Thursday, April 17, 2008

Confessions of a bottom-feeding blogger

I took several days off from blogging, ostensibly to plant a vegetable garden. However, the garden was planted several days ago, the drip irrigation system is working, and I haven’t been posting.Is it because I’m finding the greatest joy being with my grandchildren, with whom I spend a couple of days a week? If I’m honest with myself, the reason I haven’t been posting is because I’m not sure I’m adding any value to the world of information. I describe myself as a “bottom-feeding blogger” because I rely on what others write. I described this in my March 27th post, "How important are newspapers?" “With blogging in mind, each morning I check The New York Times and The Washington Post. Then I check four well-known blogs, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory. Scott Horton’s No Comment, and Steve Clemons’s The Washington Note.... I, in turn, rely on these and other bloggers to help me understand what’s going on. Then I attempt to distill what I learn into a few paragraphs for my blog.”

The following describes the sequence of events that prompted me to examine the time it takes to post almost every day when I'm home:

1. On April 6th, I read The New York Times article, "In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop." The article described the death of two bloggers who were working for pay. I’m working for fun and for free. However, blogging almost every day creates stress, which is not good for my health as I turn 68 on Sunday.

2. April 9th was a stunningly beautiful day. In the late afternoon as I hunkered over my computer pulling together my post "Fear for Iran," I kept looking outside, wondering what I was doing inside.

3. On April 10th, I was shocked to see that one of my favorite bloggers, the most prolific blogger I’m aware of, Scott Horton, posted "Is There Life After Blogging?", noting the Times article about bloggers dropping dead and announcing that he would no longer be blogging daily.

I can’t answer the question of whether or not I add value by blogging. I know I miss the discipline of finding something every day worth a post. However, I’m pleased to report that while I was “away,” I explored two new blogs:

1. South Jerusalem: Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman, described as “A Progressive, Skeptical Blog on Israel, Judaism, Culture, Politics, and Literature”;

2. Best Guess Commentary: “Commentary and Analysis on Current Events in Politics, Business, Foregin Affairs and More."

Now that Scott Horton isn’t posting each day, I’m taking the time I used to spend reading his blog to check:

1. Tony Karon’s blog, Rootless Cosmopolitan. I highly recommend his April 9th post, "Healing Israel's Birth Scar";

2. Ken Silverstein’s Washington Babylon.

Lastly, I want to recommend Dan Froomkin’s Monday through Friday post for The Washington Post, White House Watch. I’ve been reading it each workday for many, many months.

I still can’t answer the question “Am I adding value?” But I enjoyed pulling this post together.

(photo of my garden taken this afternoon; photo of my grandchildren from a week ago)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Standing up against torture

This will be my last post for a few days.

This afternoon at 4 pm, I will be showing up at a busy street corner in my small town, Healdsburg, with my sign protesting our country’s use of torture.

Last Sunday I and others had a positive experience standing up against torture, as reported by Ann Carranza in her article "Small Community Protests Torture," which didn’t make it into our local newspaper.

This week, even the mainstream media has been covering the torture issue. This morning The Washington Post reported "Bush Approved Meetings on Interrogation Techniques": "President Bush said Friday that he was aware his top national security advisers had discussed the details of harsh interrogation tactics to be used on detainees.”

I hope others will join me this afternoon or make signs protesting torture and stand up in their communities.

I need a blogging break so I can help plant my garden this year.
(photos of last week’s anti-torture vigil, courtesy of Anna Carranza, and last year’s garden)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recommended reading and viewing: White House Torture Advisers

Dan Froomkin’s post at The Washington Post "White House Torture Advisers."

Four minute video clip of last night’s report on ABC News.
Froomkin makes the following correction to the ABC News report:”There's one serious flaw in the ABC report: It allows the administration's version of Zubaydah's value as an intelligence asset to go unrefuted. ABC calls Zubaydah a "top al Qaeda operative" and reports that '[af]ter he was waterboarded, officials say Zubaydah gave up valuable information that led to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.'

"But as I've written, administration statements about Zubaydah have been almost entirely contradicted by authoritative accounts from author Ron Suskind and New York Times reporter David Johnston.

"Zubaydah, it turns out, was a mentally ill minor functionary, nursed back to health by the FBI, who under CIA torture sent investigators chasing after false leads about al-Qaeda plots on American nuclear plants, water systems, shopping malls, banks and supermarkets.

"The most valuable information Zubaydah gave investigators about Mohammed was his nickname, which, as Dan Eggen and Dafna Linzer reported in The Washington Post, the CIA had already learned seven months earlier.”

Update from a friend this evening: Daily Kos: "Memo Signed by Bush, Authorizing Torture, Surfaces." I haven’t had time to verify this report.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fear for Iran

Below is a hodge-podge of links to articles about the U.S.’s targeting Iran. My fear that the U.S. will attack Iran keeps me awake at night. I’m not sure I can make sense of the following comments and opinions, so I hope you can.

First is Tony Karon’s April 7th post at Rootless Cosmopolitan, "The Perils of a Banker's War on Iran." Tony believes that “The neocons are not going to get their war with Iran….They’ve lost the Pentagon, and it’s abundantly clear that neither the uniformed brass nor Defense Secretary Gates have any interest in starting another catastrophic war….Nor is there any significant support (outside of Israel) among U.S. allies for a confrontational path.”

However, Karon observes that there’s a “privatized” war against Iran going on, one that isn’t covered in the mainstream media, and is being handled by the U.S. Department of Treasury through its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN):“[D]edicated to fighting the ‘war on terror’ via the international banking system.” On March 20th, FinCEN issued an “[A]dvisory warning [to] the international banking community that doing business with any Iranian bank, or bank that does business with an Iranian bank, runs the risk of falling afoul of the U.S. Treasury’s expansive interpretation and enforcement of UN sanctions and of anti-terror money laundering regulations adopted under the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act.”

Second: General Petraeus’s comments today and yesterday before Congressional committees about Iran’s involvement in the war in Iraq:

A. On April 7th, Gareth Porter posted "Petraeus Testimony to Defend False 'Proxy War' Line." “Based on preliminary indications of his spin on the surprisingly effective armed resistance to the joint U.S.-Iraqi "Operation Knights Assault" in Basra, Petraeus will testify that it was caused by Iran through a group of rogue militiamen who had split off from Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and came under Iranian control. “

B. Yesterday, Gary Kamiya, who blogs for Salon.com posted "The Iran boogeyman is back - Gen. Petraeus is reportedly going to blame Iran for why we need to stay in Iraq. If he does, it'll be destructive propaganda." “It's blame-blame-blame, blame-blame Iran. We've heard this song before. The Bush administration warbles it every time it needs to justify its failed Iraq policies and rally a skeptical public. Evil Iran, our archenemy, a charter member of the Axis of Evil, is killing American troops, and we can't leave Iraq, or Ahmadinejad and his cronies will take over the whole country. It's an updated version of the Cold War ‘domino effect’ argument, with Iran taking the place of the communist menace….

“There's just one problem with this story: It's nonsense.”

C. Were Porter and Kamiya right? Yes, according to David Ignatius, who wrote today in his Washington Post opinion column, “The language that Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker used yesterday to describe the Iranian role in Iraq was extreme -- and telling. They spoke of Tehran's 'nefarious activities,' its 'malign influence' and how it posed 'the greatest long-term threat to the viability' of the Baghdad government.

"Iran was the heart of the matter during Senate testimony on the war. With al-Qaeda on the run in Iraq, the Iranian threat has become the rationale for the mission, and also the explanation for our shortcomings. The Iranians are the reason we're bogged down in Iraq, and also the reason we can't pull out our troops. The mullahs in Tehran loom over the Iraq battlefield like a giant Catch-22….

"Fighting a war against Iran is a bad idea. But fighting a proxy war against it in Iraq, where many of our key allies are manipulated by Iranian networks of influence, may be even worse."

Third is Scott Ritter, who spoke before a group at Middlebury College in Vermont last week, as reported by the Rutland Herald. Ritter believes there is an 80 percent chance of war with Iran. He ticked off the reasons why:

“Preemptive strikes against the two groups most likely to erupt ifthe United States invaded Iran, Hezbollah (unsuccessfully attackedby Israel) and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (unsuccessfully attackedin Basra by Iraq's central government)….

”Recent visits to Middle Eastern allies by high officials, ostensiblyf or other purposes, but really to prepare them for the effects ofsuch a war.

”The appearance of the ‘miracle laptop,’ as Ritter called it, a thousand pages of technical documents supposedly from a stolen Iranian computer, which dubiously had just the sort of information the administration needed to support a hard-line stand on Iran.

”Congressional supplementary funding for more ‘bunker-busting’ bombs, with a contract completion deadline of April.

”Congressional supplementary funding for the extra bombers to carry those bombs, with a contract completion date of April.

”Cheney's order to send a third aircraft carrier battle group close to the Persian Gulf, a necessary bolstering of forces for a war with Iran.

”Admiral William Fallon, the first admiral to be head of Central Command, said that level of naval forces was unnecessary and blocked the move.”

But wait! We haven’t read what Paul Woodward at War in Context has to say. Yesterday he wrote "Who's really special?" asking the question, “Is George Bush, ever so slowly, inching towards d├ętente with Iran? If so, it’s probably something he won’t brag about. But what on earth could hint at such a possibility?

Consider these few things…”

If you’ve made it this far, I highly recommend you read Larry Beinhart’s April 6th article, "Report from Iran: Should We Really Bomb These People?"

I guess I have lived with the illusion that in a democracy, we citizens wouldn’t have to guess about whether or not our country will launch a war against another country. I guess I’ve been wrong all along.

(Persian miniature: Mirror.org - click on it to enlarge)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Briefly noted: The Washington Post wins a Pulitzer Prize for Gellman and Becker's series on Cheney

Last June when I read Barton Gellman (photo) and Jo Becker’s four part series on Vice-President Cheney, I said to myself and others, “This is prize-winning journalism.” The first article was published on June 25th, which I posted about here.

This morning, I wasn’t surprised when I read that The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for the 30,000 word “Angler – The Cheney Vice Presidency” by Gellman and Becker.

From today’s article: The series “…[E]xamined how Cheney ‘has shaped his times as no vice president has before,’ including his impact on the U.S. anti-terrorism effort, tax and spending policies and environmental regulation.

"’I resisted this assignment for a while because I thought it was too hard,’ Gellman said. ‘I thought the guy is just going to be too tough to crack.’” Thank goodness Gellman and Becker stuck with it. Given what is going on today regarding:

1. The U.S.’s “anti-terrorism efforts,” which include torture, warrantless eavesdropping, and beating the war drums for an attack on Iran;

2. “Tax and spending policies,” as our country goes into deep debt for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and slides into a recession; and

3. “Environmental regulation,” as global warming is largely ignored and scientific studies about how serious it is are repressed,

this series is as timely as it was six months ago because Cheney continues to exert tremendous influence over President Bush.

(Photos of Barton Gellman and Cheney from The Washington Post)

Monday, April 07, 2008

How I spent my day

This morning I set up my backyard for my twin grandchildren, including the two tents you see in the background. They were here all day. By the time I cleaned up and reorganized my yard and house, I didn't have any energy left to post about any of the issues I care about. Of course, when I'm with them, the "woes of the world" fade away, so I actually don't have anything I feel compelled to write about this evening. I think that's good news.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

United We Stand...Against Torture

This morning, I headed for the plaza in my hometown, Healdsburg, population 11,000, in northern California’s fabled wine country.

I was met by my friend, Caroline. We held up our “Torture R US” signs and our breath, not knowing how we would be received. Soon we were joined by my blogging buddy, Chris (The Democratic Activist); and my friend, Ann, who showed up with her camera and legal pad with the goal of submitting an article about our efforts to our newpaper of record, the Healdsburg Tribune. I handed out my flier.* By the time we split up, there were about 10 of us.

What an experience! People stopped, asked what we were doing, and ended up staying and talking with us. Ann interviewed numerous people, including a Canadian who had been a translator for the US Army in World War II; an English businessman who was willing to talk with us (but didn’t us to use his name out of fear that his traveling from country to country could be curtailed); a 23 year old man from Lake County who wondered what we were doing; and a woman, new to Healdsburg, who had just joined the Healdsburg Peace Project. All were opposed to our country’s use of torture. In an hour and half, we only talked to one person who regretted that the US doesn’t torture more.

What I learned today:

1. Our “Torture R US” signs provoked questions, but there are better slogans. For right now, I like “United We Stand…Against Torture.”

2. None of the three presidential candidates oppose the use of torture by our country on their websites, Obama, Clinton, and McCain. I urge you to contact your candidate and ask him/her to take a position on our country’s use of torture.

3. Even though torture is a serious subject, it’s possible to enjoy taking a public stand against it, especially when others join in.

I hope you will pick a slogan opposing torture, make a sign and handout*, encourage a few friends to join you, and find a street corner in your town to spread the word. I plan to show up a couple of times a week until our country stops torturing.

* Here's my handout:

Why I’m protesting our country’s use of torture
1. This is a democracy. We citizens are responsible for what our government does. I believe that torture is wrong in all circumstances and refuse to remain silent in light of our government’s ongoing insistence that it has the right to use torture.

2. Memos produced by Department of Justice to justify torture have recently been released. These memos confirm that elected officials and their lawyers approved, even encouraged, the use of torture.

3. On March 8th, President Bush vetoed a bill which would have specifically banned the following: Forcing a prisoner to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner. Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a prisoner, and using duct tape over the eyes. Applying beatings, electric shocks, burns or other forms of physical pain. Waterboarding. Using military working dogs. Inducing hypothermia or heat injury. Conducting mock executions. Depriving a prisoner of necessary food, water or medical care.

Gail Jonas, Attorney at Law, resident of Healdsburg for 42 years, http://gailjonas.blogspot.com/, Gail@GailJonas.com, 707.431.8451.

(photo thanks to Ann Carranza - double click to enlarge)