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Monday, October 31, 2005


 

It's a puzzlement


This real brain teaser in today's news:
"As the money runs out on the $30 billion American-financed reconstruction of Iraq, the officials in charge cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished, according to a report to Congress released on Sunday."
Hey, I've got an idea. How about we don't spent the $80 billion (or whatever it is) that was going to be spent on destroying Iraq and killing Iraqis next year, and spent a portion of it on reconstruction instead? And maybe, just as an afterthought, we'll give it to Iraqi companies and workers to use for the rebuilding, instead of seeing a good portion of it head off to Halliburton et al. in the form of profits.

Just a thought, but hey, I'm just a blogger, not one of those geniuses who have managed to produce "electrical substations that were built at great cost but never connected to the country's electrical grid."

And hey, with what's left over, we can make a good start on rebuilding the Gulf Coast, once again assuming we let the people of the region do the work, and keep Halliburton out of the picture.


 

Failure to cooperate with the U.N.


Iraq under Saddam? Syria? No, the United States:
"U.N. human rights investigators warned on Monday that they would snub a long-sought invitation to visit U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay if they are barred access to terrorist suspects being held there.

"The Pentagon on Thursday invited three of the experts to visit the detention facilities at the U.S. military base in Cuba. But while the experts said they were happy the invitation finally came after more than three years of requests, they would not go if they cannot interview the prisoners.

"'It makes no sense (to go),' Manfred Nowak, special investigator on torture and other cruel treatment, told a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York. 'You cannot do a fact-finding mission without talking to the detainees.'

"The U.S. Department of Defense declined to invite two experts with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights who also sought to go."
Human Rights Watch nails it:
"'That's a farce, a farce that we hope that the Special Rapporteurs ... will definitely reject,' [Kenneth] Roth [the head of Human Rights Watch] told journalists."

Think you'll see the headlines on this one, or the other members of the Security Council pressing for a resolution condemning the lack of cooperation with the U.N. investigation? Sure you will.

Update: Rumsfeld says no:

"Spurning a request by U.N. human rights investigators, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday the United States will not allow them to meet with detainees at the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects."


 

More "precision strikes", more dead Iraqi children who won't be counted


[First posted 10/31, 7:29 a.m.; updated]

Not by the U.S. government, anyway. 40 Iraqis are dead and 20 wounded thanks to a "precision strike" on a "terrorist safe house." As you know without even reading the linked article, the latter two phrases come from the U.S. military, while the numbers come from Iraqi hospital sources; you don't expect the U.S. military (or the U.S. media) to actually inspect the damage and report the results, do you?

This particular article is oh-so-typical and oh-so-telling. Here's what the U.S. military says:

"The only air strike in that area (west of Qaim) of which I am aware is an attack on a terrorist safe house in Karabila that occurred before dawn this morning.

"A senior al Qaeda cell leader was the target of the strike. The timing of the attack and use of precision-guided munitions is intended to avoid civilian casualties."
Think about that. The claim is that a house containing a "senior al Qaeda leader" was bombed in the middle of the night. How would they know that? Either they had intelligence (or previous sightings) showing this man was staying in this house, or they sighted him the previous afternoon entering the house, or using infrared they saw someone entering that house at night. Was this alleged al Qaeda leader really in the house? Unless someone in the house phoned the U.S. with the information, then left before the bombing and kept an eye on the house to make sure the al Qaeda leader didn't leave, there is no way they even know that much. And who else was in the house? Unless the Americans kept that house on continuous surveillance, which seems highly unlikely, there is no way they could know.

You simply can't conduct an air war in an area where you don't even have troops on the ground, drop bombs on houses (which, remarkably enough, usually contain people), and make a credible claim that you are making any serious attempt to "avoid civilian casualties." And, big surprise, the result of this attack was 60 civilian casualties, many of them women and children. And, I safely predict, not one of them will be shown on American television, if indeed this story appears there at all. Given the fact that six U.S. soldiers were killed today, and that the media is still reporting on the U.S. military report of 26,000 civilian casualties caused by insurgents, it seems unlikely that those 60 Iraqi civilian casualties will even be mentioned.

By the way, is it a coincidence that this story of 26,000 civilian casualties suddenly appeared in the press just days after the death of the 2,000th American soldier? I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I doubt it.

Update: Repeating and expanding on something I wrote in the comments, watching a lot of TV today, I have seen coverage of the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq today, and the 20 Iraqis killed by a suicide bombing in Basra, but only a single mention of these casualties, on PBS' NewsHour. It's not online, but paraphrasing from memory, it was one of those "conflicting stories, we'll never know the truth" pieces, made all the more strange by the fact that they actually had film from an AP photographer which showed ten dead bodies including one child (just to be clear, they said that's what the film showed, but you didn't really see the bodies clearly if at all on PBS). Did they think the photographer should have been ghoulish and shot film of all 40 bodies? I don't know, but evidently ten wasn't enough for PBS to believe the Iraqi doctor who reported 40. Even more revealing was the U.S. military spokesperson they got to comment. To no one's surprise, they "haven't had any reports" of civilian casualties; again, what a shocker that the U.S. pilots didn't return to base and check the "civilians killed" box. The "information" which triggered this attack was, also to no one's surprise, a "tip" from a neighbor. Who knows how reliable it might be; from the piece there appeared to be no evidence whatsoever that the U.S. had actually sent in an assessment team to figure out what the attack had actually accomplished. And, also as usual, the spokesperson chose to hide behind the "al Qaeda hides among civilians" excuse. Well, perhaps they do. What is the equation which says when it's ok to drop the bomb? 30 (alleged) al Qaeda next to 1 civilian? 1 (alleged) al Qaeda next to 30 civilians? And even if there were some kind of finite limit, how would you know how many civilians you were dealing with in a case like this? The answer, of course, is you wouldn't, and that it wasn't carelessness, but care-less-ness, that allows the U.S. to proceed in situations like this.


 

The Italian Job


Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been all over the story of the Niger document forgeries, and their origin in Italy. And in the news today comes the claim that Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi "tried to talk Bush out of invading Iraq." Was it a mere coincidence that today's meeting of George Bush and Berlusconi in the White House was the first in memory in which Bush did not take any questions from reporters? You be the judge. Not that it would likely have mattered anyway; reporters had plenty of opportunity today to question Scott McClellan, and neither subject came up there.


 

The Venezuelan revolution moves forward


How can you tell a real revolution from a coup or a fake revolution? When the government in question wants the population to be educated so they can participate in running the country:
"This Friday, coinciding with the 234th anniversary of the birth of Simon Rodriguez [one of Bolivar's tutors], Venezuela was declared a territory free of illiteracy and is the second country after Cuba to attain that condition in Latin America...teach[ing[ close to 1.5 million Venezuelans to read and write in a little over two years."
Of course, restructuring the economy to benefit the people is also a good sign:
"Firmly in power and his revolution now in overdrive, President Hugo Chavez is moving fast to transform Venezuela's economy by bucking free-market planning with what he calls 21st-century socialism: founding state companies, seizing abandoned private factories and establishing thousands of cooperatives and worker-run businesses.

"The populist government is reorganizing the country's colossal oil industry, taking a bigger share from private multinationals. Planners are reorganizing the banking system, placing stringent restrictions on lending while creating state banks. Venezuela is also developing a state-to-state barter system to trade items as varied as cattle, oil and cement as far away as Argentina and as near as Cuba, its closest ally.

"'It's impossible for capitalism to achieve our goals, nor is it possible to search for an intermediate way,' Mr. Chavez said a few months ago, laying out his plans. 'I invite all Venezuelans to march together on the path of socialism of the new century.'"


 

Only some Cubans are welcome in the U.S.


Cuban terrorists who have killed dozens of people? Welcomed with open arms. Baseball players? Welcomed with open wallets. Scientists who are being given awards for developing a synthetic vaccine which might save millions of children? Not welcome:
"The San Jose, California Technical [sic] Museum has awarded one of its annual prizes in the health category to the team of specialists who worked on obtaining the Cuban vaccine against Haemophilus infuenzae Type B, the bacteria that causes meningitis, pneumonia and other infections in under-fives.

"The award ceremony is scheduled for November 9 at the museum itself, but Dr. Vicente Verez Bencomo, the principal author of this important achievement, cannot attend it because the U.S. government has refused him a visa, arguing that his presence would be prejudicial to that country’s interests."
Dr. Verez Bencomo, in my opinion, puts his finger on the real reason:
"[Dr. Verez Bencomo] said that it could be an attempt to minimize the impact of the vaccine in the context of U.S. public opinion."
In other words, the U.S. "interest" lies in not allowing Americans to learn the truth about Cuba.

The Tech Museum (Granma can be forgiven for thinking that "Tech" is short for "Technical," but in this case, it isn't short for anything) is the prestigious science museum in San Jose, CA. Their awards program is "an international Awards program that honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity" (as opposed to, say, applying technology to building more effective earth-penetrating nuclear weapons). I'm not a doctor, but the work Dr. Verez Bencomo is being honored for sounds (pdf link) incredibly important:

"Dr. Verez-Bencomo led a project to develop a synthetic polysaccharide conjugate vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), a bacteria that can cause meningitis and pneumonia. Hib infections are estimated to be responsible for 200,000-700,000 childhood deaths annually around the world. Highly effective Hib vaccines made from purified bacterial polysaccharides have been available and widely used for several years in the U.S. and Europe. These vaccines are expensive, limiting their incorporation into vaccination programs in developing nations. Dr. Verez-Bencomo's group developed a completely synthetic version of the Hib antigen that is equally effective immunologically, can be more readily manufactured at lower cost, and may be safer to use than current commercial Hib vaccines. Over 1 million doses of the vaccine have been safely delivered into Cuban children. This work may be a template for future synthetic vaccine production."


Sunday, October 30, 2005


 

Gambling in the casino


I'm shocked, shocked I tell you:
"The National Security Agency has kept secret since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that during the Tonkin Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam War, N.S.A. officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence to cover up their mistakes."
Lies and coverups concerning the reasons for going to war? Say it ain't so, Joe!


 

Children being killed in Iraq; film at 11


CNN, covering the story of the U.S. military's estimate of 25,000+ Iraqis killed or wounded by the resistance, illustrated the story with film from a hospital showing four children who were killed recently (not sure if it was today) in a suicide bombing attack. This wouldn't be noteworthy except for the fact that I can't remember when, if ever, CNN (or any other American station) showed similar film of children killed by American attacks. Indeed, it was less than two weeks ago when American bombs killed 18 children, after which CNN's Aaron Brown informed us that "this is one of those things we'll never know the truth about, I suppose." They would have sent a reporter and a cameraman to that hospital to film the casualties or to report back that it was just the resistance spreading false information, you understand, but there just wasn't anyone free that day.

A statistical fluke that the first and only dead Iraqi children we've seen on CNN were killed by insurgents? Hardly.


 

Intentional killing of civilians: U.S., U.K. still in the lead


I wrote just below about the latest U.S. government claim that 6,475 Iraqi civilians and security forces (curiously, not separated, even though they are quite different) have been killed by insurgents [As an aside, the New York Times gives more prominence to the number of casualties (dead and wounded), 25,902, which is something they, or any part of the media, never does with respect to American casualties. When is the last time you saw anyone refer to 17,236, the number of American casualties, or to the 199 fatalities of "other coalition" forces, and when have you ever seen the number of non-fatal casualties from those "other coalition" forces? But I digress.].

By one of those strokes of historical coincidence, the above story appears on the very same page (in the San Jose Mercury News) as this story about the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany. And of course that brings us back to the destruction of that church during the firebombing of Dresden in February, 1945, in which 35,000 German civilians (the New York Times says "at least 25,000"; the 35,000 comes from the BBC, while this article gives a figure of 70,000-135,000) were intentionally killed by the U.S. and U.K. Of course that in turn pales before the 100,000 Japanese civilians intentionally killed in a single night during the firebombing of Tokyo. But more than a hundred other German and Japanese cities were destroyed in the same way. All told, approximately 600,000 German civilians were killed by "strategic bombing" conducted primarily by the British with support from US forces, while more than 500,000 Japanese civilians were killed by American firebombs and atomic bombs. And, we note, all of them quite deliberately, not as some kind of "collateral damage."

And in Iraq itself? Let me remind readers of this post, in which I discussed the evidence that the U.S. government deliberately (and illegally) destroyed the Iraqi water system in the Gulf War, and "planned a strategy for preventing Iraq from reconstructing that system (via the sanctions), and knew in advance that 'this could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics of disease.'" Disease which did, in fact, kill a half million Iraqi children.

Intentionally killing civilians in wartime? The U.S. and U.K. have lapped the field many times over.


 

Political humor of the day


Part I:
"Israel uses artillery shelling more sparingly than airstrikes because it is less accurate and poses a higher risk of harming Palestinian civilians."
Sure, just like three days ago when Israel fired those "accurate" missiles into a car in a crowded refugee camp, accurately killing their main "target," but just "coincidentally" killed six other people and wounding 15 more. Yes, those Israelis are just so concerned about "harming Palestinian civilians."

Part II:

"The Security Council issued a statement Friday reminding [a particular country] that, according to the U.N. charter, member states must refrain from threatening to use force against each other."
The humor is that the "particular country" I omitted from the quote wasn't the U.S., which routinely threatens force against other countries (Syria, Iran, North Korea, just to name three from the past few weeks of threats), or the U.K., which willingly joined in the actual use of force (and not just the threat of it) in the invasion of Iraq, but Iran, because of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's statement that "the occupying regime [Israel] must be wiped off the map." The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to the U.N. statement by saying that "Iran is loyal to its commitments based on the U.N. charter and it has never used or threatened to use force against any country," and indeed, a reading of Ahmadinejad's statement suggests quite clearly that the "wiped off the map" is to be taken literally (i.e., that the political boundaries of the region should be redrawn), and not figurately as meaning "wiped off the face of the earth." He explicitly denies that he is talking about "A fight between Judaism and other religions," and explicitly describes the endpoint of the struggle in the Middle East by saying: "It will be over the day a Palestinian government, which belongs to the Palestinian people, comes to power; the day that all refugees return to their homes; a democratic government elected by the people comes to power." There is no talk of "driving the Jews into the sea" or "waging war against Israel" or anything remotely along those lines, merely the expression of support for the goal of a democratic Palestinian state. And for that, he is condemned by the U.N., while real aggressor states like the U.S. and U.K. (not to mention Israel) are among those who do the condemning.


 

CondoLIEzza and other liars


The San Jose Mercury News reprints today a portion of an article that ran in May, 2004, written by Joseph Wilson. In that article, Wilson reminds us of one of the many lies that have been told over the years by (then National Security Adviser) Condoleezza Rice, this one occuring just days after Wilson's July 6, 2003 New York Times article describing his trip to Niger:
"On July 11, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said, 'If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence . . . those doubts were not communicated to the president, the vice president or me.'

"Within days of Rice's statement, her deputy, Stephen Hadley, was forced to admit that he had -- months before the State of the Union -- received two memos and a telephone call from CIA Director George Tenet himself warning that the evidence about the claim was weak.

"When questioned again by the media, Rice said: 'I either didn't see the memo, or I don't remember seeing the memo.'"
The "don't remember" defense is simply not credible in this case (these are my words, not Wilson's). The "smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud" line, first uttered by Rice, was central to the Administration's public case for war against Iraq; any evidence bearing on that question would not only be brought to Rice's (and the President's and Vice President's) attention, it would be foremost in her mind.

And we know these doubts were a central concern of the Vice President and his office, contrary to Rice's claim that they were uninformed (Based on what does she make that statement, one wonders? Was she privy to every piece of paper that crossed Dick Cheney's or Scooter Libby's desk?). Because, as Wilson reminds us in this article, "in mid-March, just days before the war, [Wilson] said in a TV interview with CNN that [he] believed the administration knew more about the Niger allegations than it was saying." And just days after that, "senior officials in the vice president's office ordered a 'work-up' on [Wilson], to collect information that could be used in a smear campaign if it became necessary." [And, prophetically or simply with accurate knowledge, Wilson continued, "Those and other sources tell me the person who probably directed that campaign is I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the vice president's chief of staff and a leading neoconservative. I believe he is also quite possibly the person responsible for exposing my wife's identity.]

And why was that significant? Wilson puts his finger right on it:

"What is most important about these revelations is that the vice president's office would have had no reason to attack me unless officials there knew I was telling the truth and could cast doubt on an allegation that was key to their case for war. You don't need to discredit someone whose story won't pan out."
And that is precisely the kind of discussion which has been largely missing from the corporate media in the entire discussion of Plamegate. Why was there an effort to discredit Joe Wilson (not to mention my favorite question, "Why does anyone think that a trip to Niger to investigate the uranium charges would be a 'boondoggle', as I have seen it referred to?"). Yes, he was calling into question the basis for the war (but not in any significant way until after the war had started, thanks a lot, Joe). But it wasn't just "retribution" or spite. Wilson had to be attacked because his information couldn't be.

And, as in so many other situations, the key in this case is not just what they did (exposing Valerie Wilson/Plame and attacking Joe Wilson), but what they didn't do. An Administration (and, I might add, a media) really interested in the truth would have launched an investigation not into Wilson, or his wife, but would have instead sent more people to Niger to try to find evidence that they felt Wilson had missed that would prove their case. They would have sent people to Italy to investigate the famous documents, and tried to prove that although they might seem to have been forgeries on their face, they were actually genuine documents. They didn't do any of that, of course, because they knew very well the documents were forgeries and that Wilson was telling the truth, and that there were not just "doubts about the underlying intelligence," in Rice's words, but that for all intents and purposes there was no underlying intelligence.


Saturday, October 29, 2005


 

The U.S. government shows what it thinks about Iraqis


Today's headline: "U.S. Quietly Issues Estimate of Iraqi Civilian Casualties." Ah, but is it true? No, not at all. The U.S. government isn't interested in estimating "Iraqi civilian casualties"; what they released were "rough figures for Iraqis who have been killed or wounded by insurgents." In other words, a figure they can use to "score points" against the Iraqi resistance and in particular against the American antiwar movement. How many civilians did they kill in the assault on Fallujah, or the assault on Tal Afar, or the countless other similar actions? They don't know, and they couldn't care less. Because actual Iraqis, dead or alive, mean nothing whatsoever to them. Harsh? Perhaps. But all the available evidence suggests that it's absolutely true.


 

Iraqi math


The State Department says that Iraqis are not just "standing up," but they're even taking over:
"The U.S. military is reducing the number of its forward operating bases in north-central Iraq and transferring responsibility for security to Iraqi Army units whenever practical, says a senior officer who has worked there for nearly a year.

"Army Major General Joseph Taluto [said] that the number of bases has dropped from 27 to 17 during his tenure."
And yet, remarkably, the number of American troops in Iraq has increased during that time. I speculated previously that Iraqi troops must be the equivalent of neutrinos, but it appears I overestimated; this equation can only be satisfied if Iraqi troops are negative numbers.


Friday, October 28, 2005


 

History through the looking glass


Aaron Brown on CNN's NewsNight was doing a review tonight of "Presidential scandals through history." Arriving at the "arms for hostages" deal that happened under Reagan, Brown proceeded to "inform" his audience that the money from the deal was used to fund the Sandinistas. Hey Aaron. It's called the Iran-Contra scandal for a reason. Idiot.


 

Remember when...


...there were demonstrations around the country on the occasion of the death of the 2,000th "official" member of the American armed forces in Iraq, with the slogan "Not one more death. Not one more dollar."? All the way back, oh when was it, Wednesday?

Sadly, just two three days later the number is already up to 2012 2016, and who knows how many more Iraqis. That's why, for some of us, "no" means "NO" and "now" means "NOW". Not next year. Not next month. Not next week. NOW.

Impractical? And just what is so "practical" about sticking around for another 12 months of carnage, or another month, or another week? Is the situation going to be any different? If the last 12 months are a guide, the answer is, not bloody likely. John Kerry is now "boldly" calling for 20,000 troops to be withdrawn after the December elections in Iraq. Why not after the October referendum on the Constitution? Why not after last January's elections? No, it's always some time in the future, and when we get there, there will be some reason, some "latest upsurge in violence," which requires the troops to stay just a little longer, or even an increase in troop levels, like this latest election.

And Americans will continue to kill, and be killed.


 

For whom the bell tolls


A powerful short movie courtesy of the American Friends Service Committee. Not one more death. Not one more dollar.


 

George & "Scooter"


George Bush, beating a retreat out of town after the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, had this to say: "In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial." This is the same George Bush who, as Governor of Texas, signed 131 death warrants, including among them prisoners whose lawyers were under the influence of cocaine during the trial, or were drunk or asleep during the trial. "In one-third of those cases...the lawyer who represented the death penalty defendant at trial or on appeal had been or was later disbarred or otherwise sanctioned. In 40 cases the lawyers presented no evidence at all or only one witness at the sentencing phase of the trial." In all cases, Bush was quoted as saying, the defendants "had full access to a fair trial." So let's all wish Scooter Libby the same degree of fairness during his day in court.

Bush also had this to say: "Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people." Sorry, no. Someone who was part of the cabal who first fabricated evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq, and then participated in the trashing of Joseph Wilson in order to preserve the coverup of that fabrication, was most definitely not working "on behalf of the American people," he was working against the interests of the American people. Tens of thousands of Iraqis, Americans, and others, dead or wounded as a result of actions like these, are testimony to Scooter's "work."

What was also notable was what Bush didn't say. Because, more than two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2003, here's what Bush did say:

"If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of...I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business...I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it."
Clearly, Scooter Libby did not "come forward with the information" two years ago as directed by his President, in essence lying to the President by omission (that is, if he did not in fact tell the President everything, who then in turn proceeded to conceal evidence, or if the President wasn't the one who initiated the whole business). So it would have been entirely appropriate for Bush to have said today, "Two years and millions of dollars ago, I asked people to come forward and tell the truth about this leak. Scooter Libby not only didn't come forward and tell me the truth, it is alleged that he lied to the grand jury as well. He let me and the American people down by his actions."

But he didn't.


 

Out Now!


"The argument that those who have died will have died in vain is sophistry of the cruelest kind. We do not say when children are killed by drunken drivers that they died in vain. We honor their memories by organizing to ensure that the same thing doesn't happen to others. The way we support the troops -- as human beings, not occupiers -- and honor the memories of those who have already died is to bring them all home, and do it now."

- Stan Goff


Thursday, October 27, 2005


 

Congratulations, Riverbend!


Almost a year ago I wrote about the impending publication of a book consisting of a selection of posts from the blog Baghdad Burning, written by the "girl blogger" from Iraq Riverbend (or River). I'm pleased to report (with a hat tip to Pacific Views) that Riverbend has just been awarded a major award (worth 20,000 Euros!) for reportage in the Lettre Ulysses Award competition. Reportage is defined as journalism based on personal experience, which Riverbend does so well.

Congratulations! And I still say that a play based on her writing could be a powerful experience. One of these days somebody is going to take me up on it.


 

"One of the greatest financial crimes of all time"?


The Christian Science Monitor:
"In scale, the skimming operation probably ranks as one of the greatest financial crimes of all time. Iraqi insiders knew it as the 'Saddam Bribery System' - kickbacks and surcharges on the United Nations' oil-for-food program that netted Saddam Hussein $1.8 billion in the final years of his regime.
Really? Why, just today, Bloomberg reports on something that's just taken three months:
"Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc posted almost $19 billion in combined profits after energy prices surged to unprecedented highs amid disruptions caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
That's a crime that has received a fraction of a percent of the ink wasted on the oil-for-food "scandal" (not to mention that it was the whole concept of "oil for food" that was the real scandal, a crime which killed an estimated million Iraqis because of their inability to use their money for things like water purification plants). Nor have we forgotten the billions stolen by Ken Lay and his cronies at Enron from its employees and public pension funds across the nation.


 

Quote of the Day


"Yesterday in another hand-picked audience propaganda speech in front of military spouses, George Bush said: 'This war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve.'

"Besides asking him for What Noble Cause did he kill 2000 of our wonderful and brave young people, I would also like to ask George what he is sacrificing. Is he even sacrificing a good night's sleep? Is he sacrificing his future with his child? He is not sacrificing anything."

- Cindy Sheehan


 

Political humor of the day


Responding to a discussion on "Fox & Friends" in which one of the participants tried to minimize the significance of the 2000th death in Iraq by pointing out that, after all, 436 of those deaths were non-combat related*:
"Non-combat related? That means they're accidents. Forget 'em. Accidents don't count. And you know, if the peaceniks in the antiwar machine get their way and this war turns out to have been a big mistake, that just means every death was an accident, and therefore, nobody died. Keep that in perspective."

- Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report


*The idea that any of the American deaths are "non-combat related" is sheer nonsense. American troops wouldn't even be in Iraq if not for the invasion of Iraq, i.e., combat.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005


 

The antiwar movement and the troops


I just posted something in the comments below, but decided it was a very important point which deserved a post of its own. A pro-war commenter (one of our rare such commenters) wrote (among other things):
"You and your kind have demoralized our women and men in combat, which in my opinion, does impact how quickly we can bring them home."
I don't mean to single out this particular commenter; the reason I'm responding to this is because this is indeed a widely expressed sentiment by war supporters. Let's start with the premise: the troops are demoralized. I know of absolutely no evidence that this is true; indeed, here's an AP headline from just a few days ago: "U.S. Troops Maintain High Morale in Iraq." But whether the troops' morale is high or not, is it affecting their performance? Again, I know of no evidence that would suggest that is true. What is affecting the performance of the troops, and the rate at which they are dying, is the continued shortage of armored vehicles and body armor for the troops (and, of course, the fact that they're in Iraq in the first place), which, the last I checked, are all the fault of the Administration, not of the antiwar movement. Their performance is likely also affected by the fact that 82% of Iraqis don't want them there, which means there's hardly anyone in the entire country they can trust, and they have to spent their whole time there watching their back. Are the Iraqis opposed to the American troops because of the antiwar movement in the United States? Hardly. They're opposed to them because they don't like being occupied.

Back in this country, there is a large "counter recruitment" movement trying to discourage people from enlisting. Is that having any effect? Maybe, but I suspect that 99% of the decreased enlistment in the armed forces and reserves and National Guard is a result of two things: potential recruits know that there is a reasonable chance they'll return from Iraq dead or wounded, and they know the war was started under completely false pretenses. Once again, hardly the responsibility or fault of antiwar protesters.

"Support the troops, bring them home," isn't just a slogan. It's the truth, because it's the only way to really "support the troops" and see that they don't come home in a box, or in a wheelchair.


 

Resign. Now.


"Resign. Now." has been a slogan of this blog for some time now (starting here and expressed at greater length here). I don't know whether it has anything to do with me or not, but a local group, the Peninsula Peace & Justice Center (based in Palo Alto, CA), has now taken up the same campaign, and is asking for contributions to place a full page ad (pdf) with that theme in the San Jose Mercury News on Nov. 2, with the hope that this will spark a grassroots movement across the country with the same theme. Right on!

If you're involved with an antiwar (or peace, as you prefer) group in your area, please suggest that they have a look at the draft ad on the PPJC page linked above, and seriously consider spreading the campaign across the country.

Resign. Now.


 

Not one more death. Not one more dollar.


416 demonstrations/vigils scheduled across the country tomorrow. Pick one and be there.

Update: MoveOn seems to have their own list of events, some of which are identical to the ones at the AFSC website, and some of which are not.

Second update: Here's a picture of the event I went to. As you can see the organizer (a friend of mine) took my advice to have large signs with few words, absolutely required in this case since this was one corner of an intersection with 7 lanes (3 each way plus a left-turn lane) of traffic in each direction, i.e., it's a long way from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner. Picking up on the thread from the comments, although the large sign called out the 2000 dead (Americans), which was the occasion of the event, smaller signs did take note of dead Iraqis as well as injured Americans (one of whose mothers was at the event). A group of about 40 people (it was impossible to get them all in the picture without risking my life standing in the middle of the very busy intersection) spent two hours holding up signs, and received an almost continuous stream of honking in return from passing cars (there are no pedestrians anywhere in this or most cities in California).


 

Spilling the beans


With all sorts of attention being focused on the beans being spilled by various parties in the Plame affair, and Lawrence Wilkerson spilling more beans about Colin Powell's speech at the U.N., be sure to listen to (or read the transcript of) this morning's Democracy Now! to hear Col. (formerly Gen.) Janis Karpinski spilling still more beans over what really happened at Abu Ghraib, and who is to blame for it (hint: the fish rots from the head).


 

The same old song


In violence in the Middle East yesterday, Reuters plays the same old song:
"Israeli warplanes and artillery pounded an area of northern Gaza on Wednesday in response to Palestinian militants firing a rocket into Israel's southern town of Sderot...The violence has threatened to unravel an eight-month-old ceasefire."
Those darn Palestinians, always making trouble and unraveling ceasefires, right? Wrong. A full nine paragraphs later, we finally get the actual context of the latest attacks:
"The flare-up of violence followed followed Israel's killing of a top Islamic Jihad militant in the occupied West Bank on Monday."
So the truth is, that the truce was broken by Israel, who then responded to the Palestinian response to Israel's extrajudicial assassination. You sure wouldn't know that from a quick read of the article, though.

And today, in a totally predictable reaction, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least 5 and wounded more than 20 in Israel. And in a totally predictable response to that, the lackey Abbas blamed his fellow Palestinians (rather than blaming the Israelis for breaking the truce in the first place), and the Israelis criticized Abbas, rather than taking responsibility for being the ones to break the truce.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005


 

Bring the Guard home


Those with good memories may remember that, back in March, I was proposing that the California antiwar movement try to qualify an initiative for the special election to prevent deployment of the California National Guard. No one (by which I mean none of the major antiwar groups) took me up on it, and the California special election will occur on Nov. 8 without the voters having a chance to vote against the war.

However, it turns out that in Massachusetts, a group called Home From Iraq Now (about whom I know nothing) has gone the same route, and is not only trying to qualify an initiative for the next Massachusetts election, but also encouring people around the country to follow their example, using an initiative which was drafted by Constitutional law experts. Left I on the News wishes the best of luck in their efforts to HFIN, and encourages groups around the country to take up the same fight.

A corollary to this effort, for those into lobbying, would be to try to repeal the Montgomery Amendment which stripped Governors of the right to stop deployment of their state Guards under most circumstances. However, that direction requires relying on Congress, with a resulting chance of success of exactly nil. The initiative approach, as I explained back in March, gives the people the chance to vote on the war, and not just in some advisory way but in a legally binding way. As such, I consider it an extremely productive course of action.


 

2,000 dead because of "ulterior motives"


The 2,000th "official" U.S. soldier has died in Iraq. Army P.R. man Lt. Col. Steve Boylan says that's an "artificial mark on the wall" and "not a milestone." Yeah, sure, and "Dow 10,000" isn't a milestone either; 9,997 is practically the same (it is, but that doesn't make 10,000, or other such numbers, any less of a milestone).

Lt. Col. Boylan and I can argue about what constitutes a "milestone," and I fully agree with his statement that ""The 2,000th Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine that is killed in action is just as important as the first that died." Where we part company, and strongly, is his scurrilous parting remark: "[2,000] is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives." I'll admit to an "agenda" -- stopping this senseless, illegal, immoral war and the deaths of Americans and Iraqis that have resulted, and will continue to result. But here's the definition of "ulterior": "Lying beyond what is evident, revealed, or avowed, especially being concealed intentionally so as to deceive: an ulterior motive." And that is a complete and utter lie when applied to opponents of the war. Every reason I, and the antiwar movement, want to call attention to this symbolic (but still very real for one family) death is right out on the table -- we want to emphasize the cost of this war in order to to put a stop to it. As the American Friends Service Committee slogan goes for what will now be tomorrow's round of demonstrations: "Not one more death. Not one more dollar."

On the other hand, "ulterior motives" are precisely what brought about the invasion of Iraq; even the Bush administration now admits, as exemplified by Condoliezza Rice's recent comments, that the talk about WMD and ties to al Qaeda was a complete smokescreen -- an "ulterior motive" if there ever was one, to conceal the real motives for the war.


 

The culture of life


The ACLU has released a report, based on U.S. Defense Department data, showing that, of 44 deaths of prisoners in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq, a minimum of 21 were homicides, of which at least eight resulted from abusive techniques by military or intelligence officers (the remaining 13 homicides appear to fall in the "Amadou Diallo" category -- shot by American troops under conditions in which there was no justification for doing so). Here are some of the descriptions of those deaths:
"Pulmonary embolism due to blunt force injuries... Strangulation... Asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression... Blunt force injuries and asphyxia."
If you're an American, aren't you just delighted that these things are being done in our name? George Bush and Dick Cheney are; they're begging to be allowed to continue (not that they'll stop no matter what Congress does, short of stopping all funds going to the Defense Department and CIA):
Cheney Plan Exempts CIA From Bill Barring Abuse of Detainees

The Bush administration has proposed exempting employees of the Central Intelligence Agency from a legislative measure endorsed earlier this month by 90 members of the Senate that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody.
What a bizarre headline, describing this as the "Cheney Plan." Whether Dick Cheney is the one up on the Hill lobbying for this plan or not, the implication in the headline that somehow this is something Dick Cheney cooked up on his own without the knowledge or approval of George Bush is just bizarre. As the opening sentence of the article states, this is a Bush administration plan, not a "Cheney Plan."

Not in Our Name!


Monday, October 24, 2005


 

Political humor of the day


"President Bush said Monday that Baghdad is still a safe enough place to hold Saddam Hussein's mass-murder trial, even though one of the lawyers involved was killed last week." (Source)
It's not safe enough for him to visit, you understand, but safe enough for Iraqis and American soldiers. Kind of like the way he felt about Vietnam.


 

Rosa Parks, dead at 92


Rosa Parks has died at age 92, just a month short of the 50th anniversary of the day she refused to move to the back of the bus, and set off the 13-month Montgomery bus boycott which struck a major blow against racism in America.


The Troops Out Now coalition has called for a National Strike Against Poverty, Racism, and War to be held on December 1, the 50th anniversary of Parks' action. There could be no finer way to honor the memory of Rosa Parks than to carry on the work she started more than 50 years ago, and one way to do that would be to plan or join an activity in your area on that day.

Update: You can listen to Rosa Parks herself, speaking in March 1956 about the events in question, on this morning's Democracy Now!which features a rebroadcast of a 49-year old show from the Pacifica Radio archives.


 

Don't believe everything you read


Part I: The Mehlis report

The U.N. issued a report which "implicates" the Syrian government in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. George Bush, who when his aides are "implicated" in crimes, says "no comment" until there are actual indictments and probably then convictions and probably then he'll still have no comment, demands that the U.N. take action against Syria. Journalist (and we use that term intentionally) Robert Parry points out some of the holes in the report, and writes this, which is something to keep in mind in all cases like this:

"This risk of investigators accepting questionable testimony from dubious sources is highest when the allegations are directed against countries or political leaders already held in disdain – as was the case with Iraq and is now the case with Syria. With almost everyone ready to believe the worst, few investigators or journalists are willing to endanger their reputations and careers by demanding a high level of proof. It's easier to go with the flow."
Part II: Reports that rebels from all over South America are being trained in Venezuela

This may well be true, and it isn't something I oppose. Of course we can expect the U.S., the world's biggest meddler in the affairs of other countries, to make a big stink about this, although fortunately the news has emerged at a time when the U.S. government is preoccupied with other matters. Be that as it may, a careful reading of the story reveals that there's very little "there" there. In the Miami Herald story, for example, we read this:

The Herald independently obtained a copy of an [Ecuadorean military] intelligence report that focuses on the Venezuelan link.

The report's key assertion of guerrilla training could not be verified independently by The Herald. But a senior civilian government official here with access to intelligence information verified the existence of the report and described its contents as 'undeniable.'"
When they say they "independently" obtained a copy of the report, what they mean is independently of the Ecuadorean newspaper El Comercio, who broke the story. So what does that mean? It means they didn't get the report from El Comercio but instead that the same Ecuadorean government source who leaked the report to El Comercio leaked it to the Herald as well. What does that prove? Nothing.

Then we are told that a "senior civilian government official" says the report is "undeniable." Who is that official? For all we know, it's the same official who wrote the report and the same one who leaked the report. The word of a "senior government official" that something is "undeniable" means less than nothing.

It gets worse:

"U.S. intelligence officials are known to be aware of the report and to believe that its allegations are true.

"Ecuador's intelligence agencies are considered relatively reliable because they had Israeli and U.S. training during a successful drive in the late 1980s to break up a leftist guerrilla group."
If they had Israeli and U.S. training, I'd consider that as pretty good evidence they know how to make up intelligence to frame their opponents, rather than considering that as providing any kind of evidence that the report itself is "reliable." All the more so when we find sentences like this in the article: "The report obtained by The Herald does not identify whether the information it contains came from a defector, an infiltrator or another source." Well, that sure convinces me of the reliability of the report.

To its credit, the Herald did contact one of the Venezuelans who was allegedly involved with the training, to get this quote: "The training as described never took place. As far as I know, no one here is doing anything like that."


Sunday, October 23, 2005


 

See no bad news, hear no bad news


The BBC is reporting on a secret poll conducted in August on behalf of the British Defense Ministry. The results of this poll include:As of this writing, not a single American outlet has picked up this rather significant story, nor has it been mentioned on any of the cable news networks. Wouldn't want to spoil George Bush's "everything is going just great in Iraq" story.

Update: A day later, clicking on that link produces exactly one U.S. hit, for the Washington Times. Still no coverage of this news on TV, or in the major newspapers. The Washington Post actually does carry the news, but in a blog named World Opinion Roundup which, based on the URL (blogs.washingtonpost.com rather than www.washingtonpost.com), doesn't appear in the actual newspaper. I was amused by this strange line in the Roundup: "The poll gives new ammunition to conservative critics of the war." Really? Not all critics of the war, just the conservative ones? Curious.


 

Political humor of the day



Ward Sutton

(via David Swanson at After Downing Street)


Saturday, October 22, 2005


 

The 55-year (and counting) "exit strategy"


George Bush:
"As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."
The considerably more verbose Donald Rumsfeld:
"As the capabilities of the Republic of Korea grow, obviously they will assume more and more responsibility as they have been doing in recent years."
U.S. troops entered Korea in 1950; the Korean War nominally ended (without a peace treaty, but with a truce) in 1953. There are still 37,000 American troops in Korea. Ah, but don't worry, "As Koreans stand up, we will stand down."
"The Pentagon wants to have 25,000 troops in South Korea by the end of 2008, compared to 37,500 last year, a reduction in forces that U.S. commanders say is made possible by the growing capability of South Korea's 690,000 troops."
It's sure taken a long time for 690,000 South Koreans to represent a "growing capability," hasn't it? If they continue at that rate, and there's no particular reason to believe they will, it will be 2013 or so, a full 60 years after the end of the war, before the last American troops leave Korea.

And is Iraq Korea a fully sovereign nation even now? Consider this:

"Despite a desire by officials here to assume greater responsibility for the defense of their country, the United States and South Korea agreed Friday to leave a U.S. commander in charge of their combined armies in the event of a war on the Korean peninsula.

"With steady improvements made by South Korea's military and the nation's emergence as an economic power, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said recently that his country was ready to take on more control of its armed forces, and suggested altering the current arrangement that put South Korean forces under U.S. command during wartime. "
I love the use of the euphemism "agreed." Yeah, sure they did. The President of this "sovereign" country is forced to beg ("suggest") the occupying forces to allow Koreans to be in control, to which the Americans reply "Thanks, but no thanks." That's how they "agreed."

Here's my exit strategy for Iraq (and Korea, for that matter): "As the American people stand up (and say NO! to the occupation), American forces will be stood down." Stand up, America! Just say NO!


 

The role of the press


A lot of people have taken note of the lead paragraph in the latest AP story about Judith Miller:
"The New York Times' Judith Miller belatedly gave prosecutors her notes of a key meeting in the CIA leak probe only after being shown White House records of it, and her boss declared Friday she appeared to have misled the newspaper about her role."
Both items are certainly damning. But I'd like to call attention to a different sentence from the middle of that same story:
"One lawyer familiar with Miller's testimony said the reporter told prosecutors at first that she did not believe the June meeting would have involved Plame. Miller said that, because she had just returned from covering the Iraq war, she was probably giving Libby an update about her experiences there, the lawyer said."
Excuse my naivety, but isn't the job of a reporter returning from Iraq to share her experiences there with the readers of her employer's paper? I wasn't aware that reporters were required to check in with the Vice-President's chief of staff.

Last week, there were stories in the press about the "White House Iraq Group." It wasn't clear (to me, anyway) whether this was just an informal name of a group of co-thinkers in the White House, or an actual formal group with memos addressed to them, etc. Furthermore, a "source" said that "Judy [Miller] was a charter member." Was that a literal truth, or just a figurative one? It certainly wasn't (and isn't) clear. But when we read that Miller returned from Iraq and immediately went to give Scooter Libby "an update about her experiences there," it certainly provides food for thought.

Is Judith Miller actually a CIA asset? It's quite possible. Is she being paid under the table by the White House, like Armstrong Williams? Possible. But I think really she is being "paid" quite openly by the White House with the currency she really wants -- "knowledge" (and I use that term very loosely) and power. I don't have access to Lexis-Nexis, so I can't do a review of all the articles Miller wrote during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, but I'll hazard a guess that every one of them involves anonymous sources. Without her sources of misinformation, Miller would just be a reporter who can't even take good notes.

That's not to say that anonymous sources don't have a critical role to play in reporting. But there's a vast difference between anonymous sources who are in power, and using their power, and anonymous sources who are challenging that power. Judy Miller's sources are all of the former kind -- chickenhawks and chickenshits who don't have the courage to fight their own battles, but prefer fighting them while hiding behind people like Judy Miller.

Updated with the "Snark of the Day" from Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten:

"This week [Miller] went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify for the Free Flow of Information Act. There, she didn't even blush when she told the lawmakers: 'Confidential sources are the life's blood of journalism. Without them ... people like me would be out of business.'

"Probably so, but there's still a case to be made for this legislation."


Friday, October 21, 2005


 

At the movies


In today's movie news, Dahr Jamail is recommending we see a new movie entitled Caught in the Crossfire - The Untold Story of Falluja. Proceeds from the sale of this film go directly to aid the innocent civilians and refugees caught in the crossfire of combat zones inside Iraq. I'm not too fond of the title; if civilians were literally "caught in the crossfire," we would expect 50% of them to be killed by American bullets and bombs, and 50% to be killed by bullets from resistance fighters. The truth is surely closer to 95% or more being killed by American bullets and especially by American bombs. Be that as it may, the cause is a good one, and any truth shed on the light of what happened during the massacre of Fallujah is valuable indeed; in the American press, the actual people of Fallujah were (and most definitely still are) the forgotten people.

In other movie news, we ask the question: What do Good Night, and Good Luck, the George Clooney film about Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy, and North Country, the movie about a female coal miner and the harassment and discrimination she encounters, starring Charlize Theron, have in common? They're both in theaters now, they're both receiving praise from the critics, and they both star incredibly good-looking people who are probably going to get Oscar nominations? OK, besides for that. The answer is that both films were financed by eBay founder Jeff Skoll's new moviemaking venture, Participant Productions, dedicated to the proposition (according to Skoll) that films can "educate and inspire" people to "actually get involved in the issues." Skoll elaborates:

"'One metric of success that we use is whether more good comes from the film than just putting the money directly to work in a non-profit organization involved in the same issue.

"We've actually had cases where we looked at the risk profile of a film and said, 'The way this looks, chances are we're going to lose a million, 2 million, even 5 million dollars. But maybe we'll get $10 million or $20 million worth of social value from it.' We will take risks on projects where we think we might lose money, because we hope that the good that comes from that outweighs the risk. It's a different kind of philanthropy."
Although, coming from a guy whose personal forture in $4 billion, the "risk" isn't exactly a great one. Nonetheless, kudos to Skoll, and to others with similar ideas.


 

Bush lies about his goal for a Palestinian state


...and the media has a mixed reaction.

Yesterday, speaking with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, George Bush said this:

Reporter: President [Bush], you say you wanted to see the Palestinian state made before the end of your presidency. Are you still hoping to see something like that?

Bush: You said I would like to see two states before I get out of office. Not true. I'd like to see two states. And if it happens before I get out of office, I'll be there to witness the ceremony.
But last November, here's what Bush had to say:
"I think it is fair to say that I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state, and I intend to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States on such a state...I hate to put artificial time frames on things; unfortunately I've got one on my existence as President. It's not artificial, it's actually real. And I'd like to see it done in four years. I think it is possible. I think it is possible."
Bush could have simply said, "Yes, a year ago I was hoping it would happen before I ended my term; I still hope for that, although I don't know if it will happen." But his first instinct was to lie and deny; he isn't even willing to admit the most minor of contradictions.

How did the press react? The Financial Times not only led with the denial, but even provided the appropriate context for Bush's earlier remark (implicitly to show that his optimistic remarks last November were done with a specific intent):

"President George W. Bush yesterday backed away from the goal he set a year ago to help establish an independent Palestinian state by the end of his second term.
...
"In Washington last November, meeting Tony Blair, the UK prime minister who was in dire need of a diplomatic fillip to counter the fallout over Iraq, Mr Bush said he would 'spend the capital' of the US on establishing a Palestinian state. 'I'd like to see it done in four years,' Mr Bush said. 'I think it is possible.'"
The Washington Post also took note of the change in position, but with a noticeably softer tone:
"Speaking at a joint news conference in the sunny Rose Garden, Bush also appeared to pull back from a goal he set shortly after his reelection to create a Palestinian state by 2009. He had earlier said he would 'use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States' on creating a state. But yesterday he denied setting such a goal -- 'Not true' -- and added, 'I can't tell you when it's going to happen.'"
Note that, in addition to the use of the word "appeared", their excerpt of Bush's November speech omits the "I'd like to see it done in four years" line, thereby removing any "proof" that he had actually changed position from the article. The Post also fails to explain to its readers why Bush might have been so publicly optimistic back in November.

But that still puts the Post ahead of other outlets. The BBC doesn't mention the subject at all; the New York Times says: "President Bush...cautioned that a Palestinian state living peacefully with Israel might not be established before Mr. Bush leaves office in 2009," giving no hint whatsoever that this was either a change in position, or that Bush denied that it was.

The award for worst coverage of this lie, however, goes to Knight-Ridder, with this:

"Bush acknowledged that the negotiations have slowed to the point that he is unlikely to reach his goal of an independent Palestinian state before he leaves office in 2009."
This might be what Bush should have said, but it is not what he said. Acknowledging that a 2009 goal might not be met is quite a different thing from denying that there ever was a 2009 goal.

Of course, Bush's biggest lie is to pretend that he really has any interest whatsoever in the creation of a Palestinian state, and that he's actually doing anything of substance to pressure the Israelis to stop settlement expansion in the West Bank or to adhere to the "road map." But we'll leave those subjects for another day.


Thursday, October 20, 2005


 

"2,000 American dead"


I wrote a month ago already that American deaths in Iraq were over the 2,000 mark, counting all Americans -- not just "regular" members of the Armed Forces, but contractors, private security guards, spies, diplomats, and reporters. Nonetheless, the death of the 2000th "officially counted" American soldier, which is approaching soon (1,988 as I write this), will be a symbolic moment, and United for Peace and Justice, led by the American Friends Service Committee, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out, has called for demonstrations/vigils/actions around the country on the day that that event occurs, with these "demands":AFSC, which appears to be the initiator of this event judging from their website, has chosen a slogan curiously similar to the one you'll see at the upper right of this page: "Not one more death. Not one more dollar." My version ("Not one cent more for occupation and war") is catchier, but the sentiment is the same. :-)

The list of events already shows hundreds are planned; join one or start your own in your town (and make sure to list it). UfPJ and AFSC are recommending, among other things, candlelight vigils, but my preference is for shouting our opposition to the war as loudly as possible, not for standing silent. Here's my newly made up chant for the occasion -- feel free to use it, or make up your own:

Stop the killing, stop the war!
2,000 dead. No more.
Incidentally, one lesson I re-learned at the streetcorner demonstration I attended on Saturday is that, if you are standing on a busy streetcorner mostly being seen by cars rather than pedestrians, keep your signs simple. Large black block letters on a white background, the fewer words the better. "Get our troops out of Iraq"? OK (except the "our" part). But better is just "Out of Iraq Now!" or "Stop the War!" And make sure to have at least one, if not two, "Honk for Peace" signs to encourage honking. The feedback is very empowering.

Incidentally, to forestall the obvious criticism -- the deaths of Iraqis must never be forgotten. In a way, they are more tragic than the deaths of Americans, not just because they are more numerous by more than an order of magnitude, and not just because so many of them are civilians, but also because the Americans (at least their government) asked for this war, whereas the Iraqis did not, thus making every one of their deaths a war crime. However, that being said, I think on an occasion like this, it just complicates matters to try to convey all that on a sign. If you're talking to a reporter, by all means make sure to bring up the subject, but other than that, there's nothing wrong with making the focus of the signage and the event itself the 2,000 Americans. Sadly, we'll never know when the 2,000th Iraqi, or the 20,000th, or the 200,000th, is killed.


 

"Patriotic" journalists


Where "patriotism" is defined as "unquestioning fealty to government", that is. Robert Parry provides an excellent review of the recent history of the suppression of independent reporting from corporate newsrooms, from the firing of Daniel Schorr and Raymond Bonner, through the right-wing rants of the general manager of AP and the endorsement of perjury on behalf of "patriotism" by the editor of Newsweek, the praising of the Iran-Contra pardons by Richard Cohen, the hounding of Gary Webb, and all the way down (and I do mean "down") to Judith Miller. Well worth reading if you don't mind being depressed. But hey, there's no need for that. You've got Left I on the News fighting the good fight, and we can't be fired, 'cause nobody's paying us!


 

Smith & Carlos update


Socially conscious sportswriter Dave Zirin presents his take on the actions of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and the new statue that commemorates and honors those actions. The story of what happened to Tommie Smith's family alone will clue you in that their actions were, in 1968, a very big deal. Here's Zirin's final observation:
"When it came time to unveil the statue, the Star Spangled Banner was played -- as a symbol of 'how far we've come' since 1968. There was one problem: the curtain became snagged on the statue's raised fists. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we need our anti-racist history and our anti-racist heroes now more than ever. We need more fists gumming up the works."


Wednesday, October 19, 2005


 

California ballot propositions: NO on 77


For most progressives, this year's crop of ballot propositions is pretty straightforward - skipping 77, NO on all of them down the line until you get to the "citizen's drug initiative" 79 (as opposed to the drug companies' drug initiative 78), which is a YES. This is the position of the California Green Party, it's the position of Whatever It Is, I'm Against It (WIIIAI), and many others.

But on the redistricting proposition, Prop 77, opinions are all over the map. The Greens have no position. Kos of Daily KOS is for it, although many of the "diarists" on his site are against it. The two most extensive and pursuasive arguments for a NO vote are presented by WIIIAI and KOS diarist Latino in LAw, which are recommended reading for those wanting the full gamut of arguments. Both of them make many good points; one I'll call out in particular is Latino in LAw's observation (I'm putting this in my own words) that the bunch of retired, mostly wealthy, white men who are the pool of supposedly neutral people designing the new districts are hardlly a representative sample of the population.

But the reason I'm voting NO on 77 is entirely different. What is the concept behind Prop 77? That there isn't enough competition between Republicans and Democrats, and that if the districts are redrawn "neutrally," then there will be more "competitive districts." So what? The problem with the California legislature isn't that there are too many Democrats, or too many Republicans, or even too many incumbents (the latter problem was solved undemocratically with term limits), but there are too many Democrats and Republicans, and in general too many legislators beholden to monied interests, and this proposition doesn't solve that problem.

As structured, the concept of the Assembly is that the people of, say, Fresno have common interests. They do, but so do gays and lesbians, and teachers, and parents, and opponents of the war, and the poor (and, yes, the wealthy), and so on. Why don't those interests get to be explicitly represented in the legislature (except for the wealthy, who have no problem on that score)? What is really needed to make the legislature more representative of the people, and more responsive to them, are large (even statewide) districts using proportional representation, combined with prohibitions against corporate contributions, mandatory public financing of elections, and more. Proposition 77 is just a distraction from the real change that is needed in California, and the nation.


 

Scotty's Potemkin moment


The standard Bush formation of the alleged exit strategy in Iraq goes like this: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But in today's press briefing by Scott McClellan, it was just a little different (emphasis added): "As we stand up the Iraqi forces, we're going to be standing down American forces." And all I could think of (oh how I wish I could have found a picture to illustrate this, but I failed kudos to the commenter who found the picture below!) was the scene near the end of Blazing Saddles where the citizens of Rock Ridge construct an entire fake town, complete with fake people, which they "stand up."


By the way, has anyone else noticed that there are now allegedly 200,000 Iraqi troops "standing up," and not a single American soldier (not one!) has been "stood down" as a result? What are these Iraqi troops anyway, neutrinos?


 

The lies that led to the invasion of Iraq


There's so much going on these days that sometimes it's easy to forget even critical information. A brief (less than two minutes; I really can't stand any more) listen to Hardball a little while ago reminded me of one of them. Chris Matthews, after first making the absurd argument that the invasion of Iraq might have been done by mistake because it was done in such "haste" after 9/11 (yeah, Chris, only a year and a half had gone by), then went into the usual song-and-dance about intelligence, was it lies, misinterpretations, or just (as Matthews contended), "worst-case scenarios piled on worst-case scenarios"? I have argued previously that, at the very least, we know that the lack of conditional statements on the part of the Administration makes it a case of lying. Many, many statements were of the form "we know Iraq has stockpiles of weapons" or "we know Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program," never "we think this" or "we have good reason to believe that..."

But there's another big lie that I mention less frequently, and that's the urgency lie. Although the existence of Iraqi WMD programs or stockpiles of WMD was most definitely not proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, let's concede that there was certainly a possibility that such programs or even stockpiles existed. But there were weapons inspectors going over Iraq with a fine-tooth comb during the entire pre-invasion period (and, needless to say, finding nothing except some highly debatable technical violations of missile ranges, which led to the prompt destruction of the missiles in question). Perhaps the biggest lie of all was the lie that there was such an imminent danger to the United States and to the world that, even with Iraq's hands figuratively tied behind its back, the inspectors had to be pulled out and the U.S.-led invasion had to begin right then, in March 2003, without further delay.

There is not a shred of evidence, not just a shred of valid evidence but even a shred of concocted evidence, that this urgency was justified. There was no such evidence at the time, and no "story" has been concocted since then, either. The urgency of invading Iraq in March, 2003 was an assertion by the Bush Administration, nothing more. And, as I said, perhaps the biggest of the big lies, and the one which people, including myself, all too frequently forget.


 

The rule of law


It does actually apply in some places in the world:
"A Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant Wednesday, charging three U.S. soldiers with murder in the death of a Spanish television cameraman in Baghdad."
But not in others:
"The arrest warrant says the United States provided 'no judicial cooperation' in the investigation of the cameraman's death.

"An attorney for [Jose] Couso's family told CNN+ that she doubted the arrest warrant would have much practical effect. She said she understood that the United States would not extradite the men and that they stood little chance of arrest unless they left the United States."
Still no arrest warrant for the Commander-in-Chief who ordered those three soldiers to take part in the illegal invasion which led to Jose Couso's death, along with that of more than 100,000 others.


 

Pot, meet kettle


Saddam Hussein went on trial today. One of the charges? "Illegal imprisonment." Something I'm sure the Americans running the show behind the scenes are well acquainted with.

Incidentally, the standards under which the court operates? Guilty if the judges are "satisfied" by the evidence. Surely they could just save all the money they're going to spend on the trial in that case.


 

Snark of the Day


"Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency...must be retooled to improve preparation and response to natural disasters." (Source)
You mean there aren't enough tools working there already?


Tuesday, October 18, 2005


 

Quote of the Day


"If you want information about a car, you don't ask the used car dealer. You ask Consumer Reports."

- "Granny" (as in "Raging Grannies") Gail Sredanovic, discussing the new batch of recruiting ads pitched at parents, just released by the increasingly desparate U.S. military
Or, expanding a bit on Granny Gail's statement, don't ask the used car dealer. Ask someone who's bought a car from that same dealer, or someone who's seen the damage those used cars can do. And Just Say No!

Which is as good an excuse as any to introduce:


Iraq Pledge of Resistance is calling for a national day of demonstrations on November 18, directed against armed forces recruiting stations.


 

Houdini was never this good


He could make an elephant disappear, but not 400,000 people!
"The American Red Cross said yesterday that it has vastly overstated the number -- and potential cost -- of Hurricane Katrina evacuees staying in hotel rooms because of errors in how it interpreted its data.

"Embarrassed officials from the charity acknowledged that instead of housing 600,000 displaced people, the hotel program -- paid for by the federal government -- is housing 200,000 storm evacuees.

"Red Cross officials attributed the error to the misreading of daily reports from a consultant handling the hotel placements: Staff members mistook a cumulative tally of people who had lived in hotels to date for the daily hotel population."
Talk about innumeracy! Not to mention incompetence.


 

Physician, heal thyself


In today's "lack-of-self-awareness" news:
"The Bush administration, worried that Palestinian militants will gain a foothold in legislative elections in January, is pressing Mahmoud Abbas to require that candidates renounce violence and 'unlawful or nondemocratic' methods, administration and Palestinian representatives say."
As opposed to, say, heavy-handed interference in elections in another country.


 

Condoliezza pulls back the curtain


On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoliezza [sick] Rice was on Meet the Press, making this astonishing statement:
"The fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make. We could decide that the proximate cause was al-Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al-Qaeda and perhaps after the Taliban and then our work would be done and we would try to defend ourselves.

"Or we could take a bolder approach, which was to say that we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle East. And there is no one who could have imagined a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still in power. I know it's difficult, but we have ahead of us the prospect, and I think the very good prospect of a foundation for a democratic and prosperous Iraq that can solve its differences by politics and compromise, that becomes an anchor for a Middle East that is changing."
This admission that allegations of weapons of mass destruction or ties to Al Qaeda were not the reason the U.S. invaded Iraq (or Afghanistan for that matter) was not only met with no challenge from host Tim Russert, but rather with Tim's best imitation of Oliver Twist saying "Please, sir, can I have some more?":
"Would you like to see a regime change in Syria, and will we help bring that about?" [Ed. note: notice the "we"]
But Russert was hardly alone; while bloggers were all over Rice's statement, the corporate press and mainstream commentators met her assertion with deafening silence.

Most of the blogs seized on Rice's statement as an admission of previous administration lies, or as yet another change in rationale for the invasion, but they missed one key point -- Rice is still lying about why Iraq was invaded. She claims that reason was "eliminating the root causes" of terrorism, which from the rest of the statement we conclude she thinks are a lack of democracy and prosperity. But with 15 of the 19 hijackers being Saudis, surely someone really looking for "proximate causes" would conclude that the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia was high up on the list. Did the U.S. respond by launching an invasion to overthrow the dictator (excuse me, "king") of Saudi Arabia? Of course not. And everyone knows the largest group in the Middle East lacking both democratic rights and prosperity are the Palestinians. Did the U.S. respond by sending troops to force the Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza, restoring those territories to Palestinian control? No again.

Sorry, Condi. No sale.


 

Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and...Peter Norman?



Last night, San Jose State University unveiled a statue honoring Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and their anti-racism protest at the 1968 Olympics. As I wrote back in June when ground was broken, I consider this one of the most shocking developments since the United States put Malcolm X on a postage stamp.

A full look at the statue reveals something curious:


But wait. Did the guy who finished in second place boycott the ceremony or something? No, not at all, as the picture of the real event shows:


Indeed, it turns out Australian Peter Norman, who attended last night's ceremony along with Smith and Carlos, was involved with the protest, and suffered for it as well (though not as much as Smith and Carlos, of course):

"Smith and Carlos...wanted to show that all was not well for African-Americans in the United States and to promote the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a cause that originated in the Bay Area.

"In discussions beneath the stadium before the medal ceremony, Smith and Carlos decided to don black gloves and raise their fists. Norman could have ignored the drama. Instead, he asked what he could do to assist the protest. Carlos suggested wearing the OPHR button. Norman borrowed one from an American rower and pinned it on an Aussie warm-up jacket.

"By doing so, Norman implicitly supported Smith and Carlos. This carried its own heavy price.

"'In Australia, no one knows I ran in the race,' joked Norman the other day in a phone interview. They just think I stood on the victory stand.'

"And many of his countrymen weren't happy about where he stood.

"'I copped some letters and some abuse,' Norman said. 'My hometown didn't give me a celebration. Only family and friends met me at the airport. It got a little bit nasty. But when you look at what Tommie and John had to go through for a long, long time, anything that anyone could or did say to me pales in significance.'"
And, just like the other struggle of the late 60's that I wrote about last night, this struggle too continues today. Here's what one participant in last night's ceremony had to say:
"'Will Smith and Carlos only be stone-faced amidst a beautiful plaza?' speaker Professor Ethel Pitts-Walker asked the crowd. 'For them to become immortalized, the living must take up their activism and continue their work.'"
It turns out that, in a symbolic way at least, that's precisely why Norman was left off the statue itself:
"Carlos originally lobbied for the sculpture to include Norman. But the artist who designed it -- a Bay Area artist named Rigo 23 -- said he purposely left Norman's spot blank. That way, people could climb up and pose for pictures and be encouraged to 'take a stand.'

"That's more than fine with Norman.

"'I love that idea,' said Norman. 'Anybody can get up there and stand up for something they believe in. I guess that just about says it all.'"
Well, hopefully not all; standing up for something you believe in requires a lot more committment than getting your picture taken on a statue. But it's a start. Solidarity forever!


 

A foolish consistency


The Los Angeles Times reports today:
"Almost two months after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and a month after promising in a nationally televised speech to help rebuild the region 'quickly,' President Bush has settled on a cautious, piecemeal approach that even many members of his own party fear will stall reconstruction and sow economic disarray."
Homeless? Jobless? Hey, sorry pal, your President has got more important priorities to worry about, like having phony "conversations" with hand-picked troops in Iraq.

You can read the details of the latest fiasco yourself in the LA Times, but my favorite part is the reaction of Jack Kemp, former Housing and Urban Development secretary under George H.W. Bush:

"Laissez-faire, Darwinian capitalism is not going to work here. Markets do work, but they need the direction of government in situations like this."
Why is that interesting? Because Jack Kemp, beside for being an ex-football quarterback, is one of the most vigorous preachers of the virtues of capitalism to cross the political scene. He is the founder of Empower America, which is part of FreedomWorks, which proudly proclaims on its website "Lower taxes, less government, more freedom," and the most prominent item on their website right now is a push for "Operation Offset," though which they are urging Congress to cut the budget elsewhere in order to fund hurricane relief efforts.

In a way, this whole affair is kind of reverse demonstration of the "Tragedy of the Commons," the idea that the common good is not best served by a series of individuals each making a decision which is to their own individual benefit, as illustrated by this:

"By wiping out whole communities, Katrina created problems that even some Republicans argue cannot be handled by individuals and market mechanisms alone.

"'Where once you had an operating society, now there's nothing -- no firetruck, no school, no grocery store to buy a loaf of bread,' said Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.).

"Such devastation creates a sort of chicken-and-egg problem, Baker said. 'The question is, Who goes first?' If firefighters and police officers return to their communities first, they will have no equipment or food. If car dealers and retailers are the first, they will have no protection."
The White House solution? Yes, you guessed it. Tax breaks.


Why stop here? There's more...

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