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A few questions about a sign on a train platform in New Jersey

Photo: Belén Fernández. CLICK TO ENLARGE

  1. If the front lines of terror are located in the U.S., why are the emergency personnel responding to the TRAIN BOMBING wearing outfits labeled “POLICIA”?
  2. Why at every airport security line is there not a television screen replaying footage of the second airplane crashing into the World Trade Center, with the caption “PLANE CRASHING INTO WORLD TRADE CENTER”?
  3. Alternatively, why at every airport security line is there not a television screen replaying footage of the second airplane crashing into the World Trade Center, with the caption “AL QAEDA ALSO WANTS TO OCCUPY WALL STREET”?

Thomas Friedman plots a return to US glory

(Photo: EPA)

The following is my review for Al Jazeera of Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s new book That Used to Be Us.

In a January 2011 Fox Business interview, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman – famed begetter of the notion that the US military should make Iraqis “Suck. On. This“- described his forthcoming book That Used to Be Us as “the first book I’ve really written about America”.

Published last month with the subtitle How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented – And How We Can Come Back, the treatise is co-authored by Friedman’s proclaimed “intellectual soul mate” Michael Mandelbaum, a Johns Hopkins professor who appears on an excessive basis in Friedman’s columns and who is credited with coining the mantra that “people do not change when you tell them they should; they change when they tell themselves they must”. Said mantra does not stop either character from cheerleading the US war on Iraq, which Friedman additionally manages to cast as “the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the US has ever launched” despite simultaneously defining himself as “a liberal on every issue other than this war”.

As for Friedman’s assertion that the current book is the first one he has really written about America, this is not entirely reconcilable with his announcement during a 2010 presentation at Istanbul’s Ozyegin University that his then – latest bestseller Hot, Flat, and Crowded “is really about America”. He adds that The World Is Flat, as well as Hot, Flat, and Crowded, marketed as groundbreaking texts about globalisation and the environment, respectively, “have nothing to do with technology or environment at heart” and are instead “basically cries of the heart to get my country focused on fixing itself”.

Slavery: A 21st Century Evil

Watch “Food chain slaves” below, the inaugural episode of Rageh Omaar’s new Al Jazeera program Slavery: A 21st Century Evil.

Starting around minute 19.30 is a disturbingly illuminating interview with Global Horizons Manpower CEO Mordechai Orian, an Israeli who has been indicted for human trafficking of Thai workers to farms in the US, where they were subjected to conditions of slavery.

Interjecting two entirely irrelevant references to the Holocaust, Orian informs Omaar that he is being unjustly persecuted by the US justice system, and concocts the appallingly illogical argument that, if he is going to be accused of human trafficking, then “everything is human trafficking. Going on [an] airplane from Hawaii to LA is human trafficking”.

Voting made easier for concealed handgun owners in Texas

Rick Perry also goes jogging with a laser sight-equipped pistol (Photo: Rodger Mallison/AP)

In an Oct. 7 article for Bloomberg, Jonathan Alter mentions that Texas Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry “recently signed a bill saying you can vote with a concealed-handgun permit but not with identification from the University of Texas”.

Indeed, the website of the Texas Legislature confirms that, as per Senate Bill 14 of 2011, the following serves as valid voter identification:

a license to carry a concealed handgun issued to the person by the Department of Public Safety that has not expired or that expired no earlier than 60 days before the date of presentation

In the text of the bill, a line has been drawn through invalid voter identification such as:

birth certificate or other document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law and establishes the person’s identity

Other crossed-out text includes

form of identification containing the person’s photograph that establishes the person’s identity

which has curiously been replaced with

United States military identification card that contains the person’s photograph that has not expired or that expired no earlier than 60 days before the date of presentation


Crowley forced to resign following ethical comment

Despite all of the nonsense that has come out of the mouth of suddenly ex-U.S. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley, what forced his resignation today was a recent comment made in regards to the inhumane treatment of US Army Private Bradley Manning, held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, for allegedly leaking classified government cables to WikiLeaks.

CNN reports:

Speaking to a small group at MIT last week, Crowley was asked about allegations that Manning is being tortured and kicked up a firestorm by answering that what is being done to Manning by Defense Department officials ‘is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.’”


MLK assassination to be commemorated with re-segregation of water fountains

U.S. presidents with African lineage might take heed of Beck's observation that the country has "wandered in darkness" too long. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP)

I had assumed that my participation in conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.—held today on the anniversary and at the very location of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech—would be limited to supplying faulty directions to said memorial to a group of tourists clad in “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirts this morning. Out of curiosity I later ended up at the rally myself, where I was informed that the “keynote speaker”, another euphemism for Sarah Palin, had already spoken.

The void left by the termination of Palin’s military rhetoric was now being filled by a bespectacled man near the entrance to the monument grounds wielding a “Who would Jesus bomb?” sign, in response to which conscientious passersby offered such suggestions as Iran. The man with the sign reasoned that, as he had been welcomed neither at the Restoring Honor rally nor at the “leftist gathering” across the street—by which he apparently meant the image of King that had been erected between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building along with speakers emitting the “I Have a Dream” speech—that he must be nearing the truth, one aspect of which was that wars were for socialists.

Potential additional support for King’s musings on America as a schizophrenic personality then surfaced in the form of a middle-aged father hauling three small children, three posters, and a camera, who hastily distributed one poster to each of the offspring and barked instructions for them to arrange themselves with the Lincoln Memorial in the background. The posters bore slogans such as “President—Hands off of my money”; when the male child proved less than cooperative, he was threateningly reminded that this was a family effort and to “get in there”.


Thomas Friedman paints Iraq

(Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

(Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

In a July 14 column on the New York Times website entitled “Goodbye Iraq, and Good Luck,” Thomas Friedman informs us that he is in Kirkuk “tagging along” with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are at a meeting with 11 Iraqi provincial leaders, a sum Friedman explains has been dealt with by “local U.S. officials [who] have provided me a color-coded guide, identifying each Iraqi politician, their political tendencies and religious affiliation.”

The topic of discussion is which part of Kirkuk should be assigned to which color group. The 11 representatives—“seated on one side of the conference table”—present their  claims one by one via Arabic interpreter, until a Kurd breaks the succession with a joke in English. Friedman notes that it is his lucky day, and provides a transcript of the joke:

After Saddam was ousted in 2003… there was an elderly citizen who wanted to write a letter to the new government to explain all his sufferings from the Saddam era to get compensation. But he was illiterate. As you may know, outside our government offices we have professional letter-writers for illiterate people. So the man told the letter-writer all of his problems. ‘In the ’50s, they destroyed my house,’ he said. ‘In the ’60s, they killed two of my sons. In the ’70s, they confiscated my properties,’ and so on, right up to today. The letter-writer wrote it all down. When he was done, the man asked the letter-writer to read it back to him before he handed it to the governor. So the letter-writer read it aloud. When he got done, the man hit himself on the head and said, ‘That is so beautifully done. I had no idea all this happened to me.’ ”

Friedman then supplies a translation of the joke, as even Orientals expressing themselves in English require outside decipherment. Friedman’s rendering is as follows: “Everyone here has a history, and it’s mostly painful. We Iraqis love to tell our histories. And the more we do, the better they get. But with you Americans leaving, we need to decide: Do we keep telling our stories, or do we figure out how to settle our differences?”

An observer unfamiliar with Iraqi culture might have interpreted the Kurd’s joke to simply mean that color-coded representatives were embellishing their claims to Kirkuk. The untrained eye might have also failed to detect the reference to the Americans, or wondered why Friedman’s version of the joke was not funny.