnapping terrorist suspects directly off the streets of major cities and transporting them to their own secret prisons, or those of other countries willing to employ torture methods. Their spy satellites circle the globe listening in on conversations wherever they please, while their military has divided the whole planet into “commands,” the last of which, Africom, was just formed.

As far as they are concerned, nowhere do their interests not come into play; nowhere, in fact, are they not paramount. As their President put it recently, “If [our] strategic interests are not in Iraq — the convergence point for the twin threats of al Qaeda and Iran, the nation Osama bin Laden’s deputy has called ‘the place for the greatest battle,’ the country at the heart of the most volatile region on Earth — then where are they?” (And you could easily substitute the names of other countries for Iraq.)

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Noam Chomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over

February 27, 2008

Tomgram: NoamChomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over

One of Noam Chomsky’s latest books — a conversation with David Barsamian — is entitled What We Say Goes. It catches a powerful theme of Chomsky’s: that we have long been living on a one-way planet and that the language we regularly wield to describe the realities of our world is tailored to Washington’s interests.

Juan Cole, at his Informed Comment website, had a good example of the strangeness of this targeted language recently. When Serbs stormed the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, he offered the following comment (with so many years of the term “Islamofascism” in mind): “…given that the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox Christians, will the Republican Party and Fox Cable News now start fulminating against ‘Christofascism?'”

Of course, the minute you try to turn the Washington norm (in word or act) around, as Chomsky did in a piece entitled What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?, you’ve already entered the theater of the absurd. “Terror” is a particularly good example of this. “Terror” is something that, by (recent) definition, is committed by free-floating groups or movements against innocent civilians and is utterly reprehensible (unless the group turns out to be the CIA running car bombs into Baghdad or car and camel bombs into Afghanistan, in which case it’s not a topic that’s either much discussed, or condemned in our world). On the other hand, that weapon of terror, air power, which is at the heart of the American way of war, simply doesn’t qualify under the category of “terror” at all — no matter how terrifying it may be to innocent civilians who find themselves underneath the missiles and bombs.

It’s with this in mind that Chomsky turns to terror of every kind in the Middle East in the context of the car bombing of a major figure in Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement. By the way, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a new collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, has just been published and is highly recommended. Tom

The Most Wanted List

International Terrorism

By Noam Chomsky

On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. “The world is a better place without this man in it,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: “one way or the other he was brought to justice.” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been “responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden.”

Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as “one of the U.S. and Israel’s most wanted men” was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, “A militant wanted the world over,” an accompanying story reported that he was “superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden” after 9/11 and so ranked only second among “the most wanted militants in the world.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


The Smirking Chimp

February 17, 2008

There are some very interesting threads going on at The Smirking Chimp. These are a couple of examples:

How Far Will the Clintons Go?
by Robert Parry (Feb. 16, 2008)

Hillary Clinton, who has built her case for the presidency on her superior “ready on Day One” management skills, burned through almost $130 million of campaign money, had to kick in $5 million from her own murky family funds, and is now pressing her chief financial backers to find creative ways to raise more money.

Some of those financial schemes appear to skirt the law – as some backers consider putting money into “independent” entities that can spend unlimited sums but aren’t supposed to coordinate with the campaign – while other ideas are more traditional, like appealing to wealthy donors involved with the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby.
[…]

Doomsday for the Greenback: Iran’s Oil Bourse could Topple the Dollar
by Mike Whitney (Feb. 4, 2008)

Two weeks ago George Bush was sent on a mission to the Middle East to deliver a horse’s head. We all remember the disturbing scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” where Lucca Brassi goes to Hollywood to convince a recalcitrant movie producer to use Don Corleone’s nephew in his next film. The “Big shot” producer is finally persuaded to hire the young actor after he wakes up in bed next to the severed head of his prize thoroughbred. I expect that Bush made a similar “offer they could not refuse” to the various leaders of the Gulf States when he met with them earlier this month.The media has tried to portray Bush’s trip to the Middle East as a “peace mission”, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, three days after Bush left Jerusalem, Israel stepped-up its military operations in the occupied territories and resumed its merciless blockade of food, water and medicine to the 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip. Bush must have green-lighted Israel’s aggression or it would have been seen as an insult to the President of the United States.

So, what was the real purpose of Bush’s trip? Why would he waste time visiting the Middle East if he had no real interest in promoting peace or resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

[…]