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Tuesday, February 28, 2006


 

Bush Quotes of the Day


Both from the ABC News interview. The first (pointed out by WIIIAI much earlier today):
VARGAS: So you don't agree with that report that calls the U.S. "woefully unprepared?"

BUSH: I think the U.S. is better prepared than woefully unprepared.
What is better prepared than "woefully"? Is "tragically" better or worse? I'm not sure.

Then this:

VARGAS: When you look back on those days immediately following when Katrina struck, what moment do you think was the moment that you realized that the government was failing, especially the people of New Orleans?

BUSH: When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help. It looked — the scenes looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our government was -- could have done a better job of comforting people.
You have to read that carefully, because the first sentence of the answer is so amazing it's easy to overlook the second. First, Bush says that he didn't realize the government was failing until he saw it on TV! Perhaps if, while people were drowning on Monday, he hadn't been busy sounding out the big words in his political speech for the next day, or if he hadn't been so absorbed studying guitar chords, he could have actually paid attention to the people who work for him instead of relying on TV.

But you have to keep reading to get to the end of the remark. What is it that Bush realized the government could have done better? Comforting people!!!! Not evacuating them before the storm hit. Not saving them after the storm hit. Comforting them! Perhaps he could have joined in the chorus with his Secretary of State, who showed up in order to advise the people of the Gulf Coast: "The Lord is going to come on time -- if we just wait."

Alas, they're still waiting. For pretty much everything.


 

The U.S. and the U.N. Human Rights Commission


The U.S. has been pushing to "revamp" the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Why? AP puts it this way:
The Geneva-based Human Rights Commission has been attacked for allowing some of the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect one another from condemnation or to criticize others. In recent years, commission members have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.
Did you notice that subtle slander? AP isn't saying those countries are "some of the worst-offending countries," they aren't even exactly saying that others are saying that. But they certainly are leaving a pretty clear impression in the readers' minds that it's just a simple, undisputed fact.

Let's take a look at some of the recent actions of the Human Rights Commission, shall we? The most recent was its denunciation of a torture center in Cuba, only of course as you all know it was the torture center known as Guantanamo in the part of Cuba illegally controlled by the United States. Last July, the Human Rights Commission issued another ruling about Cuba. Surprise, that one too denounced the United States, this time for illegally trying and holding the five Cuban men known as "The Five" who were committing the unpardonable crime of trying to prevent acts of terrorism...against Cuba. Cuba one of the "worst-offending countries"? Let's try the U.S. in that sentence, shall we?

The ironic twist of the current story is that the U.S., which has been pushing to abolish the existing Commission for precisely these reasons, is now opposing the new proposed council because the rules aren't going its way, meaning they won't be able to ensure that the new council won't continue to act independently of U.S. control. Actually the situation is doubly ironic, because one of the new rules for membership, which I presume is one the U.S. supports, is that every member must “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Of course if that rule were actually enforced fairly, it's a certainty that the U.S. wouldn't be eligible for membership, with its continued torture of hundreds of people and its continued denial of rights to thousands held in prisons both around the world and within its own borders.

And, just as a reminder of one of them, we once again mention the case of Gen. Amer al-Saadi, the very first high-ranking Iraqi to surrender voluntarily to the Americans, in April, 2003, and who has been held, largely if not exclusively in solitary confinement since then (facts about prisoners held in U.S. gulags are hard to come by), without charges and with the extensive denial of his basic human rights. Gen. al-Saadi's crime? Telling the truth to U.S. lies. Speaking truth to the power of the country which dares to try to proclaim its phony devotion to "human rights" while doing its best to manipulate the United Nations to subvert those rights. The jailers and torturers of Gen. al-Saadi and thousands more haven't the slightest right to even participate in the discussion of human rights.


 

29% say "Out Now!"


The American public? No, the American troops on the ground in Iraq!!!! A majority, 51%, say "out within six months," and a whopping 72% say "out within a year." And no, they're not talking about themselves (that's probably closer to 100% for "Out Now"), but the entire force. So there you have it. American troops in Iraq are to the left of the Democratic Party, and well to the left of Democratic Party "stalwarts" (and likely Presidential candidates) like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, or leading Democratic Party "liberals" like Nancy Pelosi.

Support the troops? You bet! I support the majority of troops who say "get out."


Monday, February 27, 2006


 

U.S. invasion claims 1300 more victims


Words almost fail: the death toll in Iraq in the last week is more than 1300. That is 1300+ Iraqis. 1300+ human beings. 1300+ people with fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors. 1300+ people experiencing George Bush's "freedom" - the freedom of the grave. No matter who pulled the trigger, or wielded the knife, or lit the fuse, 1300+ more victims of the U.S. invasion. George Bush's invasion. Dick Cheney's invasion. Donald Rumsfeld's invasion. Colin Powell's invasion. Condoleezza Rice's invasion. The Republicans and the Democrats in Congress' invasion. Imperialism's invasion. Imperialism's victims.


 

Peacenik Republicans


George Bush is about to visit the grave of Mahatma Gandhi. You wouldn't know it from the American corporate media, where, as far as I can tell from some Google searching, the impending visit hasn't even been mentioned, but in the Times of India you can read about how a U.S.-based group, Peace Action, has issued this statement:
"Mahatma Gandhi was a man of non-violence and peace and is a hero to people all over the world. As his war-strewn presidency shows, George Bush knows nothing about non-violence. Gandhi would in no way condone his actions. Bush should reconsider this cynical, disrespectful display of symbolism."
Or, in the news agency of Iran (IRNA), you could read about protests that are already going on over the visit:
Offering of flowers on Father of the Nation Mahatama Gandhi's cemetery by a person (Bush) who has become the largest exporter of death and destruction through its expanding defense business would be an "act of defilement."

US President George W Bush's policies were responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people all over the world, said a prominent writer, Arundhati Roy, at a prayer meeting held yesterday at the Rajghat (Mahatama Gandhi's cemetery).
The Hindustan Times informs us that, due to lack of space, Bush won't be planting a tree at the grave site, as his father and other heads have state have done, but instead will be watering his father's tree. Let's hope that's really watering, and not "watering," which would certainly be a more appropriate way for Bush to express his true sentiments about Gandhi.

But why the title of this post? Here's why (from that same article):

Old-timers recall how Eisenhower addressed a huge crowd at Ramlila ground, winning hearts with his peace and friendship message.

They also have not forgotten Nixon and how he hopped out of his car three times to shake hands with the people on Delhi's roads during his 1969 visit.

But, of course, the current president will not be doing that either.
Indeed, far from being allowed to shake hands with regular Indians, like that peacenik Nixon, or even address them, like that other peacenik Eisenhower, Arundhati Roy informs us about the rather different reception awaiting Bush:
For Bush's March 2 pit stop in New Delhi, the Indian government tried very hard to have him address our parliament. A not inconsequential number of MPs threatened to heckle him, so Plan One was hastily shelved. Plan Two was to have Bush address the masses from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, where the Indian prime minister traditionally delivers his Independence Day address. But the Red Fort, surrounded as it is by the predominantly Muslim population of Old Delhi, was considered a security nightmare. So now we're into Plan Three: President George Bush speaks from Purana Qila, the Old Fort.

Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings, who in India go under the category of "eminent persons."
Some might say that a man who is often compared to a chimp belongs in a zoo. As for me, I wouldn't even consider insulting the chimpanzees like that. None of them has ever ordered the deaths of tens of thousands of people.


 

Completely and utterly unfunny political humor of the day


"Although the enemy is increasingly skillful at manipulating the media and using the tools of communications to its advantage, it should be noted that we have an advantage as well. And that is, quite simply, that truth is on our side."

- Donald Rumsfeld
This man wouldn't know the truth if it bit him in the ass. He (and his cohorts in the American government with their millions of P.R. dollars) most definitely are skillful at manipulating the media. Which incluces the Los Angeles Times (where this op-ed originally appeared), the San Jose Mercury News (where I read it this morning), and every other part of the corporate media which is willing to give this complete and utter "Donsense" the time of day. Have you noticed those same media outlets printing anything by, say, Norman Soloman, or interviewing people like Michael Ratner? No, didn't think so. Has Donald Rumsfeld (or his boss) told the truth about anything since the day he entered office? Not that I can recall.


 

Torture "lite" and torture heavy


The transcript isn't up yet (the audio is), but Democracy Now! had some very important segments this morning exposing the nature and extent of U.S. criminal behavior at home and abroad. The first segment deals with the continued existence of the "Total Information Awareness" (a.k.a. "spy on everyone in the world and everything they do") program, and the last is an interview with Maher Arar, but the most powerful segment is the second one, featuring human rights lawyers Clive Stafford Smith and Michael Ratner, who represent many of those who have been held not just in Guantanamo, but in other secret U.S. torture centers in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In a way I'm glad the transcript isn't up yet, because I'd be tempted to quote some of the horrors which took (and are no doubt taking) place.

Smith and Ratner make clear that what is going on is systematic, and can't conceivably be the product of some isolated psycopathic guard dreaming up tortures by him (or her) self. They discuss the unspeakable physical torture (some of which they do speak about), as well as the even more severe psychological torture that some might call torture "lite" but is by no means so (Arar talks about that as well). And, in one interchange, Stafford Smith puts the lie (without explicitly saying so) to the frequent U.S. government claim that "Al Qaeda trains their operatives to make up stories so you can't believe anything they say." He talks about the extreme reluctance of his client to even discuss what had happened to him, until finally he is convinced that, by doing so, he might help prevent it happening to others. If that was all an act and the product of his training, he must have had one hell of an acting coach.

Ratner highlights the section of the judge's ruling in the Arar case that I did. Perhaps even more than I did, he expresses his complete and utter shock and disgust with a judge claiming that, while torture is unconstitutional when applied to conventional crimes, he wasn't prepared to say that it was so when it comes to terrorists (meaning, of course, "accused" or "alleged" terrorists, without even acknowledging that many of those being tortured, like Maher Arar, haven't anything to do with terrorism).

Powerful, scary stuff.

Update: More on the same subject from another lawyer for Guantanamo torturees (I really have to stop using that euphemism "detainees").


 

Arnold Schwarzenegger molests Cindy Sheehan


Verbally, of course. Actually, I'm pretty sure Sheehan, and other family members of Americans killed and maimed in Iraq, are going to feel positively violated by Schwarzenegger's remark on Meet the Press yesterday:
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Iraq war was a mistake?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: No, I think it’s always easy in hindsight to go and say maybe if we wouldn’t have gone in, we wouldn’t have had all this hassle.
Yes, I'm sure that's exactly the word that comes to Sheehan's mind. No, Arnold, "hassle" is when your limo driver can't find a parking place at Spago; "tragedy" is when your family member dies or is maimed (physically or mentally) for life to fill the pockets of the rich.

Actually, it's worth reproducing Schwarzenegger's entire answer to illustrate the "depth" of his understanding of the issue:

No, I think it’s always easy in hindsight to go and say maybe if we wouldn’t have gone in, we wouldn’t have had all this hassle. But I think this is, you know, difficult to do that. I think that we had to go in, there was a threat of terrorism. I think that it was the right thing to do. It’s just now it has mushroomed into something bigger than it was ever intended to, and you know, that is always the problem. And now if it goes in the direction of civil war, how do you just walk out of that mess? So it’s just easier said than done. You know, it’s always easy when you want to attack the president, to go and say, you know, he made a mistake, he shouldn’t have done this, look at the problems we have now, let’s get out, let’s pull out and all this. You can’t just pull out of the situation, you know. So I think it’s a difficult situation to be in. It’s no different than, you know, the Vietnam War or the Korean War, any of those things we’re always in, and you try to get out but you can’t. You know, you’re kind of glued to the situation. So I think the trick is we’ve got to get out as quickly as possible, but also in a sensible way.
Apparently Arnold wasn't paying attention when the Vietnam War ended. The U.S. did get out, but definitely not as quickly as possible, and the only thing the delay accomplished was that tens of thousands more Americans (and hundreds of thousands of more Vietnamese) died needlessly.

"Sensible"? There's only one "sensible" way to get out of Iraq. NOW.


Sunday, February 26, 2006


 

Nature's diversity and grandeur


I'm not a big fan of camera phones and their decidedly inferior photo quality. But, every once in a while, they're all you've got, and a photo op arises you don't want to pass by. Like yesterday, when I was treated to the incredible diversity of nature as I passed through Portola Redwoods State Park (Click on the pictures for larger versions):


Twin redwoods tower into the skyA humble banana slug hugs the ground

And, for those for don't quite have the patience to watch the grass grow, a bonus movie (!) of the banana slug oozing its way along the trail. And no, I'm not a graduate of UCSC nor do I even own one of their T-shirts. I just have a fondness for banana slugs which, amazingly (and, in a way, sadly) enough, were actually my most numerous companion on the trail yesterday.

And, just as a reminder of some of the grandeur that is available just miles from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley (where, I can only conclude, everyone else but me was either spending the day indoors or at the malls):


Big Basin Redwoods State Park


 

"Health care" under capitalism


$161 billion. That's the estimated amount, according to Harper's Index (not online), that the United States would save each year on paperwork if it adopted single-payer health care. And that doesn't even include the amount that would be saved if the payees weren't companies raking in billions in profit.


Saturday, February 25, 2006


 

Angels of mercy


According to George Bush, "in the mountains of Pakistan, they call our Chinook helicopters 'angels of mercy.'" They may well (whoever "they" is; for all we know, "they" is Karen Hughes and Condoleezza Rice). But if Chinook helicopters qualify as "angels of mercy," what must the Pakistanis call the Cuban doctors and other medical personnel?
The white-coated army comprising the Henry Reeve International Contingent, whose vanguard arrived in Pakistan on October 14 last year to give humanitarian aid to the victims of the devastating earthquake six days previously, have attended to 1,043,125 patients, of which 439,894 were treated in [32] field hospitals in the northern mountains of this country.

In the field hospital operating rooms at various points of the Pakistani provinces of NWFP and Kashmir most affected by the quake, orthopedics and surgeons have performed 10,920 important operations, many of them highly complex.
Now those are "angels of mercy."


 

Racist Quote of the Day


"Unless the president or Congress acts, in less than a week operations at U.S. ports will be in the hands of a foreign government.''

- Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Someone should inform Sen. Menendez that "foreigners" doesn't only describe people with different skin tone, and that a British company is just as "foreign" as a UAE company. Unless, of course, you consider the British government a wholly-owned subsidiary of the U.S. government. Which, come to think of it...


Friday, February 24, 2006


 

Cheap oil and cheap shots


Reader Catherine urges me to write about the Congression inquiry into the latest threat to the United States capitalism -- the Venezuelan government's offering cheap(er) oil to poor Americans. Democracy Now! had a segment on it this morning, but I found the original AP article from a week ago even more interesting. It starts by telling us:
The House Energy chairman said Thursday he suspects politics, not charity, is behind the Venezeulan offer to provide cheap heating oil to poor Americans.
Really? Ya' think? And, after all, politics (or charity) are so much more threatening than pure capitalist greed, which is what drives Exxon and the rest of the oil companies.

The best line in the article is this:

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the subcommittee for oversight and investigations...are concerned the oil deals are "part of an unfriendly government's increasingly belligerent and hostile foreign policy toward" the United States.
And what could be more "unfriendly," "belligerent," or "hostile" than offering cheap(er) oil to poor Americans?
"Given President Chavez's clear anti-American sentiments, his current efforts must be viewed with concern that he is attempting to politicize the debate over U.S. energy policy," Barton and Whitfield wrote.
Absolutely. Because if it weren't for Hugo Chavez, there wouldn't be the slightest hint of politics in the debate over U.S. energy policy.

Indeed, the only thing more astonishing than the nonsense (and potentially dangerous nonsense) coming from Barton and Whitfield's mouths is the almost deafening silence on this outrage from any commentators or editorial writers. One of the only comments on this subject (the subject of Venezuelan oil, that is; I couldn't find any on this Congressional "inquiry") I could find was this from the Hartford Courant, who start with this back-handed endorsement of Venezuela's actions:

So long as Congress keeps holding up federal funds for energy assistance to low-income households, Connecticut officials have every right to consider CITGO Petroleum Corp.'s offer of cheap heating oil.
So, if I have this right, they don't have "every right" to consider the offer if Congress provides federal funds for energy assistance? What kind of logic is that? Considering that the average assistance offered by the government when funds are available is less than the price of a single tank of oil, it would seem that 60% discounted oil from Venezuela would be synergistic with federal assistance, and not at all a substitute for it.

And how's this for a curious statement:

The price of CITGO's oil may be discounted, but it does carry an extra political cost. Although Venezuela is already a big supplier of oil to the United States, the leftist Mr. Chavez, a frequent critic of President Bush, is accused of coming up with the low-cost heating oil program to embarrass the White House.
Since when is it the job of anyone except George Bush and Karl Rove and Karen Hughes to be concerned about whether something will "embarrass the White House"? A "political cost" to George Bush is not the same as a political cost to the United States (not that even the latter would justify denying poor Americans any help they can get from any source whatsoever).

The Courant editorial does provide some interesting backstory:

On Capitol Hill, however, Republican senators seem to be doing a good job of embarrassing themselves. With a dozen states in the Northeast and Midwest already out of federal heating assistance (Connecticut is due to run out next month), Congress adjourned for the Presidents' Day recess without replenishing the fund.

The roots for this stalemate go back to December when GOP senators (led by Alaska's Ted Stevens) tried to sneak through a controversial measure allowing drilling for oil and gas in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When the strategy failed, they retaliated against their Northeastern colleagues by stripping away a provision for $2 billion in energy assistance.
$2 billion, by the way, is less than the amount that my one county, Santa Clara County, has already paid to wage war against the people of Iraq. I wonder if Mssrs. Barton and Whitfield are planning an inquiry into that scandal.


 

David vs. Goliath


A few weeks ago I asked this question:
If American (and other) aid to Palestine is contingent on their recognizing the state of Israel, why hasn't American aid to Israel for the past 57 years been contingent on their recognizing a state of Palestine?
On CounterPunch today, Jennifer Loewenstein ponders similar issues, at much greater length in an article that really captures the reality of what's going on. Here's an excerpt from the highly-recommended article:
In addition to the bizarre demand that Hamas accept the two-state solution that Israel has categorically rejected and each day renders even more geographically impossible, another two demands are added to it: Hamas must recognize Israel and it must renounce violence. In other words, it must recognize a state whose policies and whose leaders have worked tirelessly for decades to deny, undo, renounce, prevent and reject the existence both of Palestinians and of Palestine -- not only in the present and future but also through erasing the past. Still, our media take it upon themselves to show the world a circus-mirror reality, grotesque in its distortions, in which a democratically elected government-without-a-state and its trampled, largely destitute people are made out to be holding hostage the hoodlums that are busy stomping them to death.

While they are being stomped, shot, beaten, demolished, assassinated, intimidated, robbed, despoiled, starved, uprooted, dispossessed, harassed, insulted and killed with bullets, missiles, armored bulldozers, tanks, helicopter gun-ships, cluster-bombs, fleshettes, fighter-bombers, semi-automatic submachine guns, sonic booms, tear gas, electrified fences, blockades, closures and walls, they must renounce violence so that the hoodlums won't get hurt.
Harsh? Maybe. So is reality.


 

The U.S. economy


There are two stories side-by-side in the business section of the paper today, both written by AP reporter Martin Crutsinger. The first reports that inflation-adjusted average family incomes fell by 2.3% from 2001 to 2004. That was no surprise to me, or anyone who has been paying attention to the actual, total economic picture, and not just the "booming," "roaring," etc. picture of the "economy" that actually means just corporate bottom line profits. But apparently it was a surprise to AP's reporter, based on one word: "Average incomes after adjusting for inflation actually fell from 2001 to 2004." "Actually"? You're darn right, "actually." Don't act surprised, Mr. Crutsinger.

But, true to form, the adjacent article tells us that "the nation's labor market remains strong." Curiously enough, this article (reflecting, I admit, the universal language of economists) doesn't use the "inflation-adjusted" metric at all, by which I mean the concept of job-inflation-adjusted. The article talks about how "businesses added 193,000 jobs last month, up from a gain of 140,000 in December." But 140,000 is actually a loss of 10,000 "job-inflation-adjusted" (or perhaps "working-age population adjusted" would be a more accurate phrase) jobs, and the 43,000 net jobs added last month is definitely a good thing, but nowhere near as positive sounding (but a lot more accurate in conveying reality) than "193,000" is. It's no wonder that Mr. Crutsinger finds himself surprised by the fall of real incomes.


 

In case you forgot...


Iraq had elections on Dec. 15. More than two months later, they still haven't formed a government.

A hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 28. More than six months later, wreckage still fills many of the streets, and some people still aren't even allowed back to their homes. Which I guess proves that even if you do have a government, it doesn't help if it's a care-less government.

Less than two years after U.S. bombing destroyed thousands of Iraqi schools, hospitals, bridges, mosques, water pumping stations, factories, and other buildings during the 1991 assault on Iraq, 90% of what had been destroyed had been rebuilt. Any guesses as to whether the U.S. will be ahead of or behind that pace two years after Katrina hit?


 

Spinning out of control


The situation in Iraq? That goes without saying. No, I'm referring to the spinning about the spinning out of control, like this:
The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, assured yesterday that the Iraqi security forces could control the situation. "We're not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq," Lynch said at a news briefing in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. "We're not seeing 77, 80, 100 mosques damaged. We're not seeing death in the streets."
Really? A few paragraphs later in the same article, here's just one of the things that happened yesterday:
The bodies of 47 civilians, mostly men between ages 20 and 50, were found in a ditch near Baqubah. Police said the victims - both Sunnis and Shiites - had apparently been stopped by gunmen, hauled from their cars, and shot.
Illustrating the uncertainty of knowledge of what is actually happening, by the way, here's a different version of the same story:
In one case, 47 mostly Sunni workers traveling on a bus were stopped at a checkpoint, dragged out of the vehicle and killed northeast of Baghdad, police said. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found on the side of the road.
Anyway, back to the point of the post, it appears that when Maj. Gen. Lynch says things like "we're not seeing death in the streets," he means that in the same sense that George Bush means "We do not torture": literally. Bush means that he (and maybe Scott McClellan) have not personally tortured anyone, and Maj. Gen. Lynch evidentally means that he and his cohorts safely ensconced in the "heavily fortified Green Zone" haven't personally seen death in the streets. And, thanks to the "sensibilities" of American media, neither have many Americans, who read the numbers ("129 dead in Iraq"), but never see any pictures of dead bodies, even American soldiers hidden inside coffins, to disturb their (our) breakfast.


Thursday, February 23, 2006


 

About that Venezuelan strike...


The other day I wrote with amusement about CondoLIEzza Rice's support for a truck driver's strike in Venezuela. I'm ashamed to say that, in my haste to be amused, I actually assumed she was telling the truth about the existence of such a strike. My bad:
Dozens of Venezuelan transport workers staged a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Caracas Thursday over recent provocative remarks by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

President of Bolivarian Cab Drivers, Yuri Lopez, told journalists that a letter of protest was given to Ambassador William Brownfield and they expect an official statement from the diplomat.

"We expect him (Brownfield) to make a statement on the matter, as he lives in Venezuela and is aware that there has been no strike here. We hold the US government responsible for trying to stage a provocation," he said.


 

Curious George


Is it self-delusion, or just arrogance, that leads George Bush to make statements like this?
"I ask all Iraqis to exercise restraint in the wake of this tragedy, and to pursue justice in accordance with the laws and constitution of Iraq."
Totally aside from the absurdity of George Bush, the butcher of Baghdad and Kabul, asking anyone to refrain from violence in response to a terrorist bombing, does he honestly think there is a single person in Iraq who would take advice from him?

And is it self-delusion, or just being a complete moron, that leads Bush to make a statement like this?

"We must also recognize that India's growth is creating new opportunities for our businesses and farmers and workers...Younger Indians are acquiring a taste for pizzas from Domino's -- (laughter) -- Pizza Hut."
Does he honestly think that people in India buying more pizzas made (I have to presume) from Indian ingredients and prepared and served by Indian workers benefits anyone in the United States aside from the owners of Domino's and Pizza Hut? Oh wait, I forgot, it benefits him, when the owners of Domino's and Pizza Hut give him campaign contributions, or set him up on corporate boards after he leaves office.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006


 

All work and no play etc.


How often does the Tour de France come to your neighborhood? Or, if not the Tour de France, a pretty fair resemblance to it, and if not your neighborhood, then at least your good friend's neighborhood? Stage 2 of the inaugural Tour of California came to San Jose today, and you can watch a video of my day's viewing here (or here; I'm experimenting with different free video hosting services). At times, you may have the impression I speeded up the video; I most definitely did not. That's how fast they go by, even going up a rather steep hill.

Here are a couple stills taken by my friend. The one on top shows the first steep pitch of this hill, which rises just under 2000 feet in 3.6 miles, with an average grade of 10%. I was standing about halfway up this pitch on the left. The one on the bottom shows the view looking higher up the road, about (I think) a third of the way up the entire climb.



In 1991 (yes, that was a long time ago) I raced a time trial up this road, one of the handful of bike races I've done in my life. It took me 30:36 (enough for a solid 9th place out of 11 in my category; I clearly didn't have what it takes to be a bike racer). It appears the winners today did the climb in about 15 minutes. Of course that was after having already ridden 80 or so hilly miles.

All in all, a great treat for the thousands of people from San Jose and environs who lined the course.

Update: I found a missing (and rather crucial, considering it was the leaders) video clip and added it to the movie, which is now updated.


 

The "memogate" lie that will not die


A reader calls my attention to this Knight-Ridder article of a few days ago. The article is about the relationship of the White House and the media, and in the middle, author Steven Thomma just casually throws a reference to: "CBS's Dan Rather using forged documents to blast Bush."

The assertion that Dan Rather was using "forged documents" is one of those lies that will not die. The fact is that CBS was unable to prove the authenticity of the documents; that is far from proof that they were forged (not to mention that the content of the memos was not only never seriously challenged, but indeed corroborated by other evidence).

In a way, though, even more dangerous than the lie that CBS was using forged documents is the notion that Dan Rather was using them to "blast Bush." Dan Rather was a journalist (not my favorite by a long shot), doing his job by reporting the news. The fact that that news was potentially damaging to George Bush is the consequence of the content of the story, not of Dan Rather's alleged (and non-existent, in my view) animosity, and this kind of "shoot the messenger" attitude coming not from George Bush or his cohorts, but from a Knight-Ridder reporter, is truly repugnant.


Monday, February 20, 2006


 

Torture 1, Any semblance of human rights 0


When last we heard (sort of) about Maher Arar, it was back in January and Scott McClellan was claiming that he had never heard of anyone being "rendered" to Syria to be tortured, and that, if anyone was publicizing such an unlikely event, it could only be bloggers.

Well, I'm sure McClellan will be happy to talk about the subject now, now that a judge has dismissed Arar's suit against various officials in the U.S. government. And a frightening decision (pdf link) it is. I'm no lawyer, and there's plenty of legal mumbo-jumbo and standing issues I'm not even remotely qualified to comment on. But there's plenty in it that's quite simple to understand, and to appreciate the consequences of. Let's start with this from page 71:

This case raises crucial national-security and foreign policy considerations, implicating "the complicated multilateral negotiations concerning efforts to halt international terrorism." The propriety of these considerations, including supposed agreements between the United States and foreign governments regarding intelligence-gathering in the context of the efforts to combat terrorism, are most appropriately reserved to the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Moreover, the need for much secrecy can hardly be doubted. One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar's removal to Syria. More generally, governments that do not wish to acknowledge publicly that they are assisting us would certainly hesitate to do so if our judicial discovery process could compromise them.
Notice how cleverly the focus is shifted from the result (the torture) to "process." The "negative effect on our relations with Canada," in the opinion of this judge, wouldn't be the result of the actions of the U.S. and Canadian governments, they would be the result of this lawsuit! Talk about blaming the victim! A government which is acquiescing in the U.S. torture (direct or "rendered") of suspected terrorists (or anyone else; there's no reason this argument should be limited to terrorists) is "assisting" the U.S. government and might "hestitate" to do so. And that's a bad thing why exactly?

This is also quite frightening (p. 73):

Third, with respect to these coordinate branch concerns, there is a fundamental difference between courts evaluating the legitimacy of actions taken by federal officials in the domestic arena and evaluating the same conduct when taken in the international realm. In the former situation, as in Elmaghraby v. Ashcroft, No. 04-cv-1409, 2005 WL 2375202 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2005), judges have not only the authority vested under the Constitution to evaluate the decision-making of government officials that goes on in the domestic context, whether it be a civil or a criminal matter, but also the experience derived from living in a free and democratic society, which permits them to make sound judgments. In the international realm, however, most, if not all, judges have neither the experience nor the background to adequately and competently define and adjudge the rights of an individual vis-à-vis the needs of officials acting to defend the sovereign interests of the United States, especially in circumstances involving countries that do not accept our nation's values or may be assisting those out to destroy us.

The ability to define the line between appropriate and inappropriate conduct, in those areas, is not, as stated earlier, one in which judges possess any special competence.
How much "special competence" do you need to understand that torture is not acceptable, under either conventional morality or international law?!!!! And, just so we're all clear on this, as far as I can tell from reading the ruling, this isn't a case like Guantanamo where the U.S. government is quibbling over the definition of torture and claiming that no torture occured. The judge here, bolstered by numerous State Department reports on Syria, appears to accept the claim that torture occured in this case, and, despite that, still claims that judges just don't have the "special competence" to rule on such a case.

As I said (and you already knew), I'm no lawyer, and there are various jurisdictional issues raised in this case (Arar is a Canadian citizen, and was just passing through Kennedy Airport on a connecting flight back to Canada; he wasn't even officially "in" the United States), but again, my reading of what the judge has to say in this case says there is no reason to believe he wouldn't have ruled exactly the same way had Arar been an American citizen who had spent his whole life living in Topeka.

The policies of the United States government are frightening enough. This decision, in the opinion of this non-lawyer, is even more so, in giving the "full-speed ahead" signal for more of the same.

Here's a crazy idea. How about the United Nations taking up this case of a rogue nation and referring them for action and censure? Because it's clear the U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress won't be doing anything to stop this outlaw behavior.

Update: I highlighted it, but there was so much to write it didn't even sink in. Read that last highlighted bit again: "...especially in circumstances involving countries that do not accept our nation's values or may be assisting those out to destroy us." While this judge may claim no "special competence," he doesn't hesitate here to endorse the entire nonsensical claim that al Qaeda "doesn't accept our nation's values," as if that has anything to do with the attacks of 9/11 (unless you consider imperialism as part of "our nation's values," which, come to think of it...), and also the absurd idea that al Qaeda is "out to destroy us," which is even more absurd than the first claim. Implicit in all this is the acceptance of yet another absurdity, that somehow the danger to the United States from al Qaeda is qualitatively different and even quantitatively greater than the danger that was posed by Japan in WWII or by the Soviet Union and its nuclear weapons during the Cold War (not that either of them had the slightest intention of "destroying us" either, by the way).


 

Condi: Support the right to strike...in Venezuela


Something I missed in CondoLIEzza's remarks the other day, but presented here with a hat tip to Democratic Left Infoasis, originally from Justin Delacour at Latin America News Review:
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has just urged international labor unions to back a truck drivers' strike in Venezuela. Since when have Republicans become champions of the right to strike? Hmmm, the last time I recall a Republican administration backing a truck drivers' strike was in 1972... against Chile's Allende government. I guess their playbook hasn't changed much.


 

Hunting endangered species


Oops, that title isn't right. It should read: Hunters? Endangered species? Yes, believe it or not, just a day after I aired my anti-hunting thoughts, there was actually a segment on CNN Headline News which had the audacity to use the phrase "endangered species" as a description of American hunters. The CNN piece isn't online, as far as I can tell, but some Googling brought up this recent article, taking more or less the same line, but about completely different people, suggesting that this is some sort of meme that is going around. Yes, it seems that the number of hunters is declining, and they're not only worried about it, they're taking action.

In both pieces, we learn of the active "prosleytizing" that is going on to recruit young children (including an 11-year-old girl in the CNN piece) to this delightful "sport." The linked article describes the efforts they're going to to turn these children into murderers of turkeys:

And when he finds these three over the next three weeks, Heil and the rest of the Rogue Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation [Ed. note: sounds a lot better than the "Legalized Turkey Murderers," doesn't it?] are prepared to give them a big taste of turkey hunting complete with all the trimmings.

They will get a free guided hunt during the inaugural spring youth turkey hunt set for April 8-9 statewide. They will get free camouflage from head to toe, a turkey call and even lunch in the field for them and an accompanying parent. And if they bag a bird, they will get a free turkey-fan mount. "We’ll even loan them a shotgun, if they need one," Heil says.
Now as it happens I see wild turkeys quite regularly on my runs. Just last weekend I saw one rafter, and about a year ago I wrote this post, complete with a picture of these magnificant animals (in this case, one I didn't take personally, but one I could have, had I had a camera with me). Now I'm no hunter, and I know that in areas where hunting is legal, at least some animals become much more leery of humans than they are in areas where it is not. But every time I pass wild turkeys, it pretty much seems (I know it isn't actually true) that I could capture one by hand, they're so big and slow moving. They can actually move pretty fast, but they're still rather large; I have to believe shooting one would be like hitting the side of a barn. Great "sport."

In the CNN piece, a family who had been out hunting for deer is shown at the end of the piece, eating venison. So they were killing for food, right? Not exactly. Here's what the 11-year-old girl had to say when the reporter asked her what she liked about hunting: "I like it when the deer goes down." Lovely. Just lovely. No doubt she'll be voting for Jeb Bush, or Joe Biden, or John McCain, or John Kerry, or some other proponent of imperialist murder, when she grows up, thinking that Americans have the "right" to kill Iranians or Syrians or Venezuelans just like she has the "right" to shoot deer.

In the article, here's what one of the hunters has to say: "We need to reach out to the youngsters and show them how much fun it is being out there." Yeah, lots of fun, killing things. Want to have fun in nature? Go for a hike. A run. Birdwatching. Mountain biking. A picnic. There are plenty of ways to have fun "out there" without killing things gratuitously, and the fact that they eat what they killed doesn't alter the real reason why most people are out there.

Another hunter has this to say: "But think about what that says about the local community, where people go that far to help a kid have a unique and interesting experience." Yeah, just think. Why, in a few years, they can have another "unique and interesting experience" in Fallujah. Or Caracas. Or Tehran. Or someplace else Uncle Sam has sent them to kill and be killed.


 

Things I don't understand


Israel will stop turning over $50 million/month in customs and tax revenue that it collects for the Palestinian Authority. Why is Israel collecting this money in the first place? If you owe customs or tax to the Palestinian Authority, shouldn't you be paying it to them?

The U.S. government is "balking" at "easing Bolivia's 30,000-acre limit on legal production of coca." How does Washington get to set the limit on legal production of coca in Bolivia?

Oh, and, of course, the scoring system in Olympic skating. Just kidding. That actually makes sense to me.


 

Iran's nuclear power


When I've written in the recent past about Iran, I haven't had the slightest hesitation to say that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power or nuclear weapons. But I admit I didn't fully understand why they were so keen on nuclear power. This article is extremely enlightening on that point. Here's a sentence which describes what I probably thought of as their main motive: "Iranians view the development of nuclear energy as a hallmark of modernization and national pride." But the truth is, there are more concrete reasons as well:
Iranians point out that nuclear energy makes profound economic sense for their nation. The nuclear energy program aims to use the nation's own uranium resources.

More important, nuclear energy development would allow Iran to husband its natural gas resources that are currently being exhausted for electricity generation, but that could much more profitably be exported to growing industrial markets such as China and India.
And, don't you know it, the self-interest of the United States plays a role too. Not now, of course, but historically:
Indeed, the United States supported Iran's switching over to nuclear energy under our ally Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in good part so that Iran's oil and natural gas would be preserved.

Iranians, annoyed that that history is being ignored, correctly note that "nuclear technology transfer" was encouraged by both American government and American industry in the 1970s. President Gerald Ford offered Iran a full nuclear fuel cycle in 1976, and American nuclear plant manufacturers touted their wares at exhibitions and trade fares in Tehran.
Although it isn't as much of a mystery to anyone who understands the concepts of "national sovereignty," the article also sheds light on why Iran would not be amenable to allowing nuclear enrichment programs to be based in another country (Russia):
One of the reasons for this failure was the flawed partnership between the shah's government and the West. European and American industry was happy to cooperate with Iran in industrialization schemes, but these programs never provided Iran with the capacity for basic manufacturing [Ed. note: this is of course, no accident, but the essence of imperialism]. Industrial operations were largely turnkey assembly facilities designed to supply goods for internal Iranian consumption, with no possibility for export.

For this reason, Tehran's leaders began working with the Soviet Union and Japan in the 1970s to develop the basic industries they felt Iran needed to be a successful state. They developed a steel mill with the Soviet Union in Isfahan at enormous public cost and a petroleum refinery with Mitsui.

That history helps explain why Tehran is resisting a plan, suggested by Britain, Germany and France, that would allow Iran to have nuclear plants if Russia conducts the process to provide the enriched uranium to run the reactors and then repossesses the spent fuel rods.

That would alleviate outside fears that Iran would misuse its energy program to create nuclear weapons, but it smacks of the neo-colonial "assembly industry" so despised by the revolutionary forces in 1978-79.
On a lighter note, I did love this closing remark, intended by the author to express his disapproval of attacking Iran:
Iranians have a keen sense of honor, gheirat, and when national honor and pride are attacked, particularly when they believe the attack is unjustified, an explosive, angry reaction is culturally required.
Yes, and I'm sure if another country bombed American nuclear facilities, or, say, flew planes into large buildings, our lack of "gheirat" would cause us to have a non-explosive, calm reaction. Uh-huh.


Saturday, February 18, 2006


 

Iraq by the numbers


Putting some numbers to Condi's lies, this tonight from ABC News: before the U.S. invasion, 13 million Iraqis had access to clean drinking water. Today, the figure is 8 million -- a 40 percent drop.

But for really dramatic numbers there's the figure for the numbers of hours per day that electricity is available to Baghdad residents. Before the invasion - 18 hours. Now? Four hours. Four hours a day of electricity. And something else has changed too. Not too long ago, Baghdad residents could make up for that shortfall with their own generators, powered by cheap fuel. No more:

When fuel was still cheaper than water, before the government cut subsidies in December, Shamari made up for the lack of power with a gas-powered generator. But with the price of fuel now three to five times what it was just three months ago, that's no longer an option.
And you have to love how they try to blame the victims:
It's a key factor in Iraq's electricity problem, says [Dawn Liberi, head of the Iraq office of the USAID]. Under Saddam Hussein most people received electricity as a virtual state gift, paying symbolic prices that were out of touch with international rates. After Mr. Hussein, she says, Iraq has yet to adjust, with most people still paying very little. As a result, Iraqis have little incentive to conserve.
Yeah, those damn Iraqis. Their electricity use per capita is undoubtedly a tiny fraction of the use in the United States, but we're going to blame them for not conserving power. Not to mention blaming them for having had a semi-socialist system where the state actually provided basic needs for its citizens. Yeah, we can't have that. Get the natives used to the "amenities" in life and who knows what they'll demand next?


 

Cheney's prey


I flushed a covey of Dick Cheney's prey today. No, not a gaggle of Harry Whittingtons. This magnificent creature, flushed into the open with a dozen or so companions by the sound of my footsteps:


[Full disclosure: this picture is actually a Gambel's Quail I photographed last May in Tucson, not a California Quail I saw today]

And all I could think about was this: anyone who could point a gun at one of these beautiful birds and pull the trigger and kill it for anything other than subsistence is a sick individual. And, call me prejudiced or guilty of stereotyping, but I'm going to go out on what I consider a very small limb, with neither statistical nor even anecdotal evidence, and say that there is a strong correlation between someone who could kill (let's dispense with euphemisms like "bag," shall we?) a quail and someone who could either point their gun at another human being and pull the trigger, or order others to do so (or order others to drop bombs on those other human beings). Particularly, of course, when those other human beings are not part of the same social milieu, or even better living in another country like Serbia or Afghanistan or Iraq.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint. I'm not a vegetarian (though I'm sure I eat a lot less meat than the average American), and I've eaten my share of meals at fast-food restaurants which buy and serve dead animals that were raised under atrocious conditions. So you can call me hypocritical if you like. But I'm not talking here about food, I'm talking about something which is passed off as "sport." And whatever your stance on killing animals, or having someone else kill them, for food, killing them for "sport" is simply sick.

As an aside, one of my favorite scenes in Madagascar is when the protagonists are running through the jungle, and a variety of cute little animals (a duckling comes to mind) meet their fate at the hands (or claws and teeth) of various predators. Nature can be, from an anthropomorphic point of view, cruel. But that doesn't mean that gratuitously adding to the carnage is somehow part of the natural scheme of things. It isn't. What it is, is sick. And not at all unrelated to the disrespect for life which characterizes American foreign (and domestic) policy.


Friday, February 17, 2006


 

CondoLIEzza


This isn't "spinning" or "misstating." This is lying (and hoping you don't get called on it):
Ms Rice initially asserted that “many more Iraqis” were now getting potable water and sewerage services. However, under intense questioning from Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, she conceded that although “capacity” had increased, fewer Iraqis were actually receiving those services.
And frankly, even without knowing any of the facts, I'm skeptical of that "capacity" claim. I suppose it depends on the definition of "capacity." CondoLIEzza Rice has the "capacity" to tell the truth. She just doesn't exercise it.


 

Stop the Threats Against Venezuela and Cuba!


Yesterday (hat tip to WIIIAI), CondoLIEzza Rice was testifying in Congress, stepping up U.S. threats against Cuba and especially Venezuela ("especially" not because Washington considers Venezuela a greater threat to its interests, but because they consider Venezuela more vulnerable). She called them "sidekicks" of Iran (whatever that means) and, as she has before, a "danger" to the region. Her concept of "danger" is rather curious. She accused Venezuela of "attempting to influence neighbors away from democratic processes." And her "evidence"? Alleged involvement in "political upheavals in Nicaragua, where the pro-U.S. President Enrique Bolanos barely survived a possible impeachment." That's funny, I thought impeachment was part of the democratic process. She also described the trial of Sumate as a "disgrace" and a "kangaroo trial," which is rich coming from the Secretary of State of a country which believes in holding hundreds of people prisoner for years without any trial at all.

Coincidentally, also yesterday a broad section of the U.S. left issued a call for a national demonstration in Washington, D.C. on April 8 to protest U.S. policy on Venezuela and Cuba. Whether you can be there or not, this call for a demonstration should awaken all of us to the fact that the U.S. threats against Venezuela and Cuba are no mere bluster. Unlike the situation in Iran, where the liklihood of a U.S. or Israeli attack (not invasion) is very real, but their liklihood of fostering internal opposition in practically nil, in Venezuela (and, I note, Bolivia as well, although the U.S. is still working the "quiet angle" there) there are very definitely government opponents (like Sumate) who are active and not to be underestimated, even if at present their ability to muster electoral challenges to Chavez is limited. Anyone who supports the right of countries to self-determination, to determine their own path in the world free of U.S. meddling (and worse), has to take the words of the U.S. administration seriously.


Thursday, February 16, 2006


 

Fuck Dick Cheney


I'm not given to profanity on this blog; I don't usually consider it part of intelligent discourse. But this morning I woke up to newspaper articles talking about "an obviously shaken Vice President Dick Cheney" (what they really mean is "a seemingly shaken Cheney; for all we know he's been practicing his tearful act for three days to get it believable), and Cheney himself talking about how it was "one of the worst days of my life."

And then tonight I watched BBC World news (not online), profiling some of the thousands of Americans (and, presumably, some Britons and others as well) who have returned home from the war brain damaged, trying to learn to do simple tasks again. And (with a hat tip to dKOS), I read this report from Knight-Ridder columnist Joseph Galloway, who notes that, over and above the 2,270 Americans who have been killed in Iraq [he means official members of the U.S. military; several hundred more "Americans" have been killed], nearly 1,000 spouses have also been left behind, alone, and more than 2,000 children have lost a parent to the war [those are numbers for American spouses and American children; the number of Iraqi spouses and children who have lost their loved ones is probably two orders of magnitude greater]. And he concludes with this, echoing the BBC report:

Nor can you repair or replace what has been lost by hundreds of soldiers severely injured by powerful IED blasts and left double or triple amputees, blind or brain damaged, riddled by shrapnel. For them, and those who love them, life suddenly has become an unending struggle.
And all I can say is, fuck Dick Cheney and his alleged mental trauma. Dick Cheney, the man who probably more than any single person is responsible for the very real trauma, physical and mental, of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Americans. Fuck Dick Cheney.

Update: And now I have to add -- likewise for George Bush, who spoke today about Cheney's "deeply traumatic moment" and had the nerve to say this:

"The Vice President was involved in a terrible accident and it profoundly affected him. Yesterday when he was here in the Oval Office I saw the deep concern he had about a person who he wounded."
This from a man, and about a man, neither of whom has shown the slightest concern for the people they have sent to their deaths in Iraq, and about a man whose "concern" for the people drowning in New Orleans was so great that he remained on vacation for days while they continued drowning and suffering for lack of outside help.


 

Completely repulsive, quasi-genocidal quote of the day


"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger."

- Israeli Prime Ministerial adviser Dov Weisglass
Weinglass' concept is very much akin to the American government's idea of torture, i.e., actions which are the equivalent of organ failure or which cause "significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years." Anything less, according to the U.S. government, is perfectly acceptable treatment and not torture.

And now the Israeli government (and, we may add, the U.S. government as well) publicly espouses the equivalent treatment of the Palestinian people (not that this is anything new). And, as I write this, although this quote appears in more than 1000 news sources, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN are not among them.

Just in passing, I note that it is undeniable that tens of thousands of Palestinian children (not to mention adults) are suffering "significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years." Which, even according to John "Torture" Yoo, amounts to torture.


 

Press Quote of the Day


More like this, please (from a Scott McClellan press conference):
"Vice President Cheney talked yesterday about the trauma of seeing his friend fall to the ground when he shot him, and I was wondering whether this has caused Mr. Cheney to reflect on the kind of trauma that's experienced daily by the men and women in the military who have to shoot people?"
Of course McClellan didn't answer the question. And yes, a question about the trauma experienced daily by the Iraqis who are being shot and bombed and seeing their relatives die would also be in order, but this was still a good start.


 

Two recommendations, plus a bonus quote


I've been, and will be, busy, so just two strongly recommended articles by two of my favorite journalists :

Jeremy Scahill analyzes CNN's concept that the Abu Ghraib scandal consists of the pictures and not of the torture.

Norman Solomon discusses the content-free nature of the phrase "taking responsibility."

And finally, one quote from one of my favorite bloggers, Whatever It Is etc., on a subject I've discussed many times but which really crystallizes one aspect of what it's all about:

[Bush] keeps talking about people making their health care decisions themselves, but of course what he’s advocating is having them make their health care decisions on financial rather than medical grounds.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006


 

It takes a village


The Washington Post reports that the "National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them," after removal of duplicates, misspellings, and aliases, they estimate the real number of people is 200,000.

Let's put that in perspective, shall we? The U.S. State Department lists dozens of groups as "terrorist groups." If you add up the State Department's "estimated strength" for all those groups combined, you come up with a number of 150,000. Almost in the right ballpark, if you believe that the National Counterterrorism Center has the name of every single one of the 10,000 members of the Tamil Tigers, the name of every single one of the 12,000 members of FARC, the name of every single one of the 31,000 members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and so on. Seems rather doubtful to me. But actually, those groups I just mentioned are not even claimed to be involved with international terrorism, even by the U.S. government (and even some of those designations are dubious in the extreme, e.g., FARC is listed as an "international terrorist" group, which is preposterous). Totalling up the number of people in those groups (Al Qaeda, etc.) the number is in the thousands only. Which means there are one hell of a lot of people in that "aiding" category, a veritable village.

Although it is alleged that "only a very, very small fraction" are U.S. citizens, and that "the vast majority are non-U.S. persons and do not live in the U.S.," I think we can safely guess that the list is padded with the name of every Muslim non-citizen, and a lot of citizens as well, living in the United States, and definitely every single one who has ever voiced support for the Palestinian cause, which we all know is tantamount to "aiding" terrorists.

Interestingly enough, if you add up the total number of incidents of "international terrorism" which occured in the 22 years from 1982 to 2003, you get 9500, an average of 431 per year. That's 464 "international terrorists" and supporters it takes to pull off one act of terrorism each year. Or one heck of a lot of inactive "terrorists." Or one heck of a lot of bogus names on that list. My money's on the latter.


 

Oh, is that all?


From The Independent:
Today, The Independent publishes detailed analysis of how Tony Blair manipulated the serious threat of terrorism facing Britain to suit the Government's political agenda. It argues the Prime Minister has repeatedly misrepresented security intelligence to the British people, pandered to the right-wing media, and scuppered a golden opportunity to achieve a cross-party consensus on terrorism in the wake of the London bombings of 7 July.
Some of the specifics:The Independent doesn't explore the role of the media as the enabler of these lies, by reporting government allegations as fact, as demonstrated here yet again just a few days ago.


 

The "fully involved" President


"I reject outright the suggestion that President Bush was anything less than fully involved."

- White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend
Really? Let's review, shall we?
It was George Bush who, after the hurricane had already smashed into the Gulf Coast on Monday and hundreds lay dead in Mississippi and Louisiana [and at a time when it was already reported that levees had broken and New Orleans was flooding], delivered an 85-paragraph speech on Medicare and managed to devote just two paragraphs of that speech to Katrina. Instead of spending his time planning for disaster relief before the storm hit, he was out giving political speeches, and graciously informing the citizens of New Orleans that he would pray for you. Astonishingly, he even disclosed in that speech that he had just spoken with Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security...about immigration!

It was George Bush who, on Tuesday, [a full day] after the levees had breached and New Orleans was being submerged, found time to travel to San Diego and deliver a 91-paragraph speech, yet another political exercise making a preposterous analogy between the so-called war on terror and the World War II fight against Japan. He managed this time, while 90% of New Orleans was already under water, to squeeze in a grand total of two paragraphs to discussing Katrina. At that very time, another President, the President of Cuba, was sufficiently aware of the disaster in the Gulf that he had contacted the U.S. State Department and offered to send on a moment's notice 1100 fully self-sufficient doctors, carrying not only medicines but even their own food and water. Our President...spent time playing with his spiffy new guitar with a Presidential seal.
"Fully involved"? There was one President who was "fully involved." You decide which one.


Monday, February 13, 2006


 

Democracy watch


This is hardly surprising, and barely news, but you just have to love how openly they discuss their contempt for democracy:
The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.
Incidentally, this "scoop" by the New York Times is no accident. "Leaks" like this aren't about the future, they are about the present, and are intended to pressure Hamas to "behave" (e.g., by making concessions to Israel).


 

Iran: Knight-Ridder bangs the war drums


Knight-Ridder newspapers are out with a major article on Iranian nuclear activities; it's splashed all over page 3A of today's San Jose Mercury News, complete with ominous maps showing the alleged range of Iran's Shahab missiles (being sure to note that "American troops in the region" are at risk, naturally without asking the question of what those troops are doing there in the first place), ominous "Colin Powell at the U.N."-style aerial photos showing alleged underground buildings (quite a trick in an aerial photo) and alleged "dummy buildings covering the entrance to an underground truck road" (again, quite a deduction from an aerial photo). Here's the article's lead sentence:
Tehran's insistence on enriching uranium could destabilize a volatile region, wreak havoc on energy markets and bring nuclear weapons to an Islamic theocracy.
Throughout the article, which is more than a thousand words long, there is not one word to indicate that enriched uranium is used in nuclear power plants; it is simply assumed that "Tehran's insistence on enriching uranium" is due to an intent to build a bomb. Iran's denial that it has any such intent? Never mentioned in the article.

And the "options" which the article lays out for the "international community" to "deal" with Iraq? Sanctions, "beef up treaty" ("significantly increase the diplomatic costs of Iraq ever deploying nuclear weapons," whatever that means), "strengthen regional defenses," "bypass the Persian Gulf" (meaning take Saudi Arabian oil by a different route), and military strikes. There are five options, some of them peaceful, so why did I title this post "Knight-Ridder bangs the war drums"? Because the entire thrust of this article is to convince the American people that there is a "problem" that "we" have to "deal with." Which, in the end, is quite likely to mean war of some kind, a war which articles like this will have pre-conditioned the American people to accept and support.

I mentioned that there is no clue in this article that enriched uranium is used in nuclear power plants and not just in nuclear bombs. There's another subject missing from the article, and if anything it's even more astonishing than that. The word "Israel" does not appear in this article. How bizarre is that? Here's one quote from the article: "Arab states also will have to worry that Iran's possession of nuclear weapons will embolden Tehran to revert to a more aggressive foreign policy." Arab states? Not Israel? A map accompanying the article showing "a nuclear world" even includes this curiously circumspect description: "Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing nuclear weapons. United States intelligence reports have labelled Israel as a de facto nuclear power for years." An uneducated reader would clearly be left thinking this was still an open question. After all, we all know "United States intelligence reports" were wrong about Iraqi WMD, clearly, they might be wrong about this too. And, by the way, what the heck is a "de facto" nuclear power? What other kind is there? [Elsewhere in another sidebar describing "the role of the IAEA," the reader does learn than Israel is "estimated to own 200 nuclear warheads," but it's curious this information doesn't appear on the map's label of Israel itself]

The curious (and absolutely intentional) omission of Israel from the article has an obvious effect on the central conclusion of the article. The author claims that Iran's "enriching uranium" (by which he means build nuclear weapons, as I've already discussed) "could destabilize a volatile region," but, had he noted that Israel is the sole nuclear power in the region, it could just as easily be argued that an Iranian nuclear bomb would stabilize the region by putting limits on Israel's ability to act unilaterally in using nuclear weapons, as it has threatened to do.


Saturday, February 11, 2006


 

A riddle


What do Susan Sarandon, Isabel Allende, and Wangari Maathai have in common? Answer: they are all progressive activists who carried in the Olympic flag in last night's opening ceremonies. Evidently there are some things that happen in the world over which George Bush has no control. Not to mention Yoko Ono preaching peace and Peter Gabriel butchering singing John Lennon's "Imagine."

Meanwhile, back at NBC, I got the impression that anchor Brian Williams had been parachuted into town to make sure reasonably progressive host Bob Costas didn't say anything unacceptable. As delegations marched in, Williams didn't miss a chance to remind viewers of which countries were providing troops in the "war on terror," as if that had the slightest relevance to what was going on. When Sarandon appeared on screen, he mentioned that she was an "activist," but curiously omitted her connection to the war as a well-known opponent and someone who has spoken at many antiwar rallies. And, as the ceremony neared its end, Williams noted that the Italian government was no doubt proud of their achievement, curiously (but not surprisingly) omitting the presumed pride of the Italian people in hosting the games. Perhaps if he had acknowledged the existence of the Italian people, he might have also had to note their overwhelming opposition to the war that he so frequently mentioned. Of course I'm kidding; there's no way on earth he would have mentioned that under any circumstances.


Friday, February 10, 2006


 

More care-less-ness


I criticized George Bush for barely mentioning Hurricane Katrina and its victims and aftermath in his State of the Union address, but watching the tenacious Anderson Cooper on CNN today, a reporter who has grabbed hold of this story and won't let go, I realized that perhaps I didn't express enough outrage. And I also realized, having just written another post on the subject of Katrina, it wasn't carelessness that led Bush to give Katrina victims such short shrift in the State of the Union. It was more care-less-ness. Care-less-ness that was on display before, during, and immediatley after the storm itself, and care-less-ness that is on display in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast every day, more than five months later.


 

Global warming, real and imaginary


I've taken on Michael Crichton on multiple occasions, but, thanks to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, I can't resist one more (with a hat tip to Stephen Colbert). It seems that the AAPG has awarded its annual (who knew?) journalism award to Crichton for his global warming denial novel, "State of Fear." You just have to love what the AAPG has to say about the book: "'It is fiction,' conceded Larry Nation, communications director for the association. 'But it has the absolute ring of truth.'" Well, that's certainly what I look for in journalism; the "ring" of truth.

The AAPG should check out the writings of conspiracy blogger Xymphora. Everything Xymphora writes has the "ring of truth" about it too. And, who knows, 10% of it is probably actually true. Which is most likely a higher percentage than Michael Crichton's got going for him.

So much for the "imaginary" part of this post. As for the "real" part, I just got back from a run. It's February 10, I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it was 70 degrees. Some of the cherry trees* have been blooming so long their blossoms are starting to fall. No, I don't really think this is proof of global warming, or even evidence of it. But it sure was a lovely bit of local warmth.


*Full disclosure: my botanical ID skills are non-existent. They may actually be some other species.


Thursday, February 09, 2006


 

Credibility


Without exception in any media I've been listening to today, the story of what George Bush said today goes like this: "George Bush disclosed today new details of a terrorist plot aimed at the tallest building in Los Angeles." Why do they do that? George Bush and his administration have no credibility whatsoever. This is the administration which claimed there were WMD in Iraq. This is the administration which says that the people locked up in Guantanamo are all members of al Qaeda and the "worst of the worst," when a recent report reveals that only 8% of them were actually al Qaeda (and I suspect even that number utilizes a loose interpretation). This is an administration which has repeatedly lied to the American people and the world about all sorts of things. And yet, when George Bush says something like he did today, rather than reporting it accurately as "George Bush alleged today that an alleged terrorist plot to blow up a building in Los Angeles had been disrupted," they report it as I described above. If anyone was throwing around those "allegeds," it wasn't on any news I was listening to or watching.

If this plot was so concrete, as Bush alleges, and all of its intended participants were arrested, also as Bush alleges, why is it they haven't been put on trial? People were certainly tried and convicted after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But not, as far as I know, in this case. If Bush is telling the truth, why weren't they?

Update: More on this from Holden at First Draft, with focus on the press briefing specifically on the subject held yesterday. By the way, Holden and some other bloggers (and some reporter at the press "gaggle") are all verklempt about the idea that blowing a cockpit door with a shoe bomb doesn't make sense; the reporter claims "you either blow off your feet or you blow off the front of the airplane." But that's just silly. No one says you have to leave your shoes on when you ignite a shoe bomb, so there's no reason to "blow off your feet," and there's also no reason you can't make a charge weak enough to just blow a door and not blow up a plane. But the whole issue is a red herring, which is why I really think bloggers shouldn't dwell on it. The precise details of the alleged plot are completely beside the point. Anyway, read what Holden reports on.


 

The care-less administration


The New York Times is out with the news that the White House knew on the evening of Monday, August 29, that there had been a major levee breech in New Orleans and that parts of the city were flooding. Here's the timeline they present:
  1. Monday morning: FEMA official learns of levee breech
  2. Late Monday afternoon (No need to hurry!): FEMA official manages to get a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter to confirm the levee breech and the flooding
  3. 9:27 p.m. Monday night (again, wouldn't want to rush these things!), surely significantly after that helicopter ride, FEMA official in Washington, who had been called by the FEMA official in New Orleans after his helicopter ride, manages to send an email (an email!) to the Department of Homeland Security
  4. Midnight (according to the White House): information arrives at the White House
And in response?
Mr. Duffy, the White House spokesman, said it would not have made much difference even if the White House had realized the significance of the midnight report. "Like it or not, you cannot fix a levee overnight, or in an hour, or even six hours," he said.
Well, no doubt that's true. But you can start reacting to the event by throwing all possible resources into the rescue efforts.

Here are two things that illustrate that point that I've mentioned many times before, that somehow got left out of the Times article:

  1. 12:45 p.m. Tuesday: Cuba contacts the U.S. State Department, informing them that Cuban President Fidel Castro has already assembled a team of 1100 disaster-trained Cuban doctors, complete with supplies, ready to fly immediately to the Gulf Coast to begin saving lives.
  2. Tuesday, starting at 12:04 p.m. (Eastern), American President delivers a political speech about World War II, devoting all of two paragraphs of a 91-paragraph speech to the disaster already occuring on the Gulf Coast, and afterwards, after the Cuban offer had already been made, is photographed happily playing a guitar.
One Senator offers a charitable interpretation of events:
But Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said it was obvious to her in retrospect that Mr. Chertoff, perhaps in deference to Mr. Brown's authority, was not paying close enough attention to the events in New Orleans and that the federal response to the disaster may have been slowed as a result.
But Senator Collins is wrong. The difference in response between the Cuban President and the American President demonstrates that it wasn't carelessness ("not paying close enough attention") that was the problem. It was care-less-ness. Fundamentally, when push comes to shove, the government and ruling class of the United States simply couldn't care less about the "average people" of this country (or any other country, for that matter).

Update: Michael Brown is at this moment allegedly "spilling his guts" and "pointing fingers." It remains to be seen how full his guts are and how long his fingers are.


 

Sunday is Darwin Day


[Updated. If you've already watched the video, click on the picture to watch a new version]

I don't think I've been living under a rock or in a cave, but until today I had never heard of "Darwin Day." Evidently a lot of other people had. There are all sorts of programs scheduled for all over the world, including more than 400 churches where the clergy have committed to preaching sermons about the compatibility of science and religion.

My suggestion? Skip the lectures and sermons and spend the day outdoors appreciating the beauty and diversity of the natural world, in all its weird and wonderful forms:


Laysan Albatross

OK, you may not find those in your neighborhood. Unless you happen to live in Kauai. ;-)

And, for a special added attraction: click here to watch them in action! Or click on the picture for something a little different!


 

Condi's faith-based "diplomacy"


"I don't have any doubt ... Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiment and to use this [the "cartoon scandal"] to their own purposes."

- CondoLIEzza Rice, speaking yesterday
She has no proof whatsoever, but "no doubt." It's just like religion God, really.

Rice, demonstrating the diplomatic skills for which she is so justly famous, bolstered her credibility in the Muslim world by making these comments during a joint press conference with the Israeli Foreign Minister.

Condi's faith isn't working out so well on other fronts. Remember her comment back on Sept. 4 (that was six days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast)? "The Lord is going to come on time -- if we just wait." Alas, most of the people of New Orleans are still waiting for the Lord, FEMA, or anything else offering help.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006


 

Quote of the Day


"Bring 'em home!"

- Bruce Springsteen, at the end of his Grammy performance of Devils and Dust


 

And you're still using Windows why exactly?


That guy who murdered his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan had better look over his shoulder -- his "chutzpah" crown is in serious danger:
A new security service from Microsoft will charge users $49.95 a year to better protect its Windows operating system from spyware, viruses and other Internet attacks.
Here's a better idea. Ditch Windows, and donate $49.95/year to your favorite progressive cause.


 

"Humane and compassionate"


The chief military spokesman at Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Jeremy M. Martin, said yesterday force-feeding of hunger strikers is being carried out "in a humane and compassionate manner." And really, who can disagree?
In recent weeks, the officials said, guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into "restraint chairs," sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Detainees who refuse to eat have also been placed in isolation for extended periods to keep them from being pressured by other hunger strikers.

The lawyers [for the "detainees"] said other measures used to dissuade the hunger strikers included placing them in uncomfortably cold air-conditioned isolation cells, depriving them of "comfort items" like blankets and books and sometimes using riot-control soldiers to compel the prisoners to sit still while long plastic tubes were threaded down their nasal passages and into their stomachs.
And why are they doing this exactly? Out of concern for the lives of the hunger strikers? Out of "compassion"? Hardly.
Some officials said the new actions reflected concern at Guantanamo and the Pentagon that the protests were becoming difficult to control and that the death of one or more prisoners could intensify international criticism of the prison.
And, since "freedom of the press" is so much in the news of late, let's pause for a moment to remember just who one of those people being deprived of all semblance of human rights in Guantanamo is:
Sami al Hajj was a journalist working for the television station al Jazeera. He was visiting his brother and sister in Damascus when the station called him to ask him to go on his second ever assignment. It was around 22 September 2001, less than two weeks after the attacks on the US mainland on 11 September, and he was being asked to cover the international conflict in Afghanistan.

His brother told Amnesty International that Sami al Hajj was reluctant and nervous about going to the conflict zone, but decided that it would not be his best career interests to turn down such a prestigious assignment.

Sami al Hajj travelled with a film crew to Afghanistan, via Pakistan. After 18 days covering the conflict he returned to Pakistan, thinking his assignment over. In December 2001 he was asked by the television station to return to Afghanistan to cover the inauguration of the new government there. Before he and his crew managed to reach the border, they were stopped by Pakistani police. Sami al-Hajj was the only one of his crew taken into custody.
That's just the start of the story, of course. Since then al-Hajj has been held in both Bagram, Kandahar, and Guantanamo, been tortured, and subjected to treatment I won't even repeat here; you can read about it on the Amnesty International site linked above. But, since we're talking about hunger strikes, here's what happened to al-Hajj when he began a hunger strike -- he was beaten severely, thrown down a set of stairs, and placed into isolation.

His only offense, as far as we know (to be clear, he hasn't been charged with anything)? Being a journalist from al Jazeera. And no, he was not "picked up on the battlefield" as the Bush administration repeatedly claims about all the "detainees" (with little or no rebuttal from the media or the "opposition" party, I might add).

Freedom of the press indeed.


Why stop here? There's more...

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