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Friday, October 31, 2003


 

The gift that keeps on giving


Six months ago, on April 16, California Governor Gray Davis, reacting both to a drought and to a major bark beetle infestation, "sent a letter to President George W. Bush, asking for a presidential proclamation to alleviate what he described as 'a severe fire risk.' Governor Davis said 'I have determined that this situation is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state.'" (Google "gray davis fire april beetle" to see the many stories about this at the time). California was seeking a few million dollars to, among other things, remove trees killed by the bark beetle infestation to lessen the fire danger (although the current fires mostly started in chaparral areas, as noted here a few days ago, they have now spread to forested areas). After studying the "emergency" request for $430 million for six months, the Bush administration turned it down on Oct. 24, just hours before the fires burned out of control. "FEMA spokesman Chad Kolton said the agency denied Davis' request for an emergency declaration because California was already receiving more than $40 million from the departments of Agriculture and Interior to deal with a bark beetle infestation."

So when it comes to allocating $87 billion dollars to fight a war against Iraq (and remember, that comes on top of an already allocated $79 billion and, almost certainly, tens of more billions yet to come), the government is happy to debate the subject for a few days, but when it comes to spending a few million dollars to prevent disastrous forest fires, it takes six months to think about and then "we can't afford it."

It has also now been revealed that the major "Cedar" fire was spotted early one evening, when it was just beginning, but that the pilot reported the fire at 5:40 p.m. and that fire-fighting planes are grounded beginning at 5:30 p.m. due to poor night visibility; by the next morning the fire was out of control. In Iraq (and Afghanistan and many other places), the U.S. military fights its wars almost exclusively at night in order to gain the advantage over its less technologically-equipped enemies. But when it comes to fighting fires here at home, that kind of advanced technology just isn't available. Department of "Defense"? Tell that to the people of Southern California, whose homes certainly weren't being defended with the full technological might of the United States.

The U.S. military and the invasion of Iraq. The gift that keeps on giving. Or, more precisely, taking.


 

Middle East Myopia


The San Jose Mercury News, in an editorial today calling for U.S. policy changes in the Middle East, writes: "The entire Muslim world sees Sharon's policies as a land-grab by a man who has no intention to allow the creation of a Palestinian state."

No, the entire world "sees Sharon's policies as a land-grab by a man who has no intention to allow the creation of a Palestinian state." Only in the United States could a newspaper or a politician even hint that it was primarily Muslims who felt that way.


Thursday, October 30, 2003


 

More on Iraqi detainees


Just yesterday, Left I on the News called attention to the thousands of Iraqi detainees being held by American forces. An AP story published in the Toronto Star (but not found yet in any American paper) follows up on the subject: "Iraqis tell grim stories of U.S.-run camps - Former Iraqi detainees tell of riots, punishment in the sun, good Americans and pitiless ones."

Some interesting points to note in the story. The story asserts that "the U.S.-British invasion force inherited a legal vacuum." But this isn't true. Iraq has a constitution, as noted here several times, and a complete legal system, which the occupying powers are obliged by the Geneva conventions to respect. Second, the story mentions how the detainees include "ordinary criminals [and] prisoners of war." Now what's interesting about this is that the press (and the U.S. government) always wants to talk about the "post-war" period. But, if the war were indeed over, it would be the obligation of the U.S. to release prisoners of war, so it's quite clear that the war is not over (and any division of casualties between "before" and "after" the end of the war is completely bogus).

And, as usual, the Americans aren't talking: "Saad Naif said he saw a prisoner shot dead at Abu Ghraib when he approached the razor wire. Amnesty International says it has received credible reports of such shootings. AP queried the U.S. command here about deaths in the camps, but got no response," and "Specific questions about AP's ex-detainee accounts were submitted to the U.S. command on Oct. 18, but no response has been received."


 

Whatever happened to...Saddam Hussein?


Back on August 7, Left I on the News wrote this:
In an effort to give the American people the impression that "we've got Saddam on the run," the US media are now dutifully reporting the military's claim that Saddam moves three times a day. I have yet to hear a single news reporter or commentator ask the two obvious questions: 1) How on earth could you know such a thing unless you actually knew where he was? and 2) Wouldn't it be much less safe to move around three times a day than to stay put? Wouldn't there then be three times (more or less) as many people who knew where you were and who could betray you? Wouldn't spending time out in the open in transit from one hiding place to another put you at great risk of discovery? Would Anne Frank have been safer from the Nazis if she had moved around three times a day instead of hiding in an attic?
Well, it's been a long time since we've heard that claim; bullshit can only be sustained for so long, even by the American media. Now this:
"Saddam Hussein may be playing a significant role in coordinating and directing attacks by his loyalists against American forces in Iraq, senior American officials said Thursday.

"The officials cited recent intelligence reports indicating that Mr. Hussein is acting as a catalyst or even a leader in the armed opposition, probably from a base of operations near Tikrit, his hometown and stronghold. A leadership role by Mr. Hussein would go far beyond anything previously acknowledged by the Bush administration, which has sought in its public remarks to portray the former Iraqi leader as being on the run and irrelevant."
Left I has no idea whether or not this latest story is true, I just find it interesting that, nearly three months after trying to give the American public the impression that Hussein's capture was imminent, that possibility has vanished without a trace from the press.

 

More full-court press to break the non-existent media filter


Tonight on my local CBS news channel (again, this is the local news, not the national news with Dan Rather), a reporter directly interviews both Gen. Richard Myers (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Gen. John Abizaid, CentCom commander. That's five top administration figures in as many days. One can only conclude that the Bush administration is really running scared, not just from the Iraqi resistance but also from American public opinion. The PR blitz is running at top speed.

 

Chomsky & Linguistics


Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics, would be proud of Walter Lippmann for catching this unbelievably subtle attempt by a Reuters reporter to distort reality. Chomsky is in Cuba at a conference, warning that "President Bush will have to 'manufacture' another threat to American security to win reelection in 2004 after U.S. failure in occupying Iraq." At the end of the article, after noting a number of other things Chomsky said today in Cuba, the author writes:
"Chomsky criticized Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for backing the United States and Britain in invading Iraq under a false pretext that the Arab country possessed weapons of mass destruction. 

"Chomsky praised Cuba's defiance of U.S. hostility and trade sanctions for four decades. But he also criticized the jailing of 75 Cuban dissidents earlier this year by Castro's government. 

"'Yes, I have criticized them for that,' he said in an interview on August 28 with Radio Havana. 'I think it was a mistake.'"
Look carefullly. The first of these three paragraphs, beginning "Chomsky criticized," describes an action that happened yesterday in Havana. The first sentence of the second paragraph, beginning "Chomsky praised," does the same. Then, without switching tenses, the author seamlessly adds that "[Chomsky] also criticized..." as if it too happened in Havana yesterday. But it didn't! As the next paragraph makes clear, this was something Chomsky said two months ago, not today.

It's not that Chomsky hides his views, with which Left I disagrees; as noted in the article, he articulated them in an interview on Radio Havana. But the clever implication in the article that he is still expounding these views today, in Havana, is false, and yet clearly deliberate on the part of Reuters.


 

WMD in Iraq

"There are weapons of mass destruction all over Iraq and they were used this year. Iraqi children continue to find them every day. They have ruined the lives of just under 300,000 people during the last decade - and numbers will increase. The reason is simple. Two hundred tonnes of radioactive material were fired by invading US forces into buildings, homes, streets and gardens all over Baghdad."
Read the article and look at the pictures here. For previous articles on Left I on the News covering depleted uranium, see here and here.

 

Capitalism, Russian-style


A story in the San Jose Mercury News about the rescue of trapped Russian miners is subheaded (print edition only; why don't online stories get subheads?) "Men freed from flooded shaft, but not from a life of hardship." In it, we learn that "miners at Zapadnaya said they had not been paid for the past seven months," and that "in interviews with Knight Ridder, several miners said they had not been paid in 16 months." Frankly I don't understand how anyone would, not to mention could, continue to work for seven or 16 months without pay, even if they were receiving some compensation in the form of sugar and coal (!). But be that as it may, the most interesting line is this one: "After the state coal agency was folded in the mid-1990s, Russia adopted a $1.3 billion restructuring program overseen by the World Bank. The program led to greater efficiency, higher output and more exports." "Greater efficiency"! I'll say! Produce millions of dollars of coal and don't pay your workers anything - it doesn't get any more "efficient" than that!

An interesting quote from the print edition doesn't make it online. One of the miners says "We can't even afford to buy the coal that we ourselves are digging." Welcome to the fundamental contradition of capitalism, a.k.a. Marxism 101.


 

Privatizing War


Via Atrios, this AP story about how private contractors working for the Army, a.k.a. mercenaries, may now be the second largest "coalition partner" in Iraq, surpassing the British. Some of them do "non-military" jobs like cooking (of course, many soldiers play "support roles" too). But many of the mercenaries are armed, guarding buildings or oil pipelines. For example, "the machine-gun toting guards who shadow Afghan President Hamid Karzai and L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, are private-sector workers."

One consequence of this privatization is that the U.S. is able to lower its "death toll" even more, at least on paper. Just in the last month, military contractors have died in Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan, yet none of them appeared in any count of "U.S. soldiers killed in major combat since May 1" or any other count.


 

The (existing) Iraqi constitution


Back on Sept. 26, Left I on the News noted that, contrary to the impression you might get from all the stories in the press about the need to write an Iraqi constitution, that Iraq already has a constitution. Then on Oct. 1, Left I readers learned that as a result of that existing consititution, attempts to restructure the Iraqi economy by, e.g., permitting full foreign ownership of most Iraqi assets, were contrary to international law.

It took a while, but finally today, one month later, both aspects of this story have now broken into the mainstream media, at least into the Financial Times. Chances that it will make it into the U.S. media, other than perhaps the Wall Street Journal? Still slim and none. Chances that the U.S. will give a rat's ass about international law? Even less.


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


 

The military kills, then lies; "serious investigation" undoubtedly to follow


The civilian death toll mounts in Iraq at the hands of its biggest source - the U.S. military. In Fallujah, a bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy; in response, the soldiers started firing wildly at passing cars and killed six innocent civilians. The New York Times reporter managed to interview the mayor and chief of police of Fallujah, along with two eyewitnesses. Remarkably, though, the "spokesman for the American military in Baghdad offered only a general response to questions about the incident, saying he had no details about what had happened but he believed the use of force was justified." One might well ask how he could offer any opinion about the justification for the use of force if he had no details about what had happened. Well, one might ask that, but it would be hard to ask, since "the spokesman...insisted on anonymity." How can an employee of the U.S. government, in the official exercise of his duties, insist on anonymity? And if he does, why does the New York Times give him the dignity of reporting anything he has to say?

These incidents happen all the time, and routinely go unreported, but for once the Times actually provides a summary:

"Since early September, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have killed more than 20 civilians and Iraqi police officers in and around Falluja in incidents where the victims have put up little or no resistance, according to accounts from witnesses. American military officers have said the shootings were justified under American rules of engagement, but have provided scant details."

 

The media filter


The Bush Administration claims the national media is "filtering" the news, and they are "going over their heads" to reach local media. In the past three evenings I have watched local TV reporters (I'm pretty sure in all cases it was on the local CBS outlet, although I couldn't swear to that) interviewing (in all cases via video, but still directly, one-on-one) Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer, and Paul Wolfowitz. This is completely unprecedented, and totally ridiculous. Anytime Rumsfeld, Bremer, or Wolfowitz (or Bush or Cheney etc.) wants to get their words directly on the news, all they have to do is to give a speech and the media will dutifully play it, unfiltered. By contrast, when is the last time I saw a local TV reporter doing a one-on-one interview with local antiwar leaders like Brian Becker, Medea Benjamin, Jeff Mackler, or Gloria La Riva? Answer: never.

There is a media filter, without the slightest question. The idea that that filter operates to the detriment of Bush et al. is preposterous.


 

Vital interests


The U.S. government justifies its interventions and troop placements here, there, and everywhere around the world by assuring us that they are protecting our "vital interests." The 50th anniversary of the mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and South Korea prompted a major article in the San Jose Mercury News, written by William M. Drennan, the deputy director of research and studies at the United States Institute of Peace, and James J. Przystup, a senior fellow at the National Defense University's Institute of National Strategic Studies, exploring the current situation. In the course of this 750-word article, we find the following phrases: "vital U.S. interests," "broad national security interests of both parties," "the past century has underscored the fact that what happens on the peninsula affects vital U.S. national interests," and "national interest-based decisions." Here's the interesting part - not once do the authors attempt even the slightest explanation of what those "vital U.S. national interests" in South Korea might be. They simply take it for granted that asserting such a thing will be good enough for their American audience.

 

Not even crocodile tears


I just wrote about the crocodile tears shed in Washington over Iraqi civilian deaths, and yesterday took note of the already-famous "Mission Accomplished" lie told by Bush in his press conference. But reader Tristero over on the Daily KOS blog noticed something interesting which connects these two stories. Here is the question the reporter asked which resulted in Bush's lie:
"Mr. President, if I may take you back to May 1st when you stood on the USS Lincoln under a huge banner that said, "Mission Accomplished."  At that time you declared major combat operations were over, but since that time there have been over 1,000 wounded, many of them amputees who are recovering at Walter Reed, 217 killed in action since that date.  Will you acknowledge now that you were premature in making those remarks?"
As Tristero notes, despite the way the questioner specifically calls attention to American casualties in Iraq, Bush's entire answer is limited to the subject of whether or not the "Mission [was] Accomplished," as well as who was responsible for that famous sign, and, as Tristero puts it, "Bush utters not a word, not a single word, of sympathy or condolence for the American casualties, let alone innocent Iraqis."

So even crocodile tears are in limited supply at the Bush White House.


 

Tariq Aziz watch


Six months ago, Iraqi ex-foreign minister Tariq Aziz was arrested by the American invasion force. For some reason, just a few weeks ago, the U.S. military saw fit to announce that he was in "decent health." Other than that, he sits, along with 5,500 to 10,000 other detainees in Iraq (as well as hundreds more in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and right here in the U.S.), effectively one of the "disappeared." No charges against him, no rights, no contact with the outside world. This is the "democracy" that the U.S. is bringing to Iraq.

 

Speechless


From Kathleen Parker's latest column, entitled "Essence of U.S. freedom: materialism":
"Being materialistic is, in other words, a good thing. A cell phone in every pocket, a grill on every deck are what we enjoy and therefore part of what gives us purpose."
This is not satire. Interested parties can read the rest; as for me, I'm speechless.

 

Quote of the Day


From a Wall Street Journal article (only available online by subscription) on American soldiers wounded in Iraq:
"It's like a horror movie. I served in a trauma unit, I saw death in the face -- but nothing like here. And those who live, you've got to wonder how they are going to make it back in the States." -- Capt. Nancy Emma, nurse

 

(Unintended) Political joke of the day

"Intelligence services are also woefully lacking in interpreters, the [Army] report said. Most military linguists in Iraq and Afghanistan, it said, have the lowest language rating -- 'which basically gives them the ability to tell the difference between a burro and a burrito.'"
Well, this finally explains the failure to find WMD in Iraq. Those silly interpreters have been asking Iraqis where to find burrito grandes by mistake.

 

Fire politics, part II


There are political issues around this fire, as discussed here yesterday. Further evidence from today's San Jose Mercury News:
"Tuesday, some exhausted crews in San Diego were pulled from contained fire lines and ordered to rest, as they awaited relief crews from Arizona, Nevada and Colorado who were dispatched Monday. Many of the 2,300 men and women in the area had worked 55 hours non-stop. Officials estimated that they need twice that number to properly fight the conflagrations.

"'They're so fatigued that despite the fact the fire perimeter might become much larger, we're not willing to let the firefighters continue any further,' said Rich Hawkins, a Forest Service fire chief. 'They are too fatigued from three days of battle.'" [Emphasis added]
So, 2,300 more men and women are needed to properly fight just this one section of the fire. There are currently 42,000 U.S. Army reservists and National Guard members in Iraq.

 

Politicizing the Southern California fires


Taking advantage of the massive, tragic fires in Southern California, the Senate may "consider as early as Wednesday a bill that would ease environmental rules and limit judicial review on tree-thinning projects in U.S. forests vulnerable to fire, congressional sources said on Tuesday." There's just one little problem with this, as explained in the San Jose Mercury News:
"This week's fires have little to do with forests. Most of the 560,231 acres that have burned so far are in areas with few trees -- hilly expanses where homes perch amid the highly flammable chaparral that characterizes much of California's landscape.

"'The vast majority of these fires are burning in brush and chaparral and grass,' said Dave Reider, a U.S. Forest Service public-affairs officer."
Don't worry though, Congress won't let the facts get in the way of their political agenda.

 

Crocodile tears in Washington


The American people, the Iraqi people, and the people of the world are rightly saddened by the tragedy of civilians being killed by suicide bombings in Iraq, like the bombing of the Red Cross Headquarters (shouldn't it be the Red Crescent Headquarters? I have yet to hear it referred to in that way even once) a few days ago. But the outcry in Washington, and in the media, is largely crocodile tears. The U.S. government and media care so little for Iraqi civilians that they disdain to even attempt to count those who were killed by the invasion. Nor did they care to mention or express concern for the million or so Iraqis who died as a result of the sanctions; to the contrary, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was infamous for having said that that price was "worth it."

The latest evidence for the disregard for Iraqi civilian deaths is found in the Guardian, which reports today on the study of a U.S. thinktank, the Project on Defense Alternatives, which estimates that between 3,200 and 4,300 civilian non-combatants have thus far been killed by the U.S. invasion (Iraq Body Count, using different methodologies, estimates between 7776 and 9587 Iraqi civilian deaths). As I said, this was a U.S.-based study, but so far has only been reported in the British media. Remember this the next time you hear some politician or media pundit bemoaning the casualties from the latest car bombing.

Followup: Body and Soul points me to a study on the same subject released last week by Human Rights Watch, which passed me completely by; I'm sure it's press coverage was nil or nearly so.


Tuesday, October 28, 2003


 

The Credenza Defense crumbles


A reminder for those who aren't long-time readers of Left I on the News - back on Sept. 30, I wrote this:
"When I hear statements like this from Cheney, I harken back to before the war, when George Bush said at one point 'I don't have any plans for war against Iraq on my desk.' I turned to the person I was with at the time and said 'No, he's got them on his credenza.' So perhaps I should start referring to statements like Cheney's, or countless similar statements from Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, and the rest, as the "credenza defense."
In other words, the "credenza defense" occurs when someone says something which is literally true, but fundamentally a lie and meant to deceive the listener. Well, now the original "credenza defense" has crumbled, with this news from the New York Daily News:
"The former commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom [Gen. Tommy Franks] said yesterday he presented a plan to invade Iraq to President Bush just a few months after the 9/11 attacks."

 

Another milestone...or not


Newspapers are now reporting yet another milestone - "More U.S. soldiers have died in combat in Iraq since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, than died during [the] main phase of the war, the U.S. military said on Tuesday" [115 vs. 114]. The headline which accompanies this story is grossly inaccurate, illustrating the problem the media has playing semantic games - "Postwar deaths pass numbers during major combat in Iraq." But the number of "postwar deaths," even considering only U.S. troops, is 216, while the number of "deaths during major combat" was 139, so this "milestone" was actually passed a long time ago. As usual, the U.S. military (and the press) wants to pretend that some deaths are less significant than others. They not only want us to ignore the deaths of 126 American soldiers who didn't die "in combat," and they also want us to ignore the deaths of 56 more coalition soldiers from other countries. As so many times before, Left I asks the question - are the families of those 182 soldiers grieving any less? And, as before, it goes without saying that the U.S. military and the U.S. press care not a fig about Iraqi deaths, which are totally ignored by these pronouncements.

This milestone was noted by the U.S. military; the death of the 400th coalition soldier, which occured recently, was not. Guess which one was dutifully noted by the stenographers of the press, and which wasn't?

Followup: The San Jose Mercury News compounds the problem this morning with their headline - "Postwar casualties surpass war toll." How many errors can you find in this headline? First of all, May 1 was not the "end of the war"; as explained many times here, it was the date of a speech by George Bush, not the signing of a peace treaty or anything which might be construed as the "end of the war." Secondly, the headline assumes that the only casualties which "count" are those which the U.S. military classifies as having occured "in combat"; the others are simply ignored. Third, as previously noted on Left I on the News, the word "casualties" refers to deaths, injuries, captured, or missing in action, whereas this article refers only to deaths. And fourth and fifth, the headline ignores casualties (or, really, fatalities) from other coalition countries as well as Iraqis. Five errors in five words. A new record!

More followup: Sadly, this error isn't limited to the mainstream media. Wednesday night on KPFA's Flashpoints show, host Christopher Sprinkle used exactly the same formulation.


 

Nazem Baji watch


On October 20, Iraqi Nazem Baji was apparently executed by U.S. troops, shot in the head with his hands tied with plastic bands. If true, this would be a serious war crime. On the day it happened, and was reported by AP, the U.S. military said it had "no information" on the incident. Left I on the News is waiting for the U.S. military to let us know that it now has the information and is conducting a "serious investigation." As of today, one week later, no followup story has appeared in any media outlet I can find, and Nazem Baji's blood remains on the hands of the U.S. military and on the hands of George Bush.

 

The consequences of chauvinism


Billmon spots this in George Bush's comments today:
"We should never forget the lessons of Sept. 11. The terrorists will strike." They will not only strike targets in Baghdad, he added, saying "they will strike America, too."
To which Billmon asks: "So our "allies" are supposed to throw their kids into the Iraqi meat grinder because the terrorists might attack America again?

And just coincidentally (or not), there's this from USA Today:

"Bangladesh and Portugal, two nations the Pentagon has pressed to send combat troops to Iraq, have decided against contributing to the U.S.-led force there. A third nation that once promised to send troops, South Korea, says it has not made up its mind and has delayed a decision pending further study.

"Turkey has agreed to send 10,000 troops but is waiting to hear from the Pentagon when and where they should go...Turkish officials say their offer will stand for a year but that none of its forces will be deployed unless the Pentagon gets public assurances of support from the Kurds.

"The setbacks come just weeks after India and Pakistan turned down Pentagon requests to send large contingents to Iraq, despite heavy pressure from U.S. officials."

 

Language


From the Department of Defense:
"The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom."
"Supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom"? What the heck does that mean? Were they not frontline troops but just cooks or computer technicians? Were they serving in Kuwait? No, both of them were active soldiers killed in action in Baghdad. Was the DOD just looking for an excuse to stick in their ridiculous phrase "Operation Iraqi Freedom"?

Then this from the BBC:

"Two US nationals working for the CIA in Afghanistan were killed in an ambush at the weekend, the American intelligence agency has said in a rare statement. William Carlson and Christopher Glenn Mueller were both working under contract for the agency, 'tracking terrorists' in the east of the country, near the border with Pakistan...The two men were veterans of military special operations forces, the CIA said, and working for the agency's Directorate of Operations, which conducts clandestine intelligence-gathering and covert operations."
Sure sounds like they were CIA agents to me, even if perhaps "temps." Why does the BBC go to such lengths to avoid the word? Perhaps having people who are just "working for the CIA" instead of being "CIA employees (or agents)" is the CIA's way of avoiding paying benefits? Kind of like the Wal*Mart cleaning staff?

And while we're on the subject of language, how many more times and from how many more people (both politicians and media dutifully following George Bush's orders to report the "good news") are we going to hear that re-opening schools and hospitals in Iraq and restoring electricity service to its pre-war levels is "progress"? To use an analogy I've used before, isn't this like sticking a knife in someone's back and then claiming that it's "progress" when you pull it out?


 

Burning Down the House


Capitalism kills. Unemployed timber workers have been known to start fires so they can get temporary work fighting them. Greedy developers build houses where they don't belong, from flood plains to the canyons of Southern California, knowing that when something goes wrong, be it flood or fire, they'll be long gone with the profits and the public will be stuck with the bill for dealing with the inevitable problems.

On top of these kind of problems come government cutbacks, as the rich advocates of "smaller government" demand that they get to spend "their" money on whatever they want to spend it on, be it $4 million diamond rings or trips on the Russian space shuttle, and try to avoid paying their fair share for the "commons" - schools, hospitals, parklands, food inspectors, and so on.

And last but not least, firefighters and firefighting equipment. All over the country, cutbacks have affected firefighting, even in New York City, where "New York's bravest" fight closings of fire stations instead of fires. And sooner or later, the chickens come home to roost. Several television reports I have seen in the last 24 hours have talked about how the efforts to fight the massive, tragic fires in Southern California are being hampered by a shortage of both trained personnel and equipment. Here are two commentaries on the subject:

From Joe Rodriguez, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News:

"In Southern California...the steep terrain has been increasingly opened to the development of condos, luxury apartments and monster houses.

"Why buy in the flats when you can have your dream house, ultimate privacy, a wonderful view and a new freeway down below? And just in case something goes wrong, as the real estate guy said, a fire truck or paramedic van can reach you in no time. If only that were true.

"While local officials and developers were subdividing the hills and mountains, California voters were slaughtering the tax base that helps fund firefighting and rescue efforts. Only 7,000 firefighters were available for the current fire in Southern California. By Monday, officials were asking for 6,000 more from out of state."
From Mike Davis, writing on TomDispatch:
"Since the devastating 1993 fires, tens of thousands of new homes have pushed their way into the furthest recesses of Southern California's coastal and inland fire-belts. Each new homeowner, moreover, expects heroic levels of protection from underfunded county and state fire agencies.

"Fire, as a result, is politically ironic. Right now, as I watch San Diego's wealthiest new suburb, Scripps Ranch, in flames, I recall the Schwarzenegger fund-raising parties hosted there a few weeks ago. This was an epicenter of the recent recall and gilded voices roared to the skies against the oppression of an out-of-control public sector. Now Arnold's wealthy supporters are screaming for fire engines, and 'big government' is the only thing standing between their $3 million homes and the ash pile.

"Halloween fires, of course, burn shacks as well as mansions, but Republicans tend to disproportionately concentrate themselves in the wrong altitudes and ecologies. Indeed it is striking to what extent the current fire map (Rancho Cucamonga, north Fontana, La Verne, Simi Valley, Vista, Ramona, Eucalyptus Hills, Scripps Ranch, and so on) recapitulates geographic patterns of heaviest voter support for the recall.

"The fires also cruelly illuminate the new governor's essential dilemma: how to service simultaneous middle-class demands for reduced spending and more public services. The white-flight gated suburbs insist on impossible standards of fire protection, but refuse to pay either higher insurance premiums (fire insurance in California is 'cross-subsidized' by all homeowners) or higher property taxes. Even a Hollywood superhero will have difficulty squaring that circle."
There are such things as "acts of God," and fire is a natural phenomenon (though it appears that many of these fires were entirely man-made), and no political system and no proposed solutions (like Bush's "let's cut down the forests to avoid forest fires" plan) can prevent fires from occuring. But the ability to fight them, and the consquences they have when they occur, are very much under our control. A better world is possible.

 

Bush lies, world's jaws drop


Hard to find much truth in Bush's press conference today, but here were three of the biggest lies:
Bush: The "Mission Accomplished" sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way."

Truth: "The most elaborate — and criticized — White House event so far was Mr. Bush's speech aboard the Abraham Lincoln announcing the end of major combat in Iraq. White House officials say that a variety of people, including the president, came up with the idea, and that Mr. Sforza embedded himself on the carrier to make preparations days before Mr. Bush's landing in a flight suit and his early evening speech.

"Media strategists noted afterward that Mr. Sforza and his aides had choreographed every aspect of the event, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the 'Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call 'magic hour light,' which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush." (Not to forget, of course, that the entire event was framed by the lie that Bush had to fly a jet plane to a carrier just a few miles off shore, and that the sailors were delayed from arriving home because they had to circle in the ocean waiting for Bush to do his thing)

Bush: "Saddam Hussein...just destroyed their economy and destroyed their infrastructure, destroyed their education system, destroyed their medical system, all to keep himself in power."

Truth: The destruction in Iraq (not to mention the deaths of more than a million Iraqis) was caused by the United States and its bombs and its U.N. economic sanctions. Just how exactly would destroying a country's economy, its infrastructure, its education system, and its medical system work to keep the leader of that country in power? That doesn't even make sense.

Bush: "We took action [invading Iraq] based upon good, solid intelligence."

Truth: Bush may have believed the intelligence at the time (for our part, Left I does not believe that for one minute), but maintaining now that it was "good, solid intelligence" is preposterous. The U.S. invaded Iraq, or at least claims it did, because Iraq was actively working on building nuclear weapons and had large, deployable stocks of chemical and biological weapons. Each one of those claims has now been shown to be utterly false.
Followup: Bill Press on Buchanan & Press says the White House has now issued a statement admitting that they were responsible for the "Mission Accomplished" sign. Of course the right-wing guest on the show was quick to say that this doesn't mean Bush lied, because after all, he didn't personally paint the bannner and perhaps didn't realize that the White House was responsible. He forgot to point out that if Bush didn't know who was responsible for the banner, claiming that he did know who was responsible (the crew of the ship) would still be a lie (as well as, in Bush's usual way, an attempt to evade responsibility).

 

Sharon lies, world yawns


No need even to point out the contradiction here; AP does it for us:
"Sharon was also asked whether it is right to build new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas where the Palestinians hope to establish an independent homeland.

"'We do not build now. We do not aid a new settlement there or Jewish communities there,'' Sharon said. 'If sometimes it happens, the army removes them.'

"Sharon spoke hours after the Defense Ministry confirmed that residents of eight West Bank outposts would be given some services. The outposts, which usually consist of little more than a couple of trailers and an Israeli flag, will be fenced in and receive lighting, and children will be bused to schools, said a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity."
No reaction from the U.S., needless to say, even as their "road map" has now been torn into pieces of sub-millimeter size.

In the same article, which is headlined "Sharon denies plans to assassinate Arafat," we read what Sharon actually said: "I don't see any plans to kill him." This sure sounds to me like the credenza defense. What does he really mean? That someone told him about the plans but didn't actually show them to him in writing? Probably.

Sharon continues on in his lies to assert that Arafat is "very active in taking all the...steps...that bring to murder of children, civilians, the old." Of course if Sharon had proof of this allegation, or even the slightest evidence, he would be taking action on it. In fact, of course, Sharon's use of Arafat as the "bogeyman" is identical to Bush's use of Saddam Hussein (or Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-Il, or a host of others) in the same role - designed to personify the "enemy," not to be taken seriously by anyone who gives the matter any thought whatsoever.

Followup: Headline comparison:

Each of these stories reports on actions which violate the roadmap, and relates to the settlements which are illegal. Only the British paper makes note of these facts (not opinions, facts) in the headline. U.S. papers? "Where seldom was heard, a discouraging word..."

More followup: This is really bizarre. NPR has a story which reports all this information, but whose headline reads: "Profile: Jewish Settlement Outposts Dismantled." Of course, the story says exactly the opposite, that the outposts have not been dismantled. Bizarre.


Monday, October 27, 2003


 

The right to sit


A Yankees fan defends her right to sit during the singing of "God bless America", and wonders about the abuse she takes from her fellow fans for doing so. Good stuff.

 

Grocery strike & lockout


Things are probably different in Southern California, but here in Northern California there hasn't been a word written or a TV newsclip shown about the Southern California grocery strike and lockout since the first day or two. But even if there had been, I guarantee it wouldn't have included the following facts to help readers get the full picture:
Vons, Albertson's and Ralphs are swimming in money.

Led by CEO Steven Burd of Safeway, Ralphs and Albertson's have been whining, in the press and to their employees, that they can no longer compete with Wal-Mart, which pays its non-union employees significantly less. This is an outrageous lie.

Wal-Mart has less than 1 percent of the food market in California and has not put even a minor dent in the Greedy Three's sales. In the last five years, sales have increased by 123 percent for Albertson's, 84 percent for Kroger and 32 percent for Safeway. Plus, all three combined have increased their profits from each dollar of sales by 4 percent, adding an additional $500 million to their coffers each year.

During this same period, the bosses of these corporations have raised their own compensation 260 percent. The top 15 executives for the Greedy Three are, on average, making $2.6 million a year. These same executives also control $70 million in stock options.

 

Blogger Quote of the Day


From Josh Marshall:
"The defenders of the White House now seem intent on lowering the bar to the most comical of levels, arguing that Saddam Hussein had not relinquished the "desire" or the "ambition" to have nuclear weapons. But by this standard (viz, Matthew 5:27-30) probably half the married men in America have cheated on their wives with Pam Anderson or Angelina Jolie."

 

Question of the Day

"A simple question for the president of the United States: If you don’t read the newspapers, how can you criticize the media coverage of Iraq?"
David Corn has played a very divisive role in the antiwar movement, but I have to recommend the article from which the above quote is taken, which discusses George Bush's main source of news, Condoleezza Rice, and some of the almost countless lies she has told in recent months. Rice gets a totally undeserved "free pass" from the vast majority of the media; this article helps balance the picture ever so slightly. Not, as Corn says, that George Bush will ever be reading the article, or even hearing about it.

 

Crowd sizes


The AP describes the attendance at Saturday's antiwar/anti-occupation demonstrations:
"Organizers estimated that 100,000 people turned out for the demonstration, but police at the scene put the number much lower, from 10,000 to 20,000. Police no longer issue official crowd estimates, so the size of the protest could not be verified."
If police no longer issue official estimates, then why is the paper quoting police estimates at all? Who are the "police at the scene"? Just some random policemen standing on the corner offering their own uneducated $0.02? And if the police did still issue "official" crowd estimates, how exactly would that "verify" the size of the protest? Do the police have some corner on the absolute truth of these matters?

 

Civics 101


Back in High School, most of us learned in civics class about the role of a conference committee. Here's a definition from the Senate website that certainly sounds like what I was taught:
A temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conferees which is formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers.
So, you expect that if the House, say, votes for $83 billion for Iraq, and the Senate votes for $87 billion, the conference committee will come out with a new version of the bill for $85 billion. How then, to explain this article from the Los Angeles Times:
Ban on Travel to Cuba May Survive

Republican leaders hope to strip language easing restrictions from a bill to avoid Bush's first veto.
The Senate passed a bill ending restrictions on travel to Cuba. The House passed a bill ending restrictions on travel to Cuba. The conference committee? They're going to "reconcile the differences" (of which there are none) by dropping the provision entirely?

Democracy, U.S.-style.


 

Quote of the Day

"There may have been some increase in pessimism in the last month or two." - an unidentified U.S. Army expert on Iraq, commenting on Pentagon views of the situation in Iraq
And that was in an article that appeared on Saturday, before the missile attacks on the Al Rashid hotel and the bombings at the Red Cross headquarters and four police stations.

 

Visiting the wounded


Left I has visited the subject of American soldiers wounded in Iraq many times, noting how they are generally uncounted and virtually invisible. Atrios finds Cher (!) talking about the same thing, having visited Walter Reed hospital and later calling C-SPAN (anonomously at first, but then "outed") to share her experiences, and also talking about the inadequacy of the U.S. media.

 

Optimistic pro-warriors


The Free Republic, before Saturday's demonstration:
"To counter the anti-war demonstrations, the Washington chapter of Free Republic, an independent grass-roots conservative group, planned a rally Saturday at the Capitol, where organizers expect about 1,000 people."
And the result, from the Washington Post:
"At a park a block west of the White House, about 50 people voiced support for the administration at a Free Republic rally."

 

The missing milestone


As noted here last Friday, there have now been more than 400 (on Friday it was exactly 400) "coalition" deaths in Iraq since the start of the invasion. Although hundreds of media stories referenced the milestone of "100 American deaths by hostile fire since George Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1" that was passed a week before, as far as I can tell, not a single news source took note of the passing of the 400 milestone.

 

Give me Liberty, or give me...news coverage


In 1967, Israel launched an all-out attack with warplanes, helicopters, and torpedos against the USS Liberty, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 170. The official U.S. government position has been that this was an accident, the Israelis thinking the USS Liberty was an Egyptian ship. Last Thursday, a report by an independent commission headed by retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer, concluded that this was a deliberate attack which was then deliberately covered up by the U.S. government.

This is an absolute bombshell of a story, no pun intended. Now try Googling up "Moorer Liberty". Based on that, it appears that as of today, CBS News is the only mainstream U.S. news organization to have covered this story (it has, of course, been covered by independent media such as Democracy Now!).


 

Compassionate Wal*Mart


Cursor (link does not go to item) sums up the situation quite nicely:
"Undocumented workers arrested in the raid on Wal-Mart were reportedly making as little as $2 per day. According to this year's Forbes 400, five of the 10 richest people in America are Waltons, each of whom have a net worth of $20.5 billion."
And on the news last night, a Wal*Mart spokesperson was claiming that they were now scrutinizing their 1.1 million employee records and would terminate anyone who was not properly documented. He forgot to mention that all the arrested workers were not Wal*Mart employees, but, in the usual way of things these days, employees of subcontractors, enabling "legitimate" employers to shield themselves from such violations of the law. No doubt Wal*Mart was assured by its contractors, probably even in writing, that all of their employees were completely legal and being paid the minimum wage.

Followup: ABC News reports that Wal*Mart executives definitely knew what was going on.


 

Intentional innumeracy, a.k.a. numbers DO matter


USA Today reports that "in a speech Oct. 10...Rumsfeld said that of 1,700 coalition patrols per day, only about one-tenth of 1% encounter violence." But, as USA Today points out, "That would be fewer than two attacks per day. In fact, at that time, there were about 20-25 attacks per day, or a little more than 1% of the patrols."

It may seem like just a tiny difference, just 0.9%. But in fact, Rumsfeld's statement is off by a factor of ten, an entire order of magnitude. This is a huge difference, and if you think Rumsfeld just "misspoke," or simply miscalculated, you should think again. As Left I wrote just a few days ago, numbers do matter, and Donald Rumsfeld, for one, knows that very well.

On a related matter that doesn't exactly qualify as innumeracy, Colin Powell now claims "We did not expect it [the resistance in Iraq] would be quite this intense this long." Really? What were they expecting? Four months instead of six? Five U.S. fatalities a week and not nine? My guess is that, pumped up with the arrogance of power, the Bush administration basically was expecting virtually no resistance and, of course, we know they were expecting to be greeted by cheering throngs. But it wouldn't look good for Powell to admit that, so instead he has to pretend they were expecting resistance, but not resistance "quite this intense" or "this long." I'm sure.


 

Catching up


I've been out of town for three days, so rather than try to catch up with what's been happening, let me refer you to three good posts by Billmon - "Military Intelligence", "Taking the Fight to the Enemy", and "Why Economists Need Those PhDs."

And one more from Politics in the Zeros" - "US shocked at Iraq hotel attack."


Friday, October 24, 2003


 

Milestone passed in Iraq; will anyone notice?


As anticipated on Left I on the News a few days ago, a milestone has been reached today in Iraq - the 400th "coalition" soldier died. Will any news media take note of this milestone? Left I predicts they will not.

Is this important? Yes. Why? Because just a few days ago, the "bogus" milestone of "100 American soldiers killed in hostile action since May 1" was passed, and was widely noted in the media, as discussed here. No need to repeat all the points made in that article, but the central point that must be repeated is this - whether Americans have the number "100" in their minds as the "human cost" of this war, or whether they have the number "400" in their minds, can make a big difference. Numbers do matter. Consider what happened to public reaction when George Bush announced he was asking for $87 billion more to fight this war (and help fix the damage it has caused). Would the reaction have been anywhere near as strong had the request only been for $22 billion?

Numbers do matter, and anyone who thinks this invasion was wrong should not stop reminding people that 400 "coalition" soldiers have now died as a result of this invasion, not 100.


 

Underreported casualties in Iraq


Editor & Publisher magazine is out with a story headlined "Press Underreports Wounded in Iraq." The story lets us know that "Since the war began in March, 1,927 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq, many quite severely" and that "few newspapers routinely report injuries in Iraq, beyond references to specific incidents."

But, amazingly, even this story on the underreporting of wounded in Iraq underreports the wounded in Iraq! Because that 1,927 number includes only American soldiers. I actually have no idea what the number of wounded British soldiers is, since I haven't seen it reported anywhere, but it's safe to say the number is not zero [once again, it pretty much goes without saying that the number of Iraqi wounded are of no concern to anyone in the U.S. media].

At the close of the article, author Seth Porges reminds us, as Left I on the News does regularly, that "As for the tally of total deaths in Iraq, most of the media continues to only cite those killed in hostile action." True enough. But then Porges continues on to "partition" the deaths in Iraq in different ways, comparing the figure of 106 American soldiers "killed in hostile action since May 1" with the total figure of 200 [actually 206 as of today]. But the real total, which includes not only Americans but British and others, and extends back to March 20, today hit 400! As I've written before, do you suppose the families of those British soldiers, or the families of soldiers killed before May 1, are not grieving as equally as "American soldiers killed in hostile action since May 1? Do their lives count any less?

So, amazingly, even in an article whose author whose intentions are clearly in the right place, and whose entire purpose is to expose the underreporting of casualties in Iraq, the author manages to do the same thing, not once, but twice.


 

George Bush's news "filter"


George Bush accuses the media of "filtering" the news on Iraq to give a more negative impression than is warranted. Could this story from AP today be what he means?
Donors Offer Big Pledges to Help Iraq

MADRID, Spain - Nudged by the United States, international donors came through with big pledges Friday to rebuild Iraq amid hopes that its transformation into a prosperous democracy would help stabilize the entire Mideast.
Or is this, from Newsday, the filtered news?
'May Take Time' to Meet Aid Goal

Madrid - Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials dampened expectations yesterday for international contributions to help fund the reconstruction of Iraq.

At the start of a global conference on Iraqi aid, Powell acknowledged "it may take time to meet the goal" of $56 billion set by the World Bank for Iraq's reconstruction.

So far $2 billion to $3 billion has been pledged in addition to the $20 billion Washington plans to contribute over 18 months. The total expected falls well short of the $56 billion that the World Bank estimates will be needed over the next four years.
Does $2-3 billion out of $36 billion amount to "big pledges," as the AP contends, or does it "fall well short," as Newsday says? You be the judge.

Thursday, October 23, 2003


 

Reporters without borders targets Cuba


An organization called Reporters without borders has released a new "ranking" of "press freedom," widely trumpeting Cuba as "second to last" and "the world's biggest prison for journalists." What is behind this story?

Several things to understand. First, there is another organization of journalists named the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), established in 1981. Reporters without borders provides little or no information about its background on its website, but the fact that it has only issued reports for two years suggests that it is a rather new organization. At least one Cuban journalist claims that the head of the organization is a CIA agent, and while Left I can't offer any further insight into that charge, one does have to wonder why this organization was founded given the well-established reputation of CPJ. One also has to wonder why they chose to engage in probable trademark violation to "steal" the good name of Doctors without borders, whose reputation for good work around the world is well-known. Just so the reader is clear, there is no relation between RWB (or RSF, Reporters sans frontieres) and DWB (better known as MSF, Medicines sans frontieres).

Whether or not RSF has any relation with the CIA, it is quite clear from a visit to their website that not only are they stridently anti-Communist, but have a particularly venal hatred for Cuba - a significant portion of their front page is devoted to attacks on Cuba. Start with the fact that instead of headlining their report "North Korea ranks last in press freedom, with Cuba just behind," instead their headline reads "Cuba second from last, just ahead of North Korea."

The essential charges in the RSF report are found in the third paragraph, which reads:

"Cuba is in 165th position, second from last. Twenty-six independent journalists were arrested in the spring of 2003 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years, making Cuba the world's biggest prison for journalists. They were accused of writing articles for publication abroad that played into the hands of 'imperialist interests.'"
These charges are totally false and, as such, slanderous. The self-described "independent journalists" were charged (and convicted) with receiving clandestine funds from the U.S. government and U.S. government-sponsored agencies, and "with violations of Cuban law, among them Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code, Law 62 of 1987, which prohibits anyone from carrying out 'an action in the interest of a foreign state with the purpose of harming the independence of the Cuban state or the integrity of its territory.'"

Were these frivolous charges? This trial occured at a time that "regime change" in Cuba was an official policy of the U.S. (it still is, of course), the U.S. had labelled Cuba as a "junior member" of the "axis of evil," and had demonstrated its willingness to ignore international law by invading and overthrowing the government of Iraq. In this circumstance, people in Cuba were meeting secretly with the head of the U.S. Interests Section and accepting money from him. Taking money from an avowed enemy of your country, one who makes no secret of its desire to overthrow your government, and taking actions which will help advance that cause, is treason. The idea that the Cuban government treatment of these traitors has anything to do with "freedom of the press" is ludicrous.

Cuba isn't in 165th place because it lacks a "free press." It is in 165th place because unlike Iraq, which rolled over and played dead (at least during the initial invasion), Cuba has dared to fight back against U.S. attempts to overthrow its government for more than forty years. This isn't an abstract discussion. It's a very, very concrete one, as the more than 3000 dead Afghanis and 15,000 dead Iraqis demonstrate all too clearly.

For an extremely moving statement on this subject from Rene Gonzalez, one of the "Cuban Five" imprisoned for life by the U.S. for attempting to prevent terrorist actions against Cuba, see this past posting on Left I on the News.

For an article on the real dangers facing reporters around the world from such U.S. allies as Columba and Israel, and from the U.S. itself, read this report from CPJ on the 26 journalists who were killed in 2003, including those who died when the U.S. fired a missile at the Baghdad Al-Jazeera headquarters, or when a U.S. tank shelled the Palestine Hotel, or (in the case of Mazen Dana) just killed by a tank at close range while standing in the open.

It's also worth remembering, in this context, that the U.S. is possibly the only country which openly declares that journalists are legitimate targets in the case of war, as a result of their "crime" of "spreading propaganda." Such was the case in April 1999, when the U.S. and NATO deliberately bombed Serbian state television, killing ten and wounding 18, many of them journalists. Note that this was unlike the events in Iraq, which are claimed in all cases to be accidents by the U.S., even when the claim borders on the preposterous, as in the missile strike on Al-Jazeerah headquarters in Baghdad, a headquarters whose coordinates were well known to the U.S. military.

Followup: By coincidence, an article from today's Granma International, written by the widow of the Al-Jazeera correspondent killed by a U.S. missile in Baghdad.


 

Alice in Wonderland


Atrios steers me to a new book entitled The Bush Boom, evidently published on the other side of the looking glass. Here's the book description from the Amazon website:
"When he took the oath of office, President George W. Bush already faced recession and economic upheaval. As the economy threatened to move into an even deeper recession, he resolved to pursue an economic policy that included unprecedented tax cuts. What’s the result of Bush’s low-tax economic program? Jerry Bowyer confronts the critics and offers clear and convincing evidence that the Bush Administration fixed a broken economy, boosting the fastest economic turnaround since President Ronald Reagan."
Well, the federal budget went from a surplus of $127 billion in 2001, to a deficit of $158 billion in 2002, to a deficit of $374 billion in 2003. I guess that qualifies as an incredibly fast "turnaround." Although I'm not sure it qualifies as a "boom."

 

Left I in the News, Part II


Today's San Jose Mercury News

 

Left I in the News


The Duplex

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


 

More casualties of the war against Iraq


From the Independent:
British government aid programmes aimed at some of the poorest people in the world are to be emasculated to allow ministers to commit £540m in aid to help rebuild Iraq, The Independent has discovered.

As America runs into difficulty drumming up the $36bn (£21bn) it needs for Iraq from more than 70 countries gathered for a conference in Madrid, Britain is acting as chief cheerleader. But finding the promised British contribution without raising taxes or cutting government spending has meant that the overseas aid budget is being used.

On 25 April, two weeks after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in central Baghdad, Tony Blair gave an assurance to British charities in a handwritten note that "funds will not be redirected from other emergencies ... nor from programmes supporting poor people elsewhere". But the Department for International Development (DFID), now led by Hilary Benn, has been told to find up to £100m by reducing programmes in countries such as Peru, the Philippines, Bolivia and South Africa.

"This means Tony Blair has broken his promise," said Justin Forsyth, policy director at Oxfam. There was similar condemnation from Christian Aid, while Caroline Spelman, shadow International Development Secretary, said it was "morally wrong" to take aid from other countries to fund the rebuilding of Iraq.
We're shocked! Shocked to find out that Tony Blair lied. I mean, who could have seen that coming? ;-)

 

High-tech jobs


Think an education and an orientation towards high-tech (as opposed to, say, being a steelworker) insures against being out of work? Think again. An article in Information Week notes that the IT (information technology) field had 3.3 million jobs in January of this year, and 3.2 million in September - more evidence of the "job-loss" recovery. The jobless rate among IT workers is 5.8%, virtually the same as the overall rate of 6.1%. IT workers age 60 and over have a jobless rate of 11.8%, and, although Information Week doesn't make note of this, it is highly likely that a large number of such workers have chosen to "retire early" and hence are no longer counted in the unemployment statistics, making the real jobless rate even higher.

The "big news" in the IT field is that IBM has announced plans to hire 10,000 IT workers. Of course, there are still 90,000 to go just to get back to where the industry was in January, and even of those 10,000, chances are that when IBM lands some contracts, it will be at the expense of some other companies, who will then end up laying off comparable numbers of workers.

Followup: They certainly aren't all, or even mostly, IT jobs, but today Merck announced it was cutting 4400 jobs. The capitalists giveth, and the capitalists taketh away.


 

Cheering throngs greet Americans in Iraq


Well, sort of:
"Witnesses said four Americans were carried away on stretchers after a strike on a three-vehicle convoy on the western end of the flashpoint city Fallujah, but there was no comment from U.S. officials. Residents cheered and looted one of the vehicles."
As a followup, after the apparent execution of a captured Iraqi prisoner by U.S. troops yesterday, we were told "the Pentagon said it had no information on the claim, and U.S. military spokesmen in Iraq had no immediate comment." OK, it's now a day later. Any "information" yet? Any not-so-immediate comment? None I can find. Readers, please join me as I wait patiently for the Pentagon and military spokesmen to acknowledge this alleged war crime and let us know the progress of their investigation.

 

A chip in the wall


The U.N. voted 144-4 yesterday to condemn the building of the Israeli wall, with those powerhouse nations Marshall Islands and Micronesia joining the U.S. and Israel in opposition to the resolution. The BBC, covering the vote, manages to mix the phrases "fence," "barrier," and "wall," but my favorite phrase was this one: "concrete and steel fence." Personally, I've never seen a "concrete fence." Isn't that called a wall? As Huey on Boondocks would say, "I'm just sayin'."

If you visit the BBC article, be sure to click on the link that says "Open in pictures" and look at the three graphics which accompany the article, particularly the second and third, which show clearly the "land grab" nature of this wall. In some places, the wall is being built right on the border with the West Bank, but for most of its distance, it deviates from that border and - surprise! - those deviations are always in the direction of the West Bank.


 

Public Service Announcement - Oct. 25 Demos - Be There!


Since local TV news (KTVU, Oakland) actually previewed the upcoming San Francisco march this morning, and the Washington Post carried a front page (Metro section) article also previewing the Washington demo, it's time for a Public Service Announcement from Left I on the News:

This Saturday, Oct. 25, is the occasion of demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco calling for "End the Occupation of Iraq! Bring the Troops Home Now!" Left I will be unfortunately out of town and missing this demo, the first one I've missed in a long time, so it's up to you loyal readers to take my place. Demonstrations in February and March proved that the Bush administration is perfectly capable of moving forward in its agenda in the face of massive worldwide opposition, so there is no guarantee that this demonstration will accomplish anything, but one thing is guaranteed - without events like this publicly demonstrating opposition to this war and occupation, nothing will happen. So do your best to get out there on Saturday. If, like Left I, you can't make it for some reason, pledge to do something else publicly to demonstrate your opposition to the occupation - wear a button, write a letter to the editor of your paper (local community papers are much more likely to publish them them big regional papers), email your Congressperson, send a contribution to the ANSWER coalition to help the ongoing antiwar effort - something, anything, to add your voice to the thousands who will demonstrating on Saturday.

Followup: This from singer John Mellencamp seems highly appropriate here, although I should make it clear he was not endorsing Saturday's march with these remarks:

"The fight for freedom in this country has been long, painful, and ongoing. It is time to take back our country. Take it back from political agendas, corporate greed and overall manipulation. It is time to take action here in our land, in our own schools, neighborhoods, farms, and businesses. We have been lied to and terrorized by our own government, and it is time to take action. Now is the time to come together."

 

Dude, where's your evidence?


Many readers of Left I on the News will have heard by now about the statement by Michael Moore in his new book, Dude, Where's My Country?, in which he says (without providing any evidence or other elaboration) "Mumia...probably killed that guy." Mumia Abu-Jamal, of course, is both a cause celebre on the left (with websites here, here, and here, among others, dedicated to proclaiming his innocence and demanding a new trial), as well as a whipping boy of the right, who are outraged anytime anyone dares to mention his name at an "unrelated" event like an antiwar march.

The controversy that has erupted over Moore's comment continues. On Monday, Dennis Bernstein on Pacifica's Flashpoints interviewed Jeff Mackler, the co-coordinator of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Robert R. Bryan, the attorney of record for Mumia’s appeal (you can listen to the show here). Bernstein has tried to get a response from Moore, and Mackler and Bryer challenged Moore to a public debate, but so far Moore hasn't been heard from. In the meantime, however, Dave Lindorff, who literally "wrote the book" on the case (Killing Time: An Investigation Into the Death row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Common Courage Press, 2003), has responded to Moore in an article on Counterpunch that provides a nice summary of the evidence indicating why Moore is, to put it politely, off the mark. For those needing an introduction to the case, or a brief refresher, this article would be well worth reading. I'll quote here just Lindorff's concluding remarks:

"People like Michael Moore owe their readers more than to spout this kind of uninformed and ignorant drivel while posing as journalists. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but unless it's just barroom argumentation, those opinions ought to be based upon the facts.

"Abu-Jamal deserves a new, fair trial, not this kind of ignorant passing of judgement by people who should know better."

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


 

North Korea demonstrates its sanity


Just yesterday, Left I on the News reported on George Bush's proposed "solution" to the North Korean nuclear "problem": "The president also acknowledged that U.S. officials are exploring the possibility of translating his spoken pledge into some kind of informal agreement to ease North Korea's fears." Left I wrote about this: "The most amazing thing is not that George Bush can spout this nonsense, but that the media report it with a straight face."

Today, the North Koreans showed that, unlike Bush, they are in complete possession of their faculties, as reported by Reuters:

"North Korea dismissed as laughable a U.S. offer to provide multilateral security guarantees in exchange for Pyongyang ending its nuclear weapons program, saying it was not worth even considering."
For background on this issue, here a Left I post from August 25.

 

Rising tide


Blogger Billmon throws out a good line which sounds like one of those lines that's been around for years, but I've never heard of it, so until further notice I'm happy to give credit to him (or her):
"As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Only socialists and other feeble-minded dinosaurs worry about the how much bigger the yachts are compared to the row boats."
This is actually part of a very long and very interesting piece on the increasing economic inequality in the United States.

One of Billmon's readers has an interesting followup:

"When they say 'A rising tide lifts all boats,' they are assuming that everyone is in a boat. Most of us are simply wading in the surf. The rising tide will drown us." -- Cerebus

 

Returning home - dead or alive


Atrios finds two interesting stories in today's Washington Post: 30 soldiers home for two weeks of R&R from Iraq are apparently AWOL, having failed to show up for their flights back to Iraq, and then this little item celebrating the "free flow of information" here in the "land of the free":
"Since the end of the Vietnam War, presidents have worried that their military actions would lose support once the public glimpsed the remains of U.S. soldiers arriving at air bases in flag-draped caskets.

"To this problem, the Bush administration has found a simple solution: It has ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases."
Flags draped behind politicians as backdrop? Good. Flags draped over coffins of dead soldiers? Not good.

 

Senate spinelessness


From the Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus:
"Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., was the sole dissenter on a [97-1] vote urging President Bush give the War on Terrorism Medals to soldiers fighting in Iraq."
Even on a non-binding resolution, only a single Senator is willing to stand up and say that the claim that the invasion of Iraq was part of the "war on terrorism" was completely bogus.

 

Probably still believes in the tooth fairy


According to the New York Times, "Treasury Secretary John W. Snow has predicted that the American economy will add two million new jobs before next year's elections."

Doing their best not to make Snow appear too brash (or idiotic), the Times tells us that Snow was "expressing a confidence that goes well beyond the projections of many economists." Much later in the article, they admit that "many [economists] are skeptical that the job picture will improve much by the time Mr. Bush faces re-election next November." Does "two million" compared to "not much" qualify as "well beyond"? How about "not even remotely close"?

Followup: I thought the two million was way too bullish, but Atrios finds this which points out that even this figure is way below what Bush & Co. were "selling" not very long ago:

This new number is a huge retreat from the administration's previous projection made when it was selling its tax cuts. In February the Council of Economic Advisers projected 344,000 per month job growth starting in mid-2003 if the tax cuts were passed and roughly 250,000 jobs created per month without the tax cuts [by comparison, the "two million" estimate means 200,000 jobs created per month].

Monthly job creation of 200,000 and maintaining unemployment at its current level is far from a satisfactory economic performance. It takes 170,000 new jobs each month just to provide jobs for an expanding population and workforce and 300,000 new jobs each month to lower the unemployment rate by one percentage point over the course of a year.

 

Free speech in America


Left I on the News has previously discussed the subject of "protest zones" and the ongoing legal and political struggles for free speech in America. Avedon Carol has an important update on the subject today on her blog The Sideshow.

 

"Serious investigations" of civilian fatalities in Iraq and Vietnam


Human Rights Watch is out with a report today claiming that U.S. troops in Iraq are responsible for "at least" 20 "legally questionable" civilian deaths in Baghdad (note: Baghdad, not all of Iraq) since May 1 (i.e., not from the start of the invasion but only starting three weeks later), and that there are "credible reports" that U.S. forces killed another 74 civilians under "questionable circumstances" during the same period.

Of course, all the civilian (and military) deaths that have occured in Iraq since the invasion started on March 20 have been "legally questionable" since the entire invasion was a gross violation of international law, but HRW doesn't take on that larger issue.

In response to this report, "George Krivo, a spokesman for the U.S. command in Baghdad, said Monday that he had not seen the report, but added that 'we do take investigations very seriously.'" And just how seriously was revealed recently by the Toledo Blade, who uncovered the story of an "elite" U.S. force in Vietnam, and their long record of unpunished war crimes:

"Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers. Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.

"Two soldiers tried to stop the killings, but their pleas were ignored by commanders. The Army launched an investigation in 1971 that lasted 4 1/2 years - the longest-known war-crime investigation of the Vietnam conflict.

"Investigators concluded that 18 soldiers committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty. But no one was charged.

"Since the war ended, the American public has been fed a dose of movies fictionalizing the excesses of U.S. units in Vietnam, such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon. But in reality, most war-crime cases focused on a single event, like the My Lai massacre.

"The Tiger Force case is different. The atrocities took place over seven months, leaving an untold number dead - possibly several hundred civilians, former soldiers and villagers now say."
"Serious investigations" were undertaken - 4 1/2 years' worth. But, as in virtually every case right here in the U.S. when civilians are killed by police, those "investigations" came to naught, since they were largely designed merely to dissipate public anger rather than to actually punish any guilty parties.

And just to prove the point that these kind of war crimes and their accompanying "serious investigations" continue to this very day, comes today's AP report of an incident in Al-Fallujah in which an American patrol was attacked, killing one soldier and wounding six others. In responding to this attack, the American soldiers killed two civilians. One was a truck driver who was either "caught in the crossfire" (according to one Iraqi policeman) or killed by "soldiers shooting at random" (according to another eyewitness). But on the second civilian there is no confusion, because after his death he was taken to Al-Fallujah General Hospital. His body had a gunshot wound in the back of his head and his hands were tied in front of him with plastic bands similar to those used by the U.S. military when they arrest suspects." The victim's brother confirmed the obvious: "They raided the house, shot him first in the leg, tied his hands and then shot him in the head."

Now, given the fact that the Associated Press is able to report this story in detail, and has already interviewed several witnesses, and also given the fact that this was an incident involving seven American casualties, one would certainly expect that the military would be on top of the situation, and ready to spring into action to punish soldiers who appear to have committed one of the most grievous war crimes possible - executing a captured prisoner. Of course, you would be wrong. The AP reports "the Pentagon said it had no information on the claim, and U.S. military spokesmen in Iraq had no immediate comment" and that "the U.S. military press office in Baghdad said it had no information on the allegation." Don't worry, though. Rest assured a "serious investigation" will follow.


Monday, October 20, 2003


 

What a difference a day makes


It seems like only yesterday (it was!) when Jane Arraf over on CNN was telling us that it had been a "quiet day" in Iraq because there were "only" 15 attacks against American soldiers.

Today, CBS News is reporting 43 attacks against Americans "all over Iraq.".

And while we're on the subject, why is it the U.S. military is able to keep track of exactly how many attacks its troops faced on any given day, but when it comes to tracking Iraqi civilian casualties, or simply Iraqi civilian fatalities, that seems to be beyond them?


 

Israeli war crimes continue


Yesterday, Palestinian militants killed three members of the Israeli occupation force. Whatever your opinion of Palestinian strategy or tactics, this action was a completely legal one according to the Geneva Convention.

Today, in retaliation, the AP reports:

Israeli warplanes and helicopters hit Palestinian targets in five separate strikes Monday, a day of intense air assaults that killed nine people and reportedly wounded more than 100 others, including four children who had just been let out of school for the day.
Once again, regardless of your opinions of whether Israel is "right" to respond with military action, what happened today is a war crime, plain and simple. A small number of the Palestinian dead and wounded were "militants," which some will regard as legitimate targets. The vast majority were innocent civilians.

Imagine if in your town a murderer took a hostage and took cover in a nearby shopping mall. Do you think the police would be justified in bringing in warplanes and helicopters and firing missiles at the mall in order to "take out" the murderer? On what planet would that be legal or moral?

Sadly, most Americans have been effectively immunized against the horror that civilized people should feel in response to these actions. The top two movies right now are "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Kill Bill, Part I," both featuring indiscriminate violence. Is it any wonder that Americans think in terms of "taking out Saddam," or don't see anything wrong with what the Israelis are doing with actions like the ones today?

Followup: Reports in Ha'aretz have the counts up to 14 killed and more than 100 wounded.

More followup: 14 killed, more than 100 wounded, and the San Jose Mercury News doesn't even think it's worthy of the front-page; a meeting in which George Bush and Vicente Fox allegedly "made amends" (nothing actually happened, of course), among other stories, took precedence.


 

Flying pig alert - decent treatment of strikers in the media!


Left is Right steers us to blogger Jeanne d'Arc for these observations on the Southern California grocery strike and the press treament of it, featuring this quote from the San Diego Union-Tribune: ""This is a strike about whether supermarket workers will be part of the middle class or the working poor."

 

Think things are bad in Iraq?


This just in:
Sony will cut up to 20,000 jobs worldwide as part of a companywide reform policy.
"Reform policy"? Honestly, the words these PR people can come up with. Next they'll be telling us this is really good news - just think of all those people who can now spend their days enjoying fresh air and sunshine instead of being cooped up in a factory all day.

Less than two weeks ago, I polemicized against economist and columnist Paul Krugman who was arguing that automation does not reduce the number of available jobs. If the news above from Sony doesn't help prove the point, how about this from today's Wall Street Journal (not available online):

Economists at Alliance Capital Management LP in New York looked at employment trends in 20 large economies and found that from 1995 to 2002, more than 22 million jobs in the manufacturing sector were eliminated, a decline of more than 11%.

Contrary to conventional US beliefs, the research found that American manufacturing workers weren't the biggest losers. The US lost about 2 million manufacturing jobs in the...period, an 11% drop. But Brazil had a 20% decline. Japan's factory work force shed 16% of its jobs, while China's was down 15%. ...even as manufacturing employment declined, global industrial output rose more than 30%.

At the same time, countries everywhere, including developing countries like China, are struggling to reduce excess capacity. "We've got too many steel plants in the world, too many auto companies," says Bill Belchere, chief economist for Asia at JP Morgan Chase in Hong Kong.
I just love the term "excess capacity." The problem, of course, isn't the excess ability to make things, it's the insufficient number of people with enough money to buy them. Marx, of course, wrote about the inevitable nature of "crises of overproduction" more than a hundred and fifty years ago.

Why stop here? There's more...

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