Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Friedman "Big Dumb"

What do you call the person who marries an idiot?

I've been wondering that quite a bit lately largely because that's what I am.

I married an idiot.

Does that make me dumber than Thomas Friedman?

My husband Thomas Friedman didn't have an easy week. With no funds and me not feeling generous, he was looking under the sofa cushions for cab fare but only found enough to take the bus.

On top of that, his library access was revoked. It wasn't the Albert Einsten book but the other book he checked out last week "The Hotties of Saved By The Bell." Seems there was a problem with the book when he turned it in. A large, sticky stain that wasn't there, the library said, before he checked it out. Thomas Friedman insisted that the stain was there. The librarian pointed out that the stain was still wet. Thomas Friedman maintained that it was a new strain of stain -- "never drying."

They didn't take to that explanation and Thomas Friedman's library card was cut in half.

So what was he to do? What was he do?

As he noted, he believes imagination is more important than knowledge and he really put that to the test this week with "The Aussie 'Big Dry'."

I knew something was up when he actually took the time to speak to me.

"Betinna, that bald guy, is he Australian? You know, that bald guy. The one that can feel it coming in the air tonight. Stew-stew-studio."

"Do you mean Phil Collins?"


"It's 'Su-su-sudio.' And, no, he's not Australian, he's British."

"Damn it! Doesn't that floating prison have anyone famous!"

I mentioned Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John and other singers. He wasn't impressed. I switched to actors and mentioned Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Billy Zane . . . He wasn't buying and he stormed off in a fit of petulance.

I had no idea what he was writing, but I knew it would be a doozy. Meanwhile, I noticed that he didn't call boy-chum Nicky K for advice. The two partners-in-crime (and I mean that literally) had been on the ins and been on the outs. But suddenly they just seemed to be strangers.

No undying love, no raging hate. Just nothing between them. Like an old married couple that had stopped having sex. Like an old married couple that had stopped having sex and had built their entire relationship on sex. Now they had nothing to say to one another. No point to see each other. Was it really about the money?

When I'd taken control of the money ("Seized my ass!" as Thomas Friedman put it in a slip of the tongue) had that been enough to send Nicky K packing? Could he really be that shallow?

I might have mused on that for hours were it not for the fact that I've read Nicky K's columns and know that he can, indeed, be that shallow and then some.

With no money to blow, Thomas Friedman wasn't reaching out to his 'friends' -- or as I call them, the Flim-Flam set -- over the phone and no one was knocking at his door. No longer welcome at any of the city's libraries, he made do with the computer. And of course -- and always -- his overly praised imagination.

He was quite proud of the column he'd hammered (and copied and pasted) together.

I enjoyed it for other reasons. Largely because corrections to the op-ed pages of the "New York Times," though frequently needed, are so very rare. I imagined the complaints would be pouring in over this bit of nonsense.

For instance, he babbles on about "the big dry" (drought) in Australia ("a six-year record drought"). I picked up the phone and called two friends, Olive and Skip, who live in Australia. What, I wondered, is Thomas Friedman babbling on about and was he correct?


No was the answer I got back. After I'd finished reading the column, they both said Thomas Friedman failed to grasp that Australia did not suffer from "the big dry" only parts of it did. In fact, they told me, far more dramatic changes were in the north western area of Australia which didn't have the "big dry," but instead had the exact opposite -- excessive rain. The rain in that region had, in fact, doubled.

In addition, Thomas Friedman gets it wrong about War Hawk John Howard who is the prime minister of Australia. My husband maintains that Howard has had a Green transformation and moved from "climate skeptic to what he calls a 'climate realist'." Olive and Skip explained how this was not the case and followed up by e-mailing an article that explained it even further:

"We've had droughts before. We've had very severe droughts before, but we had smaller populations and we had lesser demand," Mr. Howard said at a joint press conference with Minister for the Environment Malcolm Turnbull last week.
"I recognize the ongoing debate about the link between the two things and I don't vary from that. I don't think this dramatically alters it."

That's what's called denial.

John Howard's "pray for rain" wasn't a national call so much as an effort to put the blame elsewhere and it was greeted with derision, not the amusement that so tickles Thomas Friedman. It was stressed how offensive this was when Howard said it and how offensive it was when Thomas Friedman repeated it with amusement. Howard had spurned Kyoto and now, faced with a drought caused by global warming (and excessive rain in other areas of the country), Howard still wouldn't admit reality and instead wanted to drop back "to the stone ages" to tell people to pray for rain so that when it didn't come to be (and it didn't increase the rainfall) he could blame it on the lack of prayer. "What's next?" wondered Olive. "Burning women at the stake and accusing them of witch craft?"

Skip tied the refusal to acknowledge science on the part of John Howard with the refusal to acknowledge reality. "We have about 1,400 soldiers in Iraq," he explained. "They aren't coming home. The reason is that by keeping that tiny number there, so small it has no real impact on what happens in Iraq, John Howard can puff out his chest and say, 'We must stay! No one must leave!' And he can inject himself into US politics -- as he does repeatedly -- trashing your politicians who call for a withdrawal. It's like the bloke who agrees to pay the tip insisting that we dine at the most expensive restaurant. He's not paying the full bill so he should really just pipe down already."

He found his Australian celebrity: Peter Garrett, once of the group Midnight Oil. Olive said, "That's a bit like my coming to your country and citing Tiffany or Jordan Knight."

In a column heavy on imagination and short on reality, Thomas Friedman is taking care of step two of my plan all by himself: losing his prized post at the paper.

He concludes, "Politics gets interesting when it stops raining." I think big business shills get chancy for papers when their entire credibility hits the crapper.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, May 4, 2007. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces the deaths of more service members, the mainstream press gloms on an apparent lie, a US senator floats his inablity to stand (no spine), and more.

Starting with news of war resisters. Today
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) interviewed US Senator Daniel Akaka, the junior senator from Hawaii. Ehren Watada was brought up. Watada is the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. A February court-martial ended in an mistrial. This month (the 20-th through the 21st), pre-trial motions are scheduled. If the judge elects to ignore the Constituion's ban on double-jeopardy, Watada would then be court-martialed beginning July 16th. Before the Febuary court-martial, he spoke to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Tuesday, January 23, 2006 and Goodman and Gonzalez played a clip for that for Akaka today:

In my preparation for deployment to Iraq, in order to better train myself and my soldiers, I began to research the background of Iraq, including the culture, the history, the events going on on the ground and what had led us up into the war in the first place, and what I found was very shocking to me and dismaying, and it really made me question what I was being asked to do, and it caused me to research more and more. And as I found out the answers to the questions I had, I became convinced that the war itself was illegal and immoral, as was the current conduct of American forces and the American government on the ground over in Iraq. And as such, as somebody who has sworn an oath to protect our Constitution, our values and our principles, and to protect the welfare and the safety of the American people, I said to myself that's something that I cannot be a part of, the war. I cannot enable or condone those who have established this illegal and immoral policy. And so, I simply requested that I have my commission resigned and I separate completely from the military, because of those reasons, and I was denied several times, and I was basically given the ultimatum: either you deploy to Iraq or you will face a court-martial.

Noting that Akaka is opposed to the war, that Carolyn Ho had visited him in DC to ask for his support for her son,
Goodman asked Akaka, "Do you think he should be court-martialed?"

Akaka: I know him and I know his dad and his mom very, very well in Hawaii. I admire his position and, for me, it's a position that has grown with him being reared and brought up in Hawaii in a diverse population and with diverse culture and a care for people. And what he has done is so difficult for any young man to take a position like that, to the point where he is willing to resign his position as an officer and to leave the service of the United States. But he bases it on the mistakes that this country has made. And so, he needs to be admired for that. But he has had a difficult time to convince the military courts, as well, to just let him resign. But for me, we'll let the courts decide that. But I admire his position. It's very difficult, and we know that we all love our country, and I know he does too. But his reasons are, as I said, moral and that's really basic for anybody as he makes a difficult decision as he has.

For those lost in Akaka's useless wordage, the answer is "no." He will not do one damn thing. Would the answer have been different if Goodman or Gonzalez had raised the issue of double-jeopardy?

No. Akaka is as useless as his words. "I know him . . I know his dad and his mom . . ." Yes, he does know them. He was happy to have Bob Watada work his butt off for his campaign and many others. And while Akaka's happy to pose as BRAVE SENATOR AGAINST THE WAR he can't won't lift a damn finger to help anyone that's suffering for Akaka and other senators' useless manuevers. What is Akaka so scared of? He was just re-elected in November of 2006. He is 82 years old. Is he afraid he won't be able to be a senator at 88 if he shows some damn courage? When
Time magazine picks you as one of the Five Worst Senators maybe it's time you stepped aside ("As a legislator, though, Akaka is living proof that experience does not necessarily yield expertise. After 16 years on the job, the junior Senator from Hawaii is a master of the minor resolution and the bill that dies in committee.") Voting against the war doesn't mean a damn thing if that's where you courage ends. Staying on dumb and useless, let's turn to Hawaii's other Senator (though let's note that when it's time to stand up for drilling in the AMWR, Akaka is present and accounted for), Daniel Inouye. Like Akaka, Inouye has strongly benefitted from the work of Bob Watada. Inouye is 82 as well (he is actually four days older than Akaka).

Inouye voted against authorization for the illegal war. At 82, why is he so scared to speak up in defense of Watada?
Greg Small (AP) reported on Inouye's attitude towards Watada last August: not "too happy," rushed to note "he wasn't praising Watada" . . . So two senators, damn well old enough to know better, can't do one damn thing. They can't end the war, they can't speak out for someone forced to take a stand (one they themselves are too feeble or cowardly to take). They both knew Bob Watada. They're thanks for all the hard work he put in is to turn their backs on his son? May voters show them the same sense of 'loyalty' if the OLD FOOLS are idiot enough to run for re-election (2011 for Inouye, 2012 for Akaka). Inouye and Akaka the strongest reasons today for a mandatory retirement age for the Senate.

In other war resister news, this week Camilo Meija's
Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia was published and, as Courage to Resist reports, he will be joining Agustin Aguayo Pablo Paredes, and Robert Zabala for a speaking tour from May 9th through 17th in the San Francisco Bay Area. The announced dates include:

Wednesday May 9 - Marin 7pm at College of Marin, Student Services Center, 835 College Ave, Kentfield. Featuring Agustin Aguayo, Pablo Paredes and David Solnit. Sponsored by Courage to Resist and Students for Social Responsibility.

Thursday May 10 - Sacramento Details TBA
Friday May 11 - Stockton 6pm at the Mexican Community Center, 609 S Lincoln St, Stockton. Featuring Agustin Aguayo.
Saturday May 12 - Monterey 7pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 490 Aguajito Rd, Carmel. Featuring Agustin Aguayo and Camilo Mejia. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace Chp. 69, Hartnell Students for Peace, Salinas Action League, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Courage to Resist. More info: Kurt Brux 831-424-6447
Sunday May 13 - San Francisco 7pm at the Veterans War Memorial Bldg. (Room 223) , 401 Van Ness St, San Francisco. Featuring Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia and Pablo Paredes. Sponsored by Courage to Resist, Veteran's for Peace Chp. 69 and SF Codepink.
Monday May 14 - Watsonville 7pm at the United Presbyterian Church, 112 E. Beach, Watsonville. Featuring Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes and Robert Zabala. Sponsored by the GI Rights Hotline & Draft Alternatives program of the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV), Santa Cruz Peace Coalition, Watsonville Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), Watsonville Brown Berets, Courage to Resist and Santa Cruz Veterans for Peace Chp. 11. More info: Bob Fitch 831-722-3311
Tuesday May 15 - Palo Alto 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church (Fellowship Hall), 1140 Cowper, Palo Alto. Featuring Camilo Mejia. Sponsored by Pennisula Peace and Justice Center. More info: Paul George 650-326-8837
Wednesday May 16 - Eureka 7pm at the Eureka Labor Temple, 840 E St. (@9th), Eureka. Featuring Camilo Mejia. More info: Becky Luening 707-826-9197Thursday May 17 - Oakland 4pm youth event and 7pm program at the Humanist Hall, 411 28th St, Oakland. Featuring Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes and the Alternatives to War through Education (A.W.E.) Youth Action Team. Sponsored by Veteran's for Peace Chp. 69, Courage to Resist, Central Committee for Conscientious Objector's (CCCO) and AWE Youth Action Team.

Aguayo wants to take part in that but may not be released in time. If the military is thinking they'll clamp down on war resistance by holding Aguayo, they obviously aren't factoring the passion this tour will create and the questions of, "Where's Augie?" All are part of a growing movement of war resistance within the military: Camilo Mejia,
Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Dean Walcott, Camilo Mejia, Linjamin Mull, Joshua Key, Augstin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder , Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Joshua Key, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake 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. In addition, the documentary Sir! No Sir! traces the war resistance within the military during Vietnam and it will air at 9:00 pm (EST) on The Sundance Channel followed at 10:30 p.m. by The Ground Truth which examines the Iraq war and features Jimmy Massey and Iraq Veterans Against the War's Kelly Dougherty among others. (Filling in for Rebecca, Betty wrote about Sir! No Sir! last night.)

Now let's turn to the apparent lie.
CBS and AP report that Manouchehr Mottaki (Iran's Foreign Minister) "walked out of a dinner of diplomats where he was seated directly across from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, on the pretext that the female violinist entertaining the gathering was dressed too revealing." Cute. Kind of like the lie that Hugo Chavez said Noam Chomsy was dead, no? Other versions take greater strides to note that Rice wasn't walked out on, she wasn't present. But they love this apparently false claim of the scantily clad violinist -- in Egypt? the US State Department can't lie any better than that? -- and most include this non-diplomatic quote by Sean McCormack who is a spokesperson for the State Department: "I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state." What's the truth?

Oh, you don't think it's coming out of the braying mouth of Sean McCormack, do you?
KUNA reports: "On Thursday evening, Mottaki left dinner in Sharm el-Sheikh before Rice arrived to sit at the same table" and "Asked why he did not meet Rice, Mottaki told a news conference: 'There was no time, no appointment and no plans. A meeting between foreign ministers has certain requirements (such as) political will and it also has to be clear on what basis such a meeting would be held." AFP, to its credit, noted the comments being put out by "US officials" were "a swipe" on the part of "US officials" but somehow Mottaki's press conference just slipped everyone's attention.

McCormack's statements aren't diplomatic but they are the sort of calculated cheap shots. So nice of so many in the press to run with them just because US officials said they were true. Our Hedda Hoppers of the press.

Staying on the topic of the press, in the current issue of
Extra! (March/April 2007, put out by FAIR), Pat Arnow explores (pp. 9-10) the censorship the press doesn't fight. Using a photo (by Robert Nickelsberg) that ran with Damien Cave's "Man Down," Arnow explains how the New York Times groveled and apologized to appease the US military, "apparently removed the photos from their website" in order to gladly go along with the latest dictates of the US military: "Now publications of pictures of casualties violates new media ground rules for Iraq from the Department of Defense. The regulation states, 'Names, video, identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without service member's prior written consent' -- which seems absurdly unlikely." The US military has declared that photos of casualties taken in a public area are not, in fact, public. It's the sort of thing one expects from Team Crusie, but not from the US military, and the sort of thing one doesn't expect for news reporters (as opposed to feature writers) to ever go along with; however, go along with it the Times and other outlets have (Arnow also names the Washington Post). Arnow concludes, "Photos of American suffering or suffering caused by Americans might indeed sicken and offend viewers. But by acquiescing to the military's censorship and avoiding most of these images of American involvement, the media does not offer a true portrayal of the consequences of war. . . . By accepting military censorship without discussion, though, the media demonstrates cowardice." (It should probably be noted that no one has yet to touch the much talked of incident where the Times pulled a reporter from Iraq to appease the US military.)

Barry Lando (The Middle East Online via Common Dreams) notes the "pretense that they [journalists] actually know what is going on in Iraq. It is more showbiz than fact. Because of the fearful security situation, they are restricted to the artificial enclave of the Green Zone, literally cut off from the rest of the country. When they venture out, it is usually only with helmet and flak jacket, safely embedded with American military units. Most of Iraq and most of its people are unknown territory. . . . Most reporters also avoid reporting that the claim of the squabbling do-nothing politicians in the Green Zone to be the government of Iraq is another fiction promulgated by the Bush administration. Everyone -- the media, visiting congressmen and officials all seem to play along -- but as retired General Barry McCaffrey recently pointed out: There is essentially not a single province in the country where 'the centeral government holds sway.'"

Today, the
New York Times grabbed some ribbon and tied a 'terrorism' bow around any story they could. Damien Cave tries to fix the mess of official statements in opposition and ends up coming off like Faye Dunaway in the My-daughter-My-sister scene in Chinatown. So after wasting a ton of space and ink this week on whether or not this 'terrorist' was killed or that one was, Damien Cave tells us that the US military asserts they "killed a senior propagandist . . . who was involved in kidnapping Westerners, including the American journalist Jill Carroll." Though repeating every word purred by the Giddiest Gabor Green Zone (Willie Caldwell), Cave misses basic reality. As Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) reports "Carroll says she doesn't recognize the photo released by the military of [Abdul-Latif al-] Jubouri." That much was known yesterday. Murphy also reports that Caroll identifies Abu Nour as a major player in her kidnapping and there is "no doubt in her mind that he was the most powerful of the captors". Murphy also reminds that "Over the past the year the US military has detained a number of figures believed to have been involved" in Carroll's kidnapping and that of Tom Fox and three members of CPT. Somehow, Cave misses all of that. But then, he is working for the paper that early on could have interviewed members of the resistance but a vexed look from a US military official was enough to send Dexy Filkins off to his corner, whimpering and sucking his thumb.

These days, very few outlets could get an interview with anyone in the resistance.
Alive in Baghdad did get an interview this week, with a member of the Islamic Army in Iraq which has been dubbed "a resistance group" by Iraq's vice president Tareq al-Hashemi. Below is a transcript of the masked man's statements:

In the Name of Allah the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. The new security plan is a huge failure. We have nothing against the American people. On the contrary, we know there are educated Americans and Americans who like the Iraqi people. Our problem is with the American occupiers who invaded our country. I ask any American, if an invader broke into his country, what would he do? Welcome them? He is going to use this weapon by the will of Allah. God is supporting us. Concering the execution of the hero martyr Saddam Hussein, I call on all the TV networks to visit Iraq and find someone who supported the execution of the Iraqi president. May God have mercy on his soul. When he executed the 148 men as the media claims, they were traitors when we were at war with Iran. If the American president faces an assassination attempt, what is he going to do? Is he going to release them from prison? He'll find the terrorists. This is very normal and the Iraqi president was in a war situation where he was about to be assassinated. So what could the man do? Iran sent these men and supported them and even Iranian weapons were found. My late uncle was a senior official in the state. He saw these weapons. All of them were made in Iran. Where did they get them from? From Iran. They say that the Iraqi president was Sunni and execute Shiites but that is a lie. Those executed by the president were traitors. They didn't deserve to live on the land of Iraq. So he was not sectarian. The late Iraqi president was a patriot who loved his country & people. He made us live in safety,
although the country was going through economic difficulties because of the embargo imposed by the Americans and the Kuwaitis. It was what God willed. This security plan has failed and the Iraqi government is loyal to Iran, to the Safavid [Iranians]. This government is unable to run a group of people. So how can it run an entire country with 28 million Iraqis? I call on the Americans to leave Iraq and re-build the former Iraqi army. By the will of Allah, I call upon the American people to withdraw their sons, brothers, and fathers before they are buried her in Iraq because we noble Sunnis do not accept that and the biggest proof for that was how the late president sacrificed himself and his sons for the sake of Iraq and the land of Iraq. And as it is said, we are people who will never surrender.

Alive in Baghdad does a contextual wrap around (at the end they're noting the Mongols) including: "We are aware that some may find this content objectionable or irresponsible, but we feel it is completely in line with our mission to detail facets of daily life in Baghdad." Those who find it objectionable may do so because they've become so used to what passes for reporting in the mainstream press. Alive in Baghdad, as BBC reported last December, "won a crop of 'Vloggie' industry awards for showing the human face behind Iraq's daily toll of deaths and kidnappings."


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that killed 5 police officers and left 2 more wounded, a Baghdad taxi bombing that wounded one police officer, and a Babil car bombing that claimed 1 life and left 21 wounded. Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reports, "A car bomb and two roadside bombs went off overnight in Kirkuk, killing six Iraqis and injuring at least 33" while a Baghdad mortar attack claimed 2 lives.

Wednesday's rocket attack on the Green Zone killed four contractors.
Lelia Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports: "Two of the dead were from India, one was from the Philippines and one was from Nepal." Thursday's snapshot, citing Reuters, noted the four were all from the Philippines.


Hussien Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 guards were wounded by gunfire in Baghdad (Habibiya neighborhood) and two guards of the Imama Ali mosque (in Baghdad's Adhamiya neighborhood) were wounded in an attack that also led to the mosque being burned down, a Shurqat attack that left a police officer dead, and "For the last five days, the tribes of Shimar who live at the villages of Kinaan have been on fighting with the terrorists there with no help from the government having one man killed and five injured."


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 15 corpses were discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes 8 corpses in Suwayra, 6 in Baiji (all police officers) and 9 in Falluja. AP notes 7 corpses "found floating in the Diyala River in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and snipers were preventing police and medical teams from recovering from the remains along with other bodies spotted in recent weeks from the waterway, police said."

Today the
US military announced: "An improvised explosive device targeting an MND-B patrol killed one Soldier and wounded three others in a western section of Baghdad May 3."
they announced: "An MND-B Soldier was killed and six others were wounded when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in an eastern section of the Iraqi capital May 3." And they announced: "A Task Force Marne Soldier was killed and two were wounded when their patrol was struck by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad today." Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reports that there were 65 attacks using projectile bombs.
The deaths announced today brought the total number of US service members to die in the illegal war to

Rick Rogers (San Diego Union-Tribune) reported yesterday on an ethics study the US military conducted on marines stationed in Iraq. The study found that 40% was the number who stated they "would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian" and Rogers reported: "The report indeed showed that longer deployments and multiple tours of duty were increasing troops' rates of marital and mental-health problems, including post traumatic stress disorder." Pauline Jelinek (AP) reports on the study today and notes that "55 percent of Army soldiers would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian."

damien cave