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Pakistan, Indonesia…and the New Hillary/Barack Smackdown

November 21st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


I got a very nice note from Fatima Bhutto today
telling me that the WitnessLA/Huff Post interview with her had been picked up by a quite number of papers in Pakistan.

“…the response has been overwhelming,”
she wrote. “People have emailed me to say how much they enjoyed reading it. They were surprised” she added, “and isn’t this sad—that the interview was done for an American audience and by an American.”

Well, it was heartening to find that Pakistani readers were eager to read about Fatima’s interview for an American media outlet. But, yes, it was a bit depressing that so many Pakistanis were stunned that we might be interested.

In the past eight years, peoples of far too many countries in the world have come to believe that Americans see things only from our own point of view—and that the perspective of anything or anyone that falls out outside that point of view simply doesn’t matter. The perception was again reinforced in the past few weeks by the Bush administration’s ham handed dealings with Musharraf and the ongoing situation in Pakistan.

And it was this same issue of leadership myopia that was at the heart of the slap-fest that occurred yesterday between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It began when Obama remarked that, should he become President, his childhood in Indonesia would be an asset. He suggested that it gave him a leg up in understanding the points of view of countries other than our own.

Hillary Clinton slapped back by declaring that one’s experience as a ten-year-old was not exactly equivalent to all the time she’d spent hobnobbing with world leaders.

Obama swung next with the observation that a long foreign policy resume guarantees exactly nothing when it comes to wise leadership. “There are a couple guys named Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who had two of the longest resumes in Washington and led us into the biggest foreign policy disaster of a generation,” Obama said at his next New Hampshire campaign stop. “So a long resume doesn’t guarantee good judgment.”

And God knows we could use some good judgment at the country’s helm
,. We also need, as mentioned above, a president who has the ability to see beyond his or her own experience to accurately imagine how cultures and countries might perceive things. Both our security, and our ability to repair our badly damaged standing in the world depend upon it.

Whether, on the Democratic side of the presidential race, it is Clinton or Obama or Edwards or Biden
who is the one most likely to posses this wider framework—plus strength, clarity of purpose, and all those other good things a President needs—is in the eye of the beholder. But more and more veteran foreign policy types seem to be leaning to Obama.

“In today’s globalized world,” he said in a foreign policy speech last spring,“ the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.”

The people who emailed Fatima Bhutto understand that interconnectedness all too clearly.
Let’s hope we get a Democratic Presidential candidate who understands it too.

Posted in International politics, Presidential race | 21 Comments »

Tookie Williams….and LA’s New War of Words

November 20th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


In this morning’s LA Times,
you’ll find a review I wrote about a book called Blue Rage, Black Redemption, a memoir by Stanley Tookie Williams. He worked on it during the last few years before he was executed in December of 2005.

It’s an interesting book, in part because it describes with authoritative detail a particular portion of recent Los Angeles history, namely the formation of the Crips. But it also provides a case study, of sorts, of how a boy comes to join a gang, or in Williams’ case, to form one, and what it might have taken to steer him in a different direction.

This past weekend, while I was working on the review,
I got out the most recent report put together by the LA City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development. I thought it might stimulate my thinking as I wrote.

I’ll have more to say about the report in the weeks to come, but in rereading it on Sunday, I ran across one paragraph that stopped me cold. It had to do with the way that the committee felt that the city should “reframe the language” used in LA’s various gang plans. Here’s an excerpt:

If we look as if we’re “anti-gang,” we won’t be able to reach the very people we need if we want to eliminate the violence in our communities. Therefore, the Advisory Committee recommends renaming the plan: “A Street Peace and Dignified Community Development Initiative.”

What in the world??? I thought. We want to find better ways to address the gang violence that every single week causes unimaginable sorrow in so many of LA’s neighborhoods and we don’t admit that we’re anti gang?

Yes, of course, there is no room for the kind of demonizing language used by the cops in the bad old days of gang enforcement during the late ’80′s through the mid-’90′s.. “War on gangs”….”NHI—no human involved…” That sort of thing.

But not demonizing gang members doesn’t mean mean we start tiptoeing around and giving gangs any kind of tacit stamp of approval.

No one was clearer on that concept
than the man whom they called the godfather of the Crips—Tookie Williams. In the memoir I just reviewed, in the children’s books he wrote, in the speeches he gave via telephone to classrooms full of kids, he didn’t just preach peace in the streets, he preached against kids joining gangs. Pure and simple. He preached against the terrible pain gangs caused.

In fact, on the website that friends and supporters set up for Williams during the last years of his life, Tookie went a step further and apologized at length for forming the Crips. Here’s a clip:

…..So today I apologize to you all – the children of America and South Africa — who must cope every day with dangerous street gangs. I no longer participate in the so-called gangster lifestyle, and I deeply regret that I ever did…..”

How much more direct could the man be?

Listen, I have three wonderful godchildren who are the kids of former gang members, and there scores of homeboys and homegirls whose friendships have made my life a thousand times richer. But am I against gangs? Hell, yes. I’ve been to more than 30 gang funerals. How could I not be?

As Father Greg Boyle said recently when we discussed the subject,
“Ask anybody in the neighborhoods most affected by gangs to close their eyes and describe what a healthy community looks like. Not one of them describes a community with gangs in it. Not one.”

Not even, he said, the gang members themselves describe a healthy community with gangs in it.

P.S. In case you’re interested, you’ll find an excerpt from the review after the jump:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in American artists, crime and punishment, Gangs | 7 Comments »

Fire Weather IX – Lies, Damned Lies, and AIR SUPPORT

November 19th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Now that the weather forecasters are predicting a whole new set of Santa Ana winds
to kick up this week, perhaps it’s a good time to look at what we’ve learned from last month’s Santa Ana-driven fire storms.

According to a worrisome investigation that the AP released over the weekend, the answer appears to be: Nothing good.

After earlier investigations by the AP and others triggered a flood of criticism over the state’s allocation of air support and other firefighting resources, Governor Schwarzenegger and California fire officials angrily informed the press (and anyone else who’d listen) that the coordination between state, federal and local resources was “seamless.” And that any delays in getting the much-needed firefighting planes and helicopters to the blazes had mostly to do with high winds—plus, in a few cases, the unavoidable shortage of what are called “fire spotters,” specially-trained individuals who ride in the plane with the pilot and coordinate air drops.

Now, using the Public Records Act, the AP has gotten documents that show the governor and the relevant state officials are….what’s the word I’m looking for?….Oh, yeah…lying.

Yes, pilots were “hampered by strong winds,” reports the AP.
But the brave, dedicated fire flyers went up anyway. They got a dozen air tankers and five state helicopters into the air to make more than 70 hours worth of firefighting missions the first day of the firestorm. Oct. 21.

Unfortunately, reports the AP, the planes that flew were only about half
the tankers and helicopters that could have been fighting fires that day.

Twenty-eight of 52 aircraft the state was tracking for firefighting efforts remained grounded, and high winds were not listed as the reason. Rather, state officials had not requested them or they were being kept in other parts of the state in case fires broke out there.

This is not at all how it’s supposed to work.
According to Sam Padilla, an LA County spokesman I spoke to a few weeks ago, the accepted protocol is to throw everything you have at a big fire to knock it down early. Then, if a second, a third and a fourth fire break out—as they did last month—you start passing resources around as urgency, and threat to structures, demands.

And, indeed, that’s what Los Angeles did on a county-wide level. The state, however, did not.

But, wait. It gets worse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Fire, State government | 24 Comments »

The FBI and the Bullets of Injustice

November 18th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


For 40 years the FBI has been providing what is called bullet lead analysis
in order to aid prosecutors who are trying to link a bullet found at a crime scene with a box of bullets owned by a suspect. This form of forensic analysis has helped convict scores of people—but it has one big problem: the science is faulty.

The FBI has known their methods are undependable for nearly four years. But what have they done with the information that could potentially affect so many cases–and lives? Not much.

A six-month investigation by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post
shows that there are hundreds of defendants imprisoned around the country who were convicted with the help of a now discredited forensic tool, and that the FBI never notified them, their lawyers, or the courts, that the their cases may have been affected by faulty testimony.

The full story is here.

PS: My old pal, John Miller, formerly of the LAPD, now the FBI’s spokesdude says that the Feebs will make sure all is rectified now.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice | 5 Comments »

HILLARY and the Winning XX Factor

November 16th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Note: This is another one of those that’s also posted at Huff Post’s OFF THE BUS section.

The best line of the night in Thursday’s Las Vegas debate
–in terms of zinger value, anyway–came when CNN’s Campbell Brown asked Hillary Clinton about a recent speech that Hil gave at Wellesley College. Evidently Hillary told the crowd at her alma mater that Wellesley had “…prepared me compete in the all boys’ club of presidential politics.”

“What did you mean at Wellesley when you referred to the boy’s club?” asked Brown.

It was, frankly, a really stupid question. What the earnest Ms. Brown clearly meant to ask had to do with this month’s slew of accusations coming from Hillary’s camp alleging that the male presidential contenders had been mean to poor HRC at the at the last Democratic debate….because she was a girl.

But instead Brown unintentionally handed Clinton the perfect opportunity
to exploit the gender-specific element of her candidacy, an opportunity she could not have otherwise managed without Brown’s soft ball. If Hillary wins, it may easily be this very gender-specific element–let’s call the XX factor–that provides the added edge needed to propel her to victory.

Clinton first responded to the question with an artful riff about the historic challenges women have faced, and the “…great movement of progress that includes all of us but has particularly been significant to me as a woman….”

Then she spoke about mothers driving their daughters
hundreds of miles to meet the person who might be the first woman president, followed by a heart-tugging story of a grandmother, born back when only men had the right to vote, who told Hil, “I want to live long enough to see a woman in the White House.” Yeah, it was cheesy, but it worked. I even got kind of teary. (Hey, we have come a long way, baby, even in my lifetime.)

Finally Clinton wound up for the pitch: “I’m not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas, I’m just trying to play the winning card,” she said, smiling her most perfect, cat-ate-the-canary smile. “I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I’m a woman…” (pause for effect) “They’re attacking me because I’m ahead.”


Was it disingenuous?
Yes, of course. But nobody cared.

For the past two weeks, Hillary and her proxies had been playing the gender card in any game that would have them. The proxies ranged from Bill-the-huz, to the head of the Feminist Majority, Eleanor Smeal, who, in all seriousness said that when the other Dem candidates’ played hardball with Hillary at the October 30, Philadelphia debate, it was reminiscent of the Congressional Republican attacks on …ANITA HILL!

(Elie, honey, that’s exactly the sort of idiotic claptrap
that persuades young women not to call themselves feminists.)

But, here’s the deal: Hillary plays the girl card
because, every time she does, it has a very good chance of resonating with half the American population. Heck—as I said above–it worked with me, and I don’t much like the broad. So, let’s not kid ourselves, if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination it will not be in spite of the fact that she’s a woman, it will be, in a weird way, because of it.

All things being equal, that isn’t such a bad thing.
As a country, we are more than ready for such a gender breakthrough. I just wish the person with the best shot at smashing that “highest, hardest glass ceiling” she mentioned in Las Vegas, was someone other than poll-driven, hawkish Hillary Clinton.

Posted in Elections '08, National politics | 58 Comments »

More posting later today….

November 16th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Got to my computer at much too late an hour Thursday night. Back blogging in a little while.

In the meantime, check out Marc Cooper’s blogging on the Dem debate…. at his site and at Huff Post.

The NY Times also has some good live blogging.

I will say this, however, Hillary is sounding
more and more hawkish again. Her defense of her Yea vote on the Kyle-Lieberman amendment continues to be troubling.

I’d have liked to hear her answer the question
that Bill Richardson got about getting the private contractors out of Iraq.

AND, apropos of nothing in particular, the strangest news item of the week is this one about a mother faced criminal charges because she was too explicit when she talked to her teenage sons about the birds and the bees. (Okay, the mom showed the kids a sex toy, which was pretty creepy, but do we need to haul the woman into criminal court? Good gravy.)

Chapeau tip to forensic psychologist, Karen Franklin over at In the News.

Posted in National politics, Presidential race | 12 Comments »

The LAPD Cans the Muslim Mapping Plan

November 15th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


LAPD’s head terrorism guy, Deputy Chief Mike Downing, is a smart and decent fellow. And most of his testimony before the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security’s and Governmental Affairs last month about the department’s strategy for outreach into Muslim communities was very nuanced and intelligent.

But it went off the rails when he got to the now-much publicized—and much criticized—part of the report that talked about mapping Muslim neighborhoods to asses for terrorist potential.

It is our hope to identify communities, within the larger Muslim community
, which may be susceptible to violent ideologically-based extremism and then use a full-spectrum approach guided by antintelligence-led strategy. Community mapping is the start of a conversation, not just data sets: It is law enforcement identifying with its community and the community identifying with its families, neighborhoods, city, state, country and police.

So what exactly does that mean? That the cops were going to find corners of the Muslim community
where people were…..what? Talking angrily?

And here’s how the LA Times reports it:

In a document reviewed by The Times last week,
the LAPD’s counter-terrorism bureau proposed using U.S. Census data and other demographic information to pinpoint various Muslim communities and then reach out to them through social service agencies.

Racial profiling, no matter how well intentioned,
is still racial profiling. It’s not the LAPD’s job to look for perceived pockets of homegrown terrorist potential. (Is it law enforcement’s job to look for crimes being planned or committed? Yes. But should they also look for people who might one day, if the right circumstances develop, start thinking about committing crimes…? That would be a no, folks.) Nor is it the cops’ job to become some kind of badge-wearing sociologist/social workers in order to keep that perceived potential from developing.

Yesterday when Downing was on Warren Olney’s
Which Way LA show , he wisely announced that the department was dumping the mapping plan because of the understandable upset it was causing in the Muslim community.

Chief Downing is meeting with members of the Muslim community about the issue today.

Kudos to the cops for having the willingness to
admit their misfire, and then to work with the various Muslim communities to find a solution that makes a bit more practical and cultural sense.

Posted in ACLU, Civil Liberties, LAPD | 11 Comments »

Fatima Bhutto: Pakistan’s Very Smart New Voice Explains It All

November 14th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

NOTE: This is cross-posted at Huffington Post’s OFF THE BUS section.

Benazir Bhutto isn’t the only one in the family with an ardent following in troubled Pakistan.
There is also her niece, 25-year-old, Fatima Bhutto, a newspaper columnist/author and, in the eyes of many, the crown princess of Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty.

Now that Benazir is back under house arrest again and calling for General Musharraf to quit, I phoned Fatima in Karachi, and talked with her about her aunt’s extravagant political gamesmanship, about how Pakistanis will react if the U.S. attacks Iran, about which American presidential candidate looks like a winner from a Pakistani standpoint—and which Dem she personally wants to see win. [Hint: It's not Hillary].


CELESTE: How has the Bush Administration affected Pakistani politics?

FATIMA BHUTTO: A lot. Musharraf has been fighting the war on terror for the Bush White House, as if it was his own, and so he’s brought it to our doorstep. Prior to 9/11 and the war on terror, the religious parties in Pakistan really had no ground support. Out of 400 seats in parliament, they would take maybe four or five. They would never break double digits. But after 9/11, and after opening up our borders to American forces, and launching airstrikes, the religious right has tripled or quadrupled their support. Instead of getting four seats, they get 15 or 20 seats. And now we have a civil war going on in the northern part of our country.

CF: As you know, the US will elect a new president. Do Pakistanis pay much attention to American politics? And if so, who would they like to see in office?

FB: Actually, Pakistanis follow American elections very closely, because they affect us so much. But, if you ask most Pakistanis, they believe earnestly that Republicans are the best, because they’ll give us a lot of money, aide and weapons. The average person forgets that, in return, we have to do the American’s dirty work for them. I think what a lot of people are most upset about is right now is that Americans are threatening to cut aid. The average Pakistani doesn’t think about what we have to do to get that money.

CF: What about you? Who do you like?

FB: I have to say I like Obama a lot. His record is the best. He’s always been vocal about his opposition to the war in Iraq. And he’s speaking out against the Patriot Act. Frankly, he seems very good in a lot of ways. Whereas with Hillary, if you look at her record, it doesn’t support what she says now. If I could vote in the American elections, Obama would get my vote.

But even Obama has come out and said, if necessary, we will attack Pakistan. They’ve all said that — Republicans and Democrats. So Pakistanis feel the safest bet is the Republicans, because they will fund us and give us those F-16s that we paid for and never got. As, for the religious parties, they like the neocons because they lose a lot of their dynamism if they have no one to go up against. For them, the neocons are perfect.


To understand the magnetic force the name “Bhutto” conjures in Pakistan, imagine the Kennedys, the Clintons and the entire Bush clan all rolled into one — with added doses of tragedy, corruption and political intrigue. The patriarch is the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s wildly popular former prime minister, and Fatima’s grandfather (who was hanged after a military takeover by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq). It’s important to know that Fatima’s father, Murtaza Bhutto, was an opposition member of parliament when older sister Benazir was last in power, and that he died in a hail of bullets under still-cloudy circumstances at the hands of the police force under his sister’s rule. Then later, Benazir retreated into exile amid big-money corruption charges that Musharraf has recently agreed to drop.

You also need to know that Columbia-educated Fatima i
s widely expected to leap into politics herself. But, if and when she ever does, it will assuredly not be under her aunt’s Pakistani People’s Party banner.

CF: A lot of people have called for you to run for public office? Are you seriously considering it?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in International politics, National politics, Presidential race, War | 16 Comments »

The Writers’ Strike – YouTube Explains It All – Part 2

November 14th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

This video is so good…. it may actually get you out on the picket lines in solidarity.

Posted in American artists, media, unions | 15 Comments »

Suicide, PTSD and War – The New Cost of Doing Business

November 14th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday night, CBS News announced the devastating results
of a five-month investigation into the incidence of suicide among American war veterans. Until the CBS folks did their own count using existing state death records (that no one had bothered to gather together and analyze), little information existed about how many suicides among veterans there were nationwide.

The numbers CBS found are extremely disturbing.
In 2005, 6256 veterans killed themselves—an average of 120 suicides each week. Furthermore, the CBS researchers found that veterans age 20-24 had the highest suicide rate of any age group. These, of course, are the Iraq and Afghani war kids. Whereas other veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide than the non-veteran populace. The new, young vets were three or four times more likely.

The examples CBS used to illustrate the problem
, for me as a mother, were nearly unbearable to watch.

Twenty-three-year-old Marine Reservist Jeff Lucey hanged himself with a garden hose in the cellar of this parents’ home – where his father, Kevin, found him.

“There’s a crisis going on and people are just turning the other way,” Kevin Lucey said.

Kim and Mike Bowman’s son Tim was an Army reservist
who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road.

“His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” Kim Bowman said.

Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim shot himself. He was 23.

Diana Henderson’s son, Derek, served three tours of duty in Iraq. He died jumping off a bridge at 27.

Meanwhile, in related story reported in this morning’s LA Times, a new study was released on Wednesday showing that post-war emotional stress and depression caused by combat in Iraq often don’t appear until months after a soldier has returned home.

Overall, about 20 percent of active-duty soldiers and more than 40 percent of National Guardsmen and reservists were referred for care or had sought care on their own, a military team reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Psychologists hope that catching incipient problems early and getting soldiers into treatment will prevent the type of long-term mental health problems that afflicted many soldiers who fought in Vietnam, said Dr. Charles S. Milliken of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who led the study.

Yes, but are we really catching
things early—or at all?

The story excerpted below ran in the Texas Observer this summer. It’s a portrait of three different service people who have come back from Iraq, and it It suggests we aren’t doing quite so swimmingly at the Walter Reed guy would have us believe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in mental health, PTSD, Public Health, War | 9 Comments »

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