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68 posts from October 2008

October 31, 2008

The McCain spokesman and the phantom antisemite

McCain spokesman Micheal Goldfarb embarrassed himself on CNN while attempting to insinuate that Barack Obama's friend Prof. Rashid Khalidi is some kind of antisemitic terrorist.

Goldfarb was asked how McCain can attack Obama when McCain's organization funded Khalidi's NGO. Goldfarb claimed everybody knows about Obama's associations with antisemites, but when pressed, he couldn't think of anyone else to falsely accuse.

Khalidi is, in fact, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. He's a eminent mainstream scholar, a beloved teacher, and the author of standard university textbooks on the Middle East.

Before I go any further, I just want to say that I agree with Rashid's friend and colleague Barnett Rubin who finds it "demeaning, insulting, and depresssing" to have to defend Khalidi against such transparently ridiculous charges.

Khalidi is an American citizen born and raised in New York City. He was educated at Yale and Oxford. Khalidi became friends with Barack Obama while the two men were teaching at the University of Chicago.

Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer who teaches law and journalism at Columbia, knows Khalidi personally. In a recent blog post, he defended his colleague from right wing attacks by the McCain campaign and its surrogates.

"Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights," Horton wrote, "He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies."

Under John McCain's leadership, the International Republican Institute gave several research grants to Khalidi's foundation, including one 1998 award worth nearly half a million dollars.

Khalidi is a frequent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs in the mainstream media. He is regular guest on the Charlie Rose Show. He has also appeared on ABC News with Peter Jennings, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS News, and NPR. His book, Resurrecting Empire, got a good review in the New York Times from a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

John McCain even did a joint interview with Khalidi with Leslie Stahl of CBS in 1991.

Khalidi's critics claim that he was a spokesman Palestine Liberation Organization in the early eighties, a charge he denies. The main "evidence" to support this contention is a 1982 column by Thomas Friedman that describes Khalidi as a spokesman for a Palestinian press agency. Khalidi says Friedman made a mistake.

While he was a professor in Beirut in the early eighties Khalidi often spoke to the media about the P.L.O., but he was a scholar who studied the group, not an employee.

Friedman's subsequent writing on Khalidi matches Khalidi's own description of his work in Beirut. In 1985 Friedman wrote a very positive review of Khalidi's book on decision-making in the P.L.O.. If Friedman thought that Khalidi had been an official spokesman for the organization, I doubt he would have praised his book as a work of history.

"Rashid Khalidi witnessed this war at first hand. An Oxford-trained Palestinian historian with close contacts in the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, he had both the academic background and the political sources needed to assess Palestinian decisionmaking during the weeks of siege," Friedman wrote, "After having conducted additional interviews with members of both the P.L.O.'s leadership and the American Administration, and having sifted through the extensive archive of telexes and documents maintained by the P.L.O., Mr. Khalidi has produced an extremely valuable analysis of how and why the P.L.O. made the decisions it did during that fateful summer of 1982."

The McCain campaign is attacking an innocent academic in a way that can only be described as racist.

If Khalidi were known as "Joe the Mid-East Studies Prof," the McCain campaign would never have slandered him. It's as if the campaign made a list of Obama's friends, picked the guy with the scariest most "Arab sounding" name, and branded him a terrorist.

The man has done absolutely nothing wrong. Yes, he's pro-Palestinian. That doesn't make him a terrorist. Yes, he has been critical of Israel's human rights record in Palestine. That doesn't make him an antisemite.

If John McCain is too ignorant or too bigoted to see the difference between an academic critic of of the Israeli occupation and a terrorist, he's even less fit to be president than I thought.

More likely, McCain knows perfectly well that Khalidi is neither a terrorist nor Jew-hater. McCain's own institute, which is dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights, funded Khalidi's work in Gaza for many years. McCain appeared on television opposite Khalidi in 1991, which I doubt he would have done if he really thought Khalidi was a terrorist.

During the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000, the state was embroiled in a controversy over whether to remove the Confederate flag from atop the state capitol building. McCain refused to take a stance saying that he regarded the Confederate flag as a matter of "heritage."

This act of moral cowardice was immediately recognized for what it was, shameless pandering. Even McCain was ashamed of himself.

Having lost, he begged for forgiveness for his "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition". "I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles," McCain said after the fact.

I wonder if McCain will eventually apologize to Rashid Khalidi for this year's desperate racist pandering. He'll have lots of time to regret it after he loses.

October 30, 2008

Journalist embeds with the Taliban, Bing West can't handle the truth

The military spends hundreds of millions of dollars on spying drones to monitor Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

Thanks to journalist Nir Rosen, they can get a first hand look at the inner workings of the Taliban for about four bucks (the cover price of Rolling Stone) or even for free on the internet.

Some people are never satisfied. And by "some people," I mean Bing West.

West is outraged that Rosen embedded with Taliban fighters. The retired Marine and counterinsurgency expert thinks it's unpatriotic for a journalist to cover both sides of a conflict.

West twists Rosen's words to make him sound like an apologist for the Taliban. He claims that Rosen sees the Taliban as a bunch of freedom fighting bumpkins against warlords: "Having told the reader what his intent was, Rosen described the Taliban as 'religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords.'"

Here's the sentence West cherry picked:

"The Taliban — once an isolated and impoverished group of religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords — are now among the best-armed and most experienced insurgents in the world, linked to a global movement of jihadists that stretches from Pakistan and Iraq to Chechnya and the Philippines."

So, Rosen actually believes that the Taliban are among the most dangerous jihadists in the world today.

West calls Rosen's story a "propaganda coup" for the Taliban. This is only a coup if the Taliban subscribes to the "I don't care what you say about us, just spell 'Taliban' right" school of PR.

Rosen's Taliban are cold-blooded killers who have never seen a toothbrush. 

One of the more sympathetic figures in Rosen's story is a Taliban fighter in a rhinestone-studded cap who claims to have personally executed some 200 "spies," mostly by beheading.

Even less endearing are the rival faction of Taliban who kidnap Rosen and hold him prisoner while they decide whether to behead him, hold him for ransom, or just slap him around to punish him for straying into their territory without permission.

At one point, Rosen refers to the Taliban fighters encroaching on Kabul as "barbarians at the gate."

This isn't what you'd call a puff piece.

What really irks West, I suspect, is Rosen's argument that the US must negotiate with the Taliban to end the occupation.

The fighters Rosen interviewed were more interested in getting foreigners out of their country than ushering in a new caliphate.   

Just to be clear, Rosen doesn't see the Taliban as freedom fighters. Once they kick out the foreigners, they plan to take over the government, and go back to taking other people's freedom away.

Rosen sees them as a collection of squabbling power-hungry factions that the US could play off one another.

He argues convincingly that the US should try to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Bush administration has neglected Afghanistan for years and the Taliban are simply too entrenched to be defeated by winning the hearts and minds of civilians in the cities, Rosen maintains.

It seems obvious to Rosen that the US will never defeat the Taliban militarily. So, negotiation strikes him as the only viable strategy, however unpalatable it may seem.

Rosen's opinions carry special weight because he has observed the facts on the ground.
It's telling that Bing West decided to attack Rosen patriotism rather than attempting to refute his arguments.

October 29, 2008

Colombia fires 3 generals and 22 soldiers over civilian massacre

Colombia has fired 3 generals and 22 soldiers who are accused of murdering 11 young men just to inflate the Army's body count:

They are suspected of being involved in the deaths of 11 young men from Bogota, whose bodies were found in mass graves in the north-east of the country.

Rights groups say they were kidnapped or lured with the promise of work, then killed in combat zones to inflate army statistics on rebels killed. [BBC]

Colombia's human rights record came up in third presidential debate. John McCain rolled his eyes when Obama expressed concern that Colombian labor leaders are being murdered with impunity.

NM Republicans used 19-year-old's voter registration to run credit checks

This is disgusting. Republicans in New Mexico are alleged to have illegally used voter registration data, including Social Security numbers, to run credit checks and other inquiries high school students who registered to vote in a drive organized by ACORN.

New Mexico Republicans released the personally identifying information of minors in the course of their political grandstanding over alleged voter registration fraud by ACORN.

One 19-year-old victim is suing with the help of the ACLU. More details on the lawsuit here:

It's not clear how the Republicans got ahold of the SSNs of voters. Voter registration information is supposed to be available only in redacted form. Perhaps the lawsuit will reveal how the operatives got the unredacted documents.

Up next: Credit card crisis


Because who could have foreseen that extending massive amounts of credit to unqualified borrowers at exorbitant interest would be unsustainable?

Lenders wrote off an estimated $21 billion in bad credit card loans in the first half of 2008 as more borrowers defaulted on their payments. With companies laying off tens of thousands of workers, the industry stands to lose at least another $55 billion over the next year and a half, analysts say. Currently, the total losses amount to 5.5 percent of credit card debt outstanding, and could surpass the 7.9 percent level reached after the technology bubble burst in 2001.

“If unemployment continues to increase, credit card net charge-offs could exceed historical norms,” Gary L. Crittenden, Citigroup’s chief financial officer, said. [NYT]

Redlining is illegal for mortgage lenders, but apparently it's okay for credit card companies to discriminate against people based on where they live, what industry they work in, or what company issued their mortgage:

Lenders are shunning consumers already in debt and cutting credit limits for existing cardholders, especially those who live in areas ravaged by the housing crisis or who work in troubled industries. In some cases, lenders are even reining in credit lines after monitoring cardholders who shop at the same stores as other risky borrowers or who have mortgages from certain companies.

While such changes protect lenders, some can come back to haunt consumers. The result can be a lower credit score, which forces a borrower to pay higher interest rates and makes it harder to obtain loans. A reduced line of credit can also make it harder for consumers to manage their budgets, because lenders have 30 days to notify their customers, and they often wait to do so after taking action. [NYT]

It's rightly considered discriminatory to refuse to offer a mortgage to someone based on what neighborhood they live in. Banks used to write off entire neighborhoods based on race.

Black and Hispanic neighborhoods nationwide have been disproportionately affected by the housing crisis. If credit card companies can lower the credit scores of people because they live in these neighborhoods, that's redlining by another name. It's even more insidious because the lenders can do it after the consumers have already borrowed.

October 28, 2008

"The transcendent mosh pit of the Sufis"

Aaron Huey is a brilliant photojournalist. You may have read about his stunning photos of the drug war in Afghanistan on Boing Boing today.

He's also a blogger at Argonaut Photo.

Here's a post Aaron wrote about the making of his series of photographs of Sufi Muslims:

I knew I was in pretty good with the Sufis when they started putting their snakes on my head. They don’t just give their snakes to anyone you know. It was Imam Hussein’s birthday, I was in Cairo, Egypt at the place his head is supposed to be buried, and I was 10 hours into my second night of dancing. I had meant to be there making photographs for a global look at Sufism, but 10 minutes into the first night I was dancing. For one thing it was the only way I was going to get to stay, but it was also a steady stream of some of the raddest beats I had ever heard. I'd even go so far as to call it one of the top ten dance floors on the planet. With a heavy metal violin, a distortion pedal for the echoing microphone, tambourines, and reed flutes raging on for 12-hour sets, the musicians created a religious Mosh pit the likes of which I could never have imagined. [...]

Read the original, and watch the laying on of snakes video on Aaron's blog.

Wasilla artisanal meth?

According to the Post, New York drug dealers are scrambling to create a market for methamphetamine.

The rising cocaine prices coupled and the woes of Wall Street have priced the drug out of reach of many drug consumers.

Real America loves meth, but the cleaning-product-based intoxicant is proving to be a hard sell in the Big Apple.

Clearly, the drug dealers need to tap into New Yorkers' love of regional delicacies. Wasilla artisanal meth, anyone?

[HT: gothamist.]

Firedoglake Joins Axis of ACORN

My FDL co-blogger Pach explains: "ACORN's Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis thanks the organization's allies and defenders, including Firedoglake. She also asks New York State residents to vote for Obama under the Working Families Party line, row E, to help support other staunch progressives and community organizers." As one of the many FDL bloggers who have been hard at work dispelling the McCain campaign's myths and smears about ACORN over the past few weeks, I couldn't be more proud.

I might have to buy one of these, coincidentally featured today on one of my favorite baking blogs, Baking Bites.

Candidate Franken

Eric from Minnesota suggested that I re-post Candidate Franken, an interview I did with Franken in the summer of 2006, shortly after Franken announced that he would run against Norm Coleman in 2008. 

I was guardedly positive about the idea before the interview. I liked Franken as a comedian, a political satirist, and a radio host--but the idea of him becoming a senator seemed a little surreal.

I emerged from the interview convinced that Franken was senatorial material.

He has an intense, supple intelligence that I find very compelling. Most politicians decide to run for office first and study up on the issues later. Franken seemed like he'd thrown his hat into the ring because he'd accumulated a critical mass of policies that he wanted to enact as a senator.

I asked him what he wanted to accomplish as a senator:

AL FRANKEN: Moving toward universal health care. If Democrats take the House, someone should introduce a bill on the first day covering every kid in the country. I don't know how you vote against that. If you go around Minnesota and you talk to people about kids who are developmentally challenged, money has been cut off for that by the Bush administration and the Republican administration in Minnesota. Yet, they're spending more money on prisons.

This is the kind of thing where if you can make a difference in those people's lives you're really making a difference. It's not about you. ... Other developed countries have universal health care, and they do it cheaper and they have better results. And we're not that much dumber than other countries. We can do this.

Renewable energy. Look into the long-term: Why are you taking money out of kids with developmental problems and putting it into prisons? That's really short-term thinking.

Trying to improve our democracy by publicly funded elections. There's all kinds of things that need to be done. Respecting science again. I would like to do a law where no political appointee can change the language of a scientific report without getting the scientists who made the report to sign off on the language change. That's a law I'd propose on the first day, I think. Have a foreign policy that makes sense, that builds on our working with the rest of world instead. [AlterNet]

I don't think I've ever formally endorsed a candidate on the blog before. Looking back at the article, I'm struck by what a long shot Franken's campaign seemed to be at the time. I kept having to explain that this wasn't just a publicity stunt.

Now, Franken's neck and neck with Norm Coleman.

I don't know if it's presumptuous to endorse candidates in other states. I've been told I talk like a Minnesotan, if that helps.

Anyway, here goes: I endorse Al Franken for US Senate.

I urge all our Minnesota readers to get out and vote for Al Franken on November 4. You'll be lucky to have him as your senator.

October 27, 2008

Crab Cakes VECO (now with recipe)

Crabcakes VECO, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


A recipe I made to celebrate the conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens on seven counts of fraud today.

VECO is the name of the oil services company that got caught bribing Stevens. The name of the dish is my way of thanking them for taking Stevens out of service.

Recipe, by popular demand.


1 16-oz can pasteurized crabmeat (don't use regular canned crab)

1 beaten egg

Shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili pepper and black sesame seasoning mix) to taste

3-5 Tbs lightly toasted white breadcrumbs

2 small shallots, minced

2 Tbs minced chives

1 Tbs Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp salt

All purpose flour for dredging

Canola or other neutral-tasting oil for pan-frying


1) Whisk together egg, spice powder, salt, and mustard in a medium bowl.

2) Open the can of crab and drain off any excess liquid, but don't rinse it.

3) Carefully pick the crab apart with your fingertips and scatter half of it it over the egg mixture. Try to leave some large chunks for texture.

4) Scatter the chopped shallots and chives over the crab.

5) Very gently combine the ingredients with your fingers, by scooping down picking up some ingredients and letting them fall back into the bowl.

6) Add the rest of the crab. I alternate the ingredients to make sure everything gets mixed together thoroughly.

7) Start adding the breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, keep mixing. Stop adding breadcrumbs when the mixture just holds together. You may have breadcrumbs left over.

8) Divide the mixture into quarters and shape each into a hockey-puck-sized disk.

9) Place crab cakes on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

10) Dredge each crab cake in flour and pan fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the flip side. (Watch carefully, these are very approximate cooking times.)

11) Drain on paper towels.

12) Serve with capers, grainy mustard, and mayonnaise.