Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When Idiots Win the Propaganda War

In the United States, you get what you pay for. Want to own a corrupt politician?  Take your pick of anyone in Congress. Party affiliation doesn’t matter.  Greed is no respecter of party lines.

Polls show a majority of Americans are now opposed to the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.  That’s the return on millions of dollars invested by AIPAC, the Israeli lobby that has even more clout in Washington than the National Rifle Association, and gazillionaires like Sheldon Adelson, to perpetuate fiction intended to kill the deal.

Spouting ghastly metaphors ("marching to the oven door") and outright lies (“20 violations of international agreements by Iran”) the bought-and-paid-for pols and their fellow whores in the mainstream media have won the propaganda battle.

They'll continue to spew their AIPAC talking points until they've squeezed the last squirt of ink out of them, then vote their disapproval of the agreement.  President Obama will veto whatever they pass, and maybe the idiots will come up with enough votes to override, maybe not.

Either way, it’s questionable how much the baying idiots in congress can actually accomplish with regard to the deal.  It has already been approved by the UN Security Council, clearing the way for member nations to lift their economic sanctions on Iran.  The actions of the U.S. Congress mean zilch to the rest of the world.  Other nations can go ahead and lift their sanctions and free their investor class to pour money into Iran, where a thriving middle class has emerged despite the sanctions. Congress can keep the U.S. sanctions in place, but if other nations leap to do business with Iran, some of the very American oligarchs who own Congress will miss out on a chance to tap a profitable new market.  I can’t imagine they’d be happy.

If the Congressional review of the Vienna agreement were being conducted solely on the merits of the deal itself, the opposition would be dead in the water.  The United States and its negotiating partners have gained more oversight of Iran’s nuclear program than they had before the deal was struck.  No nation in history has accepted  such constraints as those Iran has agreed to.  (“They have agreed to stop doing what they have never done,” one Mideast expert said.As Noam Chomsky put it, “What Iran ‘threat’?”) The P5+1, in return, gave up absolutely nothing that involves any significant risks to themselves or to their allies, including Israel. 

Thanks to insane Republicans and gutless Democrats in Congress, the United States increasingly stands alone among the world community in its ignorance, hegemony and recklessness.

So the polls show that Americans want congress to try to kill the Iran deal.

The same polls show that Americans give a higher approval rating to Donald Trump than to Pope Francis.

’Nuff said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Gotta Believe!

The most precious thing we have to give is belief.  You’d expect us to think very hard before we confer it. You’d be wrong, especially as regards the human sub-species called the American voter.

As recently as last year, a study involving 2,200 participants found that 25 percent of Americans, one in four, still believed in geocentrism, the idea that the sun revolves around the earth.  Well, why the hell not? After all, the book by Nicolaus Copernicus that proved otherwise was published nearly 500 years ago, and in Latin!  Who reads Latin, anyway?

Who, among Republican voters, reads anything?  Why bother, when you’ve got Fox to watch?  

Supporting a political candidate implies belief in him or her.  In the latest polls, more Republicans support Donald Trump than any other of the 15 seekers after the party’s presidential nomination.  Donald Trump!! Not that any of that crowd is an intellectual giant or paragon of truth.  But Donald Trump?  Why not Tiger Woods? Beyonce? Bill Cosby?

Precious few Americans have ever been to Iran, or can even find it on a map of the world.  Yet they believe those 47 traitors in the United States senate who oppose making peace with the Iranians.  After all, didn’t Iran hold a bunch of hostages when we honored them by having an embassy there?.  Besides, they believe in Islam so they gotta be bad.  It’s not just Fox telling us so.  Even the liberal New York Times says so.

William O. Beeman, a distinguished academic at the University of Minnesota, not only has been to Iran and can find it on the map, but he speaks the language fluently and without a “foreign” accent.  He recently returned to Iran to travel the country extensively and interview hundreds of Iranians from all walks of life.  He has written in great detail about those travels and those interviews.

Have you read a word of it in the mainstream media?  Have you heard a word of it, on Fox or anyplace else?  Not bloody likely.  Genuine experts like Beeman get no belief from Americans.  What Americans “know” about Iran they got from dunderheads like Bill O’Reilly, not from people like Beeman who actually know something worth learning.

Americans believe that angry citizens of Ukraine forced the democratically-elected president of the country to flee to Russia, which caused Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops into Crimea to capture it and make it part of Russia.  This is about as close to truth as geocentrism.  Stand in the middle of New Mexico looking skyward for a while, and it sure seems plausible.

Unfortunately, the truth about Ukraine, like the truth about our galaxy, is very different from what American voters believe. It’s easy to believe what the politicians in Washington say because Ukraine (which is as hard to find on the map as Iran) is really, really far away and who gives a shit what goes on there anyway? It’s not like they were people or something.

American beliefs about peoplehood defy logic.  Most Muslims are not people, except for those who are on our side.  Once there was a Muslim leader called Saddam Hussein.  For a while he was on our side and we believed in him. We sent Secretaries of State to his country, Iraq, to hobnob with him and give him airplanes and guns and stuff.  So he and the Iraqis were people, except for the ones he gassed with poison weapons we gave him.  Then he stopped dancing to every tune they played in Washington and suddenly he and his people weren’t really people any more.  So we had to send troops over there to kill a couple of million of his non-people, and track down Saddam himself in a rabbit-hole somewhere, and kill him, too.

Part of being a good American is knowing which people are really people and which aren’t.  The people who aren’t people need to be killed and we have to Support Our Troops in killing those that need killing.

Despite all the killing, there are still so many people in the world that it’s very difficult to decide which ones to believe.  We could think very hard about it, but that takes time and effort.  So we watch Fox.

Benjamin Netanyahu.  Now there’s a real American for you. Believe it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Courage. Extreme Courage. And Garry B., Beyond Category

I used to check out the tennis courts even on days when I wasn’t planning to play.  No telling when you might scare up a game.

One day I spotted a new guy, hitting against the ball machine on court two. We introduced ourselves and had a hit.  Garry B., the newcomer, was much younger and much the better player, but he was gracious about my many failures to return his shots.

“Let’s do it again sometime,” he lied when we had finished.  But we played again only when he and his partner could split up for a friendly game of doubles with me and my partner. I relished these sessions because there  was always lots of laughter when Garry was on the court.

Even on the day when he disclosed he was about to begin chemotherapy for lymphoma. He was joking about  hair loss, loss of sex drive and what the poisonous chemicals might do to his tennis game.  He knew that I had survived lung cancer and asked how, when I was declared cancer free five years after my initial surgery, I had celebrated. “I’m looking forward to that kind of party,” he said.

A fellow tennis player who, in a grim coincidence, had had the same diagnosis as Garry, at about the same time, did in fact have “that kind of party” five years later. But that kind of party wasn’t in the cards for Garry.

No one in his large circle of friends ever knew the kind of hell he went through fighting the disease the only way medical science knew how, with toxic brews designed to kill cancer cells.  “I just stay home on the bad days, so nobody has to see me that way,” he told me once.  Otherwise he went to work (he’s an intensive-care unit nurse), played tennis including as many tournaments as he had time for, and organized fun weekends for himself and his friends.  Motorcycle tours, trips to hot springs spas, trips to the casinos of Las Vegas, hikes in the desert, hikes in the mountains, swimming parties, dancing parties, movie parties, bicycling trips.

Lance Armstrong was still an American sports hero then, the man who conquered cancer — twice — to become the best bicycle racer in the world.  Garry raised money for the cyclist’s Livestrong Foundation and its campaign for cancer research. He was a regular entrant in Livestrong’s regional fund-raising tennis tournaments.  

Garry had once been a trainer-handler for show dogs.  Now he kept a pack of mongrel best friends of his own and cared for friends’ best friends when they needed a friendly paw.  His fun weekends included many outings planned especially for the canines. He specialized in finding new homes for needy dogs.  

One day he turned up at the tennis courts and declined an invitation to play singles with one of the better players in the club — which immediately raised eyebrows.  Was he not feeling well?  “Had a Pacemaker implant yesterday,” he said, so he settled for a  leisurely set of social doubles. Afterward, he remarked that, “I had a healthy heart when all this started, but the chemo messed  things up so I needed the Pacemaker.”  This was his intro to a series of Pacemaker jokes that left everyone laughing.

Time and chemo therapy marched on. Their toll was gradual.  Little by little, grudgingly, Garry acknowledged the diminution of his tennis prowess.  Little by little, grudgingly, he cut back on the physical demands of some of the fun weekends. One weekend, over beer at a brew pub , he let slip that “they” could no longer give him chemo therapy.  They’d run out of witches’ brews to infuse him with. Sit around and wait to die?  Not Garry.

Garry put his medical background to work overtime.  He discovered that someone, somewhere had developed a promising new chemical treatment for lymphoma and was pushing to get it approved by the FDA.  They needed guinea pigs to test it.  Garry pushed himself to the front of the line.

Soon he was driving 250 miles every other week to a hospital that had access to the experimental drug.  Shortly after this regimen had begun I took Brandi out for a run with Garry and his dogs.  I asked how long it had been since the first diagnosis.  “More than ten years,” he said. He told several humorous stories about his battles with “the insurance bureaucrats.”  He was on a first-name basis with virtually all of them — up to the vice-president level, at least. 

He still showed up at the tennis courts from time to time.  One day he told us about volunteering to be the guinea pig for yet another new, unapproved chemical mix.  The doctor said it was for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  “But mine is Hodgkins lymphoma,” Garry said. “Oh, didn’t I tell you?,” the doctor said.  “You’ve got both now.” Garry laughed and laughed, as if this was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.

I had coffee the other day with a mutual friend.  “Haven’t see Garry in quite a while,” I said.  “How’s he doing.?”

”He sold his house, threw a big farewell party for himself, and moved to Yuma,” the friend said.

Nobody at the party is quite sure why.  Some speculate that he went to enter a highly-regarded non-profit hospice there.

Knowing Garry, he might have discovered a tennis tournament for terminally-ill cancer patients.  Or, more likely,  he means to organize one.  Just one more fun weekend.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Passing Judgment at the Glenmore

When I was a kid . . .

Go play, children.  Grandpa is reminiscing again.

I remember 1940, when I first realized how exciting politics could be.  Especially presidential politics.

Over glasses of Hudepohl, the men of Herbert Avenue would gather at the Glenmore Tavern to argue the merits of Wendell Willke, the republican nominee, and the incumbent Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The Hudephol cost a dime.  They drove cars that cost $800.  They used 733 gallons of gas per year, which cost them about $140. Less than two cents of their federal tax dollar was spent on guns, bullets and the armed forces.

America was at peace; had been for more than two decades.  A formidable bloc of citizens wanted to keep it that way, despite rising calls for the United States to enter the war against the so-called Axis powers abroad.

Dad was a Willke man. Mom, the daughter of a devoted union electrician, considered F.D.R. to be a saint.  She listened to her man’s campaign speeches on the small radio in their bedroom.  Dad listened to Willke on the big set in the living room.  Each side accused the other of “mudslinging,” accusations that my parents dutifully repeated.  In fact, neither side disclosed the worst “dirt” it had on the other.  The secret of Willke’s illicit love affair, for example, was safe.

At the Glenmore, Dad’s greatest ire was the TVA.  Willke had been president of the big utility, Commonwealth and Southern Corp., which provided electricity to 11 states.  Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, a government agency that promised to bring flood control and cheap electricity to impoverished rural areas, became a direct competitor of Willke’s company. Willkie testified against the TVA in Congress, saying that it would be unconstitutional for the government to enter the utility business. In 1939, Commonwealth & Southern was forced to sell its property in the Tennessee Valley to the TVA.

Roosevelt’s New Deal, Dad would thunder at the Glenmore, was “an abomination against honest American business.”  Many Roosevelt partisans there agreed that the government “had an unfair advantage” against private businesses and should not be allowed to compete against them.  But, they would argue, even Willke supported New Deal programs that dealt with problems that could not be solved better by private enterprise, including Social Security, the pro-union Wagner Act and the Security and Exchange commission to guard against another depression.

On the war issue, the good folk at the Glenmore were about equally divided for and against intervention, but pacifism rather than isolationism seemed to drive many of them.  Dad, a Red Cross non-combatant in the First World War, talked about some of the terrible wounds he’d seen and agreed with Willke: "no man has the right to use the great powers of the Presidency to lead the people, indirectly, into war." Frank, the barman and co-owner of the Glenmore, decreed that Vendell Villke — he used the phony accent that an animated cartoon character had made into a national catch-phrase — was a good and decent man but he was not Franklin D. Roosevelt and where would this nation be without FDR?

Within a week of Roosevelt’s re-election, the men of the Glenmore faced the war issue with new concern: where would the Reds get ballplayers if Lombardi, the McCormicks, Bucky Walters and  others had to go off to fight The Hun? Didn’t we already win “the war to end all wars?”

*  *  *

Back then your Grandpa was but a lad himself, children.  The country was the United States of America, and  it was still a democratic republic.

I understand the Clinton multimillionaires  and Bush billionaires will be having another dynastic mash-up one of these days.  Do people still take these clowns seriously?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Death on Everest

“We do not conquer the mountain,” Edmund Hillary said.  “We conquer ourselves.”

He and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, were the first two humans ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth.  Now, 62 years later, thousands of people have reached that summit — but Everest remains unconquered.

Last year it loosed an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas, the ablest climbers in the world. Until yesterday that was Everest’s deadliest day.

The tolls are still climbing from Saturday’s monstrous earthquake in Nepal and the avalanches it triggered on the world’s highest mountain.

One climber estimated the Everest toll at 17; a doctor with an expedition at Base Camp said he had counted 14 bodies.  Many people are still missing. Frequent aftershocks have been frustrating the search and rescue efforts.  More than 100 climbers were believed to be trapped somewhere on the dangerous icefall high above  Base Camp. “There are so many people up there,” one climber said, that as a practical matter, “it’s impossible to get them all off with helicopters.”

Jon Reiter, an American mountaineer, survived the latest disaster.  “They were massive avalanches,” he told CNN. Carsten Pederson, another climber, said, “Immediately after the shock, we heard avalanches from all the mountains around us."  An immense wave of rocks, snow and ice engulfed Base Camp. People, Pederson said, “were trying to outrun the avalanche and you cannot. So many people were hit from behind, blown off the mountain, blown into rocks, hit by debris, tents were flying off."

Most  of the best Everest guides are Sherpas, like Norgay.  One of them, Pasang Sherpa, who lost friends and relatives in the 2014 disaster, said,  “This is our job.  There is always a risk of death.”

Fellow mountaineer George Lowe was among the first to greet Hillary and Norgay on their descent from the top of the world back in 1953. 

“Well, we knocked the bastard off,” Hillary said.

He didn’t say “conquered.”  He knew better.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pawns Moving on Ukraine Chessboard

Russian-born Dimitri Simes, a graduate of Moscow State University who emigrated to the United States in the 1970s and promptly became one of the leading experts on Russia and the former Soviet republics, has made a chilling prediction.

Chilling because he has been eerily accurate in his forecasts..  He and co-author Graham Allison, who is somewhat more hawkish, write in the current issue of the bi-monthly Republican magazine,  The National Interest, that the odds are shortening on a war between the United States and Russia over Ukraine.

At almost the moment their article appeared in print, Canada committed to send 200 soldiers to western Ukraine to join 800 Americans and 75 British troops on a year-long mission to train the Ukrainian army for combat against Russia.

While the announcement of the training mission might have Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly laughing up his sleeve ( more on that in a moment), it has generally been interpreted as one more Washington blunder toward an armed encounter with Russia.

More than a year ago, Simes offered his insights on how Russia might respond to Washington affronts over Ukraine.  

We can inflict severe economic damage on Russia. We can do things which would help to isolate Russia internationally,” he said.But then we should not be surprised if Russia, to compensate for economic losses, and for the loss of prestige,  would supply Iran with S-300 or perhaps S-400 missiles.”

Exactly what happened the moment Iran agreed to a draft framework in the negotiations with the P5+1 nuclear talks in Switzerland.

You should not be surprised if Russia would introduce a new element of global instability by reaching  a security agreement with Beijing,” Simes also said last year.

Russia and China announced a security agreement in October.

Simes warned that “(Russia)  can reduce the production of natural gas.”  The Bear didn’t go quite that far, but it did announce plans to shift all its natural gas flows crossing Ukraine to a route via Turkey.  Despite being forewarned by the prescient Mr. Simes, the EU went predictably bonkers, pretended to be shocked, shocked, that Russia would use its gas supplies as a poker chip in the new Cold War.

Whether that war becomes a hot war remains to be seen, just as it remains to be seen how effective will be the efforts of the United States and its allies to train the Ukrainian army into an effective force for fighting the Russian-backed eastern secessionists.

Putin and his generals well know what happened when Washington invested $25 billion and hundreds of “advisors” to train the Iraqi army.  Here’s the Los Angeles Times’s award-winning reporter David Zucchino on “Why the Iraqi Army Can’t Fight” against ISIS:

“Hussein Shehab knew things were going badly when he spotted the Iraqi police pickup trucks. They were flying the black flag of Islamic State fighters, who were driving the vehicles straight toward him and his fellow Iraqi security force soldiers.

“It was June 9 in Mosul in northern Iraq. Shehab, a federal paramilitary police officer assigned to an army unit, realized that other officers had abandoned their vehicles and fled Islamic State fighters who were about to seize Iraq's second-largest city.

“By the end of the day, Shehab's entire division had collapsed. Two army divisions also disintegrated as thousands of soldiers and police officers shed their uniforms, dropped their weapons and ran for their lives. Shehab, told that his commanders had deserted, tossed his rifle and ran away too.

“‘We felt like cowards, but our commanders were afraid of Daesh. They were too afraid to lead us," said Shehab, 43, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“Shehab and others in his battalion describe Iraq's security forces as poorly led and sparsely equipped, with soldiers suspicious of commanders and uncertain they would get enough food, water and ammunition in the heat of battle. Discipline is ragged, men disappear or go on leave at will, and commanders list "ghost soldiers" while collecting their paychecks, they said.

“‘This army is not prepared to fight. Nobody trusts anyone, not even from their own sect’ said a 32-year-old federal police officer. The United States has now deployed 1,400 advisors to try to rebuild the shattered military into a force that can repel Islamic State.”

Will the Kiev training be any more successful that the effort in Iraq?

You couldn’t blame Putin for laughing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Time to Take a Stand

Somewhere in the Capitol building in Washington is a dark room where severed testicles hang from meathooks drying like raisins in the sun.

The excised cojones once belonged to agencies like the IRS, OSHA, EPA and others originally created to protect the public interest against predations by private interests -- and to all the Democrats elected to federal office in the last 25 years.

For Republicans they are trophies, like the Indian scalps of the post-bellum westward expansion by white Americans.  For the common citizens of the sick republic, they are testament to the need for a viable third party of the left.  Let the Republicans continue their rightward swing into mass dementia.  Let the Democrats continue to simper like center-right eunuchs, standing for nothing, spewing words, words, words. But give voters of intelligence a new party fielding candidates with the courage to stand for all the difficult reforms that might one day restore a semblance of democracy to these shores.

Let Schumer and other castrati in the Senate join with the 47 treasonous Republicans in sabotaging the Iran nuclear framework, as they have done in sanctioning the Corker amendment.  But at least give us a choice, a party of proud liberals, calling out the corporate whores for their sedition and offering the electorate a choice — sanity, peace, social progress, enlightenment.

Where are the men and women of integrity who, if elected, stand by their promises of the campaign trail?  Of transparent government?  Of ending torture and respecting human rights? 

Where are the men and women with the courage to declare that health care is one of those human rights and insist that a single-payer system is the democratic way to achieve it?

Where are the men and women with the wisdom to to show us how, in a true democracy, workers receive their fair share of the profits from private enterprise, and the CEOs receive only their fair share?

Where are the men and women whose priorities call for mending broken American infrastructure, putting Americans back to work, fixing a failed education system and restoring justice?  Who refuse to permit the citizens  of the country to remain slaves of a military-industrial oligarchy?

Where are the truth-seekers who think the founders had a worthwhile idea in the separation of church and state?  Who can stand up to the tyrannical preachments of the religious right and tell them, “You are free to believe what your so-called faith demands, but you are not free to impose those beliefs on the rest of us.”

Where  are the men who are manly enough to cede absolute equality to women, and to those of other colors, or different sexual orientations?

Where are those who understand that in a nation this large, this diverse, only a strong federal government can guarantee the rights of individuals vs. corporations, of humanity vs. the military, of minorities vs. the privileged few?

Where are the enlightened souls who know to leaven power with love, to heed the voices of their better angels, whose only litmus test for office is unrelenting dedication to the service of the people, all the people, all the time?

Have we sunk so low as a nation that these goals are out of reach? Surely there must still be among us such people as believe in them and would lead us toward them.

Our only hope as a nation is that enough of them will come together and  form a powerful political alternative to the dreadful fools in whose hands our government now rests.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Which Way is Up?

It’s an upside-down world for those who came of age before . . . . who came of age.

The most self-evident truths now conflict with conventional craziness.

Peace is better than war?  Not any more.  The Republicans have gone bonkers because President Obama just took a small but important step toward peace in the Middle East.  Upside down: here’s the untried war criminal, Dick Cheney, telling us that Obama is trying to “bring America down.”  He served as vice president to that monument to incompetence, George W. Bush, who endeared himself to his electorate because he “didn’t do nuance.”  It’s an electorate whose collective ignorance would be the laughing stock of the world if its electoral choices didn’t have such hideous impact on the rest of the world.

Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor of economics, rightly denounced “the stupidity of the American voter.”  Although he was the architect of “Romney care” in Massachusetts, of which the federal Affordable Care Act is a virtual clone, the state dumped him from its health care commission because of his blunt honesty. A fellow faculty member noted that being “explicitly honest is a tradition at MIT,” but added that only sometimes is it “a good thing.” As Voltaire wrote, “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." In fact, in today’s USA, being explicitly honest is a very rare thing, and a non-existent thing in the political sphere. And so the adage generations grew up by — “Honesty is the best policy” — has been turned upside-down.

Truth, logic, science and historical fact have all been turned upside-down in the United States.

In New Mexico, after almost a decade of severe drought, the Rio Grande is a dry bed  for six months of the year.  In California, the governor has restrictions on water use (though absolving the businesses that caused its drought). In China, a 1,300 square mile freshwater lake — more than four times the size of New York City — dried up due to an ongoing drought.  In the high Sierra of America’s West, bears have forgone hibernating as a result of warm conditions.  In Maine, increasing ocean acidity has accelerated  the spread of coastal “dead mud,” bringing disaster on clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers, and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.In Australia, blistering heat chased koalas from the trees, baked100,000 bats to death, threatens cattle and crops and has tripled the risk of forest and grass fires.  The list of environmental catastrophes attributable to climate change is almost endless.  And yet we not only elect kooks like James Inhofe of Oklahoma to the U.S. Senate, we make him chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. When Inhofe threw a snowball at the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate last winter, even the conservative Washington Post editorial page was moved to say, “The Republican Party should be mortified by the face of their environmental leadership.”
The political whores who denounce Obama’s breakthrough diplomatic agreement with Iran over nuclear issues echo the Israeli government’s wild-hare notion that it is a threat to Israel’s very existence.  It’s Israel that has more than 200 nukes, refuses to sign the international weapons control protocol, and refuses to admit IAEA inspectors to the country.  Iran has no nukes, is a signatory to the international agreement, has been regularly inspected by the IAEA and has no present capability for making nuclear weapons. 
Half a century ago we passed a civil rights law designed to make just justice color-blind.  Today we tolerate a system of “justice” wherein our militarized white police without fear or favor gun down blacks, especially if they are young, wearing hoodies, carrying Skittles, driving with a broken tail light or have their hands up in the universal gesture of surrender. That same system of “justice” permits men in $1,500 suits to commit fraud and robbery without penalty because they are the managers of banks that are too big to fail.
That’s another self-evident truth that’s been turned upside-down: “All men are created equal.”  Tell that to a Walton.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

There Are No Sure Bets -- Not Even Kentucky

Today I write with equal confidence that Kentucky will win the NCAA basketball tournament and that Israel is putting the full court press on the governments of France, Germany and Britain to turn them against any nuclear agreement with Iran.

Talks have been taking place in Switzerland between the Islamic Republic of Iran and six nations known as the P5+1 — the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia —  in quest of an agreement that would allow Iran to continue peaceful use of nuclear energy but prohibit it from obtaining nuclear weapons, while also providing Iran relief from western economic sanctions.

Last night, optimism bloomed: 

The American Iranian Council issued a statement under the heading, “A Win for Diplomacy just took place.”  It said: “Iran and the P5+1 have reached an understanding for a political framework in which key areas of agreement will be noted as well as outstanding issues, which will continue to be discussed until the June 30 deadline toward a comprehensive deal. Reportedly, the negotiating parties are drafting a text that will be delivered in the coming hours. . .  .this is an important achievement that the American Iranian Council has pushed for both publicly and behind the scenes. . . . .the American Iranian Council urges both the US Congress and Iran’s revolutionaries to support the understanding that their nation’s top diplomats have reached. “

The White House told news organizations to expect “high level, robust engagement” to sell the agreement to Congress and the American public.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said before returning to Moscow that negotiators had reached a general accord on "all key aspects."

The impression at that time was that all participants were leaving it to “technical experts” to write the language of the preliminary agreement and have it ready sometime today.

If you thought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, flush with his recent election victory, was going to leave it at that, you’ve got more than tobacco in your peace pipe.

Top diplomats from London, Paris and Berlin -- Israel's closest European friends -- headed home to take Bibi’s angry and impassioned phone calls.  Lavrov is consulting with his boss, Vladimir Putin, whose ideas provided the basic framework of the agreement in principle that he thought had been forged. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi left for home, tossing over his shoulder the warning that, ”If the talks are stuck, then all previous efforts to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the six major powers will have been wasted,.”

Israel has already pulled the chains of its toadies in the U.S. Congress.  The infamous writer of folly letters, Sen. Tom cotton of Arkansas, was button-holing people all over Washington to shreik that it was time for the United States to “walk away” from the talks.

Only Bibi knows what extreme methods the Israelis might employ to persuade Britain, France and Germany to torpedo the fragile but oh, so close preliminary agreement.

And so, back to the NCAA basketball tournament.  One recent March, a beach walker kicked up a bottle in the sand and a genii appeared.  “You have one wish,” the genii said.  “I wish for peace in the Middle East,” the man said, and handed the genii a map of the area.  The genii handed the map back, saying, “That’s too difficult, even for me. Make another wish.”  The man said, “I wish for the University of Iowa to win the NCAA basketball tournament.”  The genii paused, then said, “Let me see that map again.”

Look at the map again, diplomats of P5+1.  Look at the map and listen to your consciences, not the angry rants from Israel.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Iran, The Times and Motherfudge

Yesterday, under the headline “Iran Backs Away From Key Detail in Nuclear Deal;” the New York Times published the latest word-game  by David Sanger and Michael Gordon as if it were real news, rather than what former Times editor Max Frankel used to call “a thinly-disguised Q-head.”

There’s a fine line — only Frankel knew exactly where to draw it — between a thinly disguised Q-head, or news analysis, and sheer propaganda.

The Sanger-Gordon piece, by whatever name, was part of a recently intensified media campaign to sabotage the talks  in Switzerland  between Iran and the P5+1 nations seeking an agreement on what Iran can and cannot do within the nuclear program first given to it by the United States half a century ago.

They “key detail” was Iran’s supposed “agreement” that as part of the deal it would allow most of its stockpile of nuclear fuel to be shipped to Russia to be converted into a form that could not be used for weapons.

The Times based its “backs away” report entirely on a single off-the-cuff remark made by an Iranian negotiator in a briefing of Iranian reporters.

Today — in what might have been (but wasn’t) headlined “Sanger and Gordon back Away from Key Point in Sabotage of Nuclear Deal” — the Times published a sort-of “oops!” The negotiator’s remark was only an “apparent change of position,” Sanger/Gordon wrote. 

“Contrary to the report in The New York Times,” they wrote, “the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively,” a senior State Department official said in a statement that was emailed to reporters.

Even though the lede was buried in the seventh paragraph, today’s story amounted to a rare concession to truth by the Times reporters.

Typically, their Sunday story was loaded with hedges, a clumsy effort to disguise its bias: “. . . that could make . . .”;  “nonetheless . . .could raise a potential obstacle. . .”; “‘ ‘ ‘ is bound to intensify . . .opposition . . .”; “If . . .particularly if . . .could give . . . if . . .questions about suspected nuclear design. . .; . . .not clear . . .”; “If . . .”; “. . .if . . .”If . . . even if . . .”; “ . . . leaked estimates. . .”.; “ . . . competing estimates could pose. . .”; “. . .could provide fodder. . .”

Oh my.  Maybe the sky is falling, Chicken Little!

When the legendary news editor, Ted Bernstein, created an internal Times house organ called Winners and Sinners, it quickly achieved Biblical status, what one Times staffer called “the force of law.”  In the late 60s and early 70s, a debate raged over whether Times style should allow direct quotation of some of the most colorful street slang of the era.  Resist the temptation, Bernstein ruled; “be a motherfudger.” Thus the act of motherfudging came to be enshrined at The Times with the force of law.

But that law was anchored in the era when journalists used typewriters.  Not even Bernstein could have predicted how much motherfudge could be concocted in the computer era by the likes of Sanger and Gordon.