Friday, April 30, 2004

Department of Imperial Embrace

A new way to look at American Empire, from a Czech friend of mine (extracted from a longer text and only slightly edited):

I have less and less problems with the fact that we all live in an era of American empire. After all, who could be sure that a different world empire (let's say, Chinese) would be much better. I think it is wise to accept the empire as a reality. Yet where I see the real problem is rather in the fact that despite being the most powerful empire in human history, America behaves not as an empire but as a nation-state. This is the frustrating thing. American majority opinion continues to live in a denial of the fact that America is an empire and, as such, the country should behave accordingly. As much as the Brits once did when voting their government in the time of British Empire, Americans, too, should learn to take into account what impact their vote will have upon *both* domestic and international reality. This is difficult, but if the Brits managed (as Henry Kissinger pointed out in the Washington Times some two years ago), why can't the Americans? One has to have the hope that this will happen one day. (So far, no sign of it.)

Thus we need more American imperialism (this is no joke, Alex), i.e., more conscious awareness in American minds of the fact that, yes, the U.S. is an empire, and therefore its voters should behave accordingly. (However, they cannot do that unless the media teach them so. And it seems to me that the New York Times, at least, has been recently going in that positive direction; not always, yet there are some signs of change; of awareness that this kind of self-contained American politics hurts both the world and America.)

So far, despite the omnipresent boasting of the "America-is-the-best-country-in-the-world" type, most regular Americans still live in denial of the fact that "empire -- that's us."

I do not love any imperialism but, realistically speaking, there will always be some kind of hegemony structure of the world. It's better to accept it than to fight it; what makes me worried, though, is that most Americans have not yet fully accepted the fact.

Yes, there is some wisdom to the proud-to-be-the-empire movement that started in D.C. some time after 9/11. It is a very conservative wisdom, yet I start to believe it may be the only way in which to make Americans more realistic and, by the same token, less dangerous for the world and for themselves. Americans need to turn into adult, i.e. responsible, imperialists.

I believe it is more realistic to expect that Americans (despite their own past as a British colony) may warmly embrace their imperialism -- more realistic than to expect they may reduce their proud patriotism. The heated patriotism is responsible for the lack of realism in the exercise of American global dominance (see, for instance, the way of fighting the recent enemies). Despite many examples to the contrary, America has been -- at times -- quite wise when dealing with domestic issues. Yet its way of dealing with international issues since the time of Germany's reunification (perhaps the last major international event in which the U.S. acted wisely, i.e., both in its own and the world's interrests, by supporting it and pushing it forward even against Gorbachev's and Mitterrand's mild opposition to the idea uf united Germany) is increasingly, and after 9/11 painfully, awkward and often even based on a lack of understanding the world.

So, long live American imperialism -- if and only if it is consciously and responsibly embraced by its very agent: the American political elite AND the American people.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Department of Justice

If after reading this, you still think there's nothing wrong with profiling Arab and Muslim immigrants, there's something wrong with you. It is truly heartbreaking: "Banished from the American dream." (Salon of course is a paid site, but you can get a "free day pass" by agreeing to click through a series of ads.)
How to Win Votes in Florida Department

U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson, the head of the American delegation to the U.N., told reporters last week: "You know when a Cuban lies. It's when they move their mouth."

Yah. This is exactly the guy you want heading your delegation to the United Nations.
Department of Kafka Did It Best, but It Still Goes On, Every Day

This is an update on the case of Ahmad Halabi, a Syrian-American member of the U.S. Air Force, rank Senior Airman. Halabi was posted as a translator at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay. In July 2003, after eight months at the camp, he was arrested and charged with 20 counts, including espionage and (in itself, a petty charge) the mishandling of classified information.

Most of those charges have since been dropped. But now Halabi’s attorney says the contradictory positions taken by military officials make it difficult to pin down what charges, if any, are left.

Halabi's case, by the way, bears a great similarity to the one recently dumped, unceremoniously, by the military against Captain James Yee, a Chinese-American who served as a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo Bay. (I find it interesting, too, that when you type "Capt. James Yee" into Google, the second piece you get is about Yee's arrest; I had to go on to the next page before I found a piece about how the Army cleared Yee's record.)

Anyway, as I intimated above, Airman Halabi's case is as Kafkaesque as they come. Check this out:

"Halabi, who has been held in solitary confinement on a California military base, is charged with mishandling classified material and attempted espionage, among other charges. The latter charge stems from an alleged plan, apparently never carried out, to pass information to someone in his native Syria.

"A military spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Jennifer L. Cassidy, declined to comment on the attorney's assertions, saying they are 'matters properly resolved by the military judge.'

"Military officials dropped the charges against Yee for the alleged mishandling of classified material on March 19, saying that holding a trial risked exposing secrets. Yee's attorneys disputed that assertion, noting that officials failed for months to agree on which of the documents found in Yee's possession were classified, and why. The hearings in the Yee case were delayed five times because of this security review.

"According to Halabi's court papers, last July, soon after Halabi was arrested in Florida following eight months in Guantanamo Bay, officials said the copies of detainee letters that he had on his laptop computer were classified because the letters contained inmate identification numbers. The combinations of names and numbers made them a secret, they added.

"But, in September, officials said having the names alone was a violation.

"At a hearing last month, officials said neither the names nor the numbers, nor any combinations, were classified. Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent Lance Wega said, though, that the 'family names and addresses of detainees' in the letters remained classified.

"In addition, officials said, a CD-ROM that Halabi had with information identical to that on the laptop was classified. Defense attorneys said that, earlier this month, an official at the Southern Command, the military unit that oversees the Guantanamo Bay prison, told them why the CD-ROM was secret, but that he added that the reason was itself classified. Halabi's attorneys wrote that the official's reason was 'completely inconsistent' with all the other explanations given previously."

And they wonder why we don't trust them with the prisoners in Guantánamo.
These Guys're Fuckin' Funny Department

From the Washington Post (which KICKS the New York Times' wimpy ass): "Poking Fun, In Good Faith; Muslim Comics Laugh In the Face of Intolerance"


"I get some dirty looks walking down the street. People looking at me as if I was responsible for 9/11.

"Can you believe that?

"Me responsible for 9/11?


"7-Eleven, maybe."

Or how about this, from one of the members of a comedy team called the Arabian Knights, describing his idea for a new reality television show:

"It's called Mideastern Eye for the Midwestern Guy. . . . Five Arabs . . . bust into a white guy's house and teach him how to make bombs and hate women." (pause amid laughter) "I'm kidding. Midwestern guys already know how to do that."

Monday, April 26, 2004

Department of the Turning of the Tide

From the Beeb: Diplomats Slam Blair on Mid-East: "More than 50 former British diplomats have signed a letter to Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy. The 52 ambassadors said it was time for the prime minister to start influencing America's 'doomed' policy in the Middle East or stop backing it."

Friday, April 16, 2004

Toddlers at Risk Department

My father, Robert Zucker, is a clinical psychologist who has been studying alcoholism for more than 35 years. Recently, a team from the Addiction Research Center, which my father heads, out of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Michigan, released a paper suggesting that early childhood sleep problems may be a marker for early onset of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use in a child's teen years. (No jokes, please.)

The paper, published in the April issue of of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, has drawn attention from the CNN, ABC, and CBS TV and radio networks; the AP, Reuters, and HealthDay newswires; and Michigan media ranging from Fox 2 Detroit to the Lansing State Journal and Ann Arbor News.

To read the university's press release on the study, go here.

I have an e-mail containing links to 13 stories all published on April 15th, from Reuters to the Times of London to a Web site in Kazakhstan. If anyone is interested, they can e-mail me and I'd be happy to pass those links along.

I should point out that is not "my dad's" study. He has his own research project, a longitudinal study following alcoholics and their children (and their children's children and so on) that started in the 1960s. But in any case, it's a big deal. So congratulations, Dad!

Friday, April 09, 2004

Source-Checking Department

Those who follow the headlines these days know by now that Condoleezza Rice's academic specialty, prior to her entrance into government, was the Soviet military. I knew this earlier than most because when I was doing a master's in international affairs, back in the late '80s, I read several articles on the topic by her. I think it's clear to most observers now that her academic background ill suited her for the role she was to play on becoming Bush's national security adviser. But hey, it's not her fault that the Cold War was usurped by the rising tide of Islamism!

Anyway, my source in Kazakhstan has brought to my attention a review of Rice's first book, published in 1984 and titled The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948–1983: Uncertain Allegiance.

The review, written, natch, by one Joseph Kalvoda (who thought Rice was a man), makes statements such as:

"Rice's selection of sources raises questions, since he frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation. He passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of facts."

Thanks to my source in Kazakhstan, who found mention of the review in the Washington Monthly. No conclusions to draw. That's it.

Oh. And apparently Rice's dissertation adviser was Josef Korbel, Czech historian and father of Madeleine Albright.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I Know I'm Being a Pain in the Ass but Somebody's Got to Do It Department

Yesterday's New York Times -- which I saw only at random, not following it much anymore -- carried a page A9 article that I just read, and that I think is extremely interesting in at least one aspect. Doubtless in many more.

Titled "Iraqis Meet With War Crimes Trial Experts," and filed from the Hague by Marlise Simons, the article is framed as an update on how the new, post-Saddam Iraqi regime is dealing, legally, with Saddam Hussein himself.

Everyone who is not totally naive understands that the Iraqis' decision not to allow Hussein to be tried in an international court, whoever actually made it, was strongly influenced by the CPA, i.e., the Bush administration. Reason being that were the case to be tried by independent, non-Iraqi, experienced judges, well versed in international law, many unkind facts about the United States' previous involvement with Hussein -- and in particular the involvement of several members of the current administration, including Donald Rumsfeld -- would be likely to emerge.

Instead, then, Hussein will be tried in Iraq, by Iraqi judges, with little if any experience at all in international law, and picked by the Iraqi Governing Council -- with the CPA looking over their shoulder. (The statute creating the tribunal was itself written and promulgated by the CPA, Dec. 10, 2003. Many organizations and experts in similar matters made suggestions to the CPA on how to set up such a court and warned against some of the pitfalls in doing so. For example see this Human Rights Watch Memorandum to the Iraqi Governing Council on ‘The Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.’)

To return, though, to Marlise Simons's article: From the beginning:

"Ten Iraqi judges and prosecutors preparing to try Saddam Hussein and members of his government have quietly met here with veterans of international war crimes tribunals to draw on their experience of judging atrocities in the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, according to the Iraqis and other participants.

"Interviews with court officials based here and with Iraqi participants in the meetings, held late last month, outline some of the Iraqis' deepest concerns and their state of readiness.

"The Iraqis said trials were not likely to start until early next year and emphasized that Mr. Hussein would not be the first to be tried.

"The Iraqis were led by Salem Chalabi, the coordinator of the tribunal for Iraqi war crimes, who is a nephew of Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress."

Now, six more paragraphs go by, and then we get:

"In Amsterdam, the Iraqis met with members of the international courts dealing with Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, East Timor and Sierra Leone. In The Hague, they visited the new International Criminal Court, which Washington opposes, and the Yugoslav tribunal.

" 'It was all extremely useful,' said Mr. Chalabi, who has practiced law in a London firm."

Hold it right there. Yes, Salem Chalabi -- who, as Simons duly points out, is the nephew of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi -- "has practiced law in a London firm." But what *kind* of firm? A firm that deals in human rights, or international criminal law? No. He worked at a firm called Clifford Chance, which according to its site has the following "areas of expertise": Antitrust, Banking and Finance, Capital Markets, Construction, Corporate, E-commerce, Insurance, Intellectual Property, International Trade, Litigation and Dispute Resolution, Maritime, Project Finance, Public Policy, Public-Private Partnership, Real Estate, Tax, Pensions and Employment, and Transport.

I looked at the descriptions of these areas, and I can assure you, none of them have anything to do with the type of case that needs to be brought against Saddam Hussein. According to the Guardian, in fact, Chalabi's specialization at Clifford Chance was *capital markets.*

So why didn't Marlise Simons mention that in her article? And what is he doing "coordinating" the tribunal for Iraqi war crimes?

I don't know, but I wonder if it might have something to do with the fact that he is also the founder of something called the Iraqi International Law Group, whose enigmatically slim Web site bills the group as "The Professional Gateway to the New Iraq." Set up in June 2003, the IILG is "taking the lead in bringing private sector investment and experience to the New Iraq."

An article by Brian Whitaker in the Guardian, dated Sept. 24, 2003, points out that the IILG Web site "is not registered in Salem Chalabi's name but in the name of Marc Zell, whose address is given as Suite 716, 1800 K Street, Washington. That is the address of the Washington office of Zell, Goldberg &Co, which claims to be 'one of Israel's fastest-growing business-oriented law firms,' and the related FANDZ International Law Group.

"The unusual name 'FANDZ' was concocted from 'F and Z,' the Z being Marc Zell and the F being Douglas Feith. The two men were law partners until 2001, when Feith took up his Pentagon post as undersecretary of defence for policy."

Is this sounding fishy to you?

Saturday, April 03, 2004

What If? Department

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, page 33:

McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and Walt Disney "shared the same vision of America, the same optimistic faith in technology, the same conservative political views. They were charismatic figures who provided an overall corporate vision and grasped the public mood, relying on others to handle the creative and financial details. Walt Disney neither wrote nor drew the animated classics that bore his name. Ray Kroc's attempts to add new dishes to McDonald's menu — such as Kolacky, a Bohemian pastry, and the Hulaburger, a sandwich featuring grilled pineapple and cheese — were unsuccessful. Both men, however, knew how to find and motivate the right talent."

Emphasis added.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Department of New Networks I Hope Work

Day before yesterday, Air America Radio, a new, progressive radio network, took to the air for the first time, with a show hosted by Al Franken, called "The O'Franken Factor."

The New York Times wrote about it, of course, dubbing the network "liberal," which as we all know, is a "dirty word" these days.

The Times points out that the founders of the network had originally planned to buy five stations outright, to have a permanent home for their shows, but failed. "Instead Air America has bought programming time on stations with moderately strong signals, but previously low ratings: WLIB-AM in New York, WNTD-AM in Chicago, KBLA-AM in Los Angeles, KCAA-AM in Riverside and San Bernadino, Calif., and KPOJ-AM in Portland, Ore. A San Francisco station is expected to be announced in early April."

AAR has also purchased broadcast time, according to the Times, "in Ohio, Florida and other states considered battlegrounds in the presidential election."

Jacques Steinberg, who covers the media for the Times, writes that "there is the question in radio and conservative circles whether liberals can be entertaining enough for talk radio." To bolster this idea, he includes two quotes, one saying that liberals "sometimes . . . just sound so grim" and another, from AAR's president, Jon Sinton, who says, "The problem with really wonkish policy discussion is that it does not attract or hold a mass audience."

Not to worry. At least, not so far. I have yet to hear anything approaching wonkishness on any of the shows. Al Franken was *hilarious* in his opening salvo on Wednesday. One of his running gags was a skit in which Ann Coulter was locked in the green room, and Al would "go over there" every once in a while "to check up on Ann." (I'm not going to bother writing out the script; it wouldn't be nearly as funny as if you had listened to it. Though not available yet, Franken claimed that shows will be archived.)

One of the things I like most about AAR so far is the uncanny way it mimics most of the tropes of right-wing talk. Randi Rhodes, for instance, is obnoxious as hell, cutting off her listeners, insisting she knows best -- all of that stuff. The kind of crap that bothers me. But you know what? That's a *good* thing. Why? Because these shows need to reach the kind of people who *like* obnoxious talk radio. *Then* the network may actually begin to change minds. That's what I believe, anyway.

And I love listening to Chuck D in the morning!

There are many other minor touches about the network that have pleased me so far, but the real point of all this is simply to get you to listen. Since the flagship station -- WLIB, 1190 AM -- is here in New York, I listen to it on a "flesh-and-bones" radio, but anyone reading this can listen, because it's also aired on the Internet, via Real Player.

Go ahead. Click here and listen to it. Now.