Archive for the ‘as the world turns’ Category

Pandora Problem

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

The Telegraph reports that Major General Antonio Taguba, who authored the infamous report that exposed the abuse in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in 2004, has now revealed that there are photos of U.S. soldiers allegedly raping Iraqi prisoners. These photos were part of the initial set that became widely known a few years ago, but have never been released.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it,” [Taguba said.]

In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.

Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

I think these photographs will come out eventually, whether with the permission of the Obama administration or without it. (Remember: the Taguba report and the abuse it documented became widely known thanks to the reporting of Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker and the people at Sixty Minutes.) This set of photographs will probably come to light, too. Yes, public sentiment will be inflamed. And it should be. But the truth always comes out in the end. And then people will direct some of their anger at Obama, the man who tried to stop the release of the photographs.



Locking the Gateways

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Who censors the internet? It turns out it’s not just the usual suspects.


Mr. 44

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Despite the fact that I voted for Barack Obama, I’ve refrained from commenting about him since his election.  I didn’t really want to speculate about what he could or could not do, what he might or might not do, and especially what he should or should not do.  I figured that January 20th would come soon enough and I would have plenty of empirical data upon which to base any observations.

I’m glad that day has come.

Eight years ago, I voted for Ralph Nader because I thought there really wasn’t much of a difference between Democrats and Republicans on the major issues.  But after the debacle in Florida, the Supreme Court decision, and the abysmal presidency that followed, I learned a simple lesson: Not all politicians are equal.  There are some who are so talentless, so impervious to common sense, so lacking in simple compassion that they make a mockery of the office. I suppose I’m too cynical now to expect vast differences in government policy but I am still fired up about this particular change, about Barack Obama, and about the departure of George W. Bush.

Cartoon: Mike Lukovich


No Explanation Left Behind

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Over the past 21 days, a number of explanations have been offered for Israel’s air-, sea-, and land-based bombings of Gaza: a) Israel was only defending itself against rocket fire from Hamas; b) Israel wanted to destroy Hamas once and for all; c) Israel wanted to tilt polls in favor of Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, and Co. in the upcoming Palestinian elections; d) Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni were desperate to get ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming Israeli elections; e) Israeli strategists wanted to get a long-planned assault executed during the change in U.S. leadership; f) and, last but not least, according to the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Israel was bombing Gaza just because.

But while the explainers were busy explaining, 1300 Palestinians were killed and 5400 injured; 13 Israelis were killed in the same time period (4 of them soldiers in “friendly fire” incidents). Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been driven out of their homes, becoming refugees within a refugee camp. A university has been bombed and dozens of UNRWA schools and hospitals have been destroyed.  And all for what?


Horowitz at the MLA

Monday, January 12th, 2009

David Horowitz (the editor of the right-wing rag FrontPageMag and the author of The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America) was invited to speak on a panel called “Academic Freedom” at the MLA.  That must have been some panel. The Chronicle reports: Impasse at the MLA.


On Gaza

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Israel’s siege of Gaza, which began on November 5 with the blocking of food, medicine, fuel, animal feed, supplies, and other basic necessities to the Palestinian population, and which culminated on December 27 with the bombing and ground assaults that killed more than 510 people and injured as many as 2500 others, is the largest military action against Palestinians since 1967.  Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza have killed 4 people in Israel.

When I think about all those who have died (like the five daughters of the Balousha family, Tahir Balousha, 17; Ikram Balousha, 14; Samar Balousha, 12; Dina Balousha, 8; and Jawaher Balousha, 4, all of whom were killed by an Israeli bomb that fell on the mosque next door to their house) I feel that our collective humanity is diminished.  This war is a crime.

It is also the biggest gift Israel could have given to Hamas.  Hamas will now almost certainly gather more support among the survivors, a fact that is unlikely to make a political solution to the conflict any easier. Iran will also seek to capitalize on the fact that the Arab League buffoons implicitly or explicitly condoned the strikes.

While the Palestinians were being bombed, Mahmoud Abbas (who only fifteen years ago would have been labeled a terrorist because of his membership in Fatah, but who is considered an acceptable partner now that Hamas is around) was sipping coffee with his good friends, the Saudi princes.  In fifteen years, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh will be sipping coffee with someone else while Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, and the other Israeli leaders who support this illegal occupation bemoan the lack of a real partner in peace.  And so it goes.


Power of Illusion

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Interesting piece by Slavoj Žižek in the LRB.  I think he’s right that far too many political observers get caught in cynically realist positions and don’t see what is happening in front of their noses:

The paradigmatic cynic tells you confidentially: ‘But don’t you see that it is all really about money/power/sex, that professions of principle or value are just empty phrases which count for nothing?’ What the cynics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom which ignores the power of illusions.

The reason Obama’s victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures – think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn’t really believe that they would disintegrate – like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama’s victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise.

And he goes on to connect the power of illusion and narrative to the way in which the financial meltdown is currently being framed. The piece is freely available here.


Prop 8

Friday, November 7th, 2008

There are still hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots to count in California, but it now seems that Prop 8, the disgraceful proposition to amend the State Constitution to take away the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, will pass. Tom Toles of the Washington Post puts it succinctly in his cartoon:


On Change

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I voted for Barack Obama. I donated money to his campaign several times. I phonebanked for him. So I am very, very happy that he has won; I am relieved; and I am hopeful.

Still, campaign slogans notwithstanding, the idealists who think Obama will change everything have no brains; and the cynics who think Obama will change nothing have no heart.

Obama probably can: nominate liberal Supreme Court judges so that disastrous decisions like those of the past 8 years (e.g., Ledbetter v. Goodyear) can perhaps be avoided; put checks and balances in place to manage the $700 billion bailout (excuse me, the “rescue plan”) so that, instead of being completely fucked, the taxpaper will be maybe, maybe less fucked; reinstate a few of the banking regulations that had been eroded under Bill Clinton and eliminated under George W. Bush; provide incentives for the creation of green-collar jobs; set up some sort of basic health care system; extend the existing dialogue with Iran and avoid additional confrontation there; draw a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq; close Guantanamo Bay. But Obama probably can’t: change foreign policy on Israel and Palestine in any drastic or even significant way; draw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately or unconditionally; bring high-level military personnel who were responsible for torture in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay in front of U.S. courts; take a public stand in favor of gay marriage; or build a Canadian-style or Australian-style health care system.

The United States is headed in the wrong direction. In fact, it would not be too much an exaggeration to say that, if current policies and trends are not reversed, the United States is headed for its demise. American voters have sensed this, which is why they’ve elected Obama. After eight years of disaster after disaster, I think some people were ready to settle for a president who can speak grammatical English. Electing Obama means that the country can start regrouping after neo-con rule and begin the long, slow process of change. It was the smart choice.

But it’s also the symbolic choice. Having an African-American president will go a long way toward opening the office of the presidency to all people–of all colors, races, religions, and creeds. It gives a lot of young voters who worked so hard for their candidate a chance to believe in the future of their country. And it represents the triumph of hope and belief over fear and cynicism.



Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

At last, at long fucking last, a new leadership:


Election Day

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I have to teach today, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to focus. So much is at stake in this election. Please don’t forget to vote!


(Photo credit: Getty Images)


Reason #9998 Why The Daily Show Rocks

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Remember that awkward exchange between McCain and one of his voters? (She: “[Obama] is an Arab.” “No. No, Ma’am. He’s a decent family man.”) Here is Jon Stewart and Aasif Mandvi’s take on it:



Islamophobia In The Elections

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

In the most recent issue of the London Review of Books, Adam Shatz has a short piece about “Obsession,” the infamous, anti-Islam DVD that has been distributed to millions of American homes through their Sunday newspaper:

In the last two weeks of September, 28 million copies of the film were enclosed as an advertising supplement in 74 newspapers, including the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education. ‘The threat of Radical Islam is the most important issue facing us today,’ the sleeve announces. ‘It’s our responsibility to ensure we can make an informed vote in November.’ The Clarion Fund, the supplement’s sponsor, doesn’t explicitly endorse McCain, so as not to jeopardise its tax-exempt status, but the message is clear enough, and its circulation just happened to coincide with Obama’s leap in the polls.

The Clarion Fund is a front for neoconservative and Israeli pressure groups. It has an office, or at least an address, in Manhattan at Grace Corporate Park Executive Suites, which rents out ‘virtual office identity packages’ for $75 a month. Its website,, provides neither a list of staff nor a board of directors, and the group still hasn’t disclosed where it gets its money, as required by the IRS. Who paid to make ‘Obsession’ isn’t clear – it cost $400,000.

Shatz’s detective work is interesting, and you can read the whole piece here. I don’t, however, think that the DVD will have any effect on swing voters. We are so awash in Islamophobia in the States that any voters likely to be swayed by yet another Muslims-equal-terrorists rant are likely to have already made up their mind by now (and it’s not for Obama, let’s face it.)


Poll Tricks

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

This weekend we received a pollster call about California’s Proposition 8, and it would have been an uninteresting conversation were it not for the last line.  Here’s how it went down:

Pollster:  Hello, may I speak with Laila?
Me: Speaking.
Pollster:  Could I ask you a few questions of the upcoming election?
Me:  Sure.
Pollster:  Do you know about Prop 8?
Me:  Prop 8?
Pollster:  This is the proposition that would define marriage in the California state constitution as the union of one man and one woman.
Me:  Oh, right.
Pollster:  In 2000, California overwhelmingly passed a proposition that amended the family code in this way, but it was over-ruled by the California courts.
Me:  (silence).
Pollster:  If the election were held today, how would you vote on Prop 8? Yes or no?
Me:  No.
Pollster: oh, ok.  Is that a ‘probably no’ or a ‘definitely no’?
No:  Definitely no.
Pollster: Oh, OK.  That’s all the questions I have.  Well, remember to vote on November 8. [click]

I couldn’t believe it. Here’s a list of all the props on the November 4 ballot.


On September 11

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

My husband sent me a link to an old piece by Ian McEwan on 9/11.  It’s part of the Guardian‘s Writers on 9/11 series.



Monday, September 8th, 2008

During the primaries, I was often surprised at the line of thinking that equated Barack Obama with the status quo, simply because he was not progressive enough.  Of course Obama was not progressive enough.  But now that Governor Sarah Palin–a woman who believes that Iraq is “a task from God”–has been added to the Republican ticket, perhaps we will see a little clarity on the left about what exactly is at stake in this election.

I think Sarah Vowell puts it well in her opinion piece for the New York Times:

I’m convinced that the immediate mass flip-out over the Palin nomination can’t be entirely explained by sexism, elitism or partisan animosity. It was a symptom of just how much the presidential future is a suspense movie scored by Bernard Herrmann. It’s enough of a nail-biter to throw in with a two-person ticket for four years. So if newscasters don’t even know how to pronounce the vice presidential pick’s name upon announcement, the violins of apprehension start to screech “Psycho” shower-scene loud.

The good news is that Governor Palin has sufficient experience in public life to leave behind enough of a paper trail that we can discern her positions on many of the most important issues of the day. The bad news is that after taking this crash course in where she stands, I know that if she were elected I would be afraid to leave my apartment after sundown.

During a gubernatorial debate in 2006, Governor Palin claimed that if her daughter, then 16, were impregnated as the result of being raped, Ms. Palin would hope that the girl would “choose life,” which is a polite way of saying she would expect a tenth-grader to give birth to her rapist’s baby.

Here’s a not-so-polite fact about the United States: According to Amnesty International, a woman is raped here every six minutes.

Having been successful at peddling a war in 2003 by shutting out or co-opting the media, the Republicans hope to do the same trick.  Sarah Palin has been unavailable to the press since the announcement, and any coverage of her in the press has been called “outrageous,” “over the line,” or “sexist.”  Finally this weekend, where her absence on Sunday morning talk shows was glaring, the campaign announced that she would sit down with….Charlie Gibson, the same man who was widely derided for the way in which he handled the Clinton-Obama debate.  Expect a lot of softballs for Palin, and a lot of lies.


Train Wreck

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading about John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin: her Troopergate, her alleged membership in an Alaska secessionist party, her apparent confusion, just a few weeks ago, about what exactly a vice president does, her questions about banning books in a Wasilla library, her pregnant teenage daughter, etc. Who has time for issues like the continuing military occupation of Iraq or universal health care or the economy or the new cold war when you can get dragged into this kind of drama? It’s obvious she’s been selected more for her life story than for her meager domestic credentials. For God’s sake, her state has fewer people than Brooklyn. As for her foreign policy knowledge, I’d like to see someone ask her about the nuclear non-proliferation treaties or the difference between a Sunni and a Shia or where the Green Line falls or how she plans to handle relations with Pakistan.  But I won’t bet on it. I suspect we’ll keep hearing about the pregnant girl and the hockey player boyfriend instead.


A Couple of Firsts

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Christopher Hayes reports on the first-ever Muslim Democratic Caucus for The Nation while Amitava Kumar covers the first DNC meeting of the Indian American Leadership Initiative for The Indian Express.



Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

The speed with which the current administration has sought to frame the conflict between Georgia and Russia as another Battle Between Good and Evil (TM) is not very surprising. What is surprising, at least to me, is the willingness of some journalists to repeat the false assertion that Russian Dictator Prime Minister Vladimir Putin started the conflict by sending his tanks into South Ossetia. In fact, small scale fighting had been taking place between Georgia and South Ossetia for a long, long time, and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili started his military offensive first. Of course, that doesn’t make Putin right, but it’s a nuance that is completely lost in the run-up to the new Cold War. Time to put on tinfoil hats and build a basement.


Dangerous Pursuits

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

The Guardian has another photo series, this one by Christian Sinibaldi, on migrants who arrive in Italy by boat from North Africa. Heartbreaking.


In the Rainbow Nation

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

I found Jenny Diski’s LRB essay on post-apartheid South Africa to be thoughtful and well-observed, without being cynical. I don’t really want to excerpt any part of it; just read it all here. Doesn’t political change, no matter how hard people fight for it, always end up being different than anyone expected? Minds don’t change as quickly as governments do. A useful reminder, I think, for our electoral season.


Uphold the Constitution, Court Says

Friday, June 13th, 2008

The Supreme Court has ruled, for the third time, that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay can challenge their detention in civil courts within the United States. The justices found that:

“The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s 70-page majority opinion.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburgh, and Stephen Breyer voted in favor of the decision, while John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. Ever out of touch with reality, George Bush was quoted by the AP as saying:

“We’ll abide by the court’s decision. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with it,” Bush told a news conference in Rome, where he was on a weeklong European visit. “We’ll study this opinion and we’ll do so … to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate.”

Sigh. Another 220 days to go.



Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

The New York Times ran a piece yesterday on the (very profitable) business of hymen restoration in France, and today Slate picks up the subject as well. Both articles mention the case of the Muslim marriage that was annulled by a French court because the bride misrepresented herself as a virgin, but neither one mentions that the groom in the case is actually a French convert who was upset that his North African wife had lied to him about her past (in)experience. He asked for an annulment, and his legal case was based on the fact that she misrepresented herself, not on the substance of the misrepresentation. Naturally many Muslims and non-Muslims in France were upset with this ridiculous ruling because it leaves the door open for retrograde ways of handling the institution of marriage. These two points were not really made in the articles. It never ceases to amaze me how much importance is given in the Western press to what Muslim women wear on their heads, or what they have between their legs. I only wish that their education and their health warranted such attention.


‘Fulbright Seven’ Free to Go

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Nice news out of Gaza: The seven Palestinian students who had been awarded Fulbright scholarships will be able to come to the United States after all. Proof that, sometimes, reports about injustice lead to pressure, and pressure leads to resolution.


New Day

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008


My site has been down intermittently today, so I wasn’t able to link to the news that Barack Obama has won the Democratic nomination. For those of you who are not won over to the young senator from Illinois, let me just say that there’ll be plenty of time to be skeptical. But for now why not enjoy this historic day? One hundred and forty five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and forty five years after “I Have a Dream,” an African American has become his party’s nominee for the presidency of the United States. That is reason to rejoice.


Bitter Grounds

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Newsweek‘s Lorraine Ali gets the final word on that silly Dunkin’ Donuts/Keffiyeh controversy: “Shouldn’t we be more offended [Rachael] Ray was shilling their weak iced coffee, a beverage that should be criticized for impersonating, well, iced coffee?”


Under Siege

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

The Israeli government likes to say that Gaza is not a prison, but what do you call it when eight Gazan students who have won prestigious Fulbright awards have lost their fellowships because Israel will not grant exit visas?


Cycle of Violence

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

All day I’ve been haunted by this photo of a South African mob, with, in the foreground, that smiling man with the hammer in one hand and a stick in the other.


The usual violence against immigrants in South Africa has taken on such shocking measures in the last few days that it’s frankly a relief to hear that troops have been called–I just hope they actually help.

Photo: Jerome Delay/AP


House of Bush, Oil of Saud

Monday, May 19th, 2008

At a stop in Sharm el-Sheikh during his Middle East tour, President Bush told Arab leaders they must work for democracy and that they should: “treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail.”

Meanwhile, look who he’s been hanging out with:


Don’t they look cute together, holding hands like that?

Photo: AP/Susan Walsh.


Keeping Government Out of the Bedroom

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Great news from the California state Supreme Court today: By a vote of 4 to 3, the court has overturned a ban on same-sex marriage.

  • Twitter

  • Category Archives

  • Monthly Archives