Thursday, September 30, 2010
Verena Becker is charged with the 1977 murder of Siegfried Buback, a West German prosecutor. Buback was killed along with two others, (his chauffeur and bodyguard). Their car stopped at a traffic light, two people on a motorcycle pulled up, and the passenger on the bike fired at their car, killing all three.
Previous testimony has alleged that the shooter on the back of the motorcycle that day was Stefan Wisniewski. But several witnesses described the shooter as "a petite woman".
If you read the entry on Verena Becker at Wikipedia, it's clear the woman was fairly hard-core, and certainly not just a wannabe revolutionary. She was shot and captured after a gun-battle with police in May of 1977. Having served 12 years from 1977 to 1989, she was then pardoned by the President of Germany, and has been living quietly for the 21 years since.
The new prosecution is the result of DNA, allegedly that of Verena Becker, found by a new analysis of old evidence.
The thing that sets Baader-Meinhof, and indeed many of the radicals of the 70's, apart from what we think of as terrorists today, is the matter of their targets. They did not simply murder random innocents, they attacked specific targets - the military, the politicians, the rich industrialists, the government prosecutors.
I am old enough to remember this era. In May of 1977, when Becker was captured after a shoot-out with the police in Southern Germany, I was living and working in London, England. She is only 7 or 8 years older than I am.
It is impossible to capture with words any valid description of the 70's. What we think we know today about that decade is simply a caricature, a collection of cliches and vignettes that we think of as representing the 1970's. They do not.
But what was she thinking? Assuming for the sake of argument that Verena Becker was the shooter on the back of the motorcycle that day, what was going through her head? When you look at her picture in that AJE story, she looks so ordinary, the sort of an older woman you'd pass in the frozen foods aisle at the grocery store, and never give a second glance.
I have shot a fair number of animals, and I have been shot at by humans a few times, but I have never actually pointed a weapon at a member of my own species. I understand the hunter's mindset; was it like that?
Assuming Becker was the shooter, this wasn't her first operation. She wasn't going to be suffering from buck fever.
But what was she thinking?
NATO justification for this raid is vague and contradictory. On the one hand, NATO has claimed the doctrine of "hot pursuit". On the other hand, they have said the alleged fighters who were the alleged target of the raid were "preparing" to attack NATO units. As usual, government spokesmen seem untroubled by the internal contradictions of that explanation.
In apparent retaliation for this raid, Pakistan has closed a crucial supply route into Afghanistan. AJE is reporting that the Khyber Pass has been closed completely, with all NATO convoys turned back. The Khyber pass, famous or infamous to those who know the history of the region, is the main supply route through Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Far more ominous are the words of Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik in regard to the helicopter raid. Speaking of Pakistan's relationship with the USA, Malik said, "We shall have to see whether we are friends or we are enemies."
It is at moments like these, dear reader, that I question most severely the motives and even the sanity of those who lead our nation. Either they are raving insane, or they are completely out of touch with reality, or they are pursuing an entirely different agenda then the rest of us. A fourth possibility, and perhaps the most disturbing of all, is that our national leaders are just criminally incompetent.
Given Joe Biden's recent admonition that we should just "stop whining", I think I'd put my money on completely out of touch with reality. Though criminally incompetent remains a strong contender.
Story at Al Jazeera English
Story at the UK Telegraph
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
As poor and partial compensation for depriving you of my usual pungently half-witted observations, allow me to offer you this potpourri of bits and pieces from around the Intarwebz.
Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Munich Pact, by which Britain, France, and Italy gave to Germany a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. Incredibly enough, Czechoslovakia was not represented at the conference. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?
If I were thrashing around desperately, looking for a modern equivalent, I might be tempted to cite the manner in which US generals, politicians, and analysts openly discuss the fate of Afghanistan, arguing for the partition of the country, or even the removal of quasi-elected President Hamid Karzai.
Recently, our beloved Vice-President Joe Biden told his Democratic party core to "stop whining". This is such a charming comment that I find myself utterly at a lack for a coherent response. Fortunately, there are others far more articulate on such subjects. I do love Donalee King, aka Paladinette. While I cannot claim to love either Cenk Uygur or Dylan Ratigan, I did find this video rather amusing.
Former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde is to face charges of Negligence for failing to prevent the meltdown of Iceland's economy. My, what a thoroughly wonderful idea! Why can't we get some of that here in the USA? There are some questions about the 2008 financial meltdown that urgently need to be answered. For example, Timothy Geithner's role as then-Chairman of the New York Federal Reserve involved any number of shady and quite illegal back-room deals. Not to mention, of course, the star criminals would be Bush and Cheney.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The Israeli navy intercepted the Irene just a few miles off the Gaza coast, where it was boarded by commandos, and the crew led away to captivity. The organization Independent Jewish Voices is now demanding the release of the crew, according to Rich Cooper, an organizer with that group.
Yesterday Glyn Secker, the captain of the Irene, told a reporter from Al Jazeera English, "In the tradition of the civil rights movement...we assert our right to continue to Gaza under international law". Other groups represented aboard the Irene included the German Jewish Voice, and the UK-based Jews For Justice For Palestinians.
Words, dear reader, cannot possibly express my disappointment with Israel.
Full story at Al Jazeera English
Full story at the UK Telegraph
Monday, September 27, 2010
Those of you who read this column on any regular basis know full well that I am often harshly critical of Israel. For that reason, I was genuinely touched to read this story. Bless them all, these eight incredibly brave people are placing themselves willingly in harm's way, knowing what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara, in order to make a statement against the blockade of Gaza.
Actions like this one are of immense value in proving to the world that no matter how abusive Israel's policies may become, anti-Semitism is never justified. To be anti-Zionist is a political opinion. To be anti-Semitic is racism.
Bless every one of these eight brave Jews, and bless every Israeli who has the courage to speak out against the apartheid state which has come to replace the vision of Israel's founders. Bless them all, bless them with great blessings.
Full story at Al Jazeera here
The Chinese are not satisfied. They have demanded that Japan apologize, and pay compensation. Japan has responded by refusing to apologize, saying that there was nothing to apologize for in having detained the boat, which was in Japanese waters illegally.
Now Japan has demanded that China pay reparations for the damage inflicted upon the Japanese Coast Guard vessels when the Chinese fishing boat rammed them.
Full story at Al Jazeera here
Story at the UK Telegraph here
Sunday, September 26, 2010
So far you're not surprised, right? The problem is that the men who attacked Mobley were apparently Yemeni government security agents, acting at the behest of the USA.
Mobley's problems all started when he decided that Yemen was getting too dangerous, and he wanted to go home to the USA. Reasonably enough, he and his wife went to the US embassy, and asked about paperwork. At the embassy, however, they were subjected to a lengthy interrogation about what they'd been doing in Yemen. Well, OK, this is not entirely unreasonable. Unpleasant and unfortunate, yes; totally unreasonable, no.
But then Mobley was shot, and seized off the street. While in hospital, he was allegedly interrogated by agents of the US government, and then beaten by his Yemeni guards when he refused to answer the Americans' questions.
The next night, his house was raided by armed men. When his wife went to the US Embassy the next day, frantic with worry about her missing husband, she saw the leader of the men who'd raided her house the night before, walking through the Embassy with a security pass around his neck.
Now, we have no evidence that Mobley is guilty of anything, yet most of us would agree that the circumstances are a bit suspicious. But even if Mobley is guilty as original sin, this sort of treatment of a US citizen is grossly unacceptable.
Full story at Al Jazeera English
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao earlier today threatened Japan with "further action" if the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that rammed Japanese coast guard vessels last week is not released. Given that China has already canceled all high-level contacts with Japan, and broken off all on-going talks, the phrase "further action" could take on ominous overtones.
The real dispute over the islands has little to do with fishing rights, and a great deal to do with the vast gas and oil deposits which are believed to lie beneath the seabed in the area around the islands. It is becoming clear that China, repeating a pattern of behavior seen in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, sent the fishing boat into Japanese waters specifically to provoke a confrontation, which it is now seeking to exploit. This theory of deliberate provocation is bolstered by the convenient proximity to the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident, which China still makes much of, even 80 years later. There too, much of the "public outrage" in China over this recent incident has a definite flavor of being orchestrated.
The Japanese, however, have their own agenda. In the first place, Japan desperately needs an oil source of its own. Japan requires a half-dozen supertankers full of crude oil per day in order to keep its economy running, oil that it has historically obtained through the Persian Gulf. But with Persian Gulf oil sources, and indeed all Middle East oil sources, fast becoming of ever more uncertain reliability, Japan very much needs a long-term solution.
In the second place, a confrontation with the Chinese now could serve as a casus belli for Japan to amend its post-war constitution and openly re-arm, especially given that any such re-armament would inevitably infuriate the Chinese in any case.
See earlier entry on this incident here
Al Jazeera story on the latest developments here
UK Telegraph story here, but with an odd perspective.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
(quoted from jerseyjohn)
...Schubert's Quintet in C, D.956. At the moment the second movement, Adagio.
For those who have seen the movie, Conspiracy, this is the piece Reinhard Heydrich sees at Wansee after concluding the conference. This blood dripped violin playing murderer (son of a composer / music teacher who wrote an opera) sighs and says, "The adagio will tear your heart out."
After he leaves, his sidekick Adolf Eichmann puts that movement on the record player, looks at one of his assistants, and asks, "Well, does it tear your heart out?"
The man smiles and says, "Oh, yes, sir. Very beautiful."
Eichmann shakes his head. "I've never understood what anyone sees in Schubert's romantic Viennese shit!"
(quote ends here)
Being an amoral murderer does not require one to be entirely devoid of aesthetic appreciation of beauty. The danger of demonising the fascists is this - if we conceive of them as inhuman monsters, we make ourselves more vulnerable to the comforting lies that, "that can never happen again" or, worse yet, "that could never happen here in (insert name of your own country)".
They were not inhuman monsters. Some were men, in the beginning no different from you and I, who somewhere went badly wrong in their assessment of relative moral values. Some were willing dupes, some were truly psychopaths. But if you don't think good and decent people can be taken in, you need to take a long hard look at the life of Leni Riefenstahl. Whether you take the sympathetic view espoused by Das Blaue Licht, or the hard, unforgiving stance evident in Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism", Leni Riefenstahl remains a textbook example.
Understand this clearly - in their own minds, in their own story as they saw it, those people were heroes, doing the hard, dirty, nasty work needed to safeguard the future of their own people. And if you miss this point, you will be less prepared to resist the resurgence of fascism when it rises again. And rise again it will.
This is not only an issue of historical interest. We know that President Bush had alleged terrorists interrogated under torture. We have every reason to believe that this is still occurring under the Obama administration, given that he has continued the policy of "extraordinary rendition", which is a cute way of saying that the torturing is done for us in various third-party nations.
How do we look at this? Well, we could say...
A) Torture is always morally wrong, and never justified. Period, full stop.
or we could say...
B) Terrorists are outside the law, not entitled to protection under the laws of war, thus such interrogation-by-torture is justified. Proponents of this policy are fond of claiming that such interrogations may well prevent further killings by terrorists, thus (allegedly) justifying the torture in the name of saving the (theoretical) victims.
The two arguments are mutually exclusive. One may credibly endorse either, but not both.
The problem with argument (B) lies in the definition of a terrorist. Obviously, if one is going to justify torture, one will be vitally concerned to carefully classify the persons upon whom such outrages may be legitimately practiced. Very well then, for the sake of argument, terrorists only.
So, who is a terrorist?
On July 22, 1946 Irgun, (in cooperation with Haganah, Histadrut, and other organisations), bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was then the base of the British Secratariat in Palestine. The conventional story was that "about 200" british officers were killed. Today, Wikipedia says only 91 people died. The exact numbers are irrelevant.
Clearly this was a terrorist act, at least in the view of the British. Keep carefully in mind that the state of modern Israel did not exist at that time; it was still the "British mandate in Palestine", and would be for two more years. The sticky part is that the attack was ordered by Menachem Begin, (this is accepted fact, not accusation or conjecture), and David ben Gurion was also involved.
If we accept that this was a terrorist act, (and we'd look like major hypocrites denying it), then at that time Menachem Begin was a terrorist.
Now, in 1948 the modern state of Israel came into being. David ben Gurion was the first prime minister (henceforth PM) of Israel, and also the third. Menachem Begin was PM twice, starting in 1977. Menachem Begin negotiated the Camp David accords with Anwar Sadat, withdrawing the IDF from the Sinai, and laying an important foundation of peace with Egypt.
So was he still a terrorist then? What about ben Gurion?
If they were not terrorists then, precisely when did they stop being terrorists, and for what reason?
Did Begin and ben Gurion stop being terrorists when the modern state of Israel came into being? This is certainly a temptingly convenient dividing line. I can't think of another point in time one could convincingly rationalise.
But if so, let's think a bit further. Are we saying that if terrorism is successful, if it results in the formation of a new nation-state, then all is retroactively forgiven, and what were once despicable acts of murder are then transformed into patriotic acts of war? Yes, this is what actually happens in the real world in which we actually live. The process is going on before our eyes right now in Northern Ireland, but do we really want to endorse this? Do we wish to claim this as an essential part of our moral justification?
Because, you see, this encourages terrorism. Think about it. It says, "Hey, if you can pull it off, you win!".
Friday, September 17, 2010
Supposedly, the drones are only being used for "surveillance", but surveillance of whom? And who picks the targets of this "surveillance"? The militarization of the border for political reasons has must be stopped, because it is those of us who live in the border region who suffer for this.
If nothing else, imagine what a huge temptation that must represent for some in government. Once having set the precedent of targeted assassinations abroad, what is to stop them from bringing that practice home to roost?
How did Martin Niemoller put it?
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Al Jazeera English has posted a story on the subject, though it takes an odd perspective. Then again, foreign coverage of the domestic affairs of one's own nation always seems that way, I suppose.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I have always felt I have something of "a nose for a knave", (to steal an expression from the author of the Flashman series), and I recognize trolls fairly quickly in any forum situation, but I have never before seen the type analyzed and described in such a manner.
The tactics are simple and easy to spot. When they first confront you they do it subtly while interjecting an insult. When you try to respond to them using logic and common sense, their next message will be an insult that they know you will feel you have to refute. If you answer that insult they have you hooked and have achieved the desired effect, which is to disrupt debate and the exchange of ideas and information.
No doubt most of you recognize the loathsome creature from its description. But the mention of trolls and their habits was only in passing. The gist of the article, the part that made my wicked old heart go pitty-pat, was this -
We know what is wrong with our country and what has to be undone if we are ever to live in freedom and prosperity again. We must break away from the false left-right paradigm and realize that those posing as our representatives can only be identified as a single party: the corpora-demo-publicans, of the international corporate mafia, by the international corporate mafia, and for the international corporate mafia.
The only way that we are going to see the living wage jobs returned to this country is through the destruction of the laws that reward the sending of our jobs overseas, the instituting of large tariffs on all foreign goods and huge taxes on all moneys taken out of the United States being invested in foreign countries, and laws forbidding our natural resources from leaving our country except in the form of manufactured goods, and I don’t mean a board, I mean a table.
It sounds like a far better plan than any other I have heard lately.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
One more set of "Peace Talks", like so many before, and yet we are supposed to believe that this time some magical, miraculous formula will produce results. Just how stupid do we look?
And yet, beyond the hopelessness, there is a deeper issue which is a large part of the reason why the talks are hopeless; the Palestinians are not represented at these talks.
Mahmud Abbas is a puppet representative. He never did represent the half of Palestinians residing in Gaza; his "election", if you can call such a heavily-rigged farce an election, was only in the West Bank. And that term of office expired in February of 2009. He has no authority to represent anyone, even in the West Bank, let alone Gaza.
Hamas, on the other hand, is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Yet the US and Israel insist that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and will not be allowed to participate in any "Peace Talks", now or ever.
So, we invite the unelected leader to to the "Peace Talks", and refuse to even speak with the elected leaders.
And we call this building democracy?
If you'd like to hear what the people of Gaza have to say, in their own words, here it is.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
China and Japan have long-running disputes over a number of territorial issues, including ownership of the islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Japan has physical possession of the islands, and China claims them.
In recent years, as China finally begins to exercise the power represented by its newly-constructed blue water navy, China's posture in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea has become more openly aggressive and belligerent. As one example of this, China has been sending fishing boats into disputed waters, in order to provoke incidents which would give its navy an excuse to act.
The most recent example of this took place last week, near the Senkaku islands mentioned above. When two Japanese Coast Guard vessels approached the Chinese fishing vessel, the captain rammed the Japanese vessels and refused to stop. The ship was finally boarded and the captain and crew were arrested. They remain in custody, and the diplomatic catfight has been ratcheting up since Friday.
On Friday, the Chinese cancelled planned negotiations over another dispute in the same region, this one involving ownership of undersea gas deposits.
On Saturday, a Chinese vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard vessel were involved in another incident northwest of Okinawa.
Today, (Sunday 9/12/10), Japan's ambassador to China was summoned in the hours before dawn to listen to a list of angry demands presented by State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who is a high official in the Communist Party, thus out-ranking the Foreign Minister.
Chinese politics are always difficult to interpret. Is this just another round of diplomatic rubber chicken antics? I will confess to being without a clue. But it does seem clear that China is determined to expand its territorial claims in an aggressive manner, and feels it now has the preponderance of military force in the region.
As Chairman Mao said long ago, "Every Communist must grasp the truth. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
More on the current incident at Arab News
Related issues in Asia Times Online
Saturday, September 11, 2010
MRSA, or drug-resistant Staph, has become a major concern for hospitals and other health care institutions in recent years, theoretically because of over-use of antibiotics in clinical medicine. The interesting thing about the possible use of these cannabis ingredients is that they appear to kill bacteria in an entirely different manner than traditional antibiotics, thus offering a hope for a true end to such nightmare "super bugs".
The WebMD article goes on to note that while new antibacterials are urgently needed, only one new class thereof has been introduced in the last three decades.
We can only imagine the fun George Carlin would have had with this news story. RIP, George, RIP.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The civil trial regarding the death of US citizen Rachel Corrie resumed yesterday in the Jaffa District Court, in occupied Palestine. The trial is resuming for the first time since March, when the lawyers representing Craig and Cindy Corrie, Rachel's parents, called their witnesses to testify. One might wonder precisely why the Israeli court system took 6 months to re-convene on this issue, but none the less, the state side was finally ready to call their witnesses and present their defense.
Under Israeli law, witnesses are often not fully identified, and the military unit trainer called by the state was named only as "Yossi". And that trainer spoke the words quoted above, "During War there are no civilians. When you write a [protocol] manual, that manual is for war."
The article at Al Jazeera English makes the point that this is the same Israeli military that killed over 1300 Palestinian civilians in the latest War on Gaza. The same Israeli military whose actions were so starkly condemned in the Goldstone Report. The same...ah, well, you don't need to hear the whole 60-year long litany of abuse again, do you?
The infuriating part is that Israel is propped up by massive infusions of US money, (money stolen from the US taxpayer), and shielded from the consequences of its actions by American political power. Power that is wielded in our names. Our government does this, and tells the world that we support this action. That is the part that makes your favorite beady-eyed varmint angry beyond coherent description.
Monday, September 6, 2010
First, that the channel of the river Indus was greatly narrowed by illegal construction along the banks, where the rich and powerful had constructed not only large farms, but villas and palaces. (Obviously, a wider river channel can accommodate a far greater volume of water than a narrow channel, all other things being equal.)
Second, that these powerful individuals then deliberately breached the embankment on the right bank of the river, in order to spare their own properties along the left bank.
A word on this Right Bank, Left Bank business; this is reckoned as though one were facing downstream. Since the Indus flows southwards, the Right Bank is to the West, toward Baluchistan and the Iranian border, while the Left Bank is to the East.
As an aside, with all due respect to the good folks at Al Jazeera, the title of this video is rather misleading. The video is about the causes of the flood, not the relief efforts. While AJE's standards of journalism are generally excellent, one encounters grammatical errors in Al Jazeera English stories in print on a distressingly frequent basis, and I suspect this is another aspect of the same problem. They definitely need to hire a good proofreader.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
The latest drill, which will run until 9 September, "will focus on anti-submarine warfare tactics, including detecting and destroying North Korean submarines", an unidentified military official told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Meanwhile, the Chinese navy began its own series of live-fire "naval exercises" in the South China Sea on September 1st, exercises which official sources describe as -
"annual routine training, mainly involving the shooting of shipboard artillery"
In late August, China conducted a series of air exercises in the area, which were seen by many observers as a response to recent US interest in the region.
See also previous entries on the Spratly Islands dispute here and here
Friday, September 3, 2010
This morning's edition of Foreign Policy had a vastly amusing little report on a Twitter-borne spat between Russian President Dmitry Medviedev and a regional governor named Nikita Belykh. The exchange of messages, complete with smiley faces and sad faces, had your favorite beady-eyed varmint howling with laughter.
Unfortunately the actual exchange was in Russian, so we Americans have to rely on a translation, and Russia Today posted a rather more limited version of the tweets.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Al Jazeera English is reporting that Coast Guard Spokeswoman Crystal Clear (please tell me her name is a joke?!?) claims were no fatalities, and it is not known at this time whether any oil is leaking.
Is it just me, or does this sound to you folks like another case of doling out the bad news in small bites? If there was another big oil leak, would they tell us? The fact that we find ourselves wondering this illustrates the corrosive effect of habitual lying by the US government. When they make a habit of feeding us bullshit, we start to suspect everything of being bullshit...