Via Juan Cole, Israel's bombing campaign now encompasses strikes on Greek Orthodox churches and milk factories far from Shiite areas, suggesting that crippling Hezbollah is only part of the plan. He writes, "These strikes are war crimes and part of a continuing Israeli campaign to ensure that Lebanon is economically poor and weak for decades to come." Late Tuesday the Lebanese death toll stood at more than 200, only a handful of them military. Eric Umansky, reading the Post, notes that Israel is targeting gas stations, and asks, "How long can you keep people without the ability to travel and get food?"

Flying the American flag upside down is a symbol of a nation in distress, and since the war in Iraq began, more and more people have adopted this custom. One of those people is Iowan Terri Jones. Her son, Jason, returned from Iraq with full-blown posttraumatic stress disorder. Among other things, he saw an insurgent execute a child. He did not go to the VA for help because he was worried about being perceived as weak. Jason killed himself just over a year ago, and since that time, Jones has flown the flag upside down.

In March of this year, someone turned Jones's flag right side up. Jones lives on five acres and has a long driveway, so someone must have been keeping a close eye, she says, and waiting for her to leave so he or she could rearrange the flag. The person who turned it right side up left a note:

I've noticed for quite some time now that you fly your American flag upside down. . . . Please don't disrespect those who have fought and died on our soil preserving your very freedom and mine. . . . Let's rally behind our troops and if they don't believe in what they're doing, let them voice it. Every single person in the armed forces today signed on the dotted line. . . . I know your flag is sending out a message that you might not have though it was sending. So I felt compelled to tell you what I thought.

The note was was signed, "An extremely sincere fellow American citizen and proud of it."

Jones then wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, in which she explained that flying the flag upside down is not a sign of disrespect for the country, but rather, a sign of distress. In the letter, she talked about her son's PTSD and his suicide.

...our country is in distress for the way it has failed its vets. When you drive by my house and see my flag flying I challenge you to help me turn it right side up. Show me that you are willing to do what it takes to help those that protect our rights and freedoms. And when I see that no soldier has been left behind, then that will be a day of joy for me to fly her right side up.

After Jones's letter appeared in the newspaper, someone stole her American flag, pole and all. She bought another flag and hung it upside down.

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Nobody will ever write a Moby-Dick about that humble and foul-smelling fish, the menhaden, but PBS will run a segment on it. The NOW program this Friday night features a co-production based on H. Bruce Franklin's article in Mother Jones about how a football tycoon took George H.W. Bush's oil company and used it to declare war on the fish that built America. Check here for your local station and time.

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I don't quite get how the Bush-Blair-buttered-roll exchange shows the British PM to be the president's "poodle," but the British press has decided it does. "Yo, Bush! Start treating our prime minister with respect," screamed the Daily Mirror, while the Guardian sniffs that Blair "all but offers to carry [Condoleezza Rice's] bags." Looking over the transcript, I don't see it. (Not that it matters all that much; there's a war on after all.) This isn't to deny that Blair has made a fool of himself in relation to Bush over the past five years, all the while disregarding the plain will of the British people. But what shows Blair to be Bush's poodle isn't this particular exchange; it's the relationship itself.

This post says it all. Right now is really, really not a good time to have a slack-jawed moron in charge of the most powerful country on earth.

The Afghan government is moving to bring back some version of the notorious Vice and Virtues Ministry, which terrorized Afghanistan under the Taliban. In those years busybodies from the ultra-puritan agency went around making sure women were barred from the workplace and schools and remained encased in head-to-toe burkas, and attacking men whose beards were too short. Those failing to meet the ministry's exacting standards--women, say, wearing socks not sufficiently opaque--were publicly beaten, and many "offenders" were imprisoned.

The Karzai government says the new ministry won't be like that at all but will focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. Human rights activists are skeptical, not least because the existing criminal justice system already has a handle on that stuff. Human Rights Watch just put out a statement saying the plan, to be submitted for parliament later this summer, "raises serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and vulnerable groups." HRW also recently released a report identifying a lack of access to education, especially for girls, as jeopardizing Afghanistan's future.

There's no shortage of news these days suggesting that the world is more or less imploding. We've got Rush Limbaugh saying that Israel's invasion of Lebanon is a gift to the world and a lot of insane fundamentalist-types primed for rapture. Gory massacres in Iraq have become so commonplace that they barely make the headlines. And here's yet another cheerful item: The Taliban has just taken over two towns in southern Afghanistan. Obviously the liberal media's to blame for all of this.

Middle East Body Count Rising

According to a New York Times article published today:

An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations reported today…
This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been powerless to stop it.
The article also noted that 14,338 civilians died violently in Iraq in the first half of the 2006. Iraq Body Count, meanwhile, estimates the war's total Iraqi death toll at 43,575. The 230 Lebanese or 60 Palestinians killed in recent Israeli bombings—not to mention 500,000 displaced—may seem small by comparison. But taken on the whole, it's not a good time to be Arab.

You'd think we'd have gotten better at evacuating Americans in disaster's way after Katrina totalled New Orleans, but apparently not. The Los Angeles Times reports that hundreds of US citizens trying to escape Lebanon are still stranded there, while other countries have already scooted their nationals to safety on hired ferries and buses. The Pentagon has apparently contracted a private cruise ship to pick up some 750 people today - and has told evacuees they will have to reimburse the government for the cost of their own rescues. Any reason they're not sending one of the several US Navy ships stationed in the Meditteranean and nearby Red Sea that were paid for with those would-be evacuees tax dollars?

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies cautions in a new paper that "[a]nalysts and reporters need to be careful to stick to the facts in covering Iran's role in the current fighting" in the Middle East. He notes that "a number of sources -- including Israeli officials and officers" [to which company he might have added our very own U.S. hawks of the Bill Kristol-James Woolsey type] have inflated "suspicions and limited facts into full-blown conspiracies" to justify attacking Iran.

So what are the facts? They include the following:

  • U.S. intelligence has not seen evidence that Iran dominated or controlled Hezbollah, but it has long seen Iran as a major source of money, weapons, and military training (though the last seems to have dropped off in recent years)
  • Syria too plays a role and there seem to be regular meetings between Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah leaders
  • Hezbollah appears to use Iran and Syria as much as it is used by them
  • Reports that Iran provides Hezbollah with several hundred million dollars worth of aid a year are "sharply exaggerated guesstimates," though Iran almost certainly does provide financial aid and goods and military services worth some $25-50 million
  • Iran has transferred massive numbers of rockets to Hezbollah to give them a capability to attack Israel
  • Most experts speculate that Iran has given Hezbollah anywhere from 20-120 long-range rockets that are likely beyond the capability of the Hezbollah to operate without Iranian support in the field
  • So: possibly no direct Iranian involvement in this particular campaign. I'm not optimistic the above will do much to inhibit Israeli hawks (or the war-crazed Kristols and Woolseys of the world) who are baying for Iranian blood. One has to hope that the patent insanity of attacking Iran will suffice for cooler, saner heads to prevail.

    Cordesman concludes:

    "...Iran has been supplying rockets and UAVs for years. There is no evidence that it dominates the Hezbollah or has more control than Syria, and the fact its ties to Hezbollah are so well known creates more problems for Iran in European eyes, and raises more risk of Israeli strikes or U.S. strikes in the future.

    Until there are hard facts, Iran's role in all of this is a matter of speculation, and conspiracy theories are not facts or news.

    And nobody ever built a case for war in the absence of hard facts...