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Friday, September 29, 2006


 

Quote of the Last Century


With George Bush now frequently using language like this--"a world...where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority," all I can think of was this quote:
"Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

- Barry Goldwater, Republican Presidential candidate, 1964
Believe it or not, I was a Goldwater supporter back in 1964, and I'm not ashamed of it, even though my views have diverged wildly from where they were back then. Goldwater was possibly the last of the principled American politicians. And he definitely had it right with this quote--"extremism" is not only not something to be ashamed of, it's a positively essential quality.


 

Remembering Sgt. Bilko


If you read the newspapers or listen to the broadcast media in the United States, you'll think that the number of deaths in Iraq on "our side" (very strong quotes on that one) is 2710, and you'll think that it's approaching, but won't surpass for a few months, the "3,000" killed on Sept. 11, 2001. But that "3,000," actually 2973, included many people other than Americans, so the proper comparison is with the total of all the coalition deaths in Iraq (and, really, in Afghanistan too, but I'm limiting this post to Iraq).

And what is that total? Iraq Coalition Casualty Count lists the number as 2945, so the quick conclusion is that deaths of the "coalition" in Iraq will exceed the 9/11 deaths in a few weeks. But if you think so, you've forgotten about Sgt. Bilko.

And who was Sgt. Bilko? If you were watching American TV between 1955 and 1959 you'ld know he was the character, played by Phil Silvers, who ran a motor pool in the U.S. Army. Yes, that was back in the days when soldiers did the driving, cooking, and all the other tasks that were needed to allow an army to function. Yes, those prehistoric days before outsourcing hit the Army, and Halliburton and Blackwater and their ilk took on, for a generous taxpayer-funded profit, those tasks.

I've been writing about this issue since back in November, 2003 when the papers reported the then-shocking milestone of 400 deaths, even then ignoring the deaths of another 72 British, Italians, and others, and most assuredly ignoring the deaths of the contractors, the "Sgt. Bilkos." In March, 2005, when the media was reporting the 1500th American death, I noted that the actual total was more than 2,000. When the supposed death toll hit 2,000, I noted that 428 contractors had to be added to that total. That number 428 comes from the Department of Labor, and as far as I can tell it isn't an openly public number (i.e., I can't find it on a website), but seems to be obtainable by reporters. I think it includes only American contractors, making it far short of the real total, but I can't be sure of that.

And now a report on ABC News (not online) says that number is up to 643 (with the attribution again to the Dept. of Labor). 643 members of Sgt. Bilko's motor pool and others in similar privatized occupations. Bringing the real number of coalition fatalities to 3353, well-above the number killed on 9/11. And that doesn't even include the soldiers and contractors killed in Afghanistan, nor does it include the uncounted thousands of other members of the coalition, the members of the Iraqi army and police who have been killed in the last three years.

And it certainly doesn't include the death toll among the Afghan and Iraqi people, both civilians and resistance fighters. But that's a subject for another post (many of them, in fact).


Wednesday, September 27, 2006


 

News Judgment


I returned from Washington Monday and spent yesterday trying to catch up with work, not to mention still working on followup activities from the demonstration, but I finally read the paper and watched TV news for the first time in nearly a week. And what was I confronted with? This incredibly important story about the release of Gen. Pervez Musharraf's memoir in which he claims that the U.S. threatened Pakistan with being "bombed back to the Stone Age" if they didn't support the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. And where did I find this story? On page one, with large headlines? No, on page 9A. Page 1 was consumed with two articles on the local mayoral election (fair enough), a major (half page) article on "high-tech spying" (related to the local HP spying case, but hardly breaking news), and a column (!) on Barry Bonds (!). The story didn't even make the section of "news briefs" highlighting important stories found inside the paper.

Today, more of the same. This article about how a "strong majority" of Iraqis don't just want the U.S. out of their country, but want them out of their country now. An article which strikes at the heart of the contention that the U.S. is "doing good" in Iraq and is there because the Iraqis want us there to make their country safe. Page 1? No, 10A, and again, not only not front-page worthy, not even worthy of the "Inside the paper" section.

Needless to say, this kind of news judgment doesn't just affect my daily newspaper. I haven't been watching much cable news, but I suspect these items have been mentioned there. But neither made the local or even national news broadcasts I've seen.


Friday, September 22, 2006


 

Anti-Cuban terrorism strikes in Italy


Because some of the most prominent acts of anti-Cuban terrorism, like the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, happened a long time ago, some people may be lulled into thinking this is all about the past. It isn't. In the post below this one, I wrote about Livio Di Celmo, who I met yesterday, and whose brother Fabio was killed in a 1997 hotel bombing in Havana organized by Luis Posada Carriles. This morning, Granma reports on an act of terrorism that oocured in Italy last Saturday -- an Italian filmmaker who had just completed and released a film about anti-Cuban terrorism, and which featured the death of Fabio Di Celmo, had his car and his son's car destroyed with bombs outside their home. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Anti-Cuban terrorism is very much alive, in its deadly way.


 

Where in the world is Left I on the News?


Your intrepid reporter/commentator/activist here, checking in from my temporary home base in Washington, D.C., where I'm working around the clock, along with many others, on tomorrow's march demanding freedom for the Cuban Five and the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, and events surrounding the march, most notably an amazing press conference that was held yesterday. I haven't seen television or read a newspaper in several days, even missing the otherwise Left I on the News-worthy speech of Hugo Chavez, but I've been plenty busy. If you visit the website of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, you'll see plenty evidence of that - numerous updates in the last few days, and more to come. I do that all the time when I'm home, but for the last few days it's been a full-time job.

Yesterday was an amazing day. I started out helping Francisco Letelier find the Reuters office where he was taping a segment for Democracy Now!


Francisco, as you may realize from his name, is the son of Orlando Letelier, who, along with his assistant Ronnie Moffitt, was assassinated on the streets of Washington, D.C. in a brutal car bombing 30 years ago to the day, in the first act of international terrorism on U.S. soil. An act which to this day not only goes unpunished, but one of whose perpetrators, Guillermo Novo, was given a hero's welcome when he arrived in Miami two years ago. Another of the perpetrators, Luis Posada Carriles, had to sneak in last year, but is now on the verge of being released from immigration custody. The U.S. still refuses to extradite him to Venezuela where he is wanted for another act of terrorism, the 1976 mid-air bombing of Cubana Airles Flight 455 and the murder of all 73 people on board.

After the Democracy Now! taping was finished, we hurried to the National Press Club a few blocks away where the morning's press conference was about to start.


I don't have time to write up a full report of the press conference here, because I'm working on getting audio and transcripts up on the web, just taking a short break to write this post. Suffice it to say that the collection of speakers assembled there, the personal experiences they brought to bear, and the knowledge and emotion with which they spoke, produced one of the most powerful hours I have ever spent. Two of the speakers, Letelier and Livio Di Celmo, were personal victims of U.S. state-sponsored, anti-Cuban terrorism (Di Celmo's brother was killed in a Havana hotel bombing, also organized by Posada). Another of the speakers, Jose Pertierra, is the attorney for the Venezuelan government pressing their case for the extradition of Posada. Still others were long-time activists in the area. Anyway, it was an experience that moved everyone present. And, as it turned out, it produced several newpaper articles as an added benefit.

Now it's on to Saturday's march! Back to work.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006


 

Surprising Quote of the Day


Most of George Bush's speech today at the U.N. was comprised of low-hanging fruit, and I'll pass on the chance to pick it. But one passage was worth noting:
"The Palestinian people have suffered from decades of corruption and violence and the daily humiliation of occupation."

- George Bush at the U.N.
Has George Bush every used the "O" word before in this context? I'll leave the answer to readers (I don't know).

The mention of the "daily humiliation" of occupation is rather striking. Unless you're a regular consumer of progressive news sources like Flashpoints Radio, Amira Haas's reporting in Ha'aretz, etc., or a regular attendee at left-wing forums, you're highly unlikely to have ever heard a word about the reality of that "daily humiliation." I highly doubt George Bush or Condoleezza Rice ever has, and I'm doubtful about their speechwriters as well.

The phrase which precedes that is more typical. Placing "corruption" before and on an equal plane with "violence" is both absurd and deeply offensive, made worse by the fact that the parallelism makes it seem like (and I believe this is the case) that the "violence" Bush is referring to is intra-Palestinian violence, not the daily violence being visited upon the Palestinians by Israeli tanks, bombs, and bulldozers. That's made even more likely by the very next phrase in the talk:

"Israeli citizens have endured brutal acts of terrorism and constant fear of attack since the birth of their nation."
The "violence" being visited on the Palestinians wasn't "brutal" like that visiting the Israelis, and, of course, rather than the constant "fear" of attack, the Palestinians have been under actual and daily attack by the Israelis, and they didn't even get the "birth of their nation" as a counterweight.

OK, one piece of low-hanging fruit:

"Freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed -- it must be chosen. From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom."
This would be funny, except for the 100,000+ Iraqis who not only didn't "choose" freedom, they also didn't "choose" death. They just got the latter, courtesy of George Bush and the U.S. government.


Monday, September 18, 2006


 

Bush praises Cuba!


Of course he didn't know he was doing so. Bush delivered a paean to the benefits of literacy in a speech today, talking about its benefits to the economy, and also this:
It is very hard to have free societies if the citizens cannot read. Think about that. It's much harder for a society to realize the universal blessings of liberty if your citizens can't read the newspaper in order to be able to make informed choices and decisions about what may be taking place in a country.
I wonder if he knows that the most successful literacy program ever in the history of the world was conducted in Cuba? I wonder if he's noticed that one of the characteristics of modern socialist or socialist-oriented revolutions -- Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela -- is precisely that they can only succeed by involving the people, and hence one of their first priorities, if not the first, has been conducting literacy programs? I wonder if he's aware that not only did Cuba pioneer the use of such ambitious literacy programs, and has received many awards for them, but that just a few months ago it received a U.N. award for "exporting" its literacy program to other countries?

While I'm skimming (not thoroughly reading, sorry, can't do that) Bush's speech, I did take note of these obnoxious words:

We don't believe freedom belongs only to the United States of America; we believe that liberty is universal in its applications.
I wonder what the British, and the Swedes, and the Australians, and the Canadians, and the Japanese, and indeed the citizens of most other countries of the world, would think about the fact the George Bush actually thinks there are people who think that "freedom belongs only to the United States of America." What an ass.


 

Sovereignty watch


AP is out today with a major article about the 14,000 prisoners being held by the U.S. in prisons all over the world. Little of it is a surprise; if anything, the most surprising thing is that AP chose to run this story. Buried in the middle of it, I found this perhaps the most interesting passage, in light of the American legal fig-leaf that the U.S. is in Afghanistan and Iraq "at the invitation" of those governments and is "just helping" those governments:
Officials of Nouri al-Maliki's 4-month-old Iraqi government say the U.S. detention system violates Iraq's national rights.

"As long as sovereignty has transferred to Iraqi hands, the Americans have no right to detain any Iraqi person," said Fadhil al-Sharaa, an aide to the prime minister. "The detention should be conducted only with the permission of the Iraqi judiciary."

At the Justice Ministry, Deputy Minister Busho Ibrahim told AP it has been "a daily request" that the detainees be brought under Iraqi authority.


Friday, September 15, 2006


 

What is killing the people of the world?


It's a subject I've been writing about for three years -- the fact that, on a list of the world's deadly problems, terrorism ranks well down the list. Indeed, as I noted here, the number of Americans killed by traffic accidents in a single year is more than the number of people killed worldwide by acts of terrorism in all of recorded history (excluding state-sponsored terrorism, which dwarfs acts of individual terrorism).

Now Wired (hat tip to Lenin's Tomb) provides us with the data for the deaths of Americans only, over an 11-year period, in the form of a handy-dandy color-coded chart that we Americans love so much:


You'll note that your chance of being killed by a cop are greater than being killed by a terrorist; your chance of being killed at work, quite likely due to the intentional negligence of your employer (and the equally intentional government gutting of OHSA), is more than ten times greater.

Since the U.S. has done its best to globalize the problem of terrorism, in the sense of trying to make it the #1 priority of every country in the world, we mustn't overlook what is missing from Wired's chart -- the problems that don't just threaten America, but threaten the Americas, and Africa and Asia and everywhere else in even greater numbers. As noted previously, these include 9 million a year from hunger, 1.5 million a year from Diarrhea, 150,000 a year from global warming, 68,000 a year from unsafe abortions, and certainly millions more each year (I don't have the figure) from inadequate health care, just to name some of the things I've written about over the years. I haven't even mentioned hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, which may not be preventable in and of themselves, but the number of deaths they cause (cf. Katrina) is certainly enhanced by government policies and economic status, i.e., by the results of capitalism and imperialism.

But let's focus all our attention and resources on terrorism, shall we?


Thursday, September 14, 2006


 

Will U.S. troops ever withdraw...from South Korea?


For nearly a year I've been pointing out that U.S. troops are still in South Korea, and still in control of the joint forces, 56 years after the start of the Korean War. Don't worry though. The U.S. is thinking about transferring control to the Koreans. If you call this "thinking":
"PRESIDENT BUSH: He asked about operational control, and the date -- the appropriate date of operational control. My message to the Korean people is that the United States is committed to the security of the Korean Peninsula. Decisions about the placement of our troops and the size of our troops will be made in consultation with the South Korean government. We will work in a consultative way at the appropriate level of government to come up with an appropriate date.

"I agree with the President that the issue should not become a political issue. I have talked to our Secretary of Defense about making sure that the issue is done in a consultative way and at the appropriate level of government, and that's how we will end up deciding the appropriate transfer of operational authority."
And the subjects of the Emperor are behaving as they should. Here's what followed that statement:
PRESIDENT ROH: (As translated.) Yes, that was a very good answer. Thank you, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
I admit I am puzzled by that "Laughter" at the end. Was the assembled press laughing because they realized that Bush had said exactly nothing? Or were they laughing at the obsequious President Roh? I'm not sure.


 

Blogger quote of the day


"[A British Labor MP] proposes a healthy 'debate' [on foreign policy] at the Labour Party conference, which is rather sweet but too late. You've killed hundreds of thousands on the basis of lies: the time for debate was before that. Now is the time for show-trials and executions."

- Lenin


 

Quote of the Day


Commenting on the continued refusal by the U.S. to extradite notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, and the possibility that he might be released from jail to walk the streets of the U.S.:
The president of the National Assembly [of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon] quoted Paragraph 15 of a [U.S.] document on “national strategy” against terrorism published a few days ago on the White House website, which affirms: “… states that harbor and assist terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists, and they will be held to account.”

“We agree with that. Yes, it’s true. The Bush clan is as guilty as Posada!” he exclaimed.
Actually, guiltier by many orders of magnitude. But let's not quibble.


 

U.S. lies on Iran exposed by IAEA


In today's news:
UN inspectors have protested to the U.S. government and a Congressional committee about a report on Iran's nuclear work, calling parts of it "outrageous and dishonest," according to a letter obtained by Reuters.
How "outrageous and dishonest"? This "outrageous and dishonest":
The letter said the report falsely described Iran to have enriched uranium at its pilot centrifuge plant to weapons-grade level in April, whereas IAEA inspectors had made clear Iran had enriched only to a low level usable for nuclear power reactor fuel.

The U.S. has also said that mass quantities of uranium gas await enrichment, which would ultimately be used for the construction of some 40 nuclear bombs.
The full-court press is on, folks. It's up to us to see that the U.S. doesn't succeed in its plan.


 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold


In the last few days:

The Lord Chancellor, the highest ranking official in the British legal system, describes Guantanamo as "a 'shocking affront to the principles of democracy' and a violation of the rule of law."

The head of an Israeli military unit describes the Israeli use of cluster bombs in Lebanon as "insane and monstrous."

The head of the Northern command of the Israeli army resigns, and calls are heard in Israel for the resignation of the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army.

A resolution is introduced in Congress demanding Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.

The chief Intelligence Officer of the U.S. Marines says in a secret report that the U.S. has "lost" Anbar province.

A top British soldier in Afghanistan quits, using words like "grotesque" and "pointless" to describe the British effort there.

No doubt there's even more I'm missing.

I used a quote from a famous poem by William Butler Yeats to head this post; it just seemed right. But perhaps a more accurate title would have been, "Rats deserting a sinking ship."


Wednesday, September 13, 2006


 

Meanwhile, back in the real war on terror...


Attorney Leonard Weinglass and Gloria La Riva, National Coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, discuss (13:44 mp3 file) the latest developments in the case, along with the potential freeing of notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, with Flashpoint's Dennis Bernstein.

For a video summary of the deadly career of Luis Posada Carriles, featuring ABC News coverage of the case, interviews with family members of those killed by Posada, and more, I highly recommend these short (6:10) videos:

WMV   QuickTime

And finally, here's (1:11 mp3 file) how every liberal's favorite whipping boy, Mumia Abu-Jamal, summarized the case of the Cuban Five in just over one minute. If any of those people every actually went to a demonstration, and paid attention, they'd know that 9 times out of 10, when Mumia's name comes up on the platform, it's because he's delivering a speech (on tape from prison, obviously) about the issue in question, not talking about his own case. That's just an aside to rant about one of my pet peeves -- ridiculous straw man arguments about what's wrong with demonstrations.


 

The war that keeps on killing...is even worse than we thought


I first wrote about the Israeli cluster bombs littering (sounds positively benign, doesn't it?) southern Lebanon more than three weeks ago, and then two weeks ago we had the first estimates of the extent of the situation. Now, directly from the mouths of one of the perpetrators, we learn that the situation is even worse than we thought, so bad that even that perpetrator is feeling guilty about it:
"What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs," the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon said regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war.

Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the IDF fired around 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets.

In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law. According to their claims, the vast majority of said explosive ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war.

The rocket unit commander stated that Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platforms were heavily used in spite of the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate.

According to the commander, in order to compensate for the inaccuracy of the rockets and the inability to strike individual targets precisely, units would "flood" the battlefield with munitions, accounting for the littered and explosive landscape of post-war Lebanon.

Because of their high level of failure to detonate, it is believed that there are around 500,000 unexploded munitions on the ground in Lebanon. To date 12 Lebanese civilians have been killed by these mines since the end of the war.
Of course that's not all. When it comes to Israeli brutality, as with U.S. and British brutality, it rarely is:
It has come to light that IDF soldiers fired phosphorous rounds in order to cause fires in Lebanon. An artillery commander has admitted to seeing trucks loaded with phosphorous rounds on their way to artillery crews in the north of Israel.

A direct hit from a phosphorous shell typically causes severe burns and a slow, painful death.
I'm sure most Palestinians and Lebanese would join me in saying we don't wish a "slow, painful death" for the Israeli regime. A quick, painless one would suit us just fine. Alas, that isn't in the cards, and also alas, most of the pain involved in that process is going to be felt by the Palestinians, not by the Israelis. Nevertheless, I join Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in saying that the Israeli regime, just like the U.S. regime (and I don't just mean the "Bush regime" in the words of World Can't Wait), is going to vanish from the pages of time. The light at the end of the long, dark tunnel which precedes that day is, unfortunately, not yet visible.


 

Quote of the Day


On NBC...Washington bureau chief Tim Russert told viewers before [last night's] speech that the president would be assuming the role of "commander in chief, healer in chief, comforter in chief; all alone in the Oval Office with one big megaphone for the country and the world to hear." (Source)
Are you effing kidding me? Is there a pimp or marketing person in the land who could do a better job selling their product? That "all alone in the Oval Office" line brought tears to my eyes, I felt so sorry for that poor George Bush, only trying to heal and comfort the nation. Ugh. I feel slimy just having repeated this quote.

After the speech, when it was obvious that the networks had been duped by the White House into not scheduling any kind of Democratic response (God forbid they should schedule a response from a Green, or a Red (!), or someone in the antiwar movement!), and they hastily scheduled not such a response but "analysis" (a word we use very loosely when it comes to the "analysis" we get on network TV), Russert added some more pimping for the President:

During that segment, Russert predicted that Democrats would no doubt accuse Bush of playing "politician in chief."
Rather than criticizing Bush for politicizing the speech, Russert instead implicitly criticizes the Democrats, and doesn't just criticize them, but criticizes them in advance for something they haven't even said!

Unbelievable.


 

Israel's Hamas prisoners


The other day, in comments, I mentioned why it might be difficult for Palestinians to "recognize" Israel when Israel is a country without defined borders. And, for several months, Israel has been holding several dozen members and alleged members of Hamas whom they abducted from the West Bank and Gaza. Today these stories come together, as one court in Israel has ordered some of the abductees released (that doesn't mean it will happen, by the way). And this sentence in the New York Times article, which isn't a new piece of information, still struck me:
Israel classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, and membership in the group is illegal under Israeli law.
But the West Bank and Gaza are not Israel, and Israeli law shouldn't apply in Palestine any more than American law applies in Iraq or Afghanistan. And yet, as far as I know, not a single significant international voice has been raised against the outrage of Israel seizing those ministers, and to demand that they be set free. Certainly it wasn't a "demand" made by Tony Blair as a condition which must precede Israel talking with the Palestinians, even though it's a heck of lot more defined (and verifiably met) demand than "renouncing violence" which was a demand he made on Hamas.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006


 

Sept. 11 and Sept. 12


On September 11, the U.S. marked the fifth anniversary of the day that “terrorism” became a common part of the American vocabulary. On September 12, five Cuban men -- Fernando González, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, and Ramón Labañino, collectively known as the “Cuban Five” -- will begin their ninth year in U.S. prisons for the “crime” of attempting to put a stop to terrorism.

How can you be imprisoned for opposing terrorism? It’s simple. You just have to oppose terrorism that originates in the United States, and is directed at Cuba, or at any other country on the U.S. “regime change” list.

And the terrorists? Incredibly, one of those who the Five were attempting to thwart, Orlando Bosch, is walking the streets of the U.S., having been pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Another, Luis Posada Carriles, is currently in jail on minor immigration charges, but the United States refuses to extradite him to Venezuela to stand charges for the murder of 73 people, and is actually considering granting him citizenship!

How can known terrorists walk the streets of America as free men? Again, they simply have to be terrorists who directed their actions against the “right” country, such as Cuba.

And now, today, September 12, the 8th anniversary of the incarceration of the Cuban Five, brings yet another outrage -- a federal magistrate in Texas has recommended that Posada be released from immigration custody, so that he can join his fellow terrorist Bosch in walking the streets, and plotting more acts of terrorism. For those unfamiliar with it, by the way, an excellent summary of the 47-year history of U.S. terrorism against Cuba, in which Posada and Bosch play a leading role, can be found here. You'll probably be surprised to learn that the number of deaths over that period, 3,478 according to Cuban records, exceeds the death total of 9/11.

Regular readers may have noted that the volume of this blog has dropped a bit in recent days; expect that to happen even more in the coming weeks, because I'm intimately involved with the planning and preparation for the national March on Washington on September 23 demanding freedom for the Cuban Five. Come join us in Washington. In the meantime, there's an even more pressing campaign -- join us today in demanding that the U.S. not release the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, and demand that they extradite him to Venezuela instead. ANSWER has all the facts of the case, along with an "easy-click link" to send a letter to the government to join in the demand. Do it today.

"War on terror"? What a joke.


Monday, September 11, 2006


 

Talking without conditions


Sometimes, apparently, it's a fine idea:
Prodded by Britain's visiting leader, the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president said Sunday that they are ready to resume contacts without conditions -- a small step that many people hope could lead to resuming peace talks.
Other times...not so much:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also tried to draw Hamas into peace efforts, but the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian government rejected his condition that it first renounce violence and recognize Israel.


Sunday, September 10, 2006


 

Political humor of the day


In the "complete lack of self (or national)-awareness" category, these excerpts from an article in today's New York Times entitled "Shades of Supergun Evoke Hussein’s Thirst for Arms":
...a concentrated picture of the obsessive martial mind that ran this country for 25 years...the weaponry seems equal parts Jules Verne, power-mad dictator and adolescent boy...“I would say that Saddam’s regime was not a model of rationality,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-based organization that has studied Mr. Hussein’s weaponry. “He did in some respects share Hitler’s fascination with wonder weapons.”...Mr. Hussein’s scientists could not satisfy his craving for wonder weaponry...There was a reported program to create a “rail gun,” in which electromagnetic pulses would accelerate a projectile to high speeds, research on elaborate multistage rockets and re-entry vehicles, and, before 1991, endless tinkering with weird biological agents.
I'm not privy to secret U.S. military programs, and I'm not going to take the time to research the numbers, but I think it's safe to say that the "obsessive martial mind" that ran Iraq for 25 years didn't spent one one-hundredth the money on weaponry that the "obsessive martial minds" who have been running the United States during the same period have, and I think it's also safe to say that there's not a single weapon that Iraq was working on -- not rail guns, not elaborate multistage rockets, not "weird biological agents," and not even "super guns," that the U.S. hasn't also looked into, if not developed, not to mention the bunker busters, mothers of all bombs, tactical nuclear weapons, and other absolutely heinous weapons in the U.S. arsenal. But author James Glanz wants us to think that it was Iraq and Saddam Hussein that was weapons-crazy. Please. Iraq wouldn't even qualify for the Little League compared to the United States and its power-mad rulers.


 

The big lie about Iran (actually, one of several)


It's just a throwaway line, really:
One visiting leader calls for the annihilation of Israel. A second labels the United States the biggest terrorist nation on Earth. And the host country describes President Bush as a Nazi-style warmonger.
The second and third sentences of this article about the upcoming meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement are perfectly true, in both sentences of the word (true because they have indeed said those things, and true because those assertions are true). But the first sentence is yet another continuation of the big lie. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said, depending on whose translation is more accurate, that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time," or that it should be "eliminated from the page of history."

Neither, with their historical sense, carries the slightest implication of "annihilation": "1. To reduce to utter ruin or nonexistence; destroy utterly: The heavy bombing almost annihilated the city. 2. To destroy the collective existence or main body of; wipe out: to annihilate an army." Indeed, it should be pretty clear, based on simple observation of the recent assault on Lebanon or the continuing assault on Gaza and the West Bank, that the only one who has any claim to being guilty of attempted annihilation is the Israeli state itself. By contrast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has stated clearly 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" (which puts it in obvious contrast not just to Israel but to the good old U.S. of A. as well).

The facts, sadly, aren't enough to put an end to this big lie, no more than they can put an end to the "Iran is embarked on a program to make nuclear weapons" lie, nor the implicit "Iran is doing something wrong or illegal by pursuing nuclear power" lie.


Friday, September 08, 2006


 

That "free press" doesn't come cheap


Today's revelation:
At least 10 South Florida journalists, including three from El Nuevo Herald, received regular payments from the U.S. government for programs on Radio Martí and TV Martí, two broadcasters aimed at undermining the communist government of Fidel Castro. The payments totaled thousands of dollars over several years [up to $175,000 in one case!]"
Not that the U.S. really has to pay right-wing Cubans in Miami to say bad things about Cuba. But it never hurts. And there's also the question of where that money goes. The people getting paid off may well be donating substantial sums to right-wing terrorist groups, just as the Halliburtons and others getting paid off in much larger sums funnel plenty of it back to their political patrons.


 

Charlie Gibson doesn't see the invisible straw man


I wrote a week ago about the "invisible straw man," George Bush's assertion that "nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack [on 9/11]." Last night Bush repeated that straw man claim in an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, and, true to its invisible nature, Gibson looked right past (or though) it:
Charlie Gibson: I heard you say just yesterday the hardest thing I have to do is to get people to understand how Iraq is a critical part of the war on terror.

George Bush: Right.

CG: And that's the one thing that I question whether people do have any sense of, for as loathsome as he may have been, Saddam Hussein was not connected to al Qaeda, and he was not behind 9/11.

Bush: No, listen I understand that people ask, how can this be a connection between the war on terror, and uh, how can Iraq be a connection when Saddam Hussein didn't order the attacks. I understand the concern, because he didn't order the attacks. The enemy however, believes that Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Osama bin Laden has called Iraq central to the war on terror...(blather follows) [Transcript mine; you can watch the interview here, or (note added later), read the full transcript]
To Gibson's credit, although he missed the straw man, he did push Bush on his answer:
CG: But the point that I make and that many of the critics make is that it wasn't a part of the war on terror until we went in there. [Ed. note: of course this assumes that Iraq is now part of a so-called "war on terror," an assumption that Gibson should not be accepting]

Bush: Listen, I understand it's dangerous and troublesome, but I think it's very important for the American people to ask why is it that Osama bin Laden wants to drive us out of Iraq before this democracy can sustain itself...(long blathering answer which completely avoids answering Gibson's question)

CG: [Ed. note: completely ignores Bush's assertion that it is "Osama bin Laden" who wants to drive us out of Iraq, as if all evidence doesn't indicate that it's the Iraqis who not only want to drive the U.S. out of Iraq, but who form the vast majority of those trying to do so] A very good argument that you just made for what you did in Afghanistan, and what you did in working with the Pakistanis, in going after the Taliban, who were at the center of this [Ed. note: exhibiting the usual confusion (and conflation) between the Taliban and al Qaeda], but Iraq was not until we went in.

Bush: Charlie (Saddam, sponsor of terror, shooting at American planes, used weapons of mass destructions, paying for suicide bombers, big threat, world better off, blah blah). [Ed. note: Gibson gives up, no followup]


Thursday, September 07, 2006


 

Credibility where credibility isn't due


Reporting on the transfer of 14 "high-profile suspects" to Guantanamo, The New York Times "informs" its readers:
The transfer of the high-level suspects to Guantánamo Bay effectively suspended the extraordinary program, in which the intelligence agency became the jailer and interrogator of suspects counterterrorism officials considered the world’s most wanted Islamic extremists.
Really? On whose say so? On the say so of people who have spent years denying (or "refusing to confirm") the existence of such prisons to begin with? And they don't even say so on the record! Much further down in the article, we read this:
A senior intelligence official said there had been fewer than 100 detainees in the C.I.A. program since its inception shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Beyond the 14, the remainder have either been turned over to the Defense Department as so-called unlawful enemy combatants, returned to their countries of origin or sent to nations that have legal proceedings against them.
Maybe they have. Maybe they haven't. Since even the source of the information isn't public, the information itself can hardly be deemed credible.

As it had in the AP article it ran yesterday, the Times mentions the new "no-torture manual" issued by the DoD, while failing to note its lack of applicability to secret CIA facilities:

The Pentagon released a new Army Field Manual that lays out permissible interrogation techniques and specifically bans eight methods that have come up in abuse cases.
There's another thing missing from the Times article, as well as all the other coverage of this prisoner transfer that I've seen. The Bush Administration has belittled the idea that actual terrorists (as opposed to invented ones) are best dealt with using the standard justice methods of police and courts, rather than with wars. Of the 14 prisoners in question, as near as I can tell none of them were captured in battle (or anywhere near a battlefield). A fact which seems like it just might be worth mentioning.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006


 

Government and society


Opining on the one year anniversary of the still ongoing Hurricane Katrina disaster, the editors at The Nation lay it out very clearly:
"What happened in New Orleans is the culmination of twenty-five years of disparagement of any idea of public responsibility," Adolph Reed Jr. writes in Unnatural Disaster, a collection of Nation reports and essays from the first year of the still-unfolding Gulf Coast disaster. For nearly three decades, American voters have endorsed the neoliberal gospel first preached during the Reagan years--voting for the ideas that the best responses to public problems come from the private domain, that tax collection amounts to thievery and that a fully functioning government is an unnecessary and prohibitively expensive frill meant to impoverish working people. Many of the social protections gradually assembled during the twentieth century have been systematically dismantled, defunded and discredited, with results every bit as predictable, and every bit as tragic, as the collapse of the levees. As both Reed and Gary Younge reveal in this issue, what the Gulf Coast disaster has laid bare is not just the shame of racial and economic inequities in the world's richest nation but a wider breach of the social contract that once bound us to one another, however loosely and imperfectly.

It is all too convenient for progressive-minded Americans and Democratic politicians to Bush-ify this historic national failure--to see Katrina, in Younge's words, mainly as "a signifier for an Administration that was heartless and clueless." But the storm also exposed the continuing failure of progressives and Democrats to fight for an alternative vision in which government responds to the needs and hopes of people, not the demands of monied interests.
In his long and worthwhile article describing how the response to the Katrina disaster exemplifies the theme above, Reed concludes thusly:
As time goes on, fewer and fewer Americans will recall that government can do anything but make war and suppress dissent. Unless current patterns change, the struggle for New Orleans's future may be a more extreme, condensed version of the future of many, many more people as the bipartisan neoliberal consensus reduces government to a tool of corporations and the investor class alone.
It must be noted, however, as Reed and The Nation do not, that the "social protections gradually assembled during the twentieth century" were no gift from those same corporations and the investor class (a.k.a. the "ruling class"), but hard-won gains through decades of bloody struggle by the working class, and that the "concessions" made by the likes of the sainted Franklin Delano Roosevelt were granted not out of some recognition of that "social contract that...bound us to one another," but precisely to stave off the very real possibility of more radical social change. Ever it is thus.


 

No more torture? Read the fine print.


Headlines are touting the new Department of Defense "manual" which bans torture of all prisoners, be they "real" prisoners of war or part of the completely extra-legal, Bush team-invented, media and Democrat-accepted category of "unlawful combatant." No more torture, right? Read the fine print (when it's there; on most broadcast versions of the story, and even in some print versions, it isn't).

Two-thirds of the way through the AP story, as carried in the New York Times, we find these five words: "It doesn't cover the CIA." The Washington Post completely fails to mention this "little" exemption, in the midst of an article touting the importance of the secret CIA prisons and their interrogation methods in obtaining allegedly crucial information. The Los Angeles Times takes a slightly different tack. While mentioning the CIA exemption from the purview of this new manual, they make this assertion:

Under the McCain amendment, the protections also will apply to CIA prisoners held in Defense Department prisons or bases.

They will not apply to CIA interrogators working in prisons run by other countries, although under the McCain amendment, those prisoners must be treated humanely and cannot be tortured.
Well, I'm no lawyer, but if you read the text of the McCain amendment, you'll see that the first sentence is true (with a proviso to be mentioned in a moment). But the second part of the McCain amendment, which applies to secret CIA prisons, doesn't state anything which the Administration doesn't already claim was true, and that they were following. Most importantly, it doesn't, unlike the new DoD manual, detail any actual techniques (like waterboarding), thereby leaving the entire language of that section up to the interpretation of the CIA and the Administration, just as it always has been. Furthermore (here comes the proviso), we don't have any reason to believe that Bush didn't issue a secret "signing statement" when signing the Defense Appropriation bill, nullifying the McCain amendment entirely.

Is this significant? Of course it is. When is torture likely to be deemed effective by its proponents? Surely not after someone has been in Guantanamo for four years and the "trail has gone cold." No, when they are going to torture people is right after they've been captured. Consider the recent announcement of the arrest of yet another "al Qaeda Number 2," Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi. First widely touted as having occured a few days ago, it has now been revealed to have occured on June 19. Where was Mr. al-Saeedi for two and a half months? It's a safe guess he was being worked over by the CIA in a secret prison, free from prying eyes and pesky laws.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006


 

Syria - the unknown occupation


Most people have heard the term "Golan Heights" and know that Israel is occupying some small portion of Syria. If I'm typical of most of my readers, and I'll bet I am, few are really familiar with the details of that occupation. Writing in Workers World, an Israeli soldier who fought in the Golan in 1973 fills us in on some of the details:
The area seized by the Zionists had a population before June 1967 of around 148,000, including 9,000 Palestinians who had fled from northern Palestine in 1948.They lived in 139 villages and two towns.

Within a few days after the occupation began the population dropped to around 6,500, as the result of mass expulsion and wartime flight. Those who fled have not been allowed to return.

The provincial capital, also called Quneitra, was totally bulldozed except for a movie theater. It had had a population of 25,000. Only five villages, all located in the northern Golan Heights, remained populated. The others were also bulldozed.

Right behind the Israeli Defense Forces came the Zionist settlers. Today there are over 18,000 settlers living in the Golan Heights in 41 settlements. Some of the settlements are built over the sites of destroyed Syrian villages. The names of geographical features have been changed from Arabic to Hebrew. Aquifers and rivers are under complete Israeli control, with large amounts of water diverted to the settlements.

On Dec. 14, 1981, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) annexed the occupied Syrian lands and demanded that the population accept Israeli ID cards. The Syrians refused--and on Feb. 14, 1982, launched a successful 157-day general strike that forced the Zionists to retreat.
The forcible expulsion of a population. The right of return. Israel committing war crimes by settling occupied lands. Palestine isn't the only place where all these things apply.


Monday, September 04, 2006


 

Bizarre news item of the day


Jon Stewart has a technique where he reads some unbelievable piece of news and then rubs his eyes and goes "Whaaaaaaa?" This, from an article summarizing the various countries which are for or against Venezuela's candidacy for the Security Council, just has to be a candidate for that kind of treatment:
In Latin America, Venezuela is probably ahead, with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia all committed, and Cuba almost certain to back it as well.
Cuba is "almost certain"? Whaaaaaa? Well, maybe AP thinks there's a chance the U.S. can overthrow the Cuban revolution before the vote on October 16. Or perhaps they're in possession of a weather forecast indicating that October 16 is going to be a cold day in hell. Because those are pretty much the only two circumstances in which Cuba is going to vote against Venezuela.


Sunday, September 03, 2006


 

The Latin America I don't write about


I write a lot about Cuba, and Venezuela, countries where the political and economic system is, or is starting to be, devoted to the needs of the people rather than the corporations and the elite. Every once in a while it's good to look at the other side of the coin. Bolivia is a country where there is potential for change, thanks to the election of Evo Morales, but certainly no substantive change has yet occured. This is the starting point:
Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants look to better their lives outside Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. With nearly 1.5 million Bolivians -- a fifth of the population -- living abroad, few families are untouched by the exodus.

Some 10 percent of working age people are unemployed, and four million more are underemployed, many earning less than the national minimum wage of about 480 bolivianos a month, about $60.
The Miami Herald doesn't do the math, but the population of Bolivia is 9 million (presumably not including that 1.5 million living abroad, although that's not completely clear). So the unemployed and underemployed together amount to a whopping 54 percent of the population.


Friday, September 01, 2006


 

Israel's deceptions


Jonathan Cook has been doing some excellent writing on Israel. His article yesterday entitled "Israel's Deceptions" is a must-read. With numerical analysis (a Left I on the News staple), he talks about how Israel has been exaggerating the damage to its infrastructure, exaggerating the number of Israeli people who became temporary refugees during the war, and much, much more. Excerpting wouldn't do the article justice.


Why stop here? There's more...

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