It was mid-day Thursday.
I was mid-town.
I made the mistake of grabbing the cell phone mid-ring.
It was Mr. Mid-to-right-of-center Bill Keller.
"Betinna!" he whined finding syllables I hadn't known existed in my own name.
He was mid-panic, in the midst of a problem.
You just knew my husband Thomas Friedman was involved.
Instead of playing smart and hanging up, I agreed to meet him back at my place.
What was the problem?
We couldn't discuss it on the phone. People could be listening!
Oh sure, sit on the illegal, warrantless spying of American phone calls for over a year and half and now get worried about the administration listening into phone calls.
I was almost to the apartment when I heard him hollering behind me in the hall.
He wanted us to talk before we went into to confront it.
Apparently we needed a strategy.
He waved around a really vile thing like one of those street vendors Rudy Crooked's always on TV bragging he got rid of quicker than his last wife.
It was my husband's latest column and it couldn't have been more of a sticker if it had come wrapped in a diaper. The big point, the thing Thomas Friedman worked in three times, was this: "Try, try again: not the best mantra for war and peace."
"Why would anyone need a war mantra?" Bill Keller asked me all puzzled.
I stared at him dumbfounded for a moment before pointing out the obvious, 'anyone' wouldn't but it's too late in the day to pretend "The New York Times" didn't have one: "Officials say . . . "
But, more to the point, you might have a peace mantra -- well, not the war lusting rag of a paper, but others might have -- and some might have a war mantra, but "a war and peace mantra"? Made no sense.
I offered that Thomas Friedman was just attempting to work in a cultural reference and Thomas Friedman offered, "Your husband sounds like that ditzy blonde on 'Cheers'."
Our mission was simple, Bill Keller insisted, get a new column -- a useable one -- out of my husband in a matter of hours so it could run in Friday's paper.
A useable column? They've been running my husband on the op-ed pages since 1995 and now, all the sudden, they wanted "a useable column"? Why the sudden rush to excellency?
Bill Keller didn't want to discuss so I really didn't feel that sorry for him when, upon opening the front door he gasped, as Thomas Friedman, in a boa and half-slip, grabbed him in his meaty bear grip and trilled, "Oliver!"
Thomas Friedman had been attempting to make fondu during a recent power brown out. We don't have a fondu maker but he just knew all he had to do was warm up some of his canned cheese with a candle. The explosive mess that resulted was predictable to all but Thomas Friedman; however, he'd been wearing his good wig and got it signed pretty much all over. I took scissors to it in order to repair what I could. I told him he now had an Ava Gabor and he pouted a bit but soon caught the spirit and was out on the fire escape singing of how he simply adored a penthouse view.
Bill Keller was trying to reason with him -- oh, how "The Times" loves its losing battles -- and kept saying, "Now, Thomas . . ." My husband kept interrupting with a fey comeback of, "Our last name is Douglas."
This went on for about twenty minutes until Thomas Friedman pointed at me and referred to me as Arnold. Oh, I'm going to be the pig? I don't think so.
"There were no Blacks in Crabwell Corners!" Thomas Friedman hissed at me while clutching Keller to his bossom.
Oh, yes, it would be a stretch for me to be a White woman, not for him mind you, but for me it was such a stretch that it was better to make me the pig?
I ignored them and went to the kitchen. Made myself a pot of tea and sat down to enjoy it. I guess Keller had gotten into the swing of things because I could hear him singing along with my husband: "You are my wife . . . Goodbye city life . . . Green Acres . . ."
About a half hour later a tearful Bill Keller was crying in my kitchen wondering how the hell he was ever going to get something useable from Thomas Friedman? Again, after twelve years of columns, suddenly that was an issue?
"Yo, fat ass!" I hollered.
An angry Thomas Friedman came storming into the kitchen.
"Betinna," he hissed, "I believe we've talked about that kind of abusive language."
Ignoring his angry look, I explained that Bill was having a problem: the paper was planning a charity event and needed someone to emcee. They were going to ask David Brooks --
"David Brooks!" Thomas Friedman gasped.
-- but Bill Keller was really sure that there was only one person who could handle the chore. So, how about giving us 15 minutes of that wonderful wit that had them rolling from coast to coast?
Nodding, Thomas Friedman grabbed the nearest jar of spices -- basil, as it turned out -- and used it as a microphone as he began delivering the sort of material that will never make "The Daily Show."
He closed big, with a flourishing gesutre and landing on one knee, as he exclaimed, "If Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had spent as much time plotting the toppling of Saddam Hussein as they did the toppling of Colin Powell, Iraq today would be Switzerland. Ba-dump-bah!"
Keller and I had been furiously scribbling away the entire time and, minus the ba-dump-bahs, we probably had enough groaners to the typical Thomas Friedman column. So, as my husband went to the couch to rest up, we patched together what became "A Foreign Policy Built on Do-Overs" or, as I like to think of it, "A Foreign Affairs Columnist Built of Do-Do."
Sighing, Bill Keller said he hadn't worked so hard his whole life. I can't vouch for his whole life, but I'm sure it's harder than he's worked since 1984, since he joined the paper. But he was so tired that he failed to notice the pull quote that ran Friday was the from the column Thomas Friedman had turned in and not from the column he and I had patched together. I called to point that out to him and he asked me what were the chances that someone would see the pull quote and read the column again to try to find it? I told him his guess was as good as mine, I'm still amazed that anyone bothers to read through my husband's writing even once.
"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills)
Friday, February 23, 2007. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, the military demonstrates that "justice" is still a joke to them despite one sex scandal after another, the press is all over the crying rapist, Turkey voices its opposition to partitioning Iraq, and Antonia Juhasz and Kris Welch address the topic of the push to privatize Iraq's oil.
Starting with war resisters. Yesterday, Mark Wilkerson was court-martialed at Fort Lewis in Texas and sentenced to seven months in a military prison and given a bad conduct discharge. Jim Bergamo (KVUE) reports that Wilkerson's mother, wife and brother were sitting behind him during the hearing and that "it was his good behavior in that first tour of duty and after he returned to his unit in August of last year that helped sway the judge to sentence him to only seven months in jail and give him a bad conduct discharge" while his attorney Michael Duncan told Bergamo that "in a general court-martial, no confinement is very rare". Angela K. Brown (AP) reports that Rebecca Barker, his mother, testified about the home life: "Barker said that in 1996 her estranged husband -- who had adopted Mark as a child -- broke into their house, fatally beat her friend with a baseball bat and then beat her before Mark, then 12, intervened and ran for help. Her husband committed suicide before his murder trial."
In other war resister news, El Universal reports that Agustin Aguayo's mother, Susana Aguayo, appeal to the Mexican government has been heard -- "The Foreign Relations Secretariat said it would seek information on the health and legal situation of Agustin Aguayo, who faces charges of desertion and missing troop movement. . . . given Aguayo's 'nationality of origin and the fact that his relatives are Mexican, the department has ordered the Mexican Embassy in Germany to offer consular assistance, which consists of using its good offices to gather information on the health and legal situation' of Aguayo." Agustin Aguayo is scheduled to be court-martialed March 6th in Germany.
Regarding Ehren Watada, we're going to repeat two points because they are important ones.
Last Friday's snapshot, while noting Ehren Watada, the following appeared: "John Catalinotto (Socialist Worker) observes: 'Watada's military defense lawyer -- appointed by the Army -- Capt. Mark Kim, said that he agreed with Seitz's interpretation of military law'." That was incorrect. John Catalinotto's article appeared in Workers' World, not Socialist Worker, my apologies. This was noted Tuesday, but it is important to again stress that the military attorney, Mark Kim, is in agreement with Seitz re: double-jeopardy. Let's also repeat from yesterday: " Gregg K. Kakesako (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) reports that Eric Seitz, Watada's civilian attorney, doesn't expect a court-martial to even be possible before summer due to scheduling issues and that the military hasn't even refiled the charges for the March 19th date that Judge Toilet (John Head) was tossing around when he declared a mistrial."
Wilkerson, Aguayo and Watada are a part of a movement of resistance with the military that includes others such as Kyle Snyder, Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Darrell Anderson, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Joshua Key, Camilo Meija, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Corey Glass, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard and Kevin Benderman. In total, thirty-eight US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.Information on war resistance within the military can be found at Center on Conscience & War, The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters.
Remember how Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to seven months in military prison? Let's turn to the reality of the joke that is military justice. Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Edwards Franklin is now a "private" and somehow that's "justice" in the snicker-snicker, dirty joke world of the US military. In a press release, the US military tells you he was busted down to private as punishment determined in his court-martial today. Punishment for? "[I]ndecent acts upon a female Private 2nd Class in the junior Soldier's room and then lying about his involvment to CID personnel. On 20 Ocotber 2006 Sgt. 1st Class Franklin followed a female Private 2nd Class into her room on LSA Anaconda. He attempted to force intimate contact upon the solider." Let's be clear because the US military tends to gloss over rape -- as does the press. What Franklin was trying to do, "force intimate contact," is what's known as attempted rape. Back to the press release: "During a CID interview and on the witness stand at trial" denied touching the woman or being in her room for more than five minutes.
And here's where the US military proves what a sad joke is: "A panel of officers and enlisted personnel, sentenced Sgt. 1st Class Franklin to reduction in grade to E-1." Wow. Aren't we all just blown away. Wilkerson's spending seven-months in a military prison and Franklin gets no jail time for attempted rape. As noted in The Third Estate Sunday Review's "Women and the military" one in every seven US service members serving in Iraq is a woman but there's no real safety guarantees for women. Crimes aren't punished and for any who doubt it, a superior attempts to rape a woman and his "punishment" doesn't include jail time. It's all a joke or a game to the military but not even a game that includes the instruction "Go immediately to jail, do not collect 200 dollars." From The Third Estate Sunday Review feature:
Do you know the name Michael Sydney? As Cheryl Seelhoff reported in Off Our Backs (vol 35, no 2, p. 22), Sgt. Sydney was found guilty, July 2006, "of pandering, mistreating, subordinates, and obstruction of justice, smong other things, for what amounts to his having pimped women under his command. Sydney threatened to extend the tour of duty of female erservists called to active duty if they did not have sex with his superior officers." The brave US military 'justice' system did not court-martial him but they did give him a slap on the wrist: "sentence to six months in jail." Where does someone like Syndey get the idea that women in the military can be used as whores? The same attitude that Antonia expressed which renders service members as males (with wives to kiss) and women invisible.In the same edition of Off Our Backs, Allison Tobey (p. 16) noted Col Janis Karpinski's testimony that General Ricardo Sanchez issued an order barring "dehydration" being noted as cause of death on the death certificates of female service members. Why? Because, according to Karpinski, women were dying from that "because they did not drink liquids in the afternoons in an effort to avoid going to the latrines at night, where they were afrid male soldiers would rape them." Sanchez' 'solution' didn't address the problem, it hid it -- as too many 'solutions' to the abuse and mistreatment of women in the military repeatedly does.In the January 2007 edition of The Progressive, Traci Hukill examined sexual harassment and sexual assualt in the military and cited a VA report from 2003 (lead to Congress in 2005) which found "60 percent of women and 27 percent of men had experience Military Sexual Trauma" and that it "found the prevalence of actual sexual assualt -- 'unwanted sexual conduct of a physical nature' -- to be 23 percent among female reservists."
Much is being made about Paul Cortez crying at his hearing yesterday and being sentenced to 100 years of prison time for his part in the gang rape and murder of
Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi as well as the murder of her parents and her five-year-old sister. Reality check -- BBC points out he "will be eligible to seek parole in 10 years." AFP has Cortez as his most tearful when he says: "I'm sorry I let you guys down; you guys treat me better than this." How about a few tears for the 14-year-old girl who was gang raped and murdered? The one Cortez tesified "kept screaming and tried to keep her legs closed. At no point did I think that I had consent to have sex with Abeer." CBS News notes that Cortez couldn't explain to the court "why he did it" -- well, how about he repeat the jokes and ha-has he and the others shared over beer and grilled chicken after the gang rapes and murders?
Rose French (AP) reports that Jesse Speilman's attorneys are saying that he didn't take part in the planning of the rapes and murders. They're also saying that he was under stress. More laughs should ensue April 2nd when his court-martial begins. Steven D. Green is the only one who will be tried in a civilian court. (Green has maintained his innocence. James Barker and Cortez both confessed to their own actions and named Green as the ringleader who planned it all and the one who shot all four family members dead.)
Turning to news of Bully Boy's eye on the prize, Antonia Juhasz spoke with Kris Welch on KPFA's Living Room today about the oil law that would privatize Iraq's oil and that had Condi storming through Baghdad last weekend to apply pressure.
Welch started the discussion by citing Juan Gonzalez (New York Daily News) article on the oil law: "Under the proposed law, Iraq's immense oil reserves would not simply be opened to foreign oil exploration, as many had expected. Amazingly, executives from those companies would actually be given seats on a new Federal Oil and Gas Council that would control all of Iraq's reserves. In other words, Chevron, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants could end up on the board of directors of the Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council, while Iraq's own national oil company would become just another competitor."
"Basically it says that executives of oil companies can be on the council and it doesn't say whether or not that is foreign and/or domestic. What I find most depressing about this law is frankly the speed with which it is moving now through the Iraqi government. We, those of us who have been working globally against this push for this essentially privatization of Iraq's oil thought that we had more time and it's really been fast-tracked in Iraq and what is so depressing is that the way this law is written in my mind if it is completed and if it implemented, which we can talk about more later, US oil companies will have at least on paper won the war in Iraq
Kris Welch pointed out that the Iraq oil law is sold as being "very key to settling the increasing violence and chaos in Iraq, that who is in control of the oil is vital and it's in everyone's interest".
Juhasz: It's really American, and let me clarify that as Bush administration, propaganda that this law is the path towards stability in Iraq. It is absolutely propaganda. This law is being sold as the mechanism for helping the Iraqis determine how they will distribute their oil revenue. That is not what this law is about. That is the bottom end of an enormous hammer that is this oil law. This oil law is about foreign access to Iraq's oil and the terms by which that access will be determined. It is also about the distribution of decision making power between the central government and the region as to who has ultimate decision making power and the types of contracts that will be signed. There are powers that be within Iraq that would very much like to see that power divvied up into the regions, between the Kurds and the Shia in particular, and then there are powers that would like to see Iraq retained as a central authority. The Bush administration would like the central government of Iraq to have ultimate control over contracting decisions because it believes it has more allies in the central government than it would if it was split up into regions. The Bush administration is most concerned with getting an oil law passed now and passed quickly to take advantage of the weakness of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government couldn't be in a weaker negotiating position and the law locks the government in to twenty to thirty-five year committments to granting the most extreme versions of exploration and production contracts to US companies or foreign companies. Meaning that foreign companies would have access to the vast majorities of Iraq's oil fields and they would own the oil under the ground --
they would control the production and they would in contracts yet to be determined get a percentage of that profit but they'd be negotiating essentially when Iraq is at its weakest when Iraq is hardly a country. And that's what this oil law is all about. What Iraqis are saying very clearly and have said to Raed [Jarrar] and, in particular, to the loudest voices being the Iraqi oil unions is that the only people who want to see this law passed now are the Americans. There's no other reason to push that law through."
Welch and Juhasz then discussed how the government's creation (and election) influences the chances that the law could be passed which put the US administration in the position to call shots. Juhasz: "Now that influence isn't complete and that's why the law hasn't passed yet but it's been slowly and progressively making it's way through and now as you said it's passed through the cabinet or is on the verge of passing in the cabinet it would then go to the parliatment and there's great concern . . . Raed [Jarrar] has done a monumental job of trying to inform the Iraqi parliamentarians just about the law. Until he had helped unearth the draft and help retreive it from the internet that most parliamentarians, or almost all Iraq parliamentarians haven't even seen the law."
Juhasz cited Hands off Iraqi Oil and Oil Change International as resources for activism geared for the fourth anniversary of the start of the illegal war next month. [Thank you to Megan, Zach and Ty for noting & transcribing the above.]
Picking up on the issue of Iraq being split into regions, KUNA reports that Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, declared yesterday that splitting Iraq into regions or partitions would lead "bloody wars": "Why we refuse the establishment of a Kurdish state in the North of Iraq, the reason is clear, we are against the partition of Iraq because this will trigger engless wars in the region."
Meanwhile Tony Blair's claims of 'success' in Iraq are about as 'truthful' as his claims of a pullout. Stephen Farrell, Ned Parker and Richard Beeston (Times of London) report: "Tony Blair says Iraq has made 'remarkable' progress. Clusters of red on the British Army's own maps of Basra suggest otherwise. . . . Although the initial perception of British forces in Basra was of experienced troops putting the population at ease by patrolling in berets, instead of the more aggressive posture adopted by US forces further north, the reality has varied widely from town to town."
In WOOPSIE! news, Kim Gamel (AP) reported the US military arrested "Amar al-Hakim, son of political leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim" -- who had face time with Bully Boy in DC last December. CNN reports that the Zalmay Khalilzad (still US ambassador to Iraq for now) "issued an apology" for the arrest and the son has been released.
In other political news, BBC reports that "Democrats in the US are planning a challenge to President George W Bush's handling of the war in Iraq" with the premise that the authority granted by the resolution was for set things and new things need to be set. CBS and AP report that the new resolution is still unclear but would "leave U.S. troops with a limited mission as they prepare to withdraw."
In Iraq? It's Friday. Did anyone work besides McClatchy Newspapers?
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a child was killed in a mortar attack in the Amil neighborhood of Baghdad and five other people were injured in the attack while, in the Abu Disheer neighborhood of Baghdad, a mortar attack injured three people.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports "a U.S. military convoy killed one civilian and injured other two in Zafaraniya, Iraqi police said. The source said the patrol didn't stop after the shooting and the man who was killed was walking on the side road."
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports five corpses were discovered in Baghdad.
Today, the US military announced: "Three Soldiers assigned to Multi-National Force-West were killed Feb. 22 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province."
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