Tomgram: Tony Karon, Obama’s Gaza Opportunity

January 26, 2009

January 22, 2009

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Saturday is usually a dead zone for this site, but no longer. For the next two Saturdays, TomDispatch will be offering sizeable excerpts from a soon-to-be-published graphic memoir, Waltz with Bashir, created alongside the remarkable new Israeli animated movie of the same title about the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which has just received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. Keep your eyes out for it. Tell your friends. It’s a must read.]

Yes, we now know the ever grimmer statistics: more than 1,400 dead Gazans (and rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble); 5,500 wounded; hundreds of children killed; 4,000 to 5,000 homes destroyed and 20,000 damaged — 14% of all buildings in Gaza; 50,000 or more homeless; 400,000 without water; 50 U.N. facilities, 21 medical facilities, 1,500 factories and workshops, and 20 mosques reportedly damaged or destroyed; the smashed schools and university structures; the obliterated government buildings; the estimated almost two billion dollars in damage; all taking place on a blockaded strip of land 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide that is home to a staggering 1.4 million people.

On the other side in Israel, there are a number of damaged buildings and 13 dead, including three civilians and three soldiers killed in a friendly-fire incident. But amid this welter of horrific numbers, here was the one that caught my eye — and a quote went with it: Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israeli Army, told Parliament on January 12th, “We have achieved a lot in hitting Hamas and its infrastructure, its rule and its armed wing, but there is still work ahead.”

Work? The “work” already done evidently included a figure he cited: more than 2,300 air strikes launched by the Israelis with the offensive against Hamas still having days to go. Think about that: in a heavily populated, heavily urbanized, 25-mile-long strip of land, 2,300 air strikes, including an initial surprise attack “in which 88 aircraft simultaneously struck 100 preplanned targets within a record span of 220 seconds.” Many of these strikes were delivered by Israel’s 226 U.S.-supplied F-16s or its U.S.-made Apache helicopters.

In addition, the Israelis evidently repeatedly used a new U.S. smart bomb, capable of penetrating three feet of steel-reinforced concrete, the bunker-busting 250-pound class GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. (The first group of up to 1,000 of these that the U.S. Congress authorized Israel to buy only arrived in early December.) In use as well, the one-ton Mk84 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and a 500-pound version of the same. These are major weapons systems. Evidently dropped as well were “Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs,” reported Raymond Whitaker of the British Independent, “are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries.”

Keep in mind that Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups are essentially incapable of threatening Israeli planes and that the Israelis were using their airborne arsenal in heavily populated areas. Though the air war was only one part of a massively destructive assault on Gaza, as a form of warfare, barbaric as it is, it invariably gets a free pass. Yet, if you conduct an air war in cities, it matters little how “smart” your weaponry may be; it will, in effect, be a war against civilians.

Whatever the damage done to Hamas, what happened in Gaza was, simply put, a civilian slaughter. And yet, as Tony Karon, TomDispatch regular and senior editor, who runs the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, indicates below, the very scale of the Israeli assault on what was essentially a captive population wiped away many illusions, tore up the Middle East playbook, and potentially created the basis for a new Obama era approach to both Israelis and Palestinians. Whether that opportunity will be taken up is another matter entirely. Tom

Change Gaza Can Believe In
Tearing Up Washington’s Middle East Playbook
By Tony Karon

Lest President Barack Obama’s opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. “I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Truth-teller for Our Times

November 24, 2008

November 23, 2008
Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Truth-teller for Our Times

[Note to Readers: In the spirit of Nick Turse’s article below on truth-telling and civilian deaths in war, TomDispatch would like to direct your attention to a recently published paperback, Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, a powerful text with words, images, and documents from the Spring 2008 hearings in Washington, DC, at which American veterans of Bush’s two occupations spoke out about the dark side of the wars they fought.]

By October 2005, when American casualties in Iraq had not yet reached 2,000 dead or 15,000 wounded, and our casualties in Afghanistan were still modest indeed, informal “walls” had already begun springing up online to honor the fallen. At that time, I suggested that “the particular dishonor this administration has brought down on our country calls out for other ‘walls’ as well.” I imagined, then, walls of shame for Bush administration figures and their cronies — and even produced one (in words) that November. By now, of course, any such wall would be full to bursting with names that will live in infamy.

That October, we at TomDispatch also launched quite a different project, another kind of “wall,” this time in tribute to the striking number of “governmental casualties of Bush administration follies, those men and women who were honorable or steadfast enough in their government duties,” and so often found themselves smeared and with little alternative but to resign in protest, quit, or simply be pushed off the cliff by cronies of the administration.

Nick Turse led off what we came to call our “fallen legion” project with a list of 42 such names, ranging from the well-known Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki (who retired after suggesting to Congress that it would take “several hundred thousand troops” to occupy Iraq) and Richard Clarke (who quit, appalled by how the administration was dealing with terror and terrorism) to the moderately well known Ann Wright, John Brown, and John Brady Kiesling (three diplomats who resigned to protest the coming invasion of Iraq) to the little known Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin (who resigned under pressure, possibly so that various Bush papers could be kept under wraps). By the time Turse had written his second fallen legion piece that November, and then the third and last in February 2006, that list of names had topped 200 with no end in sight.

Today, to its eternal shame, the Bush administration has left not just its own projects, but the nation it ruled, in ruins. No wall could fit its particular “accomplishments.” Turse, who recently wrote for the Nation magazine “A My Lai a Month,” a striking exposé of a U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Vietnam that slaughtered thousands of civilians, returns in the last moments of this dishonored administration with a fitting capstone piece for the honorably fallen in Washington. Think of it as the last of the “fallen legion,” a memory piece — lest we forget. Tom

“We killed her… that will be with me the rest of my life”

Lawrence Wilkerson’s Lessons of War and Truth

By Nick Turse

Nations in flux are nations in need. A new president will soon take office, facing hard choices not only about two long-running wars and an ever-deepening economic crisis, but about a government that has long been morally adrift. Torture-as-policy, kidnappings, ghost prisons, domestic surveillance, creeping militarism, illegal war-making, and official lies have been the order of the day. Moments like this call for truth-tellers. For Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. For witnesses willing to come forward. For brave souls ready to expose hidden and forbidden realities to the light of day.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

ICH: Conned Again…

November 10, 2008

These are just a few of the informative articles from this weekend’s edition of the Information Clearing House (ICH) newsletter:

Conned Again
By Paul Craig Roberts
Obama’s selection of Rahm Israel Emanuel as White House chief of staff is a signal that change ended with Obama’s election. The only thing different about the new administration will be the faces.
Obama vs. Medvedev
Nuclear Smackdown in New Europe
By Mike Whitney
Most of what is written about Medvedev is nonsense. The same corporations that own the politicians own the media as well. Naturally, they want to demonize their rivals. In truth, most Americans would have a lot more in common with Medvedev than they would with Bush, Cheney or any of their “silver spoon” elitist cronies.
The Machine Grinds On
By Morton Skorodin
The machine grinds on relentlessly. Now it’s: give Obama a chance. This means: Public, go back to sleep. In the meantime Obama and the state machinery work at feverish pace.
Tough Sledding Ahead
Surviving A Coming USD Collapse
By Christopher Laird
The Two insoluble problems that will lead to a depression and ultimately the final USD collapse.
Pakistan attacks kill 54: :
Jets from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombed hills in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal district, killing at least five people.
U.S. Missile Attack Kills at Least 10 in Pakistan:
Missiles fired from a remotely piloted United States aircraft slammed into a village in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan along the Afghan border on Friday and killed 10 to 13 people, according to a local intelligence official, a Pakistani reporter and two Pakistani television channels.
U.S. Admits Killing 37 Afghan Civilians :
The U.S. military Saturday admitted it while responding to an insurgent ambush has killed 37 civilians and wounded 35 others in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar, a Taliban heartland.
Afghanistan: The Promise and the Reality
Reckless Soldiers, Slappers and Smack
By Yvonne Ridley in Afghanistan
The day after US war planes bombed an Afghan wedding party killing more than 30 women and children, I drove from Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas to the border crossing.
Number Of Iraqis Slaughtered Since The U.S. Invaded Iraq “1,284,105”


Number of U.S. Military Personnel Sacrificed (Officially acknowledged) In America’sWar On Iraq 4,193

The War And Occupation Of Iraq Costs

See the cost in your community


Tomgram: The Future Behind Us

October 6, 2008

Spying on the Future

The U.S. Intelligence Community as Seers Without Sizzle

By Tom Engelhardt

The year is 2010 and, yes, Saddam Hussein is gone and there are no American troops in Iraq, but, as the report suggests, “the challenge will be to see whether a modern, secular successor government emerges that does not threaten its neighbors” — especially since those dogged Iraqis are back at work on their nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, the national security agenda of American policymakers, who face no conventional military challenges, is dominated by five questions: “whether to intervene, when, with whom, with what tools, and to what end?”

Surveying the world in 2010, we find a Russia irredeemably in economic decline, a China beset by too many internal problems to hope for military dominance in Asia, and a North Korea so transformed that military tensions have vanished from the Korean peninsula (along, evidently, with the North Korean nuclear program). Oh, and those food riots that swept the globe recently, they never happened. After all, it’s well known that food production has kept up with population pressures, and energy production has been more than a match for global energy needs. As for global warming? Never heard of it. On the bright side, the key to the future is “international cooperation,” led, of course, by us truly.

An alternate universe from a missing Star Trek episode or that new sci-fi novel you haven’t read yet? Not quite. Thanks to the best brains in the many agencies that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community or IC, it’s been possible for me to venture into the future, just as our own world is being shaken to its roots — into the years 2010 and 2015, to be exact.

There, surprisingly enough, life is relatively calm and the United States remains the preeminent Power of Powers. There, you aren’t likely to hear the words “deep recession” or “depression” on anyone’s lips.

In that far perkier future our intelligence analysts sent me to, you can exist forever and there will never be those four jets, box cutters, and 19 hijackers. The Bush administration will never barge into the world “unilaterally.” The U.S. will not be renowned for torture techniques or an offshore secret prison system of injustice, and nothing will contravene then-Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Ben Bernanke’s 2005 assessment that soaring housing prices were due to “strong economic fundamentals.”

In neither 2010 nor 2015 will anyone have heard of the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the giant insurance company A.I.G. In neither year will newspapers have headlines like “Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight.” In neither will anyone know that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, conducting two bankrupting wars that refused to end.

Think of it as the blandest, tidiest, least-likely-to-occur future around. And it was even paid for with your tax dollars.

Planting the Stars and Stripes in Future Soil

In a world where shock has repeatedly been the name of the game, where tall towers fall in clouds of toxic ash, investment houses disappear in the blink of an eye, and a black man is the Democratic Party’s candidate for president of the United States, the American intelligence community has been straining to imagine a future without surprises or discontinuities. As its experts summed the matter up in 1997, “Genuine discontinuities — sharp nonevolutionary breaks with the past — are rare, and our focus is on evolutionary change.”

Lucky is the country that didn’t bet its foreign policy on that bit of intelligence wisdom. Of course, in the long decade of hubris, from the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 (something American intelligence neither predicted nor expected) to the moment American troops entered Baghdad in April 2003, it seemed obvious enough in Washington that a generational Pax Americana was settling over the world.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Tomgram: Steve Fraser, Wall Street and the Return of the Repressed

October 6, 2008

October 2, 2008
Tomgram: Steve Fraser, Wall Street and the Return of the Repressed

Think of this as the month when Fannie and Freddie entered everyday speech as something other than friendly names, when Americans realized that WaMu wasn’t an over-performing Orca at SeaWorld but a massive failing savings bank, and that Wachovia wasn’t a watch brand, but a finance group, as well as the fourth largest bank holding company in the U.S.

And the faster we learned those names, the faster they disappeared into the dustbin of history. First, Bear Stearns hit the skids, then Lehman Brothers vanished into the ether just as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were being absorbed by the U.S. government. Merrill Lynch headed directly down the gullet of Bank of America. Just behind was a desperate American International Group (A.I.G.), the world’s largest insurer, in a state of financial collapse, only to be bailed out by the Bush administration. Next, Washington Mutual (or WaMu) fell into the clutches of JP Morgan Chase, and Wachovia into the embrace of Citigroup, just as five big banks in Europe were being “rescued” and two of them essentially nationalized. Meanwhile, other banks in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and East Asia, as well as brokerage houses, and even hedge funds seemed to be stumbling like so many zombies to the brink of catastrophe, teetering over the abyss of… well, we really don’t yet know what.

As the stock market began its trip south, the Bush administration made one of its typical grabs for unparalleled executive power (to be vested in the person of the Secretary of the Treasury). Unfortunately — for its top officials — they had a tad of a “credibility gap” problem and, after an outpouring of popular anger at the thought of bailing out the rich and improvident, a revolt in the House of Representatives by anxious Democrats and a horde of angry conservative Republicans got the administration’s plan voted down. Politicians across the political spectrum, especially those up for election in competitive districts, surely feared being labeled supporters of the “bailout party,” especially when the bailout was to be run by the gang that couldn’t shoot straight in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or New Orleans.

This was also a month of financial feeding frenzy, of “creative destruction” in which, as Americans watched in amazement, survivors of the roiling economic carnage swooped onto the battlefield to bloat themselves on the tastiest corpses around (with a helping hand from the federal government). Already in this process, strange, monstrous, jigsaw-puzzle versions of more familiar financial outfits are emerging. Giant creatures like Bank-of-America-Merrill-Lynch, or JPMorgan-Chase-Bear-Stearns-WaMu or Citigroup-Wachovia (whatever they may officially call themselves) now exist, however provisionally. The creative destruction engendered by a faltering American capitalism may prove advantageous to specific companies when the dust clears, but it will surely crush untold numbers of ordinary Americans who simply find themselves in the way.

Of course, even in the “good times,” there were feeding frenzies that crushed the many and sated the few. There was Enron, after all; and as the bad times began, when all those subprime mortgages started to go bad, there was still hedge-fund manager John Paulson of Paulson & Co. to haul in a nifty $3.7 billion in a single year. Mainly he did so, according to the Wall Street Journal, “by shorting, or betting against, subprime mortgage securities and collateralized debt obligations.” In other words, he made his money by betting on the pure misery of others.

If there’s a bright side to any of this, then maybe it’s that, after 50 years of relative immunity from criticism, Wall Street is again the street Americans love to hate; so Steve Fraser, TomDispatch’s (and, right now, everyone else’s) expert on Wall Street’s grim history and author of the indispensable book, Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, tells us in vivid detail below.

Meanwhile, perhaps it’s time to remember the catastrophic Argentinean national collapse and bankruptcy of 2001-2002, and to try to imagine what in the world any faintly similar set of events might mean when transposed to the world’s “sole superpower.” Here’s one change to expect from the present financial chaos: When the next president of the United States looks “over the horizon,” he’s likely to see a world without a reigning superpower and, when he thinks about “the next war” (as they like to say in the Pentagon), the good news is that he may not have the money to pay for it. Tom

The Specter of Wall Street

Wall Street’s Comeback as the Place Americans Love to Hate

By Steve Fraser

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Tomgram: Snitow and Kaufman, Water Wars in America

September 26, 2008

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Since the following piece is excerpted from a new book produced by the invaluable website, I thought this might be a fine moment to urge all of you — if you don’t it the site already — to visit that ever vigorous, thoughtful, provocative site. Everyday it has a menu of superb pieces — some from websites like this one, others original — that add up to some of the best reading on the progressive blogosphere. You can sign up (as I have) for their emails, which put their top pieces in your email box daily, by clicking here.]

The headlines scream. The world goes mad. The Bush administration, which failed to fully impose its unitary executive presidency on the nation through war via a Commander-in-Chief presidency, now seems intent on doing the same in its waning days through a Treasury-Secretary-in-Chief version of the same. The following passage in the original proposed bill for the $700 billion bailout legislation now in Congress may take your breath away — “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency…” — but it is recognizably pure Bush.

Though that particular phrasing is now gone, administration officials are using the politics of fear and panic over the very financial mess they had a hand in creating to institutionalize a presidential power grab of startling magnitude. And then, of course, following the pattern of this administration, they will privatize that power, undoubtedly subcontracting the work of governmental buying and selling to the very financial characters involved in creating this mayhem. As a result, in the Bush years the Treasury Department, like the Pentagon, will have both expanded its power exponentially and privatized it all at once. Yes, Congress will add caveats and “oversight,” but these may be little more than window dressing from a body of government which has already essentially given up the ghost (of power) along with its power of the purse. If you thought we had an imperial presidency before the present economic meltdown, what’s coming may put that to shame.

Anyone who believes that an administration incapable of getting itself out of its own disasters from Kabul to Baghdad to New Orleans finally has a formula for doing so at a moment of ultimate economic debacle is surely deluded. In the meantime, Congress may turn over the checks (as in checkbooks) from those classic American governmental checks and balances to the Treasury. And as for the balances, well, you already know that story. So, a skyscraper’s worth of private financial indebtedness will now be socialized on the backs of taxpayers; and yet, as Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, award-winning filmmakers and experts in the privatization of water supplies and systems, indicate below, the most basic public services that once gave meaning to the government now stand in danger of going “private” not just in the developing world but in the United States.

Their post, by the way, is an adaptation of an essay they wrote for a wonderful new book on a subject that will reshape our lives for decades to come — the redistribution of water on this planet, including the present fierce droughts in the American southeast and west. The book, Water Consciousness: How We All Have to Change to Protect Our Most Critical Resource, is in itself a resource of the first order. (Check out the book’s website while you’re at it.) Tom

Drinking at the Public Fountain

The New Corporate Threat to Our Water Supplies

By Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman

In the last few years, the world’s largest financial institutions and pension funds, from Goldman Sachs to Australia’s Macquarie Bank, have figured out that old, trustworthy utilities and infrastructure could become reliable cash cows — supporting the financial system’s speculative junk derivatives with the real concrete of highways, water utilities, airports, harbors, and transit systems.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

US Bailout Protests Today, September 25th!

September 25, 2008

Protest the Bailout Today
There are more than 200 events planned coast to coast for today, September 25, protesting the Bush Administration’s proposed bailout.  Find an event near you and contact your elected reps and implore them to reject a plan that bails out Wall Street but not Main Street.