Monday, September 25, 2023

Ken Burns

This is  Isaiah's THE WORLD TODAY JUST NUTS "Bad News: He's A Floater" from Sunday.


And also be sure to check out Kat's album reviews "Kat's Korner: Pretenders are RESTLESS and Alive" and "Kat's Korner: Tyler Childers' RUSTIN IN THE RAIN and living through the pain."

What are you watching on TV?  Following recommendations that Stan often makes at his site, I have taken to PLUTO -- a free streaming service -- where I watch episodes of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (so funny), JUDGE JUDY, TINY HOUSE HUNTERS (I love that show and have seen all the episodes, wish it would go back into production) and movies like WAITING FOR GUFMAN, BEST IN SHOW, and A MIGHTY WIND.  I love Christopher Guest's films.  I will also watch THE PARAMOUNT CHANNEL on PLUTO for movies.  

I also watch a lot of PBS -- but I do that even when the strike is not taking place.  AP reports:

PBS was looking forward to a relatively free lane to offer fresh television to viewers downtrodden by the Hollywood strikes this fall, but that advantage may only last a couple of months now.

tentative deal reached late Sunday in the crippling TV writers strike, with hopes that actors would soon follow suit, has given rise to hopes that new episodes of favorite scripted shows might return sometime this winter.

With commercial networks largely bereft of fresh material beyond reality shows, sports and game shows, PBS has a fall schedule of new programming, including a heavy dose of nonfiction, led by Ken Burns' look at “The American Buffalo.”

I am not a Ken Burns groupie but I will be watching THE AMERICAN BUFFALO.  I have seen all of his documentaries.  I either like them or I hate them.  I liked 1985's THE STATUE OF LIBERTY and HUEY LONG; I liked 1994's BASEBALL (and Carly Simon's acapella version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" used in it); 2009's THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA; 2012's THE DUST BOWL; 2016's JACKIE ROBINSON; and 2021's MUHAMMAD ALI.  I did not like the rest and that especially includes 2017's THE VIETNAM WAR which -- despite having multiple episodes -- did a very sorry job addressing resistance -- both in the public and in the military.  

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Monday, September 25, 2023. Australian MPs visited Iraq to talk about Julian Assange, US Senator Bob Menendez got indicted (again), Australians rallied for a free Kurdistan, and much more. 

Starting with Julian Assange who is being persecuted for the 'crime' of journalism.  Julian Assange remains imprisoned and remains persecuted by US President Joe Biden who, as vice president, once called him "a high tech terrorist."  Julian's 'crime' was revealing the realities of Iraq -- Chelsea Manning was a whistle-blower who leaked the information to Julian.  WIKILEAKS then published the Iraq War Logs.  And many outlets used the publication to publish reports of their own.  For example, THE GUARDIAN published many articles based on The Iraq War Logs.  Jonathan Steele, David Leigh and Nick Davies offered, on October 22, 2012:

A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.
The new logs detail how:
US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent deat

The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press, after four years of relentless media-bashing and legal assaults under Donald Trump.

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has even put in place expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that “a free and independent press is vital to the functioning of our democracy”.

But the biggest test of Biden’s commitment remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information.

Whether the US justice department continues to pursue the Trump-era charges against the notorious leaker, whose group put out secret information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, American diplomacy and internal Democratic politics before the 2016 election, will go a long way toward determining whether the current administration intends to make good on its pledges to protect the press.

Now Biden is facing a re-energized push, both inside the United States and overseas, to drop Assange’s protracted prosecution.

Julian remains persecuted.  Last week, a group of Australian MPs traveled to the US to meet with government officials regarding Julian.  Binoy Kampmark (AUSTRLIAN INDEPENDENT MEDIA NETWORK) notes:

It was a short stint, involving a six-member delegation of Australian parliamentarians lobbying members of the US Congress and various relevant officials on one issue: the release of Julian Assange. If extradited to the US from the United Kingdom to face 18 charges, 17 framed with reference to the oppressive, extinguishing Espionage Act of 1917, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks risks a 175-year prison term.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, Labor MP Tony Zappia, Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson, Liberal Senator Alex Antic and the independent member for Kooyong, Dr. Monique Ryan, are to be viewed with respect, their pluckiness admired. They came cresting on the wave of a letter published on page 9 of the Washington Post, expressing the views of over 60 Australian parliamentarians. “As Australian Parliamentarians, we are resolutely of the view that the prosecution and incarceration of the Australian citizen Julian Assange must end.” 

What's at stake?  Press freedom in the general. Specifically for Julian?  THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD notes, "The charges relate to WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of cables detailing war crimes committed by the US government in the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan. If found guilty, he is facing a maximum jail sentence of 175 years." 

Assange’s family and close supporters were no doubt pleased that the visit occurred. It did have the benefit of again raising Assange’s plight, which has been subjected to frequent and extended media blackouts in Australia, Britain and the US itself.

To be uncritical, though, would be a mistake. The tour by the career politicians had nothing to do with combining the support for Assange with developing public opposition to social inequality, war or the broader assault on democratic rights.

Needless to say, these representatives of big business did not address meetings of American workers about the need to defend Assange. They would not have had anything to say to such an audience, or any basis upon which to make an appeal.

Instead, the tour was framed in generally right-wing terms. The importance of the “friendship” between the US and Australia was repeatedly emphasised. That is a reference to the militarist alliance between the two countries, which currently centres on advanced preparations for a catastrophic war against China.

Notably, the Greens MPs, Shoebridge and Whish-Wilson, were as fulsome as anyone in their praise of this “friendship.” That underscores the fraudulent character of their occasional nationalist posturing against aspects of the alliance, especially the $368 billion AUKUS agreement for Australia to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines from the US and Britain.

Rather, the MPs pitched Assange’s persecution as a potential barrier to the deepening of the war drive. They warned that it could incite popular hostility to the alliance in Australia, and be used by China and other US rivals to expose Washington’s fraudulent invocations of human rights and democracy.

The references to a supposedly broad “cross-party delegation” cannot obscure the fact that this group was a rather motley crew.

The Labor government claims to have made representations in private to the US for an end to the prosecution of Assange. To the extent that those assertions are true, the limited representations have clearly been rebuffed. Labor, whose commitment to Assange’s liberty was always very tenuous and expressed in the most tepid form, has simply dropped the matter. Albanese and other leaders of the government have not mentioned the WikiLeaks founder publicly for months.

It is no surprise that the only Labor representative was Tony Zappia, a backbencher with a very limited public profile.

The complicity of the Labor government in Assange’s persecution has helped right-wing figures pose as defenders of Assange and democratic rights. Alex Antic is on the far-right wing of the Liberal Party. Joyce is also a reactionary, whose political record is associated with the persecution of refugees and other vulnerable layers, as well as aggressive support for the interests of the country’s largest corporations. Both figures, in other words, have nothing to do with the fight for civil liberties.

The implications were made clear by two incidents.

In at least one interview, Joyce used the Assange case to pursue a bizarre vendetta against US actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. He has, for years, denounced the pair for allegedly bringing two dogs to Australia without declaring them to customs. Joyce said that just as the US would not accept the extradition of Depp and Heard for that purported wrongdoing, Australians should not accede to Assange’s dispatch to Washington.

The comments only served to lower the tone and downplay the implications of the US pursuit of Assange.

More significant was the fact that the six parliamentarians, including the Greens MPs, held a private meeting with Marjorie Taylor Greene who has nothing to do with defending democratic rights. The Republican was a key backer of Donald Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021. Her other credentials include denouncing Black Lives Matter as a “domestic terrorist organisation” and declaring that Jewish-controlled space lasers were responsible for wildfires in California.

The MPs, in other words, sought to tap into the sewer of the American fascistic right. This is clearly not the constituency for defending the democratic rights of an anti-war publisher.

7NEWS AUSTRALIA offers this video report.

Former Speaker of the House Bronwyn Bishop said the Australian politicians are “wasting their time” trying to release Julian Assange.

“I mean the Americans, there’s no way they’re going to give into a group of Australians who come by for a chat, it’s got no more standing than that,” she told Sky News host Sharri Markson.

“So, I think it’s a waste of time.” 

Update time.  In Thursday's snapshot, we noted that US Senator Bob Menendez was yet again under federal investigation.  Friday, after the snapshot posted, the Justice Dept announced Menendez was indicted (we posted the press release here).  Kevin Reed (WSWS) reports:

New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez was indicted on Friday by federal prosecutors in New York, along with four others, including his wife Nadine Menendez, on multiple charges of bribery.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York brought the charges against Menendez, a senior senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for using “his official position” to provide favors to three businessmen and the Egyptian government “in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars” for himself and his wife which included “gold bars, cash and a luxury convertible.”

In a Department of Justice press release Friday, US Attorney Damian Williams said a grand jury charged the Menendezes for engaging in “a corrupt relationship” with New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes and unnamed Egyptian government officials between 2018 and 2022.

Williams’ statement went on to say the businessmen “collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes, including cash, gold, a Mercedes Benz, and other things of value—in exchange for Senator Menendez agreeing to use his power and influence to protect and enrich those businessmen and to benefit the Government of Egypt.”

Responding eight hours after the indictment, leading Democratic Party leaders in the Garden State, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, called on Menendez to resign. Murphy said the allegations are “deeply disturbing” and “implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system.” The governor continued, saying the “facts are so serious they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state.”

Clearly, the stench of corruption surrounding the longtime federal legislator from New Jersey—Menendez held a seat in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2006 and has been in the Senate since 2006—was so strong that the Department of Justice was forced to shut him down.

Senator Menendez was implicated in ethics violations in 2006 for renting property he owned to a non-profit agency that received federal funding. In 2015, he was indicted on bribery and fraud charges involving requests that the State Department pressure the Dominican Republic to enforce a government contract that benefited a Florida businessman, who gave the senator money and paid for his expensive vacation trips on a private jet.

At present, the senator is refusing calls to resign from his seat.  He has announced a press conference later today.  He is not expected to announce his resignation but instead to announce that he is seeking re-election.  41-year-old House Rep Andy Kim announced over the weekend that he was going to run against the 69-year-old (and indicted) Menendez for the Senate seat:

In other news, "Stop killing Kurds!"  In Australia, a demonstration on Saturday included that chant.

A protest on September 23 called on the Australian government to break its silence about Turkey's ongoing war on the Kurds and its recent deadly attacks in the south Kurdistan region of Iraq.

On September 18, three peshmerga (Kurdish freedom fighters) affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were killed and three others wounded in a drone strike on an airport in Sulaymaniyah/ Silêmanî.

At around the same time, Deniz Cevdet Bülbün, the representative the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) — Kurdish umbrella organisation — was killed in an armed attack on the KNK's Erbil (Hewlêr) office.

"This was an attack on the unity of the Kurdish people," Kurdish community representative Brusk Aeiveri told the rally.

He accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities of collaborating with the Turkish state to facilitate attacks like these.

The protest called for a free Kurdistan.  On the KRG, Azhi Rasul (RUDAW) reports:

Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court on Sunday ruled to dissolve the Kurdistan Region’s provincial councils “due to the end of their electoral cycle,” after declaring an amendment for their extension as “unconstitutional.” 

The court stated that Article No. 2 in Law No. 2 of 2019, which amended the provincial councils for the provinces of the Kurdistan Region, was “unconstitutional,” it said in a statement. 

According to provisions from Article 2 of the Iraqi constitution, the amendments went against the principles of democracy and infringed on basic rights and freedoms. 

Elections for the Kurdistan Region’s provincial councils were last held in April 2014, and members of the council were sworn in on June of the same year to serve for four years, until June 2018. 

ALMAYADEEN notes, "It is worth noting that in July 2019, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq's Parliament passed a proposal to amend the law governing provincial councils in the region, including extending the terms of the existing councils to bridge the legal gap created by the expiration of their mandates."  MEDYA NEWS adds, "Journalist Fehim Işık told Medya News that the Kurdistan Regional Government is now considering how to respond to the court’s decision. However, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been left without a functioning legislative body since May due to disputed parliamentary elections. This impasse has prevented the parties from taking collective decisions or convening parliament."

Australia's Saturday protest follows last week's visit to the US by Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani who addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.  The UN notes:

MOHAMMED SHIA' AL SUDANI, Prime Minister of Iraq, said that his country has always believed in the principles the UN was founded upon.  The spirit of consensus has prevailed in Iraq.  “We now have a Government that enjoys a widespread political coalition that covers all aspects of society,” he added.  It has adopted a programme with crucial priorities that reflect issues that must be implemented without delay and that benefit the people of Iraq. These priorities include employment opportunities, poverty eradication, fighting corruption and enacting economic reforms.  “Iraq has become a safe environment” for investors as well.  A pivotal State in the global oil market, Iraq is also working on a regional corridor that will make transport and trade easier.

Turning to corruption, he said, indeed, his country faced a “corruption pandemic”.  The Government is focused on eradicating “this disease”, he stressed.  It is vital to pursue those who spread corruption.  “We must return the money they have stolen because we believe there is a symbiotic relationship between corruption and terrorism,” he went on to say.  “We want Iraq part of the solution to any international and regional problem,” he added. Iraq is committed to international law and respects all United Nations resolutions.  That is why Baghdad rejects any interference in its internal affairs “regardless of the excuse”.  He stressed that “Iraq will not be a launching point of aggression against any other State.”  To its neighbours, his country extends the hand of friendship.  “We hope to achieve regional integration.”  Iraq’s place in the field of international cooperation must be bolstered.

On the holding of local elections, after a 10-year hiatus, he said the Federal Government is working with the region of Kurdistan and all other regions of Iraq on “equal footing”.  Turning to climate change, he noted that “the land of Mesopotamia” is suffering from a drought, also cautioning:  “The cradle of civilization must not be allowed to die of thirst.” Iraq is working on exerting more efforts between relevant regional States to form a negotiating bloc and to manage cross-border water resources.  He stressed the need to mobilize international efforts to ensure the sustainability of water sources.  On a national level, Iraq has taken steps to lower emissions and combat pollution.  However, institutions are needed to deal with mounting climate challenges.

Further, he underscored Iraq’s “intensifying” efforts in combating drugs and any related activities.  “It is no secret that there is a direct relationship between terrorism and drugs,” he said.  Young people constitute 60 per cent of the country’s population.  “They are the best investment,” he continued, underscoring the many programmes that aim to support students and youth so that they can find employment opportunities.  Students and young people must be empowered with skills that can allow for innovation.  He also recognized the role of women in helping Iraq achieve victory against terrorism. Pledging support to the Palestinian people, he called for an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and stressed that they must be allowed full control of their territory.  “Burning the holy Qur’an is a hate crime,” he went on to say, warning also:  “We, in Iraq, know the bitter taste of religious extremism.”

Lastly, Amr Salem (IRAQI NEWS) is one of the few reporting on a change in Iraqi oil:


Iraq is about to enact an oil and gas law that would give international corporations a part in the nation’s oil output after more than ten years of discussions and delays.

This important step may take place after the municipal elections in December, according to Al-Sabah newspaper.

Despite the most recent developments, there are still outstanding issues between the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil.

A planned federal oil and gas council’s proposed leadership is one of the main points of conflict, Ali Mashkour, a member of the Parliament’s Oil and Gas Committee, told Oil & Gas Middle East.

So the goals of the Iraq War finally reach fruition and do so with little comment or attention from the international community?  Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani spent last week in the US where he met with many leaders -- business and government -- and addressed the United Nations' General Assembly.   John Lee (MENAFN) reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister, Mr. Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, held a meeting with members of the American Chamber of Commerce in New York on Thursday evening (local time). The meeting was attended by businessmen, investors, and representatives of major American companies. During the meeting, he praised the efforts of Mr. Steve Lutes, the Deputy Head of the American Chamber of Commerce, for organizing the meeting to inform investors about the business environment in Iraq."

Sunday, Isaiah's THE WORLD TODAY JUST NUTS "Bad News: He's A Floater" and "Bo Ho?" went up and Kat's album reviews "Kat's Korner: Pretenders are RESTLESS and Alive" and "Kat's Korner: Tyler Childers' RUSTIN IN THE RAIN and living through the pain" went up.   The following sites updated: