May 30, 2008

Where the Truth Was

Back from Jordan and Syria on Monday night, finding it harder to get rid of the jet-lag this time, and madly trying to catch up on emails and the news. Details of the trip will follow in new posts as I begin to come to terms with the mass of information and impressions and put together some sensible presentations and pieces.

This week I have been lightly following the media brouhaha about Scott McClellan's book, which appears to be a bit of a weaseling indictment. McClellan apparently tries to tell how the members of the Bush administration--and the president himself--carried on a propaganda campaign and broke the law, while still insisting that he is loyal to Bush and that Bush is a good man. I don't think you can have it both ways.

Occasionally I get into arguments with some of my friends who are disillusioned about the war in Iraq. They usually end up asking me how it was that I argued against the war at the start. They find it hard to remember that the information was out there all along that questioned the Bush Administration's propaganda campaign.

For those of you who want a quick reference about the lies that were made in the run up to the Iraq war, you can't do better than this commentary from McClatchy's great reporters, Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay. At the time they were working for Knight-Ridder, which was bought by McClatchy.

They begin by commenting on Scott McClellan's new book, then launch into a point by point reminder of what was out there in print, for all to read. Much of the anti-war community understood this and used the reporting of Landay and Strobel to counter the shill and the hype of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon and their ilk. (Gordon still gets his stories spoon fed by the Pentagon). The commentary is here and also contains some links to important stories on the run-up to the war, including Bill Moyers' important documentary on the peddling of the war.

The McClatchy papers are the most consistently honest about foreign policy. They do real journalism, and have established themselves as the starting point.

If you get in the habit of reading them first, then watching the news, you will have an experience of good reporting separating itself from the bad.

Important reading for Ehud Barak

I doubt if this will even be read by Ehud Barak, not to mention be
heeded, but I find it a moving declaration of principled discourse and
political reasoning arising out of grief. It was published in
_Counterpunch._ The rest of the article can be found by clicking on or
cutting and pasting the hyperlink at the end of the excerpt. Those of
you who (in spite of the evidence and of common sense) still believe the
lie that all Palestinians are terrorists-- I am sending this to more
than my Middle East Peace compatriots--should think of this the next
time someone tells you that Palestinians want for themselves exactly
what we here in the US are fortunate enough to enjoy.

In Peace--

May 30, 2008

/*An Open Letter to Defense Minister, Ehud Barak */

Here's the Truth You've Been Running From

By BASSAM ARAMIN (*Bassam Aramin* is co-founder of Combatants for Peace.
Translation by Mimi Asnes.)

Honorable General Ehud Barak, you don't know me personally. I am a
seeker of peace, and I struggle with all my strength and ability for the
realization of a just peace that will bring calm and prosperity to
Palestinians and Israelis together. I have suffered personally from your
criminal occupation and I have paid a heavy price. Firstly, I was
imprisoned when I was 17 years old and wasted seven years of my life in
your barbaric prisons. Secondly, have you perhaps read or heard about
what happened to the young girl Abir Aramin? She was a ten-year-old whom
your soldiers killed with a rubber bullet from a distance of 15 feet on
January 16, 2007 in front of her eleven-year-old sister Areen. Despite
this I, the father of Abir — may she rest in peace — believe in the
right of the Israeli person, as in the right of all people, to exist and
to live in peace and security. So why do you not believe in our right to
enjoy these same things, sir?

Where was the democratic nature of your state when your heroic soldiers
killed my daughter before the eyes of her friends at the entrance to her
school in Anata? Where were your democratic ideals when you closed the
investigation file into Abir's murder for lack of sufficient evidence,
this despite the fact that the crime is clear and was committed in front
of more than ten witnesses? Was Abir really a threat to your soldiers, sir?

I carry in my possession the weapons with which Abir threatened those
soldiers. I have in my hand her school backpack, reinforced and armored,
of course — the mechanical pencil she had, laden with dangerous lead
cartridges, and her math book in which class she had a test the same
day, which of course included detailed instructions on how to prepare
chemical weapons. In addition to all this, she had a sharp ruler, which
could for sure be used as a weapon to stab someone. Lastly, I found in
her possession two pieces of chocolate that perhaps contained a bit of
enriched uranium that would have certainly brought devastation upon your
state, if she hadn't been tempted to take them in her hand for a taste
seconds before she was shot.

Here I have to give your soldiers credit in their incredible ability to
incapacitate and kill with such deadly accuracy. The bullet hit Abir
exactly one centimeter from her hypothalamus—this caused her to
immediately enter a coma and she died thereafter and went to dwell in
the presence of God, sparing her the continuing pain and heartache
herein expressed.

Thus, Abir Aramin can be added to the list of great successes and
security accomplishments in the name of the state of Israel. But I
request, Minister and General, in that I am the father of this young
girl, at the very least an admission of responsibility for this murder,
or its cause. It is your duty to bring the soldier who murdered Abir to
court so he may be tried and judged a murderer and criminal.

I believe that there is no military solution to the conflict and when
those cowards murdered my daughter, I announced that I did not want
revenge, I wanted justice, even though revenge is much easier. The real
fighter is one who chooses the harder path of the two for the sake of
peace, and revenge is the path of the coward.

Continued at


May 22, 2008

Media Spin

Just checking email I could not help but notice this article in the New York Times: "Many Florida Jews Express Doubts on Obama."

The Times does an article showing that there are a number of incorrect assumptions about Obama made by the elderly Jewish community in Florida. You would think that would be a good thing. They do a list of the five major misconceptions and then present the reality:

Mr. Obama is Arab, Jack Stern's friends told him in Aventura. (He's not.)

He is a part of Chicago's large Palestinian community, suspects Mindy
Chotiner of Delray. (Wrong again.)

Mr. Wright is the godfather of Mr. Obama's children, asserted Violet Darling
in Boca Raton. (No, he's not.)

Al Qaeda is backing him, said Helena Lefkowicz of Fort Lauderdale

Michelle Obama has proven so hostile and argumentative that the campaign is
keeping her silent, said Joyce Rozen of Pompano Beach. (Mrs. Obama campaigns
frequently, drawing crowds in her own right.)

So far so good. But now look at how the rhetoric changes when it comes to another misconception:

when the Times refers to a misconception about another bogus threat, note how it is treated:

Mr. Obama might fill his administration with followers of Louis Farrakhan,
worried Sherry Ziegler. (Extremely unlikely, given his denunciation of Mr.

And so they just can't present the information with the same certainty, can they? No straight out it's wrong. No it's highly unlikely--and so they hold out the slim possibility that he might appoint an administration filled with followers of Louis Farrakhan!

Reminds me of his opponent, when asked if he were a Muslim: well, said Hillary Clinton, from everything he has said he's not and I have no reason to doubt him . . . . It just doesn't ring true, does it?

May 21, 2008

Dispatch from Damascus

Arrived Wednesday night in Damascus and settled in, though unfortunately I have not been able to access a computer as regularly as I had hoped. I am using the Mac of one of the delegation members and have only time for a short note. Lots of ideas are being written by hand in my journals and notebooks.

I will post more later.

May 11, 2008

Lebanon: Reporting versus Spin in the LA Times

The violence in Lebanon has calmed down. Concerned Arab leaders are meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation and make proposals. Hezbollah has "melted away" from their occupation of the neighborhood near the American University of Beirut. The Lebanese Army has apparently acceded to Hezbollah demands to correct actions taken by the government.

However, in Beirut on Saturday there was an incident in which at least three people were shot and at least two killed. It is unclear if the two deaths were from the three shootings. A picture in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Edition, page A3 shows at least three wounded people, one of whom appears to be dead (no one is attending him). Two articles appeared with the picture on the same page. I happened to move first to the one written by Raed Rafei, “special to the Times,” so he is probably a local stringer. Rafei had a lot of details. According to him, Sunni mourners headed toward a cemetery carrying the coffin of a young man, age 23, who had been a supporter of the government against Hezbollah. The man's pregnant 17 year-old widow was in the procession.

Given these facts, one can understand the anger that might have been present along with the sadness. Some in the procession fired guns into the air. Some men “on scooters ahead of the procession ordered shopkeepers to shut down their businesses. Boisterous slogans against the Shiite militant group rang out.”

And then violence occurs: “Suddenly a large group of men scurried toward a store that sold auto parts. They started breaking the windows with sticks and shouting, 'God is great!'”

And notice what happens next: “The shopkeeper, reported to be a Shiite opposition supporter, quickly grabbed his assault rifle and fired at the crowd. Two people were killed and 15 injured.”

The rest of this story deals with reactions to the shooting, including interviews with the mother of one of the victims and others. After the procession passed, apparently, the shop that had been attacked was torched by “angry government supporters.” Others were encouraged to get guns and retaliate; they would get their arms “ 'from the north of the country, from Syria or even Israel.' ”

(As an aside, I find it interesting that a supporter of the government would even think it possible that arms even could be obtained from Israel to begin with. Syria you understand; northern Lebanon and the Druse militias or the Lebanese mafiosi you understand, but Israel?)

Now what strikes me about this out break of violence is that if a similar attack on a shop had occurred during a demonstration in the United States, particularly in a gun-toting state like Florida or Texas, say after a demonstration against police brutality, and a shop keeper had pulled a gun and shot the people trying to smash his store, there would be understanding from the gun lobby, maybe even sympathy, even as they condemned the shooting itself. An American shopkeeper definitely would not have used an AK-47, and he probably would have been arrested and tried. But you can foresee, I think, that the American shopkeeper's right to preserve his life and his property would have been a particularly strong part of his legal defense.

I am not trying to defend the violence, but to point out that the matter of defending property, even by using a gun, is frequently lauded, and certainly “understandable” in more conservative circles. Recall the orders to shoot to kill in post-Katrina New Orleans. Think of armed Korean shopkeepers during the Rodney King riots here in Los Angeles. Supporters of the Second Amendment--Libertarians, say--would have had no problem with the shopkeeper's defense, only with the extremity of it.

Now, we don't know if the facts here are absolutely accurate, but they occur in a piece that appears to be neutral, uses direct quotations, and which qualifies statements if things are ambiguous, or uncertain. That is to say, the story has a credible feel to it. You get the impression that the shopkeeper, apart from his possible sectarian leanings, which are thought to be supportive of Hezbollah, may have clearly been defending his livelihood and his life against an attacking mob. If he was a supporter, perhaps a sign in his window outraged the hotheads in the procession. Perhaps they began the violence. End of Exhibit 1.

Yet as the Times officially presents it in the top article on the page, a "gunman believed to be a Shiite" causes the violence. Turn to exhibit two.

This prominent piece, "Lebanon leaders take steps to calm conflict with Hezbollah," is written by a Times staff writer, Borzou Daragahi. That he is a staff writer suggests that his work could combine his own writing and an editor's revisions.

But the “facts” of what is most probably the very same funeral are presented differently in the prominent story. The description of the incident occurs three paragraphs in. Opening with reference to Lebanon's long civil war (1975-1990)--the dates of which are not given but should be--and to “tit-for-tat sectarian attacks” in Iraq, it then describes the action:

At a late morning funeral for a victim of the previous day's violence, a gunman believed to be a Shiite opened fire on Sunni mourners in the procession who had trashed his shop.

Note how the initial presentation is of a “gunman,” not a shopkeeper. He is believed to be a Shiite (as in the stringer's story, “reported to be a Shiite opposition supporter”), so the uncertainly, the hearsay element is conveyed, but the essential fact about the person is not: that is, some of the mourners had “trashed his shop.” The Times writer or editor, in the act of "spinning" the information to emphasize "gunman" does not even deal with the logical contradiction: how can the people be in the procession at the same time that they trash the shop? Further, note how the assumption is that the "gunman" is believed to be a Shiite, which is different than "believed to be a supporter of Hezbollah." (He probably was a Shiite, although other reporting I have read in the past few days on the Lebanese situation has suggested that even some Sunnis actually support Hezbollah.)

The contortion of the sentence indicates, does it not, the mental cross purposes that beget the spin?

Subtle but obvious distortions like this show the difference between reporting with objectivity and reporting with bias, and with the spin obviously against the Shiite Hezbollah supporter, termed a "gunman" rather than a "shopkeeper." We don't know for sure that the person who started firing was a Shiite or a “supporter of Hezbollah.”

The prominent fact is not that the “gunman opened fire on the people marching in the procession” but that a shopkeeper, attacked by people from the procession, grabbed his firearm and probably excessively defended his life or his property. It would be incorrect in this context to call him a "gunman," which suggests something altogether different from an irate and frightened shopkeeper. If you had read only the Times staff reporter's story, that prominent fact is subordinated into the relative clause "who had trashed his shop.” Essential principles of writing indicate that such clauses have less than primary details, so in the act of relegating a primary detail to the relative clause, the writer/editor reveals his bias.

And loses credibility as well. You rarely get an opportunity to check the origin of the spin on the same page. A defender of the Times might say that the two stories were juxtaposed for that very purpose. In that case, the "official" story should have reflected the objectivity in the local stringer's story. The local stringer's detail, shorn of any spin, is far preferable to the “official” Times staffer's reporting on how the violence continues, as the subhead put it.