American Views Abroad

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Why Baghdad Will Keep Burning by Tom Engelhardt posted on October 26,2006 at TomDispatch. To get to the heart of this long article which is devoted to Riverbend, the 'girl blogger' of Baghdad, skip down to How Long Has Baghdad Been Burning?

Engelhardt says it all when he writes that her blogs 'represent an unparalleled record of the American war on, and occupation of, Iraq......the best contemporary account we are likely to have any time soon of the hell into which we've plunged that country.'

Saturday, October 28, 2006
Our ballots arrived from Kings County, New York, better known as Brooklyn, and were dutifully sent off on Thursday. The local post office here is used to handling the odd, slightly too large envelope that contains the ballot. Instead of paying 1.70 euros, we have to hand over 3 for air mail which, hand on heart, has never bothered us. However, it does seem to bother German postal workers. For the primary ballot, one employee decided in one quick move to fold the side to make it smaller. I have to admit being horrified, but she couldn't imagine they wouldn't understand this in New York. This time around the kind person decided it should go registered mail and gave me two receipts, using our first names on each. Rather odd in this country having a perfect stranger uttering my first name.

Odd too was no Republican candidate for the House running in our district. Not that we felt inclined to vote Republican, but in reports about the outer boroughs of NYC following the last election, the trend was slightly pro-Bush compared to the rest of the city. Growing up in NYC you learn a fact of life other Americans might not register. Our teachers back then hammered into us that our votes don't count as much as those voting from smaller states. Certainly not for President and considering how tribal NYC politics has always been and more to the point, living among 8 million and in Brooklyn no less (back then, before the real estate boom) didn't help the ego. Let's not forget those unique New York voting machines where, even as schoolchildren, we were warned that if we made one wrong move, our vote was nil, cancelled. Perhaps 2004 was the first time I felt my vote might actually count.

My district suffered so many victims on 9/11, almost equally divided between firemen and those who worked in the WTC. The last time I walked through my old neighborhood was in May 2003 and what struck me were the yellow ribbons, the support our military signs in windows or on lawns, the God Bless Our Troops display in the garden of the Catholic elementary school I attended. One street, very close to where I used to live (and thus my and my children's voting address), was hit especially hard and I recall being jolted when turning the corner and seeing the telephone polls painted red, white and blue, huge flags on every house and lawn, with all sorts of other signs crying out in pain in remembrance. On every house, save one. On both sides of the street. Back in Manhattan that day I tried to explain to friends what I experienced. Yet, I found I was in another world. The mood there and especially at Ground Zero was sadder, slower, more reflective. I kept asking friends if I were seeing things right. Were people there actually walking slower? Taking more time to help out strangers? They were indeed. Things had definitely changed.

Change? We'll see what, if anything, changes come election Tuesday this November.

At Home Abroad in the IHT -- Getting a Ballot at

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Support C.O. Agustin Aguayo who is in military prison in Mannheim, Germany, awaiting court
martial for going AWOL and refusing to return to Iraq for a second tour by writing him a postcard or note. His address is SPC Agustin Aguayo, Unit 29723, BoxLL, APO, AE 09028-3810, USA. This is, of course, a military post system. All mail will be sent to him from the US.

Messages of support, courage and solidarity, from anyone anywhere in this world, is an important morale boost to someone who has put his conscience on the line.

The Army has dropped the idea of doing background checks on people who write. It is, however, important not to discuss the details of his case with him.

How many of us are prepared to go to prison to protest this disastrous war in Iraq?

Friday, October 20, 2006
Riverbend on Baghdad Burning has posted after a long break. On The Lancet Study she writes:

The chaos and lack of proper facilities is resulting in people being buried without a trip to the morgue or hospital. During the American military attacks on cities like Samarra and Fullujah, victims were buried in their gardens or in mass graves in football fields. Or has that been forgotten already? We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second degree relative these last three years. ......And what about American military deaths? When will someone do a study on the actual number of those?

Further, The Worst in Iraq is yet to come at,,1923929,00.html.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
William T. Vollmann sets off each movement of his epic Europe Central with a quote. In Operation Magic Fire it's from Shostakovich ca 1970:

And it's in that vague grey middle ground that the fundamental conflicts of our age take place. It's a huge ant hill in which we all crawl.

Interesting quote, but what happens when someone tries to step out of that vague grey middle ground and take a stand? A case in point is Agustin Aguayo who has been struggling to be recognized as a conscientious objector for over two years now. He served a year in Iraq as a medic, was given a good conduct medal, but went AWOL when he was ordered on the plane back there. He has since turned himself in and is now confined in a military jail here in Germany awaiting trial. His story including press releases at
The Army cut off pay and benefits to his family. Not easy taking such a stand, that's for sure.

One single person takes a stand, but how has US society and in particular the US media treated the very well researched study on the over 600,000 deaths of Iraqi civilians that the present war there has wrought? A leaflet that was distributed outside a lecture given by NYT's Executive Editor Bill Keller at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 16 asks Why is the New York Times Silent on the Massive Iraq Deathtoll? Read it at
Another op-ed, Bush Plays Politics with Iraqi Dead by John Nichols, is listed at

In Olbermann's On the Murder of Habeas Corpus, the Day King George Was Crowned at, he interviews Jonathan Turley, a Constitutional Law Professor. Turley points out the 'huge sea change for our democracy' now taking place and how 'people have no idea how significant this is. We have become Constitutional couch potatoes.'

Vague grey middle ground can become treacherous water.

Saturday, October 14, 2006
From The Wretched Years by William Rivers Pitt:

What will history have to say about these times? History, it has often been said, is written by the victors, but who really wins anything after all this? If the most delectable left-wing fanatasies come true -- the Democrats take Congress in November, Bush and his cronies are impeached by a fire-breathing Conyers Judiciary Committee -- little will be left to win. People will still be dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. New Orleans will still be destroyed. The environment will still be poisoned. Laws that all but eviscerate the Bill of Rights will still be on the books. The same unimaginably wealthy industrialists will still have the same clout. The news media will still be controlled by people whose interests lie far afield from telling us the truth. Much of this can be undone or contained, to be sure, except for all the death.

Thursday, October 12, 2006
Orhan Pamuk has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His novel Snow, beautiful reading even in its English translation, can't be read or discussed often enough today in the western world. When asked by an interviewer of Die Zeit in April 2005 why the novel is basically based in the small far-away town of Kars and not in Istanbul, Pamuk replied:

In Kars you can quite literally feel the sadness that comes from being a part of Europe, and at the same time the sparse, hard-fought very un-European life. My novel deals with the inner conflict of Turks today, the contradictions between Islam and modernity, the longing to be part of Europe and the fear of it at the same time.

The full interview can be read in English at

Saturday, October 07, 2006
Another must see commentary by Keith Olbermann...

Friday, October 06, 2006
Joan Didion connects the dots in Cheney: The Fatal Touch in The New York Review of Books' October 8 issue. Generations of citizens sat through social science/history/civic lessons, town hall meetings, student government trial runs, so why since the 70's could two individuals, Cheney and Rumsfeld, hijack all of it, most notably any notion of checks and balances and total disregard to truth and given facts and get away with it?

Didion writes:

It was in some ways predictable that the central player in the system of willed errors and reversals that is the Bush administration would turn out to be its vice-president, Richard B. Cheney. Here was a man with considerable practice in the reversal of his own errors. He was never a star. No one ever called him a natural. He reached public life with every reason to believe that he would continue to both court failure and overcome it, take the lemons he seemed determined to pick for himself and make lemonade, then spill it, let someone else clean up......

.....In the Ford White House, where he and Rumsfeld were known as 'the little Praetorians,' Cheney cultivated a control of detail that extended even to questioning the use in the residence of 'little dishes of salt with funny little spoons' rather than 'regular salt shakers.'......

......This was not a slip of memory in the heat of debate. (Cheney vs Edwards on Atta in Prague with senior Iraqi intelligence) This was dishonest, a repeated misrepresentation, in the interests of claiming power, so bald and so systematic that the only instinctive response (Did too!) was that of the schoolyard......

(On Saddam Hussein seeking significant quantities of uranium) .....What the Vice President was doing, then, was not cherry-picking the intelligence but rejecting it, replacing it with whatever self-interested rumor better advanced his narrative line. .....The Vice President would not then or later tolerate any suggestion that the story he was building might rest on cooked evidence. (He is reported to have said in November 2001)....... If there was 'one percent chance' of truth in any suspicion or allegation, it must be considered true. 'It's about our response.'

Our response which meant war and untold suffering and misery based on a 'one percent chance'
of finding truth in a suspicion or allegation. Stunning.

Monday, October 02, 2006
History from long ago that seems to be repeating itself in The 'War on Terror' that Ruined Rome by Robert Harris at and newly unfolding at In Failures of Imagination Umansky, who used to write up a daily review of the US press for Slate, discusses in a very detailed and long report the role the US media played in uncovering, most unwillingly and extremely cautiously at first, the abuse and torture of detainees during the US war on terror. This is not a report to be stripped to a nutshell, but rather to be read in its entirety.

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