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Friday, June 30, 2006


 

Compare and contrast: U.S. vs. Cuba on Gaza


The U.S. position, as stated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
"Let me just say that this crisis, of course, just underscores the need to have all parties, all Palestinian parties [Ed. note: !], work for an end to terrorist activities. We also called on the Palestinian Government and other parties to secure the release of the Israeli soldier. And we are asking Israel to exercise restraint in this circumstance because with restraint perhaps we can get back to a place where there can be hopes again for a peace process.

"This began as a terrorist act but we do recognize that it is important to protect civilians so that they do not suffer as a matter of this current crisis, and it is extremely important that every party act responsibly so that the possibilities for peace will be preserved."
Note, among other things, that word "began" in the second paragraph. "This" did not "begin" with the capture of Cpl. Shalit. Far from it.

And now let's hear from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (full statement here, this is just the concluding paragraph):

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba wishes to express its most vigorous condemnation of the barbaric Israeli military aggression against the Gaza Strip and calls on the international community and peace-loving forces to mobilize in demand of the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip; a cession of Israeli state terrorism; and respect for the inalienable human rights of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of an independent, sovereign state with its capital in East Jerusalem, the return of refugees, and the unconditional return of all Arab territories occupied in June 1967, as the only way of reaching a just and lasting peace for all the people of that convulsive region.
Is it any wonder that Cuba occupies a special place in American hell?

Just out of curiosity, not because I expect to find anything, I've been searching to see if a single Democrat has spoken out against the Israeli actions. So far, nothing. Not even a "regret" or an "exercise restraint."


 

Respond to the Gaza invasion - take action


Some things you can do, in your own small way, to protest the latest (and the ones before that and the ones before that etc.) Israeli actions:

Boycott Israeli goods. Click on either of these two icons to visit two sites with more information, after you commit the barcode to memory:


Donate to the Middle East Children's Alliance's urgent campaign to deliver medicine to the children of Gaza:


Send an email (or letter) to Washington to demand action.

Join one of your local emergency actions to protest the attacks (information about actions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York City is here, San Francisco here).

Update: Savage Justice has an excellent roundup of what's going on right now in Gaza, along with world reaction.


Thursday, June 29, 2006


 

One-sided history in the Middle East


Here's the New York Times' take on why Israel has decided to move against Hamas, arresting dozens of its leaders:
The Israelis cited Hamas's firing of Qassam rockets beginning this month, its public declaration that the cease-fire with Israel was over and its open involvement in the raid into Israeli territory early Sunday that resulted in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of a wounded corporal, Gilad Shalit, 19.
Any hint as to why Hamas declared an end to its 16-month self-imposed ceasefire, any mention of the Israeli firing of missiles and the murder of dozens of Palestinian civilians in the last few weeks, any hint about the thousands of Israeli shells fired into Gaza during the period which preceded the capture of Shalit, is totally, utterly, 100% missing from the New York Times account. Not a word.


 

Cuba confronts LGBT issues


The "Cuba mistreats homosexuals" meme is one that comes up routinely, as it did here two days ago, and previously as well. In a comment on a recent post, I linked to two articles on the subect (here and here). Just by coincidence, today two new articles have appeared which are quite relevant to the question.

The first is this Reuters article, which discusses some proposed new legislation in Cuba:

Mariela Castro is leading a Cuban revolution less well known than her Uncle Fidel's: one in favor of sexual tolerance within the island's macho society.

Castro, 43, is leading the charge from her government-funded National Center for Sex Education, based in an old Havana mansion.

As director of the group, she promoted a soap opera that scandalized many Cubans in March by sympathetically depicting bisexuality. The controversial show depicted, among other story lines, the life of a construction worker who leaves his wife and children for the man next door.

Now President Castro's niece is pushing for passage of a law that would give transsexuals free sex change operations and hormonal therapy in addition to granting them new identification documents with their changed gender.

A draft bill was presented to parliament last year and was well received, she said. It is expected to come up for a vote in December.

If approved, it would make Cuba the most liberal nation in Latin America on gender issues.

Castro says her goal is to bring the revolution her uncle and father, Defense Minister Raul Castro, fought 47 years ago to the terrain of sexuality. Her group has also campaigned for better AIDS prevention as well as acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality and transvestites.

"I want to bring the revolution's humanity to those aspects of life that it hasn't reached because of old prejudices," she told Reuters.

Much has changed, she says, since the 1960s when homosexuals were sent to work camps, or the 1970s when gay men and women were denied certain jobs as "ideological deviants."

"None of that exists anymore," she said. "But that is not to say the same for homophobic attitudes."
And the second is an excerpt from a book (Cien Horas Con Fidel by Ignacio Ramonet, published by the Cuban Council of State, April 2006), which Walter Lippmann has sent to his CubaNews list. It's worth reproducing in its entirety here:
One of the things the Revolution was criticized about in its first years is that it was said to display an aggressive, repressive attitude towards homosexuals, that there were camps where the homosexuals were locked away and repressed. What can you say about that?

In two words, you're talking about a supposed persecution of homosexuals.

I have to tell you about the origins of that and where that criticism came from. I do assure you that homosexuals were neither persecuted nor sent to internment camps.

But there are so many testimonies of that...

Let me tell you about the problems we had. In those first years we were forced to mobilize almost the whole nation because of the risks we were facing, which included that of an attack by the United States: the dirty war, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Missile Crisis. Many people were sent to prison then. And we established the Mandatory Military Service.

We had three problems at that time: we needed people of a certain school level to serve in the Armed Forces, people capable of handling sophisticated technology, because you could not do it if you had only reached second, third or sixth grade; you needed at least seventh, eighth or ninth grade, and a higher level later on. We had some graduates, but also had to take some men out of the universities before graduation. You can't deal with a surface-to-air rocket battery if you don't have a University degree.

A degree on Sciences, I assume.

You know that very well. There were hundreds of thousands of men who had an impact on many branches, not only on the preparation programs, but economic branches as well. Yet some were unskilled, and the country needed them as a result of the brain-drain we enforced in production centers. That's a problem we had then.

Second, there were some religious groups which, out of principles or doctrines, refused to honor the flag or accept using weapons of any kind, something some people eventually used as an excuse to criticize or be hostile.

Third, there was the issue of the homosexuals. At the time, the mere idea of having women in Military Service was unthinkable. Well, I found out there was a strong rejection of homosexuals, and at the triumph of the Revolution, the stage we are speaking of, the machista element was very much present, together with widespread opposition to having homosexuals in military units.

Because of those three factors, homosexuals were not drafted at first, but then all that became a sort of irritation factor, an argument some people used to lash out at homosexuals even more.

Taking those three categories into account we founded the so-called Military Units to Support Production (UMAP) where we sent people from the said three categories: those whose educational level was insufficient; those who refused to serve out of religious convictions; or homosexual males who were physically fit. Those were the facts; that's what happened.

So they were not internment camps?

Those units were set up all throughout the country for purposes of work, mainly to assist agriculture. That is, the homosexuals were not the only ones affected, though many of them certainly were, not all of them, just those who were called to do mandatory service in the ranks, since it was an obligation and everyone was participating.

That's why we had that situation, and it's true they were not internment units, nor were they punishment units; on the contrary, it was about morale, to give them a chance to work and help the country in those difficult circumstances. Besides, there were many who for religious reasons had the chance to help their homeland in another way by serving not in combat units but in work units.

Of course, as time passed by those units were eliminated. I can't tell you now how many years they lasted, maybe six or seven years, but I can tell you for sure that there was prejudice against homosexuals.

Do you think that prejudice stemmed from machismo?

It was a cultural thing, just as it happened with women. I can tell you that the Revolution never promoted that, quite the opposite; we had to work very hard to do away with racial prejudice here. Concerning women, there was strong prejudice, as strong as in the case of homosexuals. I'm not going to come up with excuses now, for I assume my share of the responsibility. I truly had other concepts regarding that issue. I had my own opinions, and I was rather opposed and would always be opposed to any kind of abuse or discrimination, because there was a great deal of prejudice in that society. Whole families suffered for it. The homosexuals were certainly discriminated against, more so in other countries, but it happened here too, and fortunately our people, who are far more cultured and learned now, have gradually left that prejudice behind.

I must also tell you that there were -and there are- extremely outstanding personalities in the fields of culture and literature, famous names this country takes pride in, who were and still are homosexual, however they have always enjoyed a great deal of consideration and respect in Cuba. So there's no need to look at it as if it were a general feeling. There was less prejudice against homosexuals in the most cultured and educated sectors, but that prejudice was very strong in sectors of low educational level -the illiteracy rate was around 30% those years- and among the nearly-illiterate, and even among many professionals. That was a real fact in our society.

Do you think that prejudice against homosexuals has been effectively fought?

Discrimination against homosexuals has been largely overcome. Today the people have acquired a general, rounded culture. I'm not going to say there is no machismo, but now it's not anywhere near the way it was back then, when that culture was so strong. With the passage of years and the growth of consciousness about all of this, we have gradually overcome problems and such prejudices have declined. But believe me, it was not easy.
Lippmann has lots more on the subect, including earlier Castro interviews on the subject, here.


 

Breaking news: Supreme Court scratches head, remembers Geneva Convention


Just in:
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in creating military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, a rebuke to the administration and its aggressive anti-terror policies.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion, which said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and the Geneva Convention.

The case, one of the most significant involving presidential war powers cases since World War II, was brought by Guantanamo prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was a driver for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Full credit goes to the Center for Constitutional Rights led by Michael Ratner, who have been indefatigable in their efforts to defend the rights of the Guantanamo "detainees" and so many others.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006


 

Quote of the Day


"We recognize the rights of the oppressed to defend themselves against tyrannical and genocidal regimes."

- Robert G. Joseph, under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs
This just might be the first-ever endorsement by the U.S. government of the Palestinian people's right to resist Israeli oppression. That was who he was referring to, wasn't it?

(Hat tip to WIIIAI)


 

The language of the Middle East


According to the Western corporate media, an Israeli soldier was recently "kidnapped" (not "captured"). And what follows? This:
Israeli forces arrested the Palestinian deputy prime minister and dozens of other Hamas officials early Thursday and pressed their incursion into Gaza, responding to the abduction of one of its soldiers.
"Arrested"? On what charge? "Resisting while Palestinian"?

Surely the correct term for this action is "kidnapped." But you won't be seeing that one in the corporate media. Of that I'm certain.


 

Collective punishment in Gaza


[First posted 6/28, 9:00 a.m.; updated and bumped]

In today's news:

Israel turned up the pressure on Palestinian militants to release a captive soldier Wednesday, sending its warplanes to bomb a Hamas training camp after knocking out electricity and water supplies for most of the 1.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip.
Not that Israel is doing anything the United States didn't perfect in its bombing of Yugoslavia and Iraq (notably the first Gulf War; by the time of the 2003 invasion there wasn't much left). Attacking civilian targets is, of course, a war crime.

Without exception as far as I've seen, the media reports that the current Israeli attacks are a "rescue attempt." This is nonsense. Their chances of rescuing the captured soldier alive are as close to nil as can be imagined. This assault is, as the actual actions cited above demonstrate, all about collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and has little if anything to do with attempting to save the life of Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Update: "Collective punishment" may be a bit too abstract. Let's make it concrete. Last month, 3-year-old Mariyah Amin was left paralyzed and on an artificial respirator for life. Without electricity, Mariyah Amin, and many others in similar circumstances, will die. Or, to be more accurate, will have been murdered by the Israelis, as were her brother, mother, and grandmother.


 

The U.S. "commitment" to Afghanistan


WIIIAI points us to this interview with that noted Sovietologist, Condoleezza Rice, in which she says: "We are not leaving. We are not leaving again, as we did in the 1980s."

And what were the circumstances of the 80's in which the U.S. was "in" Afghanistan? Let Wikipedia sum it up:

In 1979 the United States government under President Jimmy Carter and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski began to covertly fund and train anti-government Mujahideen forces through the Pakistani secret service agency known as Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which were derived from discontented Muslims in the country who opposed the official atheism of the Marxist regime, in 1978. Brzezinski's recruiting efforts included enlisting Usama bin Laden to fight the Soviets.
Brzezinski brags about that "Afghan trap" to this day. And what was it the U.S. was funding? An effort to overthrow a government which prioritized women's education and religious freedom and a secular state. That's the "commitment" that Condi is sorry the U.S. walked away from.


 

Capitalism kills


Another installment in a long-running series, this one courtesy of David Sirota:


Tuesday, June 27, 2006


 

Why do Latin Americans admire Cuba?


This should give you some idea of what socialism means in practice:
Julio Palacios, president of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), highlighted this Monday Cuba’s fulfillment of the UN Millennium Goals on the reduction of poverty, access to education and health and a lower infant mortality rate.

"Cuba is the only country in the Caribbean and even at the level of all Latin America to have exceeded the Millennium Goals in almost all areas," Palacios stated to Prensa Latina at the parliamentary summit that is in session in the Guatemalan capital.

The development goals are an attempt to reduce extreme poverty and hunger, attain universal elementary education, reduce maternal and infant mortality, halt the spread of AIDS and guarantee sustainability and the environment.

Only a few Latin American countries have advanced in that context and others have even regressed from 2000 to date, the PARLACEN president noted.

According to the Central American Parliament, more than 200 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are living in poverty and 96 million of them in absolute poverty.
OK, let's hear it, detractors. "Oh, but they don't have freedom of the press or two-party elections." No, they don't. What they do have, that hundreds of millions (maybe billions) of people around the world don't, is the right to life. And I'm not talking about abortion.


 

Stephanie McMillan is on a roll


The latest from Minimum Security:


Need I remind you that there are lots more if you buy the book?


 

The real Miami terrorists


While the U.S. government entraps a group of hapless people in Miami who can't even afford a camera, much less weapons and ammunition, the real terrorists roam free:
A former board member of the Cuban American National Foundation says he and other CANF leaders created a paramilitary group to carry out destabilizing acts in Cuba and do away with Cuban ruler Fidel Castro.

Jose Antonio Llama, known as Toñin, told El Nuevo Herald that the arsenal to carry out these plans included a cargo helicopter, 10 ultralight radio-controlled planes, seven vessels and abundant explosive materials.

According to Llama, between 1994 and 1997 he personally spent more than $1.4 million to finance the purchase of radio-controlled planes and other supplies, under the cover of Florida-registered Nautical Sports Inc. and Dominican Republic-based Refri Auto.

Llama showed El Nuevo Herald financial records used to buy the equipment.

Llamas paid Nautical Sports $869,811. The purchase of the seven vessels equipped with satellite radio and phones, including the Midnight Express fast boat, was guaranteed through this front corporation, created in 1993, he said. That 40-foot motorboat was meant to take Mas Canosa to Cuba if Castro died or there was a sudden change of power, he added.

The 10 small remote-control planes were financed by Llama for $210,000 through the International Finance Bank of Miami, which paid Flight Rescue Systems, a company owned by Luis Prieto and Rafael Montalvo. The equipment was stored in a Miami-Dade warehouse to be used against Cuban economic targets or against Castro. Llama said Pepe Hernandez sold them after 1997.

To buy explosives, the group used businessman Raul Lopez, an anti-Castro exile involved in infiltration operations in Cuba in the 1960s, Llama said. Lopez owned a company authorized to purchase explosives to open up sewage canals for South Florida's sugar industry.
And outside of the Miami Herald (and the Cuban press), this terrorist plot, very much a concrete thing, has received no media coverage whatsoever.


 

It's already against the law to burn an American flag...in Cuba!


With a debate going on in the U.S. Congress over amending the Constitution to ban flag-burning, all of a sudden I'm seeing in numerous places this statement: "Right now, Cuba, China, and Iran are the only other countries to ban flag desecration." This is the kind of meme that simply gets copied from website to website without any actual verification. Indeed, you can tell how valid it is by just looking at the Think Progress cite just cited, whose link goes to the Congressional Record which also includes Iraq and Haiti (with "life imprisonment at forced labor"!) in the list. Wikipedia cites several other countries, including Hong Kong and Ireland [and in the comments, a reader adds India to the list]. So the rapidly spreading assertion that "Cuba, China, and Iran are the only other countries to ban flag desecration" is just flat-out incorrect.

Since I have a special interest in Cuba, though, I decided to investigate the laws in that country, just to see what the truth was. The Congressional Record says "As Senator Feingold noted, penalties range from one year of imprisonment in Cuba..." Is that true? Not exactly. This page purports to be the complete and current legal code of Cuba, and I don't see any reason to believe it isn't. Here is one section, in the original Spanish and then in translation:

ARTÍCULO 203. El que ultraje o con otros actos muestre desprecio a la bandera, el himno o al escudo nacionales, incurre en sanción de privación de libertad de tres meses a un año o multa de cien a trescientas cuotas.

ARTICLE 203. Anyone that outrages or with other acts shows scorn to the national flag, the anthem or to the national crest, incurs sanction of deprivation of freedom from three months to one year or fines from hundred to three hundred cuotas.
So for starters, we see that Feingold's claim that the penalty in Cuba is "one year of imprisonment" is the maximum penalty; the minimum is a simple fine.

But there's more, as we find out two articles later:

ARTÍCULO 205. El que arranque, destruya o en cualquier forma ultraje la bandera, insignias u otro símbolo oficial de un Estado extranjero, expuesto públicamente por una representación acreditada de ese Estado, incurre en sanción de privación de libertad de uno a tres meses o multa hasta cien cuotas.

ARTICLE 205. Anyone that tears down, destroys or in any form insults the flag, national insignia or another official symbol of a foreign State, exhibited publicly by an accredited representation of this State, incurs sanction of deprivation of freedom from one to three months or fines up to a hundred cuotas.
The sentence is lighter (no surprise, really), but it is, in fact, illegal to burn the U.S. flag (or any other) in Cuba. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia says the same is true in Denmark, where it is illegal to desecrate the flag of other countries, but not the Danish flag.

Should I renounce the Cuban law? Hardly. I don't know the history of the legislation, nor whether it has ever been applied. But, in the context of a small country 90 miles away from the most powerful country in the world, whose stated policy (and one which very much exists in deed as well as word) is "regime change" in the small country, I would guess that flag desecration is very much in the classic category of shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater, with overtones of treason. The context of such a law (or Constitutional Amendment) in the United States is completely different.


Monday, June 26, 2006


 

Their Superman and ours


It won't surprise me if there isn't a single Left I reader who, like me, has been a regular viewer of The Adventures of Superman (with George Reeves, broadcast from 1952-1959), Lois and Clark (with Teri Hatcher and Dean Kean, 1993-1997), and Smallville (with Tom Welling, 2001-date). But even I didn't know the history which preceded all that:
Instead of super-villains, [the original Superman of Action Comics in 1938] fought slumlords, greedy corporate executives, corrupt politicians and common thugs.

"At that point in history," said comic book writer Mark Waid in the recent documentary, "Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman," "we are a nation on the verge of war, we are a nation new to this whole concept of urbanization and urban crime, and Superman was originally created as a social crusader."

At the end of World War II, something finally stepped on Superman's cape: the changing times. The period after the war and into the 1950s was "a very conservative era, very respectful of authority," Waid said. "And Superman went from being a crusader of social causes to being a symbol of the social order."


 

The "good news" from Palestine


The San Jose Mercury News reports on the tale of Isra'a El Batsh, a 3 1/2-year-old Palestinian girl in San Jose to get a prosthetic eye, courtesy of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, to replace the one which was obliterated by an Israeli missile, courtesy of the Israeli government and the U.S. taxpayer.

Of course, reading the article reveals the backstory: "Isra'a El Batsh, just 3 1/2 years old, lost her right eye in March when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile into her densely populated Gaza neighborhood." Just for emphasis let's repeat that: fired a missile into her densely populated Gaza neighborhood.

Isra's, like Mariyah Amin (who, along with her now-dead family members, was also hit by a missile in a densely populated Gaza neighborhood), is just one of many such victims of Israeli state terrorism:

The health care system in the Palestinian territories is underdeveloped for numerous reasons. Local hospitals are regularly overwhelmed with civilian casualties and lack supplies. There are long waiting lists of children who need surgery. And talented physicians often leave the region due to the stress of living under military occupation and the constant cycle of violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian extremists.

"There's a medical and humanitarian crisis in Palestine right now," said PCRF President Steve Sosebee, who lives in Ohio but came to San Jose to be with Isra'a on Friday. "These are innocent victims of poverty and conflict, and they deserve health care."
And more to come, with Israeli tanks entering Gaza.

Update: I just realized I left out the other part of Isra'a's story:

The missile attack killed two of Isra'a's young cousins and also injured her 10-year-old brother, Mohammed.


 

"Interacting with" (killing) Iraqis


Knight-Ridder's Nancy Youssef sheds some light on Iraqi civilian deaths which, as it turns out, the U.S. military has been tracking since last summer. Although they still refuse, in a tribute to that "transparency" George Bush loves to talk about, to actually release the figures, Youssef managed to extract them from an anonymous source:
"Escalation of force" incidents typically involve a U.S. soldier giving a warning or hand signal to a driver approaching a checkpoint or convoy. The situation escalates if the driver fails to stop, with the soldier firing a warning shot, and then shooting to kill.

[Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who as head of the Multinational Force-Iraq] would not say how many civilians had been killed overall or what percentage of civilian deaths occurred at checkpoints or near convoys. But a military official who was not authorized to release the numbers and who asked not to be identified said there were 3,000 "escalation of force" incidents from July to Dec. 31, 2005.

Of those, 16 percent led to a civilian being killed or injured, the official said.

During the first five months of this year, 1,700 such incidents were reported. Of those, 12 percent led to a civilian being killed or injured, the official said.
For those who need help with the math, that's 684 Iraqis killed or injured in "escalation of force" incidents in the last year. Consider that in the light of the fact that only the tiniest fraction of such incidents (less than a handful, and typically only the "exceptional" ones like the two women killed last month while heading for the hospital to give birth) have actually been reported in the press.

The headline for this post comes from this:

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who as head of the Multinational Force-Iraq is the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said the number of civilian dead and wounded is an important measurement of how effectively U.S. forces are interacting with the Iraqi people.

"We have people who were on the fence or supported us who in the last two years or three years have in fact decided to strike out against us. And you have to ask: Why is that? And I would argue in many instances we are our own worst enemy," Chiarelli said.
With that kind of "interaction," is it any wonder that the majority of Iraqis want the Americans out, and now? "We are our own worst enemy"? Perhaps, but "we" (that is, the American soldiers) are most definitely the worst enemy of the Iraqi people.


 

The latest on "Iraqi" deaths


Get ready for the next bit of inaccuracy to make it into conventional wisdom. I'll start by giving credit where credit is due, to the Los Angeles Times, who actually decided, after more than three years of the war and occupation, to do some actual investigative reporting on the subject of the number of Iraqi deaths, rather than rely on George Bush and his unsourced (and obviously inaccurate) claim of 30,000 dead:
Nongovernmental organizations have made estimates by tallying media accounts; The Times attempted to reach a comprehensive figure by obtaining statistics from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry and checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for possible undercounts.
And the L.A. Times does use qualifiers to make it clear that their number isn't accurate, and that they know it (emphasis added):
War's Iraqi Death Toll Tops 50,000

Higher than the U.S. estimate, the tally likely is undercounted. Proportionately, it is as if 570,000 Americans were slain in three years.

BAGHDAD — At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion
The problem, of course, is that these qualifiers are misleading. When you read a headline that the temperature "tops 100", that usually means it hit 101 or 102, not 150 or 200. Saying that something "likely" is undercounted suggests there is a clear possibility that it isn't. And "at least" means just that.

But the correct qualifying words are "vastly exceeds." Why do I say that? Here's some of the things found just in the L.A. Times article:

L.A. Times: "Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since."

Left I on the News: The "chaotic first year" might well be replaced by "bloody first year"; all by itself that omission could increase the number by 25-33%. And "spotty reporting nationwide" is rather a scary phrase, since we know that the major American assaults have occured outside of Baghdad. How many people were killed in Fallujah alone? The Times doesn't say.

L.A. Times: "The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting."

Left I on the News: Now we move into the realm of the absurd, when it comes to referring to 50,000 "Iraqis" rather than 50,000 Iraqi civilians. Thousands of security forces and tens of thousands of insurgents (resistance fighters) have been killed. Omitting them as if they weren't "Iraqis" makes no sense.

L.A. Times: "Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.

"The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. In addition, the ministry said its figures exclude the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death toll figures to the government in Baghdad."

Left I on the News: OK, now they admit the results are not just undercounted, but "grossly" undercounted in one of the key provinces where fighting (and American bombing) is occuring (not to mention ignoring three entire provinces!).
The Times recognizes their undercount of civilian deaths, but they continue the universal (this site excluded) treatment of not even mentioning the deaths of an estimated 30,000 members of the Iraqi military killed during the invasion and initial phases of the war, as if those people were any less "Iraqi" and are any less dead. There continues to be the implicit claim that those people somehow "deserved" to die, and therefore aren't even worth mentioning or counting, despite the fact that they were killed resisting an illegal, unprovoked war of aggression against their country.

And there's another group completely omitted by the Times, which, despite referring to "Iraqi deaths" in their headline, refers to "deaths by violence" in the body of the article. This completely omits deaths caused by lack of health care, malnutrition, and other such causes which have increased since the war. When it comes to Darfur, both the American media and the U.S. government are quick to talk about "excess deaths" and people killed by "disease and famine" (as well as violence). But when it comes to Iraq, the Johns Hopkins/Lancet study which estimated excess deaths in Iraq at 100,000 more than a year ago is universally (in the corporate media and elsewhere) pooh-poohed.

The number of Iraqi killed violently by the war is well over 100,000, and the number of Iraqi dead as a result of the war, including "excess deaths," quite possibly approaches 200,000. The Times did some actual reporting, which is good, and their work may result in conventional wisdom [sic] citing the figure 50,000 instead of 30,000, which might be considered "better" in being somewhat closer to the truth, but unfortunately the end result will be that the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis are as nothing.


Sunday, June 25, 2006


 

The agent provocateur in Miami


I wrote yesterday about my expectation that the Miami "terror" arrests would turn out to be a case of an agent provocateur. On the money:
The defendants had no guns or other weapons when they were arrested. The informant did provide some boots and a camera for the suspects to photograph a North Miami Beach FBI office and other local targets, the indictment says.

But it's unclear from the indictment if the alleged conspirators actually visited their most ambitious target, the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago.
I'm not quite clear why you need boots to take photographs, but the fact that this group didn't even own a camera and had to depend on the government agent to loan them one pretty much says it all; cameras aren't exactly expensive items these days. And remember, photograping alleged suspected targets is the only concrete action in the entire "conspiracy," and that one action was clearly facilitated, and most likely (here I'm surmising) suggested, by the agent. As for visiting the Sears Tower, its rather unlikely that a group which had to borrow boots and a camera could afford a trip from Miami to Chicago, much less actually stage an operation there.


Saturday, June 24, 2006


 

Troop "reductions" in Iraq - The New York Times plays with numbers


It doesn't qualify as innumeracy, because it probably qualifies more as deliberate obfuscation than confusion. But in reporting on plans (always future plans!) for U.S. troop reductions in Iraq, the Times claims that the plan calls for "sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007." Well, "sharp reductions" is a broad phrase, and this might qualify as a "sharp reduction": "the number of American combat brigades in Iraq is projected to decrease to 5 or 6 from the current level of 14 by December 2007." Wow, you think, that's more than a 50% reduction, which would indeed justify the use of the adjective "sharp" to describe it.

Except for one little detail, which the Times does reveal: "Combat brigades, which generally have about 3,500 troops, do not make up the bulk of the 127,000-member American force in Iraq." Indeed, a few paragraphs later the Times does part of the math: "A reduction of eight combat brigades would equal about 28,000 troops." However, they never do the final math: 127,000-28,000=99,000 American troops occupying Iraq. And, while if you went from 127 pounds to 99 pounds, I might concede that you had achieved a "sharp reduction" in your weight, but that's only because if you went much lower, you'd be dead. When it comes to an occupation, I'm afraid it will take a lot bigger reduction than that to qualify as "sharp." Of course, there's another requirement too -- it actually has to happen, unlike every other reduction that's been talked about since "Mission Accomplished Day" more than three years ago.

I got a kick out of this part of General Casey's plan:

In the general's briefing, the future American role in Iraq is divided into three phases. The next 12 months was described as a period of stabilization. The period from the summer of 2007 through the summer of 2008 was described as a time when the emphasis would be on the restoration of the Iraqi government's authority. The period from the summer of 2008 though the summer of 2009 was cast as one in which the Iraqi government would be increasingly self-reliant.
Weren't those the things that were supposedly already happening? Wouldn't it be interesting to hear how General Casey described the last 12 months? Or the 12 months before that?

You do have to love how, just days after the Congress (all Republicans and most Democrats) beat back any talk of a "timetable" for withdrawal, along comes the Prime Minister of Iraq talking about a timetable.


 

News roundup


Two days ago I wrote about U.S. threats of a pre-emptive strike on a possible North Korean missile test: "Need I point out that such an act would be an act of war? An unprovoked act of war. A war of aggression. A war crime." Imagine my surprise today when I found Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay saying the same thing: "Pyongyang is regarded as having a right to test missiles, making any American attack to forestall a launch an act of war with potentially explosive consequences." Kudos to Landay, although wouldn't it be nice to have a press where it wasn't necessary to extend kudos to a reporter for stating an obvious truth?

The pages and screens of the media are replete with politicians and pundits denouncing the savagery of the recent murders of two American soldiers. Although it is certainly possible, even probable, that the two men were indeed tortured and then beheaded, not the slightest proof has been offered of these allegations, and yet the same people who are denouncing the act, and even using it as the latest justification for why U.S. troops have to stay in Iraq and "finish the job," were the first to talk about how we shouldn't condemn the American soldiers involved in the Haditha massacre because "we don't know exactly what happened" and "an investigation is still on going" etc etc.

On whose word do we know the two men were tortured? The word of the U.S. military, the same U.S. military who claimed that the Iraqis in Haditha were killed by an IED, the same U.S. military who claimed that Jessica Lynch was captured emptying her weapon against attacking Iraqis, the same U.S. military who covered up the death of Pat Tillman, and on and on and on. Would they make up such a grotesque lie as the one about the two soldiers? Probably not, but considering they have gotten away with lies that were just as easily disprovable (Kuwaiti babies thrown out of incubators to die come to mind), it certainly isn't impossible.

Then we have the latest thought crime -- some men in Miami allegedly talking about committing acts of terrorism, although doing, as far as is alleged so far, quite literally nothing about it. News reports of the incident all refer to how "the group had been infiltrated by a government informant." "Informant" is the media's word. I'm giving even odds that the correct term is agent provocateur, and that the first one to mention the words "Sears Tower" or "ammonium nitrate" was he.

And finally in local news we have the indictment of San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales for "bribery." Now believe me, I have absolutely no love lost for Ron Gonzales, but this indictment borders on the ludicrous. Despite the fact that the word "bribery" has been splashed all over the news, Gonzales isn't accused of taking any money himself. To the contrary, the heart of the case involves his efforts (albeit done in secret) to have more money paid to workers, specifically the workers who pick up the city's garbage (the secret deal was the city's agreement to pay more money for the garbage contract, with the proviso that the contractor would employ higher-paid Teamsters rather than lower-paid Longshoremen). Here's a quote from the Deputy District Attorney which I almost decided to run under the "Political Humor of the Day" headline:

"The message that the indictment makes is that public officials cannot use their public office to secure benefits either for themselves or for third parties or for political supporters."
Needless to say, there wouldn't be a politician left in Washington or most state capitols if that standard were to be adopted. In a world where the Halliburtons rake in billions in no-bid government contracts, Ron Gonzales secret agreement to have the city of San Jose pay $11 million more in wages to its garbage haulers doesn't even qualify as small potatoes.


 

Quote of the Day


CNN'S SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: There is a whole school of thought, as you well know, that says that musicians – I mean you see it with the Dixie Chicks - you know, go play your music and stop.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well, if you turn it on, present company included, the idiots rambling on on cable television on any given night of the week, and you’re saying that musicians shouldn’t speak up? It’s insane. It’s funny.

O’BRIEN: As a musician though, I’d be curious to know if there is a concern that you start talking about politics, you came out at one point and said, I think in USA Today listen, the country would be better off if George Bush were replaced as President. Is there a worry where you start getting political and you could alienate your audience?

SPRINGSTEEN: Well that’s called common sense. I don’t even see that as politics at this point. So I mean that’s, you know, you can get me started, I’ll be glad to go. […] You don’t take a country like the United States into a major war on circumstantial evidence. You lose your job for that. That’s my opinion, and I have no problem voicing it. And some people like it and some people boo ya, you know?
From Blue Jersey via Skippy (and note, as Blue Jersey does, that Springsteen says "included," not "excluded," although being a gentleman, I'm sure he's referring to CNN in general, not Soledad O'Brien specifically).

Which word can you stretch out the longest, "goooooooaaaaaaaal" or "Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuce"? Actually both are appropriate here.


Friday, June 23, 2006


 

Blackmailing Iran


I've written on a previous occasion (can't find the link) about why the idea that Iran should be happy to accept becoming reliant on foreign sources for its nuclear power fuel was absurd. Giving other nations power over yours, allowing them to blackmail you into doing whatever they want with the threat of withholding the item on which you are dependent, just isn't a sensible position for a sovereign nation to place itself in.

And now along comes the latest development to reinforce that point. In the last few days (the talking points must have gone out), various pundits on TV are suddenly discussing the fact (which for the purposes of this post I'll accept as true, although I don't actually know that it is) that Iran has a shortage of refining capacity, and that if the U.S. and its allies want to bring Iran to its knees, all they have to do is to put an embargo on selling refined petroleum to Iran. And amazingly enough, not a single one of these learned gentlemen (I use both terms as loosely as possible) who I have heard making this argument have seen any connection between that proposal, and Iran's reluctance to be dependent on foreign sources for nuclear fuel.

For additional reading, here's a previous post describing the reasons why oil-rich Iran might want nuclear power in the first place.


Thursday, June 22, 2006


 

The best of the Democrats


The title of this post is not facetious. Sen. Tom Harkin really is one of the best of the Democrats, a guy who has taken good, and forceful, positions on many issues over the years. And last night on C-SPAN, I caught a bit of his speech on the subject of withdrawing troops from Iraq, and most of the speech was very good. But even this best of Democrats came out with this (I have to quote as best I can from memory; I haven't found it online so far):
"The unprovoked invasion of Iraq was a major strategic error. We took our eye off the ball."
The unprovoked, illegal invasion of another country and the subsequent death of more than 100,000 people was not an "error." It was (and is) a war crime, for which the perpetrators deserve a trial every bit as much as Saddam Hussein. Nor was Afghanistan a "ball" on which we had our eye. Invading another country, overthrowing its government, and killing thousands of its citizens in order to capture or kill someone who happened to be hiding in that country is every bit as illegal, and every bit as much a war crime, as the invasion of Iraq.

But even the best of the Democrats will never acknowledge those facts.

Update: And as for the Democrats who are to the right of Harkin (which is almost all of them), many of them continue to try to position themselves as "tougher" on "defense" than the Republicans:

[Bill Clinton's] former defense secretary William J. Perry has called on President Bush to launch a preemptive strike against the long-range ballistic missile that U.S. intelligence analysts say North Korea is preparing to launch.
Need I point out that such an act would be an act of war? An unprovoked act of war. A war of aggression. A war crime.


 

Culture shock


I've spent the last week in New Jersey, a lot of that time driving around running errands. In that entire week I have not seen a single Starbucks (or equivalent). I'm not disappointed, or suggesting this is a bad thing, I'm just utterly amazed. There are four within a mile of where I live, plus a Peet's and an independent. Also in the last week, I didn't see a single Prius or other hybrid car until today, when I finally saw two. I see more than that just driving down the street where I live!

Other people might experience a third aspect of culture shock visiting New Jersey -- having someone else put gas in your car. Since I grew up in New Jersey, that's something I'm used to. And previous trips to the East Coast have made me aware of how much further behind California they are as far as hybrids. But the lack of Starbucks, that was a shock!


 

Quote of the Day


At yesterday's press conference (in Europe, naturally; American reporters don't ask such "impertinent" questions):
Q To President Bush, you've got Iran's nuclear program, you've got North Korea, yet, most Europeans consider the United States the biggest threat to global stability. Do you have any regrets about that?

PRESIDENT BUSH: That's absurd. The United States is -- we'll defend ourselves, but at the same time, we're actively working with our partners to spread peace and democracy. So whoever says that is -- it's an absurd statement.
He forgot to mention that "actively working to spread peace and democracy" means invading other countries, overthrowing their leaders, threatening others, blockading still more. All part of "defending ourselves." Thank goodness we warded off the threat of imminent invasion by Iraq.

Absurd? What's absurd was Bush's reaction. The idea that the U.S. is the biggest threat to global stability is so far outside his world view his head nearly exploded when he heard the question. Of course he feels the same way about global warming, and probably about the earth revolving around the sun. We know he thinks the world revolves around the U.S., and, more specifically, him.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


 

"Precision" air strikes


In Iraq:
U.S. forces killed three Iraqi farmers and wounded four during an air raid Tuesday over Buchahin, to the northeast of the capital.

The civilians were resting at a poultry farm when they were caught in the bombings, according to Hadi al Azawi, member of a human rights organization in Baquba, PL reports.

The U.S. command claimed that the mission was to eliminate members of the international Al Qaeda network.

AP Television News footage showed bloodstained mattresses and bullets inside a chicken processing plant in the village where residents say U.S. soldiers killed those civilians.
In Palestine:
A Palestinian woman was killed today in Gaza after a pair of Israeli missiles veered off target, one of them slamming into a house. It was the latest in a series of botched air strikes that have killed a dozen Palestinian civilians in the last eight days.

The strike, which also injured a reported 13 people in the southern town of Khan Yunis, came a day after another strike killed three Palestinian children, whose bodies were paraded today before burial through Gaza streets seething with angry citizens.
Mutilating captured soldiers and beheading them (if that is what happened to the two U.S. soldiers who were just captured and killed) is an atrocity. Is it any more of an atrocity than dropping bombs on people from high in the sky and obliterating them that way? Not as far as I'm concerned. But somehow, these non face-to-face murders never seem to draw the same degree of condemnation (or any condemnation at all, for that matter), even when the former involve the killing of soldiers engaged in a war/occupation, and the latter involves civilians. Needless to say, those remote murders by pushbutton are precisely the kind of murders that the Americans in Iraq and the Israelis in Palestine specialize in.


 

The Democratic "exit strategy," part II


Medea Benjamin summarizes recent developments from the Iraqi government, in which the President, Vice-President, and National Security Adviser have all called for a concrete timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and British troops from their country, to be largely finished by the end of 2007. What's interesting about this, in relation to the recent Democratic proposals, is two-fold. One is that, in comparison to the Levin-Reed-Salazar plan, at least, the Iraqis are calling for a more aggressive plan for withdrawal than the Democrats (and that's the "left" Democrats; most of the Democrats, including such Presidential contenders as Clinton and Biden, don't even support the mild Levin plan, much less the slightly more aggressive Kerry plan). But the second is, I think, more significant. From what I heard from Levin et al. and Kerry et al., none of them even bothered to mention what the Iraqis want. It was all about us (or perhaps I should say "them,"), and how "we" had to force the Iraqis to take responsibility. What the Iraqis themselves are calling for wasn't of interest.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006


 

Left I on the News vs. John F. Burns


A month ago I wrote to call into question the seemingly preposterous claim that Saddam Hussein's government had razed 250,000 acres of orchards in Dujail following the 1982 assassination attempt, the reaction to which is the subject of the current Hussein (& Co.) trial. New York Times bureau chief John F. Burns had the courtesy to write me back, saying, "This is a claim made by the prosecution at the trial -- in hectares, converted by us into acres. I'll ask the Regime Crimes Liaison Office to throw some light on this when I next meet with them."

Burns hasn't written back to me, but in the latest article on the trial, we find this: "They are charged with crimes against humanity for offenses that included...the razing of a vast acreage of orchards and date palm groves around Dujail." So 250,000 acres has now become the more nebulous "vast acreage" (but is still apparently a "crime against humanity," at least according to Burns).

Why do I press this seemingly minor point? For one thing, I have a fetish about the truth. For another, there's the old legal maxim, "false in one, false in all." If the prosecutors, or the Times, would lie about this detail, what else are they lying about? Today, for example, for the very first time as far as I know, the prosecutors are claiming that the assassination attempt itself had been faked by Saddam as an excuse to crack down on the people of Dujail. It's possible, of course, but the sudden appearance of this claim, 25 years after the fact, is questionable to put it mildly. The prosecutor claims that the rationale was "to justify cracking down on Shiites at a time when Mr. Hussein had begun a war with Shiite-ruled Iran," but surely if Iraq had just begun a war against Iran, they would hardly want to antagonize a segment of their own population, which could only weaken their efforts in that war.

Be that as it may, it looks like the Times, if not the Iraqi prosecutors, have conceded the point that the razing of 250,000 acres was an exaggeration.


 

In your face Quote of the Day


"Today is a particularly symbolic day. Cuba is a founding member of the Human Rights Council and the United States is not. Cuba was elected with the overwhelming support of 135 countries, more than two-thirds of the United Nations General Assembly, while the United States did not even dare to run as a candidate. Cuba relied on the secret vote for the same reasons that the United States was afraid of it.

"Cuba’s election epitomizes the victory of principles and truth; it stands as recognition of the value of our resilience. The absence of the United States is the defeat of lies; it is the moral punishment for the haughtiness of an empire."


- speech by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque to the opening session of the new U.N. Human Rights Council
Perez Roque continued to talk about Cuba's intentions on the council:
"Cuba can be counted upon to fight for truth and transparency, to defend the right to independence, to self-determination, to social justice, to equality. And also to defend the right to food, to education, to health, to dignity, the right to a dignified life.

"Cuba can be counted upon to defend real democracy, true participation and the real enjoyment of all human rights.

"Cuba’s cooperation cannot be counted upon to relinquish a single principle. Cuba will always be counted upon to uphold the noble ideal of building a better world for all."
In your face, John Bolton, George Bush, & Co.!


 

Four little words, one big lie


"What it says is." Those are the four words, stuck in the middle of this sentence in a New York Times article on George Bush's latest "warning" to Iran:
The prospect of a deal hinges on Iran's willingness to drop what it says is its sovereign right to develop nuclear power sources.
Can the Times name a single credible source ("credible" excludes the flat-earth, global warming is fiction crowd) which asserts that Iran does not have a sovereign right to develop nuclear power? Can it cite a single line from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty or any other international treaty or law which would justify such a conclusion? Of course it can't. But by including that "what it says is," the Times does its part to sow doubt in the minds of Americans, and to boost support for American threats (and potential war) against another country. It doesn't take much. Just four little words.


Monday, June 19, 2006


 

4th of July, Asbury Park


Serendipity. The last time the subject came up was when I wandered into a gift shop (not even a book store) next to a bike shop which was my real destination, and discovered a marvelous book named How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher. Well, it's happened again. Flying across the country on the way to visit my mother in New Jersey, my connecting flight was delayed by an hour, so naturally in wandering around the airport I walked into a bookstore. And there, hiding on a bottom shelf, a book caught my eye -- 4th of July, Asbury Park, subtitled A History of the Promised Land, and presenting a history of Asbury Park from its founding in 1870 until the present. Now you have to understand that my mother is very interested in New Jersey history, and that we used to spend time in and near Asbury Park every summer of my childhood. So...the perfect gift!

Well, it turned out to be a lot more than that. With a long flight I naturally started to read it, and found I couldn't put it down. Because this book is much more than the dry history of a medium-sized Jersey shore town, it's the history of America writ small. Fundamentalist religion, capitalism as reflected both in the drive toward development, and also in the political power exercised by the capitalist class, segregation and racism (including lynching and the Ku Klux Klan), anti-immigrant prejudice and efforts to limit immigration to people from "desirable" countries, demonization of people based on their religion, the role of the media (including the surprising role of Stephen "Red Badge of Courage" Crane), corruption, mob power, and last but not least music (and not just Bruce Springsteen, but John Philip Sousa, Count Basie, Frankie Lymon, and more), all played key roles in the history of Asbury Park. And with the exception of lynching, virtually everything in the book could be drawn from the pages of today's papers.

I guess you figured out that I finished the book before giving it to my mother, and that I'm strongly recommending it, not just to those who spent their summers on the Jersey shore, but to anyone interested in reading about the development of the United States over the last 130 years, as viewed through the events in one town. And, as I suggested above, it's a real page-turner, not dry at all but quite well-written. It's only out in hardcover right now, but the publisher's website (linked above) has it coming out in paperback next month.

One final point -- this is just one more reason why I try never to buy books from Amazon.com. Could I have saved money on the book? Yes. And one day, the day the last bookstore closes because everyone is busy saving money, I'll have saved myself right out of ever being able to walk into a bookstore and have an experience like this, wandering randomly and finding a splended book on a subject I didn't even know I was interested in, and certainly wasn't looking to find anything about, and ending up better-educated and entertained as well.


 

The Democratic "exit strategy"


I just watched Sens. Levin, Reed, and Salazar on C-SPAN presenting their new "plan" for "withdrawal" from Iraq. The easy criticism would be to note that this proposal was more prayer than plan; it's concrete details say that withdrawal must "start" (would 100 troops count?) by the end of this year, and after that, there won't be any timetable other than "dependent on conditions" (which is of course the Bush "plan"). The other easy criticism would be to note the Democrats' disarray -- Levin was asked what Sens. Kerry and Feingold thought of the plan, and he didn't know; a little later I'm watching CNN and I'm learning that Kerry, Feingold, and Boxer have put forward another "plan." But let me move on from those easy criticisms to a different subject - those "conditions."

During the questioning, the subject of those erectile Iraqis (you know, the ones who are "standing up") came up. And Levin was asked about the readiness of the Iraqis, and he mentioned the zero or one Iraqi battalion which is able to operate independently (allegedly, and whatever that means anyway), and the 65 who are able to "take the lead" with American support. And when he was asked what was keeping those 65 battalions from becoming independent, the main thing he mentioned was equipment.

And that is precisely the point I have hammmered on multiple occasions under the title "The 'Exit Strategy' is a sham." I have pointed out that the main "successes" of the American military effort have been almost uniformly dependent on air power (the killing of Zarqawi being just the latest example), and that there was no chance, zero, that the U.S. would ever allow Iraqis to fly those planes, much less leave planes there, because they know very well that anything they allow Iraqis to get their hands on will eventually, if not quickly, be used against either the Americans or their Iraqi surrogates, or both.

It's important to add that this doesn't just go for airplanes, though. Are the Americans going to give tanks to the Iraqis? Howitzers? Not on your life. Sophisticated AWACS or other kinds of high-technology devices upon which the American forces depend, and which undoubtedly comprises at least some of that "support" which those 65 "able to lead" battalions are receiving? Not a chance. Even night-vision goggles or other equipment which allows the American forces to fight at night and gain an advantage over their opponents are hardly likely to be given to Iraqi forces.

The number of Iraqi battalions "able to operate independently without American support" hasn't increased beyond zero or one, whatever the number is, for a very good reason, and that reason isn't going to change, which means that Iraqi forces aren't going to be able to operate without American support a year from now, or two, any more than they are now.

The political question to ask, then, is why are the insurgents able to operate without such outside military expertise and technology and weaponry, and yet still be able to be so effective? In part it's because their objectives are different, of course -- killing off American and Iraqi soldiers and policemen, but not in general attempting to hold territory or fight in open formation. But in part, and an important part, it's also because of their implantation in the population, the fact that they are, to an extent, the population, if not the actual fighters than certainly those either actively or passively providing support or protection. And that force can only be "defeated" in one way -- by ending the occupation that they are fighting. In other words, by acknowledging, if not "defeat," that "victory" is not going to happen.

We know George Bush is never going to acknowledge that. And, as of now, the number of Democrats willing to do so are few and far between, and certainly not including any of the Senators introducing their various resolutions and "plans" today.


Saturday, June 17, 2006


 

My leg keeps getting longer


...'cause they keep pulling it:
A secretive military Special Operations group in Iraq used several unauthorized interrogation tactics on detainees in early 2004 after it erroneously received an outdated policy from commanders in Baghdad, according to a high-level military investigative report released yesterday at the Pentagon.
This is a country which can fly pilotless drones over desert hundreds of miles from the nearest American, and kill someone who they think is a suspected terrorist (making them a suspected suspected terrorist), but they want us to believe that they only tortured people because of a paperwork error. And yes, those quaintly named "unauthorized interrogation tactics" were more than just "unauthorized" -- they were illegal. Violations of international law. Torture.

You won't be surprised when I tell you that the word "torture," not even with qualifying words surrounding it, doesn't appear in the Washington Post article linked above, will you? I didn't think so.

Added later: Just so we're clear on this, American military personnel don't torture because of memos they get or didn't get. They torture because they were trained to do so. If you were asked to interrogate someone, you might come up, having watched TV, with the "good cop-bad cop" technique. But you would be unlikely to come up with the kinds of things that were done at Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo, or elsewhere. These techniques are taught.


Friday, June 16, 2006


 

Political Humor of the Day


MAD Magazine compares the war in Iraq to previous wars:
Troops in WWI were defended by foxholes...
...troops in Iraq are defended by Fox News.

The Korean War was caused by post-WWII instability...
...the war in Iraq was caused by post-9/11 gullibility.

During the Revolutionary War, a young woman named Molly becuse famous for her pitcher...
...during the Iraq War, a dumb woman named Lynndie because famous for her pictures.

During Vietnam, draft-dodgers abruptly fled the country...
...during Iraq, draft-dodgers corruptly led the country.

In WWII, the liberation of Paris caused songs and revelry...
...in Iraq, the liberation of Baghdad caused bombs and rivalry.

During WWII, the Reich blamed their problems on the Jews...
...during Iraq, the right blames their problems on the news.

A great image of the Revolutionary War is of Washington on a boat, courageously crossing the Delaware...
...a grating image of the Iraq War is of Bush on a boat, outrageously lost and unaware.

During the Gulf War, the Patriot missile was used to repel our enemies...
...during the Iraq War, the Patriot Act is used to repeal our liberties.


 

Wiping falsehoods from the pages of time


Since last October, and continuing since then, there has been continuing controversy over Iranian President Ahmadinejad's alleged remark about "wiping Israel off the map." In the American "mainstream," that he said this is undisputed conventional wisdom.

A new article in the Guardian delves at length into the translation questions that have arisen surrounding this quote, concluding, more or less as Juan Cole did back in October, that "eliminated from the page of history" is a better translation.

To me, however, the key is still precisely what I (with zero knowledge of Farsi) wrote last October:

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.


Thursday, June 15, 2006


 

Democrats speak...and then act


Two stories in today's news pretty much encapsulate the position of the Democrats on Iraq. On the one hand, there are debates on relatively meaningless resolutions going on right now in both the Senate and the House, with various Democrats speaking about some kind of withdrawal (almost always to occur sometime in the future). On the other hand, we have action, specifically a vote to authorize money for the war. And when it came to voting $66 billion more for that purpose, the Senate voted 98-1 in favor (the one was Arlen Specter and I'm not sure what he didn't like but it wasn't the money for war).


 

Phrase of the Day


I just happened to turn on the TV a while back and catch a couple minutes of the "debate" going on in Congress about the Iraq War resolution, the one which boldly "declares that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary" (in fairness, it does have clauses that have actual meaning, like declaring "that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq" and "that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq").

Anyway, during the minute or two I was watching, some Republican Congressperson was solemnly talking about how "we" (that wouldn't include you or I, of course) had promised Karzai and Maliki that "we" (and now that probably would include you and I, if you're American, and are either a member or potential member of the Armed Forces or just a taxpayer paying for the whole thing, or even a non-taxpayer suffering from the cutbacks in social services the war has caused) would be "with them until the bitter end."

Somehow I don't think people refer to September 2, 1945 as the "bitter end" of World War II (perhaps the Japanese do, but definitely not Americans). It wouldn't surprise me, though, if people refer to the evacuation from the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon as the "bitter end" of the Vietnam War.

Yup, if the Administration and Congress have their way we'll be with Karzai and Maliki until the "bitter end," all right. The only question is, whose bitter end?


 

Palestinian and Israeli casualties


Knight-Ridder's Dion Nissenbaum, who I just had occasion to mention yesterday in conjunction with his almost balanced coverage of the deaths on the beach in Gaza, does it again today in an article headlined "Palestinian civilians bear brunt of conflict; fewer Israelis slain." That may not be news to most Left I on the News readers, but it is news to most Americans, in part because of one of the things Nissenbaum highlights in his article: "most of the Palestinian deaths received little media attention." Indeed, that disparity in media coverage is one of the focuses of the group If Americans Knew.

Nissenbaum is head and shoulders above most other American reporters covering the subject, but that doesn't mean his coverage is without problems. For example, he makes this claim:

To be sure, there's a significant distinction between the two sides: Palestinian suicide bombers and rocket teams target Israeli civilians, whereas Israel is aiming at Palestinian militants.
The problem here is two-fold. First of all, Palestinian attacks have been aimed at Israeli soldiers as well as civilians, not to mention the armed settlers who may be legally "civilians" but hardly qualify as innocent. Nissenbaum's wording makes it appear as if all Palestinian attacks are aimed exclusively at Israeli civilians. Second, Israel may often be "aiming" at Palestinian militants, but when those militants are driving along a crowded street, civilian casualties are virtually guaranteed. Not to mention that small boys playing soccer, or little girls on the way to school, or countless other Palestinian children and adults intentionally targeted by Israelis under similar situations, hardly qualify as "militants." Nissenbaum actually mentions those incidents, and others, which is the kind of thing that sets this article and Nissenbaum apart from the average American reporter, but evidently he thinks they qualify as "aiming at Palestinian militants." In a similar vein, he writes:
Over the same period, a conservative review of statistics shows, at least 47 innocent Palestinians have been killed by Israeli artillery shells, missiles and bullets. B'Tselem, which compiled the data, gives a higher number, 156, but that figure includes demonstrators throwing stones, militants trying to evade capture and Palestinians whom Israel targeted for assassination.
So, evidently being a demonstrator throwing stones disqualifies you as an "innocent Palestinian," and makes your murder not worth counting. Nissenbaum also allows the following remark by IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz about missile murder of eight civilians on a street in Gaza to go unchallenged: "We are saddened by the deaths of these innocent Palestinians but hold absolutely no responsibility for them." This is completely outrageous, and, unacceptably, Nissenbaum fails to remind his readers of the details of that atrocity. We have no way to know how isolated the car carrying the militants was when Israeli jets fired the first missile, and how big a chance the Israelis were taking with the lives of nearby civilians. But we know exactly how isolated it was when the Israelis deliberately fired the second missile -- it was surrounded by a crowd, including medical workers rushing to the aid of the victims of the first attack. The second missile was aimed at that crowd of civilians. "No responsibility"? In a just world, everyone involved, from the pilots to Dan Halutz would be headed to a war crimes trial.

But I don't want to be too harsh on Nissenbaum. For example, in conjunction with this week's murders on the beach in Gaza, he chooses his language carefully: "the military has cleared itself of responsibility," and balances that by noting "that conclusion is being challenged by human rights groups." He also provides his readers with the total figures which again, most of them are unlikely to be familiar with since they rarely, if ever, appear in the American press: "Over the past six years, according to B'Tselem, Israelis have killed more than 3,500 Palestinians, while Palestinians have killed about 1,000 Israelis."

Readers with very good memories may remember that last August, Nissenbaum actually reminded his readers in an article that Israeli settlements were in defiance of international law (an astonishing event in current-day American corporate journalism), and that he was briefly kidnapped last October when doing something else few corporate American journalists do -- reporting from Gaza, instead of from the comfort and convenience of Jerusalem.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


 

The unasked question


George Bush said today in his press conference (and not for the first time): "Abu Ghraib was a terrible mistake." And wouldn't you love for a reporter to actually follow up and ask him, "Just what was the "mistake" at Abu Ghraib, and who made it?" Was it using the prison in the first place? Allowing the soldiers stationed there to have cameras? Getting caught? Sending Colonel Geoffrey Miller to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib? What was that mistake, exactly, George?


 

Innumerate headlines


Headline
Fraudulent Katrina and Rita Claims Top $1 Billion
You'll notice, I'm sure, there is no "may" in that headline, or an "are projected to." Just a simple declarative verb: "top." And what is the actual number which should be substituted for the "$1 Billion" in that headline, so that it would be, you know, true? $16.8 million. 1.7% of the amount claimed.

Now statistics do have a certain validity, and extrapolations have a mathematical basis to them. But even had the headline been written in a truthful manner, the ability to extrapolate based on such a small number is limited, to put it mildly. This projection is based on 1,500 actual cases of fraud (or, to be more precise, suspected fraud; I don't know that any of it is actually proven yet). The obvious question to ask is, how many cases were examined to find those 1,500? Obvious perhaps, but the reporter covering the story (and the hordes of TV reporters like Anderson Cooper who have been hyping the story) neglected to ask it.

But let's assume that a statistically valid sample was taken (and, I repeat, based on this article and all the TV coverage I've seen of the story so far, there's no evidence that's true). What do the statisticians at GAO project as the final total? "Between $600 million and $1.4 billion." And that's assertedly with a "95% confidence level," meaning it could actually be lower (or higher, of course). Hardly justifying a statement that the "fraudulent claims top $1 billion."

Think about this a little more. "Between $600 million and $1.4 billion" means that some statistician gave the result as $1 billion +/- $400 million. That's one heck of an error bar! Typical polls (e.g., for elections) quote error bars of 3 points, e.g., 48 percent +/- 3 for one candidate, and 52 +/- 3 for the other. Imagine if you saw a poll reading 48 percent +/- 20 percent for one candidate, and 52 +/- 20 percent for the other. You wouldn't be too impressed with that poll, which would have obviously been based on far too small a sample to be significant. Yet that's the kind of precision we're being asked to accept here.

Looked at another way, imagine trying to project the results of an election after 1.7% of the votes had been counted (and in the absence of any exit polls). Obviously such a result would be useless at projecting a winner. And that would be even truer if you knew that that 1.7% wasn't a random selection, but came, say, exclusively from gated communities with homes valued at more than $2 million. And what do we know about how these 1,500 cases of suspected fraud were found? Precisely nothing. Perhaps someone did a preliminary scan of all the claims, and deliberately started by analyzing the ones which sounded the most suspicious. That's certainly the way I would start if I were tasked to find fraud in such a situation. As to what the GAO actually did, however, we have no idea. Did they just take the cases in alphabetical order and start going through them? I doubt it.

But for the Washington Post, CNN, and everyone else hyping the story, none of these issues matter. Only the hype. And, in my opinion, the ability to strike a blow at the very idea of government, which never does anything right, so we might as well do away with it and let people solve their own problems with their own resources, rather than run the risk that some small number of people will take advantage of the system.

Update: Here's the Los Angeles Times: "Non-Victims Bilk $1.4 Billion From FEMA Katrina Funds." Not "may have bilked." Not even "more than $600 million." Just "$1.4 billion," flat out. Flat out alright. A flat out lie.

But I also just found the answer to a question I raised above, in a a more recent AP story. How many cases were studied to find these 1,500 cases of suspected fraud, and on which to project a $1 +/- 0.4 billion total? "The GAO looked only at .01 percent of the 2.5 million applications for assistance." Now that, it turns out, is clearly nonsense, more innumeracy. Because .01 percent of 2.5 million is 250! And it's kind of hard to find 1,500 cases of fraud by examining 250 cases! My best guess is that this is a misprint, and should simply read .01, which is one percent. Which would account for the "projection" (multiply the actual total, $16.8 million, by 100, to get $1.68 billion). But that projection clearly rests on shaky grounds. Although not as shaky as the bogus headlines which accompany it.


 

Showing the flag


Today is Flag Day (whatever the heck that is; I don't think I've ever heard of it before this year). How ironic, then, that at the World Cup, which I remind you is not being held in Iraq but in Germany, a U.S. ally with no recent record of any kind of terrorist activity, the U.S. team rides around in an unmarked bus with no flag or insignia of any kind.

And then we just had Bush's trip to Baghdad, in which he arrived in a plane which may well have had a U.S. flag painted on it, but since the plane arrived at night with its lights off, no one would have been able to see it.

These colors don't run? Maybe, maybe not, but they sure know how to hide.


 

An Inconvenient Truth


I haven't seen it, and probably won't until it's out on DVD, but let me start a discussion here by reprinting Stephanie McMillan's (from Minimum Security) take, which will be different than the simple glowing paeans you can read on a variety of liberal blogs:
Last night I saw Al Gore's new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." I liked the exposure he did, the presentation of unarguable facts proving global warming is happening, and the photographs documenting its effects. He didn't stray from a liberal ruling class point of view though, and even made the point that a sufficiently energy-efficient economy can still be a growth economy (which I don't agree with). And he doesn't really look at the underlying economic forces that created this problem, or focus much blame on corporations. But I think it will serve as a horrifying wake-up call to many people, which is certainly necessary and positive.


 

Did Cuba cut off electricity to the U.S. Interest Section in Havana?


No doubt many of you have seen this item in the news, about how the U.S. was charging that Cuba had cut off the electricity to the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. Now the first thing to note in the article I just linked to, which is typical of the coverage I've seen, is that despite its length (just under 400 words), the article is entirely composed of quotes from U.S. spokespeople. The author didn't even bother to call any Cuban source for some sort of ritual denial; the story is presented simply as unchallenged fact.

But, you won't be surprised to hear, that isn't the whole truth. Or even any of the truth, as you can find out today from Granma, who, in typical Cuban fashion, has published a long, fact-filled editorial documenting the actual truth. The electricity, as a reporter could easily have verified, was part of a wider outage, connected with recent tropical storms hitting Cuba (storms bad enough to have warranted the evacuation of 25,000 people):

In fact there were a large number of power failures in the city of Havana and throughout the country; one of them occurred along the underground 13,000-volt circuit Vedado2, which directly feeds the Interests Section offices, and one of the two channels that supplies electric power to the Anti-Imperialist Tribune, due to the adverse weather conditions experienced by the country over the last two weeks up until yesterday afternoon, Monday (June 12): repair work on this interruption is underway just like on all the others.
But Granma doesn't stop there, documenting their history of repairing problems at the Interests Section, the amount of electricity used by the Interests Section, how many Cubans work there, and so on. And finally, the identify what is behind this latest nonsense, quoting a speech earlier this year by Fidel Castro:
"Under pressure from the Cuban-American mafia, and as one of its next steps, the government of the United States is intent on openly violating the U.S.–Cuba Migratory Agreement (...) It is looking for any pretext to prevent, at all costs, the sale of agricultural products to Cuba, which has been increasing, while our country has paid every cent on time during five years – something it did not expect from a blockaded nation facing constant aggression (...) And, unhappy with the decision taken by President Carter on May 30, 1977, it proposes to force a rupture in its current minimal diplomatic ties with Cuba. The gross provocations that have been carried out from its Interests Section offices in Havana do not and cannot have any other purpose."
Will you be reading the Cuban side of the story in the U.S. press? Perhaps. CNN online is now carrying the story, but it's safe to say it won't get one-tenth the play that the initial false story did.


 

500,000!


I've had other things to write about recently (and still do), but I should mention that sometime in that last week, Left I on the News passed the 500,000 total visits mark! To all readers, old and new, regulars and occasionals -- thanks for reading!


 

Quote of the Day


This one comes with a hearty hat tip to Richard Becker of ANSWER, who I heard give a talk last night and who called attention to it:
"Thanks for having me."

- George Bush's first words to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, on arriving in Baghdad the Green Zone
As Becker noted, what could be more telling about the joke of Iraqi "sovereignty" than this? Bush enters a country not only not having received an invitation or permission from any single national of that country, but without even the knowledge of any single national of that country, then lands in a helicopter outside the Prime Minister's office, and says "thanks for having me." As if this were anything other than a subject being summoned to appear before his emperor.

As Becker says, imagine the Iraqi Prime Minister landing unannounced on the lawn of the White House in a military helicopter. Of course that couldn't happen for two reasons. One, because he would have been shot down first, and second, because Iraq doesn't have any military helicopters or any other military aircraft as far as we know, a point I've made before while pointing out the fallacy of the U.S. "exit strategy."


Why stop here? There's more...

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