Seymour Hersh takes apart the U.S. narrative on the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan

Vijay Prashad in Frontline:

FL12OSAMA2_2415764gIn early May, THE veteran investigati-ve journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a 10,000-word report in London Review of Books entitled “The Killing of Osama bin Laden”. The essay alleges that the narrative produced by the United States government on the events of May 2, 2011, is flawed. The fact of bin Laden’s death is not in contention. At least that is taken for granted. What is in doubt, Hersh argues in the report, is the manner in which the U.S. government found out about bin Laden’s presence in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, the role of the Pakistani government in the U.S. operation, the way in which the U.S. Navy Seals killed bin Laden, and the manner in which his body was disposed of. The allegations are not all new. Many of them had circulated widely in Pakistan right after the operation. What gives them weight is that they come from a well-respected U.S. journalist and produced a denial from the White House.

What was the U.S. government’s story? The film Zero Dark Thirty (2012) closely reflects the official tale. Under torture, the film suggests, an associate of bin Laden led the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the Al Qaeda courier network that kept bin Laden in operational control. The CIA followed the couriers until they found bin Laden in Abbottabad. A fake polio immunisation drive allowed the CIA to get the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sample of bin Laden to confirm his identity. At this point, the White House authorised the Navy Seals to fly into Pakistan—without permission from the Pakistani military—and seize bin Laden. The raid went as planned although one of the two helicopters crashed in the compound. Bin Laden was killed in a firefight. His body was returned to Afghanistan, from where it was taken to USS Carl Vinson to be buried at sea. A trove of intelligence was found in bin Laden’s compound, which was turned over to the CIA.

More here.

The first full-length biography of Agnes Martin

Cover00Prudence Peiffer at Bookforum:

In Charles R. Rushton's 1991 black-and-white portrait, Agnes Martin (1912–2004) sits in a wooden rocking chair in the left third of the frame, beside the white cement wall of her New Mexico studio. One of her canonical six-by-six-feet canvases hangs low to the ground next to her, its horizontal pencil-edge bands running out of the picture to the right. She's dressed like a plainclothes nun, in comfortable white sneakers, flannel pants, and a collared shirt under a dark cardigan buttoned to the neck. Her hands are set on each armrest with a square assurance that recalls Gertrude Stein, and the photo's spare formality is reminiscent of James Abbott McNeill Whistler's 1871 portrait of his mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1. These elements suggest the perfect stillness associated with Martin's profoundly absorbing minimalist abstractions and her devotion to painting the uniform square through an exacting process over half a century. Yet there are two subtle disruptions to the calm, details sometimes cropped out of the picture's bottom edge. That rocker! Those sneakers!

Is it our assumptions about Martin that create her apparent contradictions, or is it the other way around? She has endured the critical paring knife inflicted on all “pure” painters who insist the real world is far removed from their work: We love the smooth, monochrome skin but we also want to get to the juicy pulp, the bitter seeds.

more here.

erik satie: the velvet gentleman

22279101Nick Richardson at the London Review of Books:

One thing everyone knows about Erik Satie is that he was an eccentric. There are many kinds of eccentric and Satie was most of them. He presented himself as a nutty professor figure, not a composer but a ‘gymnopedist’ and ‘phonometrician’. He dined – or so he claimed in his autobiography – only on ‘food that is white: eggs, sugar, shredded bones, the fat of dead animals’. He walked around Paris in priestly robes, then swapped them for a wardrobe full of identical brown corduroy suits; his interests included rare sea creatures, impossible machines, forgotten local history and the occult. He was a romantic and a mystic, of sorts – his brother, Conrad, called him a ‘transcendent idealist’ – and his music, particularly his earlier works for piano, can make listeners feel so serene that the record industry has claimed him as a kind of guru. In the Satie section of the record shop you’ll find Satie: Piano Dreams, 25 Hypnotic Tracks and Chill with Satie, and his work appears on compilations of ‘classical music for babies’. But during his lifetime his mysticism was rarely presented unironically. He wrote a set of haunting, fragile, otherworldly pieces for piano and called them ‘pieces in the shape of a pear’; his attempt to start his own religion in 1893 looks like both a response to a genuine spiritual need and an elaborate prank. He seems to have felt uncomfortable being serious in public, the more so as the public warmed to him. His eccentricity became a disguise, an armour of winking and raillerie concealing a man nobody knew.

more here.

David Kishik’s ‘The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City’

Illingworth-web1Dustin Illingworth at The Brooklyn Rail:

But what if Benjamin had not made his fateful decision on the French border? What if, instead, he faked his own death, assumed the name Carl Roseman, and moved to a cramped apartment in Manhattan to live out his remaining 40 years creating the Gotham twin to his exhaustive Parisian blueprint? This is the premise of David Kishik’s new book, The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City, a curiously effervescent text that is simultaneously a work of imagined philology, an index of urban delirium, and a fascinating evocation of a city that became the de facto capital of the 20th century. The book’s format can be a little abstruse at first. Kishik marshals actual quotes from Benjamin and fabricated quotes from the fictional Roseman to examine the cultural and philosophical ramifications of urbanity. However, once oriented, there is no small amount of pleasure to be had in the whirling transitions between the factual and the fictive, the settled and the spectral. Kishik, an assistant professor of philosophy at Emerson College, avoids what could be an overly precious conceit by virtue of a charming transparency (“This is a study of a manuscript that was never written,” he begins the very first chapter) and a richly perceptive, almost visceral sensitivity to the “undeserted island” of the city. Far from a nostalgic chimera or gilded illusion, Kishik’s New York emerges here as an existential foil, labyrinthian, a lover both desired and spurned. His seductive interpretations of New York art, culture, tragedy, architecture, celebrity, and history, refracted through the imagined elucidations of a persuasively reanimated Benjamin, emulate the teeming life of the city in all of its breathless variety and unexpectedness. The point of view is unmistakably Kishik’s, a voice erudite though unafraid of irony or humorous observation; however, in employing the real and imagined quotes of Benjamin/Roseman, the book moves beyond mere criticism into a kind of urban bildungsroman, New York’s coming-of-age as told by three worthy author-theorists.

more here.

Violence: A Modern Obsession

Ian Thomson in The Guardian:

MylaiEven HG Wells, with his uncanny gift of scientific foresight, could not have predicted the murderous flash of light over wartime Nagasaki. Never before had a government planned the atomic annihilation of an entire city. The US airmen aboard the B-29 did not, however, feel morally responsible for the violence; neither did the scientists who helped to assemble the bomb, nor even the US president and his White House advisers. Division of labour had made the contribution of any single person seem unimportant. Adolf Eichmann, by a similar agency, saw the Final Solution to the Jewish question in terms only of his own special competence (the smooth running of the Auschwitz deportation trains) and this, too, enabled him to ignore the consequences of his violence.

In Violence: A Modern Obsession, historian Richard Bessel turns an appalled eye on our recent moral past. The 20th century is seen by many as the most violent in human history. Not only Auschwitz, but the atomic holocausts in Japan and Stalin’s technocratic Soviet Union showed what a wilful and destructive misuse could be made of technology.Yet, in the west, we have become less violent, argues Bessel. Contemporary entertainment in the form of computer games and films is saturated in violence, but there has been no parallel enthusiasm for participating in ritualised mass murder. A turning point in our sensibilities came with the Vietnam war, Bessel says, when the psychological trauma of violence entered public discussion for the first time and man’s enjoyment in killing came into question. The US massacre of defenceless women and children at the Viet Cong-held village of My Lai in March 1968 prompted calls for an end to the “festival of cruelty” (as Nietzsche termed it).

More here.

The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion

Clyde Haberman in The New York Times:

Tumblr_inline_muofvx1XUt1snbhfrThe second half of the 1960s was a boom time for nightmarish visions of what lay ahead for humankind. In 1966, for example, a writer named Harry Harrison came out with a science fiction novel titled “Make Room! Make Room!” Sketching a dystopian world in which too many people scrambled for too few resources, the book became the basis for a 1973 film about a hellish future, “Soylent Green.” In 1969, the pop duo Zager and Evans reached the top of the charts with a number called “In the Year 2525,” which postulated that humans were on a clear path to doom. No one was more influential — or more terrifying, some would say — than Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist. His 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” sold in the millions with a jeremiad that humankind stood on the brink of apocalypse because there were simply too many of us. Dr. Ehrlich’s opening statement was the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He later went on to forecast that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were fair “England will not exist in the year 2000.” Dr. Ehrlich was so sure of himself that he warned in 1970 that “sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.” By “the end,” he meant “an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”

…Some preternaturally optimistic analysts concluded that humans would always find their way out of tough spots. Among them was Julian L. Simon, an economist who established himself as the anti-Ehrlich, arguing that “humanity’s condition will improve in just about every material way.” In 1997, a year before he died, Mr. Simon told Wired magazine that “whatever the rate of population growth is, historically it has been that the food supply increases at least as fast, if not faster.” Somewhere on the spectrum between Dr. Ehrlich the doomsayer and Mr. Simon the doomslayer (as Wired called him) lies Fred Pearce, a British writer who specializes in global population. His concern is not that the world has too many people. In fact, birthrates are now below long-term replacement levels, or nearly so, across much of Earth, not just in the industrialized West and Japan but also in India, China, much of Southeast Asia, Latin America — just about everywhere except Africa, although even there the continentwide rates are declining. “Girls that are never born cannot have babies,” Mr. Pearce wrote in a 2010 book, “The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet’s Surprising Future”.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Some Love Poems

There you go
this morning
with frost
in your parka
down London Road

I’d know your walk

But I’m not there
I’m in this dumb room
with your blond hair
& all the beautiful lines
on your very special face

In your doorway
I’ll stay

the light kisses
I’ll place
& there are diamonds
on your eyelids

I’ll stay here
in your doorway
& when we kiss
we both look so young

Your bathroom is alone
the spotless white bath
your brushes & stuff

I’d stand here often
in my own silence
but your bathroom is alone now
& I don’t wait

I don’t walk
down to the table and ashtray
just to remind you again
how much you will always move me

It’s only your voice
& frost on the wires

It’s only the touch
of your hair

only the sunlight
through your white blinds

It’s only your presence
on all the platforms & rain

in all the aisles
in the glasses & bottles

in the air
in the wayward stars

in all the leaves
in our unhappy faces

by Brendan Cleary
from Face
publisher: Pighog, B, 2013

Jonathan Kramnick to Judge 5th Annual 3QD Arts & Literature Prize

Update 29 June: Winners announced here.

Update 19 June: Finalists announced here.

Update 18 June: Voting round now closed, semifinalists announced here.

Update 12 June: Voting round now open, will close on 17 June 11:59 pm EST. Go here to browse the nominated posts and vote.

FullSizeRender-6We are very honored and pleased to announce that Jonathan Kramnick has agreed to be the final judge for our 5th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of arts & literature. Details of the previous four arts & literature (and other) prizes can be seen on our prize page.

Jonathan Kramnick is Maynard Mack Professor of English at Yale University. His research and teaching is in eighteenth-century literature, literature and philosophy, and cognitive science and the arts. He's the author of two books, Making the English Canon (1999) and Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (2010), and many essays. His current work is on the relations among literary form, perceptual consciousness, and built and natural environments.

As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Professor Kramnick.

The first place award, called the “Top Quark,” will include a cash prize of 500 dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of 200 dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with a 100 dollar prize.

(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS Feed.)

The schedule and rules:

June 1, 2015:

  • The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.
  • Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
  • Each person can only nominate one blog post.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been first published on or after June 1, 2014.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • Nominations are limited to the first 100 entries.
  • Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.

June 10, 2015

  • The public voting will be opened.

June 17, 2015

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

June 19, 2015

  • The finalists are announced.

June 29, 2015

  • The winners are announced.

One Final and Important Request

If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.

Best of luck and thanks for your attention!

California Dying

by Gerald Dworkin

Assisted DyingI am finishing the six months a year that I live in California. While here I have been working on the campaign, led by an organization called Compassion and Choices, to get a bill passed by the California legislature–SB128. This is a bill to allow medically-assisted dying in the state of California. It is modeled on the measure passed by referendum in Oregon in 1994 by 51% of the voters. A legal injunction halted implementation of that law until 1997 when the Ninth Circuit lifted the injunction. In 1992 Californians rejected a referendum legalising assisted-dying, and the legislature has rejected similar bills four times.

Some form of medically assisted-dying is now legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont , and one county of New Mexico. This latter reminds me of Woody Allen’s view on the existence of God. He exists everywhere except in certain parts of New Jersey.

The methods of legalization differed from state to state. Oregon was by referendum. Montana was a Supreme Court ruling. Vermont was by statute. Washington’s ballot initiative passed by 58% of the voters.

My own interest in these issues has been long-standing. In 1998 I wrote, together with two other philosophers, a book called Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide. Two of us argued for its moral and legal permissibility; one against. I should note that the use of the term “Physician-assisted suicide” is now politically incorrect, for tactical reasons. I understand that the popular prejudice against suicide makes it more difficult to rally support for the bills I favor. And even some potential users of such measures object to their death-certificate reading “suicide.” But to list the cause of death, as many such bills do, as the underlying disease process seems to me simply a lie. What caused the person diagnosed with terminal cancer to die now, rather than somewhat later, is the secobarbital the patient took. But learning to keep silent about such terminological matters was only one of many lessons I had to learn.

Read more »

Rainy days

by Rishidev Chaudhuri

ScreenHunter_1206 Jun. 01 11.44If there were a canonical essay topic for the Hindi classes that I struggled through as a child, “The arrival of the monsoon” would be a leading candidate. So typical a topic that it almost constituted its own form and mode of cultural practice, it was assigned to us several times a year. And we dutifully produced accounts of hot streets and families watching for storm clouds from verandahs and rushing winds and skies flickering with lightning and children playing in the streets and grateful farmers fornicating in suddenly-muddy fields while relieved trees looked on.

But of course this was an entirely fitting essay topic. Much as the coming of winter looms in the imagination of people in further latitudes, the coming of the rains is atavistically woven into the fabric of the subcontinental consciousness, stirring strange rain-fed yearnings in the blood, reflected back at us in art and in politics. The arrival of the monsoon is tracked for weeks, the subject of prayers and village ritual and newspaper op-eds and roadside chatter. Musical forms are dedicated to the first rains; governments fall because of late rains. And, fittingly, the first storms of the season are grand affairs, full of sound and fury, signifying life and fertility. Indeed, for years several friends of mine thought that one got pregnant by dancing around trees in the rain, based on their extensive watching of Hindi movies.

I worked on a farm for half a year after college, through the dry scorching heat of the summer (all fine dust and burnt skin and plants with insufficiently sublimated death drives) and into the coming of the monsoon. My most vivid memories from that year are the monsoon evenings spent sitting on the verandah after a day at work in the fields, drinking rum and watching the rain upon the rice fields and the lightning play through the sky, trees suddenly illuminated by flashes, slightly damp dogs curled up at my feet. And this is to say nothing of other memories of watching the rain fall in the courtyards of old Calcutta houses, which should justifiably be the subject of a novel-cycle about memory and decay (it probably is).

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The Current Spike in Baltimore Violence

by Akim Reinhardt

MurderAs has been widely reported, May was an exceptionally violent month here in Baltimore. The city has witnessed dozens shootings and 38 murders. That is the most murders in any one month since 1996.

Such a spate of violence is certainly worth reporting, and the national media has been quick to pick up on it. However, many media outlets are also drawing lazy connections to the riot and protests that took place several weeks back.

The typical analysis, whether implied or explicit, goes something like this.

There was a riot in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. The riot amplified already troubled relations between Baltimore's African American community and its police force. The police, unhappy about the indictment of six officers in the Gray case, are staging a work slowdown. The result is tremendous violence across the city.

Examples are: here, here, here, here, and here.

This brand of analysis is not factually wrong. Some of those statements may be a bit vague, but they're wrong in and of themselves. However, when those those facts are strung together in this manner, the narrative they produce is just a bit too facile to offer a penetrating explanation for recent upswing in violence.

The problem with such an analysis is that it's:

  • Too focused on the present to account and fails to account for historical forces, and;
  • Too narrow in the way it corrals all the immediate factors but fails to make room for larger structural forces

All of this leads to questions bout causality. For example, to what extent could Baltimore's bloody May be part of a seasonal burst of violence that has taken place across the country?

And how, exactly, does a bad relationship between black Baltimoreans and Baltimore police directly lead to more black-on-black murders (which is mostly what has happened)? Black people don't trust cops, so now they're murdering each other more? That seems like a very peculiar correlation to make.

Read more »


Lieko Shiga, ​Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore), 46, 2011, ​from the series ​Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore)​​, 2011. Photograph, digital print.

Lieko Shiga.Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore), 46, 2011, ​from the series ​Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore)​​, 2011.

Photograph, digital print.

“The Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, and an enormous wave of water swept through towns in the Tōhoku (Northeast) region, destroying virtually everything in its path and irrevocably damaging the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This triple disaster was of such epic proportions that it became a defining moment for Japan. A number of photographers felt compelled to record not only the events’ physical effects on the land, but also to interpret the overarching significance of the tragedy through art. …”

Part of current exhibition titled In The Wake at MFA, Boston.

On Veganism

by Tara* Kaushal Renee-Somerfield-Save-the-Earth-300

Why I think it is the only food and lifestyle philosophy that aligns with my value-systems.

So shall we get the calls of “hypocrite” out of the way?

I am not a vegan (eats and uses only plant matter). I've spent my adult life oscillating between being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (vegetarian, plus dairy and eggs), pescetarian (lacto-ovo-vegetarian, plus seafood) and omnivore (eats both plant- and animal-origin food). (I'm calling out the way I've used these terms, as there are so many types and definitions: eg, in Indian Hindus, ‘pure veg' usually means lacto-vegetarian.)

Truth is, veganism is the only food and lifestyle philosophy that aligns to my belief systems; and food is the only aspect of my life in which I am a blatant hypocrite, where my actions don't match my words. With a personality that's “guilt-prone” (my therapist's words, not mine), it bothers me no end that I am not even a committed vegetarian; niggling guilt and disappointment tinge the pleasure of a good steak. I cannot believe my lack of will power, that my tongue and hedonism (and laziness) win in a battle against my beliefs.

So what are the beliefs that point me straight to a vegan lifestyle?

Anthropocentricism: Let's consider, first, the mediocrity principle, the opposite of anthropocentricism. What is the place of humanity in The Grander Scheme of Things? We are, for all our self-aggrandisement, no more than one species on earth, and one of millions in the universe. If we are no more or less than the animals who co-inhabit earth with us, we don't—shouldn't—have rights over them.

Let's say one believes the opposite, that humans are the most significant species on the planet, the very pinnacle of evolution, the Masters of the Earth. One could take an anthropocentric belief system to mean that we are the rightful owners of everything that lives—or see that it grants us agency, great power… and great responsibility. In a situation where we can control the fates of other species, how should we treat them? If you had a kingdom, what kind of monarch would you be?

Read more »

Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Fury Road and Absolutely Everything

by Matt McKenna

15-mad-max.w529.h352.2xNot since last December's American Sniper has a simple blockbuster action film generated as much serious discussion as Mad Max: Fury Road. Where American Sniper seemed to tie people in knots about its stance on war, Fury Road has divided moviegoers as to the film's feminist credentials. Is it really a feminist film? Is it merely a film that has non-terrible female characters? Or is it actually an anti-feminist film in feminist film's clothing? Who knows, but what both American Sniper and Fury Road make quite clear is that a straightforward action movie is wide open to interpretation as writers transform its explosions into exegesis, its car chases into consternation, and its body count into boycotts.

The plot of Fury Road is terrifically thin: Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by a violent totalitarian post-apocalyptic dieselpunk gang but has the good fortune of being set free during a calamitous rebellion lead by the gang's once-loyal lieutenant, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Max and Furiosa eventually team up, blow up a lot of cars/people, and–excuse the spoiler–kill the bad guy. That's all the plot there is, but that's all the plot the movie needs as the attraction of the film has nothing to do with story and everything to do with its wonderfully cinematic action sequences. It may therefore seem odd for so many words to be written about a film whose story can be losslessly compressed into a compound sentence or two, but it turns out this lack of specificity in the film is precisely what is required to generate such high-minded dialogue between interested moviegoers.

There's a segment in the Sophie Fiennes directed, Slavoj Zizek narrated film Pervert's Guide to Ideology in which Zizek describes the first half of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as being a capable vessel for ideology because of its “universal adaptability.” In the film, Zizek explains that the symphony has been used at different times to promote all sorts of conflicting political ideologies such as Nazism, communism, and a host of other -isms. Zizek attributes the symphony's ideological flexibility to its being “an empty container, open to all possible meanings.” He doesn't say it exactly like this, but I think Zizek is calling Beethoven's Ninth the musical equivalent of Murphy's Law. Where Murphy's Law is usually stated something like, “anything that can happen will happen,” Zizek's Law takes the form of “anything that can be read into this thing will be read into this thing.” Doesn't that pretty much describe Fury Road as well?

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Why Did America Kill Hundreds Of Thousands Of Iraqi Women And Children? Ask Jeb Bush

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

JebSo Jeb Bush gets asked if he would have invaded Iraq “knowing what we know now,” and he flubs his answer.

But he got asked the wrong question.

The right question to ask Jeb Bush is this:

“How dare you run for president when you should be dying of shame instead, because your brother is a war criminal?”

We seemed to have banished simple morality from all our discussions of public policy.

We call the Iraq War our “most serious foreign policy blunder” instead of what it really was: a war crime. An evil deed conceived by evil men because Saddam Hussein cut oil deals with Russian, French and other foreign oil companies, instead of with American oil companies — a snub that our two Texas oil men in charge, Bush and Cheney, could not abide. So they committed a war crime, and lied our whole country into their war crime.

Their act of evil makes the all-too-often-invoked Nazi analogy applicable to America. Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice-Powell are the mini-Hitlers of our time, and our country, America, is the Nazi Germany of our time, because of the war crime of the Iraq War. Because of our evil, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women and children are dead.

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