The News Cycle as a Fear Machine.

Reading Tom Englehardt’s TomDispatch is always a sane few moments in which to contemplate the insane.  Take today’s post, for example:

…the 24/7, all-hands-on-deck news story obliterates context, or rather becomes the only context of the moment. To offer the most obvious recent example: in the days in which the San Bernardino shootings ate the screen, most Americans would not have noticed that the fate of the planet was being seriously discussed and negotiated in Paris by representatives of just about every country.  There was next to nothing but those shootings available — the exploration of the backgrounds of the two killers, their marriage, their arsenal of weaponry, apledge of allegiance by the wife to ISIS, the contents of their house, what relatives and friends in Pakistan had to say, their bank account, heart-rending tales of those killed, testimony from survivors, and on and on.  Even more than a week after the event, it was still the lead story on NBC Nightly News evening after evening.  (“San Bernardino ShootersDiscussed Jihad in 2013 Before Engagement,” “FBI Divers Search Lake Near San Bernardino Massacre for Clues.”)  Viewers might be pardoned for thinking that Islamic terrorism was indeed an apocalyptic threat for most Americans rather than the distinctly minor one it is.

Here you go, read, and subscribe….

Who is Funding the Killers?

Charles P. Pierce, at Esquire, lays it out:

It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states [ Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates] should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.

much more, read all, here.


The Italian-French Founder of Charlie Hebdo

Fascinating sub-story at Bloomberg on the attacked magazine, Charlie Hebdo….
Perhaps you did not find Charlie Hebdo, the Paris satirical weekly attacked by terrorists on Wednesday, all that funny. That’s only natural: People in different countries laugh at different jokes and have varying tolerance for irreverence, offensiveness and plain grossness. As the French magazine, notwithstanding all it’s suffered, prepares to print a million copies of its next issue —  17 times its usual run — it’s important to note that it comes from a European tradition much broader than the French brand of satirical slapstick it most employs, and has at its roots a personal story as tortured as the continent’s recent history.

Francois Cavanna was the publication’s founding editor in chief, back when it was called Hara-Kiri. He was the one who renamed it Charlie Hebdo in 1970, after Hara-Kiri was banned for publishing this cover, which used the death of Charles de Gaulle to spoof press coverage of a nightclub fire that took 146 lives. (“Tragic Ball at Colombey, One Dead,” read the coverline.)

Cavanna was the son of an Italian immigrant mason. He grew up in a poor eastern suburb of Paris, taunted by French nationalists but in love with the French language. He didn’t get to make it his profession until much later.

In 1943, at the age of 20, he was sent by the Nazis to Germany to work in an ordnance factory in Treptow, now part of Berlin … Read ALL

Muslim War On Terror

Contrary to commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, there has been significant Muslim push-back against the crimes being carried out in its name.  Here is Juan Cole, a close observer.

When American commentators like Carl Bernstein complain that Muslim authorities have not sufficiently denounced the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, they show a profound ignorance of the current situation in the Middle East.

The fact is that both governments of Muslim-majority countries and the chief religious institutions have been engaged in a vigorous war on religious extremism for some time.  See ALL

As he also says, one of the purported assassins, now dead himself, is said to have attributed his motivation to turn to weapons to what he saw in the world:

… Benyettou took them on the internet, and showed them images from Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sharif said, “It was everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that, which motivated me.”

Which of course does not excuse his actions but is surely a way to begin what every theorist of war, indeed of human behavior, says is of vital importance — knowing the other.

Non Muslims could surely help Muslims in reversing the surge of terror by understanding such motives and taking steps to make them lose force.

Cartoonists Respond

Cartoon Charlie HebdoFrom Cartooning For Peace dot Org  (see more in upper right corner)

PARIS, Jan 8 2015 (IPS) – “They are cowards who react to satire by going for their Kalashnikovs.” That was how renowned French cartoonist Plantu described the killers of 10 media workers and two policemen in Paris Wednesday. MORE at Informed Comment

Drone Strikes Kill anti al Quada relatives – Washington Offers Sympathy and Silence

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an engineer from Yemen, came to Washington D.C. to find out why his brother-in-law and nephew, at a meeting with local al-Qaeda to urge them to change their ways, were blown to pieces by a US drone missile.

It was the day after his son’s wedding in his native village, Khashamir, and he was eating dinner at home with several relatives when they heard a whirring from the sky. Looking out the window, he and his relatives saw a flash, and then heard a series of terrific crashes, “as if the whole mountain had exploded.” The village erupted in panic.

Mr. Jaber’s daughter, who was very close to the strike, was so traumatized that she did not get out of bed for three weeks, he said. The mother of one of the dead men went into a coma after she heard the news and died a month later.

When Mr. Jaber arrived on the scene that night, less than a mile from his house, he found bits of charred human flesh spread on the ground, he said. It was not until two hours later, through the accounts of witnesses, that the identities of the dead men and what had happened to them became clear.

Mr. Jaber’s brother-in-law, the imam, had been approached earlier that evening by three Qaeda militants who were angry about a speech the imam had delivered condemning terrorism. The imam reluctantly agreed to talk to the men, but just in case he was accompanied by Mr. Jaber’s nephew, the policeman. The volley of missiles killed all five men.

He has met with half a dozen members of Congress and officials at the State Department and National Security Council

But no one has been able to explain why his relatives were killed, or why the administration is not willing to acknowledge its mistake.

NY Times

“Everyone is living in complete horror,” Jabar said when asked about how his Yemeni friends and neighbours feel about the drone strikes, launched by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen.

Farea al-Muslimi, a 23-year old Yemeni journalist and activist who also met White House officials about the drones in April, said Jabar’s “heart-breaking narrative” was well known in Yemen.

“His story is a clear example how the most benefits from drone strikes go to al-Qieda, actually,” Muslimi said.

The Guardian

A  wall in the capital of Yemen, Sanaa. [Screenshot from RT ]video

A wall in the capital of Yemen, Sanaa. [Screenshot from RT ]video

13 Benghazis That Occurred on Bush’s Watch Without a Peep from Fox News

[FOX news] entirely ignored the dozen-plus consulate/embassy attacks that occurred when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were allegedly “keeping us safe.”

The Benghazi attacks (the consulate and the CIA compound) are absolutely not unprecedented even though they’re being treated that way by Republicans who are deliberately ignoring anything that happened prior to Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009.

January 22, 2002. Calcutta, India. Gunmen associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami attack the U.S. Consulate. Five people are killed.

June 14, 2002. Karachi, Pakistan. Suicide bomber connected with al Qaeda attacks the U.S. Consulate, killing 12 and injuring 51.

October 12, 2002. Denpasar, Indonesia. U.S. diplomatic offices bombed as part of a string of “Bali Bombings.” No fatalities.

February 28, 2003. Islamabad, Pakistan. Several gunmen fire upon the U.S. Embassy. Two people are killed.


An many more from Bob Cesca, Huff Po

Malala: “This is what my soul is telling me: Be peaceful and love everyone.”

“We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The extremists are afraid of books and pens.”

FISA Enlarges, in Secret, the Range of NSA Secrets

Among the many troubling things about who is spying on whom, for what reasons, for how long, the most troubling of all is the clever structure of law and regulation that makes talking about it a secret.  It is turning out that the meta-data collection of US phone calls was not the operation of a rogue President or a basement ad-hoc group in the CIA or FBI but has been approved by all sorts of elected representatives.  Judicial over-sight has been built in — just what a democracy should expect.  The problem is, as the latest Eric Lichtblau piece reveals, that the FISA court,  [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] has operated under such layers of secrecy that no one has tracked what new terrain it is plowing, deciding on the basis of a secret line of  rulings to allow NSA spying  not just to skim off terrorism leads but in multiple other areas.

— In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving theNational Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

NY Times: Lichtblau

Let the conversation begin.  It may well be that nuclear proliferation should be watched for, or the potential for cyberattacks, but allowing 11 persons, even respected judges with long records of impeccable judgement, to make such decisions and then to hide that such decisions are being made, make it impossible for Senators to talk about it,  is a recipe for unintended catastrophe.

As far as I’ve read no one has been dragneted into a police holding cell because meta-data collection shows conversations with prostitutes, gun dealers, cigarette smugglers, or anything at all.  The concern is not that some individuals have been illegally fished, but that the water is rising and, inevitably, once it IS possible to fish in such pools of data, someone WILL.

And another article, complementing Lichtblau’s at the Wall Street Journal. 

Terror? What Kind to Worry About?

Just back from a three week road trip through the great Southwest where, believe it or not, internet is not ubiquitous and small town newspapers run headlines about water poaching and recent heatwaves, and so I’ve neither posted nor even kept up with the daily news.

This column by Nick Kristoff, who has also been away, struck the right note with me:

 On security issues, we Americans need a rebalancing. We appear willing to bear any burden, pay any price, to confound the kind of terrorists who shout “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and plant bombs, while unwilling to take the slightest step to curb a different kind of terrorism — mundane gun violence in classrooms, cinemas and inner cities that claims 1,200 times as many American lives.

…More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism. Twice as many Americans die of bee or wasp stings annually. And 15 times as many die by falling off ladders.

Most striking, more than 30,000 people die annually from firearms injuries, including suicides, murders and accidents…

The problem of course is that when a falling television kills someone, not many are likely to say, “The Government is to blame!”  When a bomb is set off in a public place, Congressional hearings will begin immediately, as to why the Government did not catch it.  If it is shown, or even widely suspected, that stopping the deed wold have been possible with feasible surveillance the cry of condemnation will be loud, including from those who have condemned such surveillance.

As Kristoff says, we “need for a careful balancing of risks and benefits,” as we decide how to prevent future mayhem. Such care is not in evidence in the wild opinions hurling through the air…