5. Followups

Jul-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Is the TSA tragedy or farce? Tough call, that one. The opening infographic underlines the amount of money spent without any increase in safety. But we salute John Brennen, “naked American hero” for his stark act of resistance to the TSA. Juan Cole updates us on Syria, the Guardian brings some good news from Libya, and a fascinating look at a whole new way of news reporting: twitter aggregating. Do look at that: I guarantee you’ve never seen any news story quite like it before.

* Infographic: TSA – Grope & Pillage   The FloorGem Blog

* “Naked American Hero” on Trial—Not Guilty! Blogtown, PDX

Not guilty! The judge ruled this afternoon that protester John Brennan is not guilty of incident exposure charges for stripping down at the PDX security station. The issue basically came down to whether Brennan’s striptease was meant to be a protest or whether, as the state’s prosecuting attorney argued, he retroactively claimed it was a protest to get off the hook for whipping off his clothes. Since “symbolic” nudity is protected as free speech under state law, the judge determined that Brennan’s derobing was a legitimate protest.

* Top Ten Implications of the Damascus Bombing Juan Cole Informed Comment

What does this bombing mean for Syria and the Middle East?

1. It demonstrates that the rebels have sympathizers in high positions within the regime. The bomb had to have been planted by an insider. This situation reminds me of the American dilemma in Vietnam, where we now know that many high-ranking Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) officers were in fact sympathizers with the Communists and basically double agents.

2. It follows upon this conclusion that the al-Assad regime is unlikely to be able to emulate the Algerian military, which crushed the Islamic Salvation Front in a brutal civil war from 1992 through the early zeroes of the present century. Some 150,000 Algerians are said to have died in the dirty war, with atrocities on both sides. But when the smoke cleared, the junta was still in control, and its favored secular civilians were in office. In all that time, the Muslim fundamentalist opposition never laid a glove on any of the high officials or officers. But the Algerian elite closed ranks against the Islamic Salvation Front, having a cultural set of affinities and a common source of patronage in the state-owned oil and gas sector.

If the rebels in Syria can reach into the Security HQ this way, and assassinate the highest security officials of the regime, that ability does not augur well for Bashar al-Assad’s ability to win the long game, as his counterparts did in Algeria.

* User in r/Toronto uses social media to give in depth analysis of a major shooting via reddit

Analysis: It’s interesting to look at the Reddit report, and then compare that to a traditional news report from the CBC (the publicly-funded broadcaster in Canada). The one on Reddit doesn’t look or read anything like a normal news story — instead of names, it has links to tweets and individual Twitter accounts, and there isn’t much of a story at all, just a recitation of facts or alleged facts. The CBC story has the names and ages of the victims, as well as some quotes from the police about gang violence, a quote from a friend of one of the deceased, and some eyewitness reports from the scene.

That said, however, the Reddit version also has a lot of things the CBC version doesn’t: for example, it has some tweets from people attending the party about the potential for violence — before the shooting even occurs. It also uses messages posted by those involved to talk about the shooting being part of a possible gang war, including links to individual tweets from people threatening more violence, as well as tweets and YouTube videos posted by members of a gang that one of the victims was apparently associated with.

While the format of the Reddit story may be more difficult to read, it also makes the story a lot easier to fact-check while you are reading, since any reader can simply click on a link and see the message or user profile that the author is basing their statement on (in one case, the Reddit post has a link to a screen-capture of a tweet that has since been removed). The CBC story has no links whatsoever. And while the traditional news story simply makes statements without providing any evidence other than an interview with police, the Redditor uses words like “apparently” and “I can’t be sure.”

* Mahmoud Jibril, A Force For Moderation In Libya  The Guardian

Sitting in a cafe across from the square’s imposing Ottoman palace, Saad Kamur explained that he had voted for Mahmoud Jibril in Libya’s historic election. Jibril, a 60-year-old US-educated political scientist, appears to have won a landslide victory in the poll on Saturday, defying predictions that Islamists would sweep to power in Libya, as they have done elsewhere.

“He’s moderate. And experienced,” Kamur said. “I don’t think the others were capable of running a government.” Kamur, a Tripoli businessman, said observers who predicted that Libya would go the way of Egypt and Tunisia – now run by religious parties – had misinterpreted the national mood, and Libya’s prevailing centrism.

“Libyans are open to the outside world. Many have studied abroad. They haven’t seen anything positive yet from Islamist governments,” he suggested. As for the election, in which he cast his first ever vote at the rather belated age of 52, he said: “Nobody imagined it would go this smoothly.”

2. Understanding Reactions to Syria

Feb-10-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The key to understanding why Russia and China opposed NATO UN action in Syria is looking at what happened to Libya and Iraq, both stable countries reduced to chaos in the name of oil profits granting democracy. We start with this week’s Guardian looking at the horror of what’s currently going on in Libya, then follow up with a focus on both Russia and China.

* Libyan Militias Accused Of Torture   The Guardian

Three months after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, concerns are mounting about the mistreatment and torture of prisoners held by Libyan militiamen who are operating beyond the control of the country’s transitional government, as well as by officially recognised security bodies. Amnesty International warned that prisoners from Libya and other African countries have been subject to abuse. The warning comes against a background of anxiety in western capitals about Tripoli’s failure to tackle security and political issues….

The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières has added its voice to the chorus of concern by announcing that it had halted work in the coastal city of Misrata because staff were being asked to patch up detainees during torture sessions. “Patients were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for more interrogation,” said MSF’s Christopher Stokes. “This is unacceptable. Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.”

* Cynicism Around Syria  Vijay Prashad Counterpunch (Thanks Judith)

Rehearsed statements filled the stale air of the UN Security Council on the last day of January. The Arab League’s Nabil el-Araby pleaded with the Council to adopt a draft resolution on Syria furnished by the Moroccan delegation to the UN. The Moroccan resolution is based on a report by the Arab League’s human rights mission to Syria. This draft called for an immediate cessation of violence in Syria and a national dialogue. “We are attempting to avoid any foreign intervention,” el-Araby told the Council, “especially military intervention.” …

The Qataris are eager to install their allies in the Muslim Brotherhood to authority in the region. They have funded the Brotherhood lavishly from Tunisia to Egypt. They would like to move their influence into the Mashriq, bringing their influence to bear against their principle enemy: Iran. …

The Arab League’s el-Araby need not have been worried about the Security Council sanctioning intervention. This is not on the cards. The Russians, burned by the example of UNSC resolution 1973 for Libya, are unwilling to allow any open-ended statement from the Council. They seem to have come to terms with the reality that any Council authorization for intervention by anyone means military action by NATO. No other power has the military capability to act with the kind of force demonstrated by NATO. …

*Chinese Envoy: Veto aimed at Protecting Syria from Civil WarJuan Cole  Informed Comment

 Special envoy on Middle Eastern affairs Wu Sike explains that China feared the resolution would push Syria into a full-fledged civil war. He said he also wanted to avoid another Iraq or Libya fiasco. This is the first time I’ve seen either Russia or China give the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq as a reason for their opposition to further Western intervention in the Middle East. The chickens are coming home to roost. Bush and Cheney thought that they were nailing down another American century, but they may have been hastening the demise of that whole notion.

Oct 28th, 2011 :: Year 8, Issue 31

Oct-28-2011 | Comments (1)

1. Followups

Bird’s Eye: Two retrospective looks this week: the first at the war in Libya. Milne’s Guardian article makes it abundantly clear that the war in Libya was only a victory in a political sense, but an utter defeat in a humanitarian one. And after reading way too many pieces looking at Steve Jobs as either a god or the anti-christ, Salon’s review of Isaacson’s book gives a pretty balanced perspective on the man.

* If The Libyan War Was About Saving Lives, It Was A Catastrophic Failure Seumas MilneThe Guardian

Amnesty International has now produced compendious evidence of mass abduction and detention, beating and routine torture, killings and atrocities by the rebel militias Britain, France and the US have backed for the last eight months – supposedly to stop exactly those kind of crimes being committed by the Gaddafi regime.

Throughout that time African migrants and black Libyans have been subject to a relentless racist campaign of mass detention, lynchings and atrocities on the usually unfounded basis that they have been loyalist mercenaries. Such attacks continue, says Bouckaert, who witnessed militias from Misrata this week burning homes in Tawerga so that the town’s predominantly black population – accused of backing Gaddafi – will be unable to return.

All the while, Nato leaders and cheerleading media have turned a blind eye to such horrors as they boast of a triumph of freedom and murmur about the need for restraint. But it is now absolutely clear that, if the purpose of western intervention in Libya’s civil war was to “protect civilians” and save lives, it has been a catastrophic failure….What the Libyan tragedy has brutally hammered home is that foreign intervention doesn’t only strangle national freedom and self-determination – it doesn’t protect lives either.

* Steve Jobs And The Quest For Iphone Enlightenment Salon

 One of the great mysteries of Steve Jobs is the question of how a man so sincere in his commitment to Zen Buddhism and Eastern spirituality could at the same time be such a flaming asshole. If there’s one thing that comes shining through in Isaacson’s warts-and-all biography, it’s Jobs’ consistent tendency to act like a jerk; to make his friends, employees and family miserable with his insults and put-downs. His tantrums, manipulations and lies (or “reality distortions”) are the stuff of legend. But by golly, he also dedicated himself obsessively to cultivating the perfection and purity of his inner spirit. Uh, how exactly does that compute?

…The most serious flaws in Isaacson’s ultimately unsatisfying “Steve Jobs” are that the author doesn’t step back and grapple with how the world has changed as a consequence of Steve Jobs’ passage through it, and also fails to resolve the contradictions in Jobs’ character into a coherent narrative. This is disappointing, especially when one considers that the level of access Isaacson enjoyed to Jobs and his family during the last days of his life is, of course, impossible for anyone else to duplicate.

Sept 2nd, 2011 :: Year 8, Issue 24

Sep-02-2011 | Comments Off

1. The Fall of the Arab Spring

Bird’s Eye: There’s a lot of triumphant shouting about Qaddafi’s fall. But how much of a change is it really? Stephen Walt thinks not much, while (writing before Libya’s regime change) George Friedman of Stratfor raises some valid points about just how much change has really happened in the middle East. And from Tikkun magazine, Uri Avnery and Michael Nagler debate the validity of violence, even against someone like Qaddafi. It’s a powerful argument, on both sides.

* Why the Libyan Revolution May Not Matter Very Much Stephen M. Walt Foreign Policy

I feel compelled to remind everybody that Libya is not in fact a very important country. It has a very small population (less than 6.5 million, which means that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg governs more people than Qaddafi ever did). Libya does have a lot of oil, but it’s not a market-setting swing producer like Saudi Arabia or a major natural gas supplier like Russia. Libya has little industrial capacity or scientific/technological expertise, its military capabilities were always third-rate, and even its nuclear research programs never came anywhere near producing an actual weapon. And Qaddafi’s incomprehensible ideology won few, if any converts, apart from those who had little choice but to pretend to embrace it.

Instead, Libya under Qaddafi was mostly significant as a sometime sponsor of terrorism and for Brother Muammar’s own bizarre behavior. He was a troublemaker, to be sure, but fortunately he lacked the capability to cause as much trouble as he might have liked. It is heartwarming to see the rebels triumph, and let’s by all means hope that they defy expectations and manage to build a new and reliably democratic Libyan state. But in the larger scheme of the world this revolt is a pretty minor event.

* Re-Examining the Arab Spring George Freidman STRATFOR

It is important to begin with the fact that, to this point, no regime has fallen in the Arab world. Individuals such as Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have been replaced, but the regimes themselves, which represent the manner of governing, have not changed. Some regimes have come under massive attack but have not fallen, as in Libya, Syria and Yemen. And in many countries, such as Jordan, the unrest never amounted to a real threat to the regime. The kind of rapid and complete collapse that we saw in Eastern Europe in 1989 with the fall of communism has not happened in the Arab world. More important, what regime changes that might come of the civil wars in Libya and Syria are not going to be clearly victorious, those that are victorious are not going to be clearly democratic and those that are democratic are obviously not going to be liberal. The myth that beneath every Libyan is a French republican yearning to breathe free is dubious in the extreme.

* Debating Libya and Syria: violence or non-violence? Uri Avnery and Michael Nagler   Tikkun Magazine

Rabbi Michael Lerner says, “This is a critical debate which evokes significant differences among secular and spiritual progressives…. I’m a huge fan of Avnery, whose articles regularly appear on our Tikkun web magazine site www.tikkun.org. And a dear friend of Michael Nagler whose writings have been an inspiration to me and many others. I can easily understand the power of Avnery’s argument, though personally I’m on the side of non-violence.”

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