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Wednesday, February 28, 2007


 

Science vs. religion


So the tomb of Jesus...some guy named Jesus, anyway...has been discovered and the media is all over the story. On channel after channel, I've listened to serious discussions of scientific evidence - DNA, statistics, etc. Out of everything I've read and heard, only one person dared to state the obvious - obvious to me, anyway - Keith Olbermann:
"What if the story that Jesus was resurrected and rose to heaven had somehow been contradicted by new, conclusive proof, other than, you know, the laws of physics? Would any Christian denomination really call it a day and pack up shop?

"No matter what you think of the number two story on our COUNTDOWN tonight, if anyone ever hoped to use hard physical evidence to disprove Christianity, or any other established religion, that ship ascended long ago."
I'll avoid starting this sentence with "God," but I'll still say: Bless you, K.O. "Other than, you know, the laws of physics." Love it.


 

ABC News spots (and spouts) "propaganda"


ABC News tonight aired a piece taken from an al Qaeda website, showing a suicide bomber in Afghanistan preparing a bomb, loading his car, and then ending with a large explosion as a U.S. Army convoy passed by. At the end of the piece, anchor Charlie Gibson asked the reporter Brian Ross, "Isn't a tape like that nothing more than propaganda?" [transcribed, as is the quote below, by me from video available here] This from a network which, like every other U.S. corporate media outlet, has aired literally hundreds of "gunsight" videos provided by the U.S. military over the years of buildings exploding, targets "taken out," and so on. Somehow I don't recall ABC or anyone else identifying any of those as "propaganda."

Nor did Gibson seem to be aware that just a few sentences earlier he had indulged in a bit of propaganda all on his own, when he introduced the piece by stating "It is almost impossible to comprehend the mind of a teenager who believes there's glory in taking innocent lives, or more to be gained in death than in life." Of course, this young man almost certainly believes no such thing. What he was convinced of, I have no doubt, is that there's glory in killing members of an army occupying your country, and that the cause he was fighting for was a cause worth dying for. Rather a different thing than "killing innocent people for glory."

Updated by replacing my quotations from memory with transcriptions of the exact quotes from the video online at the ABC World News site.


 

The 57-year (and counting) "exit strategy" - what is a "permanent base"?


I have referred many times (most recently here) to the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, 54 years after the "end" (57 from the beginning) of the Korean War. Today Secretary of War Defense Robert Gates admitted the comparison was valid, saying, "we will probably have some presence in Iraq, as we have had in Korea and Germany and a variety of other places around the world where we've been at war, for a prolonged period of time, a number of years." But he then added this curious claim, "We clearly have no desire for permanent bases in Iraq." Really? Just what would you call a base that has been in place for 57 years, like the U.S. bases in Korea? I mean, I admit they're not the Great Pyramid of Cheops as far as longevity goes, but really, isn't it stretching just a bit to claim that 57 years doesn't constitute a "permanent" base?


 

Darfur update


Updating the story below about Darfur, just how imprecise (and basically unknown) the numbers are from Darfur is indicated by today's McClatchy article, which refers to "a conflict that's claimed an estimated 450,000 lives." Pretty dramatic increase just since yesterday's 200,000! Unsurprisingly McClatchy gives no source for that information, since it doesn't appear there is any actual reliable source (Wikipedia summarizes the sources of various numbers, but it's "most reliable" source comes from a no-longer existing organization which sounds more like a right-wing advocacy group, and was certainly not a scientific research group). That doesn't prevent them from reporting the "information," unlike the reliably sourced information about fatalities in Iraq. That number would reflect badly on the U.S. government.

It does bear repeating so I'll say this again - am I saying that lots of people, perhaps even 450,000, have not been killed in Darfur? No, I'm saying we have virtually no idea of how many have been killed (or died), but that that doesn't stop the corporate media from dutifully echoing the numbers which serve the interests of the ruling class, just as they did in Kosovo and Iraq.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007


 

March on the Pentagon March 17!


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The March 17 March on the Pentagon is shaping up as a major step forward in the struggle to stop ongoing imperialist wars in Iraq and elsewhere. The ANSWER Coalition reports today that after a major free speech battle with various government entities for permits, the route is now fully permitted, and, in addition, a major collection of pro-impeachment groups have now signed on as endorsers, including such groups as After Downing Street, CODE PINK Women for Peace, Democrats.com, Democracy Rising, Gold Star Families for Peace, the Green Party of the United States, the National Lawyers Guild, Progressive Democrats of America, and World Can't Wait-Drive Out the Bush Regime. There are more than 200 cities organizing transportation. And there's an impressive list of speakers, which you can see at the link above.

I can't be there - I'll be at the march in San Francisco on the 18th (there are also regional marches in Los Angeles on the 17th and Seattle on the 18th). But, if you can be in Washington on March 17th, wild horses shouldn't keep you away. It's going to be historic.

Here is a short video to provide some additional motivation:


And finally an article which discusses the significance of the Pentagon as the site for the rally.


 

Death in Darfur


Just a few days ago AP reported that "Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands." Today they (and others) are out with an article about Darfur. How do they treat the similar information from that country? Without the slightest ambiguity or uncertainty, or talk of "unofficial" estimates:
"The 4-year-old Darfur conflict...has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people."
Nor are they alone. The BBC likewise claims, without qualification or explanation, that "some 200,000 people have died in a four-year conflict in Darfur." Reuters goes even further, using the same figure, but claiming that those people have not just "died" (most as a result of malnutrition and disease) but were "killed": "Experts say some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million others driven from their homes in Darfur since 2003."

It's time to repeat something I wrote a year ago, with a few updates:

Have you ever seen the word "killed" applied to people who have died from disease or famine (otherwise known as malnutrition) in Iraq, or pretty much anyplace else? The issue does arise, as I have discussed in writing about the distinction between the figures for Iraqi dead, as estimated by the Johns Hopkins/Lancet study, and the numbers of Iraqis "killed," as estimated, for example, by Iraq Body Count. But the media has uniformly discounted the former, and never, to my knowledge, used the word "killed" to apply to people who met their death by "natural" causes.

The other interesting comparison is that number, 200,000. I have no idea where it comes from, nor am I questioning it. But I'll just note that Iraq is a largely urban country with large cities, hospitals, morgues, etc., while Darfur is an almost entirely rural region of Sudan. It's curious that the media can quote authoritative figures for the numbers of people killed in Darfur, but don't have a clue how many people have been killed (or have died) in Iraq, isn't it?
...
Here's an interesting "fact sheet" you can find on the U.S. State Department's website . It appears to be the most recent thing they have; unfortunately, it's dated March 25, 2005. Interestingly, it uses the same "excess deaths" concept as the widely disparaged Johns Hopkins study in Iraq, and produces a result with wide variance: "63-146,000 'excess' deaths can be attributed to violence, disease, and malnutrition because of the conflict." It also claims that "wildly divergent death toll statistics, ranging from 70,000 to 400,000, result from applying partial data to larger, nonrepresentative populations over incompatible time periods." [I should add that there are only the most general indications of the methodology of the studies which this fact sheet encompasses, and no indication whatsoever that the information it reports was the result of studies in any way are careful and detailed as the Johns Hopkins study] I can't find anything more recent that appears to qualify as actual data, rather than just claims. Nevertheless, even this one study from a year ago [Two years ago now] indicates that the "certainty" suggested by the...use of the figure "200,000" is surely not warranted.
But, of course, it's the U.S. and the U.K. governments which are responsible for the genocide of three-quarters of a million people in Iraq, and the displacement of an estimated three million people (two million to other countries and one million internally displaced). And that makes all the difference in the way that facts pertaining to that situation are treated in the press. The corporate-government-military press.


Monday, February 26, 2007


 

Five years for gossip


The U.S. government is asking for a 5-year sentence for a Florida professor and his wife who were "spying for Cuba." The government says that "the Alvarezes were engaged in classic intelligence work." And what did that "classic intelligence work" consist of? Here's the best example the government could provide:
Monday's filing by government prosecutors discusses evidence gathered from one of the couple's home computers concerning Cuban-Americans and other prominent figures.

A written report cited by prosecutors stated that one of Carlos Alvarez's contacts met personally with Richard Nuccio, then-President Clinton's special adviser to Cuba, in 1996. The report said Nuccio was "very depressed" and "devastated" by the signing of the Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
An interesting bit of gossip - Clinton's adviser allegedly "devastated" because the President - that's Clinton, if you aren't following along closly - signed the vindicative Helms-Burton Act. An interesting bit of reporting, but hardly the stuff of "espionage." As reported when the arrest first happened more than a year ago, another "target" of this "espionage" was the President of Florida International University, who the "spies" reported had received an invitation to the White House.

This is, of course, no joking matter, and not just because of the devastating effect it has already have, and will have in the future, on the lives of two people. The right-wing Cuban community in Miami, on which the Alvarezes were reportedly keeping an eye (just like the Cuban Five, now in their ninth year of unjust imprisonment in U.S. jails), have been a source of terrorist attacks against Cuba and supporters of Cuba for decades, causing more than three thousand deaths in that time. In a just world, anyone attempting to keep an eye on such terrorists would be a hero, and not someone whom the U.S. government was trying to send to jail for five years.

War on terror? Don't you believe it.


Saturday, February 24, 2007


 

AP says Americans underestimate Iraqi death toll and then proves it


The Associated Press writes today that "Americans underestimate Iraqi death toll," informing us that "Among those polled for the AP survey...the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890." In case it's not clear from the phrase "Iraqi deaths," that means deaths of Iraqis, not deaths of Americans in Iraq (which are, by the way, also underestimated, thanks to the routine omission of the deaths of contractors, conflict-related stateside deaths including suicides and spousal murders, and more, as AP themselves just reminded their readers).

But in reporting on the misinformation among Americans, AP echoes the same problem. Claiming that "Americans...lowball the Iraqi death toll by tens of thousands," AP makes this assertion about the real toll:

Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.
The Johns Hopkins study is not an "unofficial estimate"; it's a scientifically-determined number based on a careful study published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world!!! And its result is not "tens of thousands" higher than 9,890, it is hundreds of thousands higher (at least 550,000 by now, and most likely closer to 750,000 - three-quarters of a million Iraqis, and by the way, that estimate does not include "foreign fighters," since it was a survey of Iraqi households only). How preposterous is it to stick to an estimate of 54,000 for the entire war, a period which obviously includes the bloody first few weeks of the invasion, not to mention such "highlights" as the leveling of Fallujah, while accepting a U.N. report of 34,000 deaths for just one year of that war?

Once more into the breech, dear friends, once more into the breech.


Friday, February 23, 2007


 

David Geffen's Partial Quote of the Day


In multiple media sources today, one can read and hear the following quote from Hollywood mogul David Geffen:
"Everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it's troubling."
But only in Maureen Dowd's column today [not online for free; I'm transcribing it from my local paper] do we get the full context:
They [Geffen and Clinton] fell out in 2000, when Clinton gave a pardon to Marc Rich after rebuffing Geffen's request for one for Leonard Peltier. "Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?" Geffen says. "Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling."
Of all media outlets, only ABC News made any serious effort to inform its viewers about the details of Leonard Peltier's case. By contrast, here's all the "paper of record" had to say about Peltier: "the Indian activist who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of two federal agents." Which in turn was more than almost any other media outlet, for whom the name "Leonard Peltier" was anathema, because it might have made their readers and listeners think about something substantive, rather than about Monica Lewinsky.

By the way, I'm rather skeptical that Bill and Hillary Clinton "genuinely believe" in Leonard Peltier's innocence, as implied by Geffen. More likely Geffen, like a lot of liberals, wants to believe that the Clintons are "really" more liberal than they behave. Personally, I think it's just as likely it's the opposite.


 

You're not a blogger, you're an "interest group"


In an article about how activist Democrats are targeting a primary challenge against Democratic moderate Ellen Tauscher (someone who once had pictures of her with George Bush and Joe Lieberman on her website, but has now removed them), the Washington Post makes the following rather curious claim:
Working for Us [the Political Action Committee created to challenge Tauscher] was created in January by a coalition of bloggers, trial lawyers and labor leaders, the trifecta of Democratic interest groups.
Really, who knew? Apparently bloggers stand to gain financially from an end to the war in Iraq, or an end to tax breaks for oil companies, or the host of other legislation in which various groups (like trial lawyers or working people) have a personal and often financial "interest." Evidently it now is sufficient to simply take a stand on issues to qualify as an "interest group."

Incidentally, aside from the nonsense about bloggers as an "interest group," note how the Post classifies the third so-called interest group not as labor unions but as labor leaders, a group who, I'll admit, quite often do not act in the best interests even of the members of their union, much less the working class as a whole, but still are rarely considered as a "special interest."

Me? I'm still waiting for that big payoff from blogging. Unfortunately the only payoff I'm looking for is an end to capitalism and imperialism, and I'm afraid it won't be happening in the 2008 elections.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


 

Newton's Third Law


An interesting point from journalist Dahr Jamail on tonight's Flashpoints radio which I hadn't heard expressed quite so clearly. Just as the U.S. has (reportedly) hundreds of locations in Iran targeted with bomb or missile strikes, so too Iran has hundreds of missiles targeted on American sites in Iraq (e.g., American bases), ready to be launched in response to any U.S. attack.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The laws of physics (and of politics!) must be obeyed!

(The Newton's Third Law analogy is mine, by the way, not Dahr's.)


 

Political Humor of the Day


The Age reports:
The alliance between Australia and America was strong because both nations worked at it and respected each other as equals, United States Vice-President Dick Cheney said today.
Hahahahahahaha. No offense meant to Australian readers. I regard you as equals. The likelihood that Dick Cheney or anyone in the U.S. government has ever regarded your government as an "equal"? Precisely none. The likelihood that Dick Cheney or anyone in the U.S. government has ever thought about your government at all, except when they're looking around for "coalition" members to send troops for war? About as small as Cheney's metaphorical heart.


 

Anti-Semitism in Israel


That's anti-Arab prejudice (and treatment), of course. And while Jimmy Carter may want to avoid talking about (or deny it), Arabs in Israel are speaking out:
A broadly representative elite of Israel's Arab minority has rejected the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and demanded a partnership in governing the country to ensure that Arab citizens get equal treatment and more control over their communities.

In a manifesto that is stirring anger and soul-searching among Jews, Arab leaders have declared that Israel's 1.4 million Arab citizens are an indigenous group with collective rights, not just individual rights. The document argues that Arabs are entitled to share power in a binational state and block policies that discriminate against them.

"The main message is that we do not accept our situation as second-class citizens," Khatib said in an interview at the group's headquarters here. "We want to change that situation, and we prefer to change it through dialogue."
Some examples:
In public education, for example, the state invests about twice as much per Jewish pupil as per Arab pupil.

Nearly half of Israel's Arabs live below the poverty line, and their rates of unemployment and infant mortality are twice the national average. They face obstacles securing residency permits for Arab spouses who are not Israeli. Exempt from military service, they do not qualify for thousands of higher-paying jobs reserved for veterans. They make up only 10% of Israel's university undergraduates.

Arab leaders also chafe at limits on local autonomy, such as the Education Ministry requirement that all public schools use textbooks that teach history from a Jewish perspective.
Israeli Arabs may be speaking up, but few in the United States will hear them. Only the Los Angeles Times is reporting the story.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007


 

Floyd Landis and the Tour of California


The Tour of California has come to town again, and so has Floyd Landis, but not to ride. I wrote some thoughts about drug use in sports, and the use and abuse of scientific testing, last year, and I'll have more to say later today (right now I'm heading over to watch the race). In the meantime, here's an interview Landis did this morning on local television (he'll be speaking in person tonight in San Jose, where I hope to hear his full story):


And, for the record, this bike race is the Tour of California, not the Tour "day" California as you'll hear when the video clip is introduced!


 

Capitalism in a headline


Revenue, profit up;
HP eyes more cuts
(Source)


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


 

Everybody's talking about the coming attack on Iran


The latest is the BBC. Now I've written before about my thoughts about the subject:
What this is all about is pressure, pressure designed to convince the "moderates" in Iran that they should go the Qaddafi route of accommodation with the West rather than confrontation, subservience rather than independence.
(By the way, lest that be taken the wrong way, I've also written that, despite that belief, we have to act as if such an attack is really being planned).

The question I ask now is this - who's talking? When you have leaks like this one in the BBC, there are basically two possibilities. One, that disgruntled members of the military or CIA or government who are privy to these plans, but who are slightly "saner" and think that such an attack would be disastrous for the West (I doubt they care about the effects on the Iranians), have leaked the information to friendly sources in the media, who are playing a role to try to stop such attacks. The alternative explanation is that these leaks are deliberate leaks by the government itself, designed to use (consciously or not) the media to turn up the pressure on Iran (i.e., the thesis I outlined above).

Which is it? The BBC report is sourced to "diplomatic sources," which doesn't answer the question. I'm sticking with explanation two, but I welcome readers' thoughts on the subject.


 

Truth (sort of) in newscasting


News Corp (FOX) is launching a new business channel to compete with CNBC. Why do they think it's needed?
Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive for Fox News, told the New York Times that he had often seen things on CNBC where they aren't as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be.
And everyone knows that's the purpose of Fox "News" or of any news organization - to be "as friendly to corporations and profits as they should [?] be." Actually, of course, even though it shouldn't be, it is. It's just so rare to have someone come right out and say it.

The funnier quote came from Fox News business anchor Neil Cavuto: "we're going to be a channel for America -- not for old white men with money." I guess Maria Bartiromo can consider herself "dissed" by Cavuto. And I guess the rest of us can look forward to shows on the new Fox Business Channel showing the plight of workers in America - low pay, no benefits, stolen pensions, no job security, dangerous working conditions. Oh wait - that might not be "as friendly to corporations and profits" as it should be. I guess Neil must have that wrong.

By the way, in case it's not self-evident, the "sort of" in the title of this post refers to the fact that, despite Roger Ailes positioning, the idea that his competitor CNBC has even a trace of anti-business attitude is, to put it mildly, preposterous.


Monday, February 19, 2007


 

Causes of death, again


In the post just below this one, I hearkened back to a 2003 post in which I began the subject of comparing the world's problems, and in which I noted that hunger kills nine million people each year. Yesterday, if you read the paper carefully, and if it was in your paper (it wasn't in the one I read, so hat tip to Lenin's Tomb), you might have seen this short article (not worthy of any serious reporting, and certainly not a subject for the cable news shows):
Hunger and malnutrition kill 18,000 children daily [6.6 million/year, children alone, not including adults] around the world and 850 million people go to bed every night with empty stomachs, according to the leader of the U.N. food agency.
The U.N. person in question added, ""This is a shameful fact -- a terrible indictment of the world in 2007, and it's an issue that needs to be solved." He's certainly right. But unfortunately, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque had something to say about that back in 2004 when he addressed the U.N.:
"Every year at the United Nations we go through the same ritual. We attend the general debate knowing beforehand that the clamor for justice and peace by our underdeveloped countries will be ignored once again. However, we persist. We know that we are right."
In that speech, Perez Roque reminded the audience of something that Fidel Castro had said from the very same podium in 1979, 25 years earlier:
"The noise of weapons, of the menacing language, of the haughtiness on the international scene must cease. Enough of the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick and the ignorant, but bombs cannot kill hunger, disease and ignorance. Nor can bombs kill the righteous rebellion of the people..."
How true those words were then, and how sadly even more so they ring true today, even if the money that could be used to address hunger and the myriad other problems of the world's people is being spent less on nuclear weapons than on "conventional" ones and on murderous wars of aggression like the ones being conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and recently in Lebanon as well. Trillions of dollars spent, millions of lives destroyed, and far from solving any of the world's problems, they have only exacerbated them.


Friday, February 16, 2007


 

Causes of death


It's a subject I've been writing about since 2003 - how does "terrorism," on which the U.S. is fixated (and spending trillions under the guise of "fighting" it), compare to other sources of death?

On last night's Colbert Report, Lance Armstrong added one more set of statistics to the list. 560,000 Americans (and obviously many times more people worldwide) will die of cancer this year. According to Armstrong, 200,000 of those could be saved simply by applying existing medicine and technology, without a single new discovery. He didn't give an estimate for the cost, but I feel confident in guessing it would be vastly less than the money being spent to kill Iraqis and Afghans. And with just a fraction of those cures, more lives would have been saved then will be killed by terrorists in all of recorded history (not counting the terrorists who dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities and firebombed Japanese and German cities).


 

Anonymous sourcing


I wrote about the problem of anonymous sourcing a few days ago; Glenn Greenwald greatly amplifies on the subject today. A sample:
As the Bush administration seeks to convert Iran into an American Enemy against whom war is required, not only the Times and the Post -- but also virtually every media outlet -- have blithely returned to their old ways. They are now flagrantly violating their own "principles" regarding anonymity literally on an almost daily basis, as one "report" after the next does nothing but pass along official Bush talking points under the guise of "leaks" from vaguely defined anonymous Bush officials.
Hat tip to Cursor.


 

Washington fantasizes about Cuba


The Administration and Congress continue to fantasize that Cubans are planning to leave Cuba in droves when Fidel dies (and no doubt also continue to fantasize about how soon that will be). Unfortunately they're not just fantasizing; they're spending our money as well:
Concerned about a possible mass exodus of Cubans, the Department of Defense plans to spend $18 million to prepare part of the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to shelter interdicted migrants, U.S. officials told The Miami Herald.

The administration quietly requested the funds about a month ago and Congress has approved it, The Miami Herald was told.

The $18 million initiative is part of a broader U.S. government effort to prepare for the death of Castro. The administration will not say how many migrants it believes might flee Cuba or even if any will do so, but one expert warned that up to 500,000 may try to leave the island after Castro's death.
I hope they didn't pay that "expert" too much money for that absurd prediction. Of course, when you stick in an "up to," you can't possibly be wrong.

Back in the real world, where there is a real refugee crisis, the U.S. isn't as free with its money. With more than two million Iraqis already having fled their country, and predictions of another million joining them this year, the U.S. has taken the bold step of offering to allow 7,000 (!) of them to enter the U.S. this year. That might not sound like much, but heck, it's up from just 202 (!!) in 2006. On the money front, the EU has just offered $13 million more to help these very-real refugees, while the U.S. spends $18 million to prepare for non-existent ones.

Update: CNN is reporting that the U.S. is planning to spend $18 million to aid the two million (and growing) Iraqi refugees, precisely the same amount as they're spending on the non-existent Cuban refugees, and less than the amount being spent on killing Iraqis in two hours.


Thursday, February 15, 2007


 

More hard(ly) evidence


In an article on yesterday's George Bush press conference, McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder) reporters Ron Hutcheson and Margaret Talev make the following assertion:
Bush outlined the circumstantial evidence against Iran at a White House news conference dominated by questions on Iraq.
The claim that Bush "outlined the circumstantial evidence against Iran" is absolute nonsense, but serves as one more contribution from the corporate media towards persuading the American public that there is such evidence to begin with. Bush did not offer a single piece of "evidence" on the subject, either in the speech which started the press conference nor in any of his answers. What he did do was to repeat, on six different occasions with slight variations of wording, this: "What we do know is that the Quds force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq." But that's not "evidence," even circumstantial evidence, it's simply an unsupported accusation and nothing more.

For the record, the second half of the McClatchy claim is flat-out wrong as well -- of the questions asked at the news conference, six were about Iraq, nine about Iran, and four about other subjects. If anything, the news conference was dominated by questions about Iran, not Iraq.

Bush may be dumb, but what he and his advisers who tell him what to say accomplished in this press conference was quite a sophisticated shell game. As noted, Bush asserted "with certainty" six times that the Quds force, "a part of the Iranian government," was supplying IEDs to Iraq, but claimed (again, several times) that "What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did." Watching the subsequent coverage on TV, this shell game was completely successful is shifting the debate from whether weapons were being supplied by Iran, which was taken as simple fact, to the almost irrelevant (given the "Bush doctrine") question of who exactly initiated the effort.

Needless to say, the concept that Iran has as much right to provide weapons to forces in Iraq as do the Americans, or the question of American provision of support and perhaps even weapons to groups inside Iran, didn't come up.

Update: For comparison, here's the Prensa Latina lead on this story, which is headlined "Bush Shakes Finger at Iran Again":

US President George W. Bush again accused Iran of supplying weapons to Iraqi resistance, in spite of total absence of proof.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


 

Barack Obama: looking back


Barack Obama, who conveniently for him wasn't in the U.S. Congress when Congress voted for war, is busy portraying himself as a steadfast opponent of the invasion of Iraq from the beginning. Perhaps he was. But it might be instructive to look back at the speech which catapulted him to prominence, his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Here's the meat of what he had to say about Iraq at that time:
"When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they are going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return and to never, ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace and earn the respect of the world.

"Now, let me be clear. Let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued. And they must be defeated.

"John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure."
Now, in fairness, Obama was giving a nomination speech for John Kerry, so he was hardly going to expound a position on the war significantly different than Kerry. On the other hand, if he actually had such a position, and had any principles, he wouldn't have given a speech nominating Kerry if it meant compromising those principles. So what did he say? The standard litany of Democratic complaints - the numbers were "fudged" and the truth "shaded" about why the war was being launched, and there weren't enough troops to "win the war." Not a word of opposition to the entire concept of "preemptive" war, or the idea that the invasion of Iraq had anything whatsoever to do with U.S. "national security," and all that coupled with a promise to keep using U.S. military power to "defeat our enemies" (rather than doing anything which might keep people from actually becoming "our" enemies.)

By the way, the truth was not "shaded," it was butchered, and the numbers weren't "fudged," they were fabricated.

Not much in that speech to hang your hat on if you're looking for someone who was actually antiwar, and who had any political courage whatsoever.


 

A tale of two hunger strikers


Always on the lookout for negative news about Cuba, papers today are carrying a story about a Cuban on a hunger strike demanding Internet access for Cubans. The man, we learn from the story, is practically a "professional" hunger striker, having done 20 of them, including such important causes as demanding a phone for his mother's home. The trigger for the latest one was a story he and his fellow "independent journalists" were trying to circulate, about how local blood banks had allegedly been depleted because the blood had been shipped to Pakistan. I wonder if they mentioned it was being used to help earthquake victims (the article about him in the U.S. press certainly didn't).

The full story of Cuban access to the Internet, which most definitely does exist, is told here. I thought I had blogged about it but apparently I hadn't, but it's a most instructive tale of how to apply technology and limited resources in a developing country for the benefit of the maximum number of people, rather than for the wealthiest.

Incidentally while our friend has been on a hunger strike triggered by the alleged depletion of his country's medical resources, he's spent several years in state hospitals being fed intravenously, consuming a lot more of those resources.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, another hunger strike is being conducted by one of the numerous victims of the U.S. government - Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian has been in jail for four years, much of that in Guantanamo-like conditions, despite a trial which did not convict him on a single charge! Al-Arian's hunger strike? As far as I can tell, it's only been covered by Florida newspapers (Al-Arian is from Florida), with no national coverage at all.


 

"Sadr has fled Iraq"


Reports, such as this one from AP, have it that Muqtada al-Sadr has "fled" Iraq and is now in Iran. How do we know this? Here's the sourcing: "a senior U.S. official...speaking on condition of anonymity." Every single piece of "information" contained in the AP article is sourced to a single, anonymous, U.S. official. Given that pathetic sourcing, here's AP's desperate attempt to add credibility to its government press release article:
Sadr's departure was reported by several television networks Tuesday.
Right. Based on a phone call from the exact same anonymous U.S. official.

Some news sources, like Reuters, actually had the audacity to contact al-Sadr's representatives to obtain a denial of this "story." But even that article led with (and was headlined by) the unsupported claim of "U.S. officials." When the author gets around to mentioning the denials, however, he couldn't resist this attempt to lessen the credibility of them:

"He is now in Iraq," Nassar al-Rubaei, head of the Sadrist bloc in Iraq's parliament, told Reuters without giving details.
For some strange reason, that "without giving details" qualifier didn't appear in connection with the "U.S. officals," even though they wouldn't even provide the detail of their own name. Not to mention that the second al-Sadr associate mentioned in the article did "give details":
A second aide who declined to be identified said Sadr was in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf but had reduced his public appearances for "security reasons."
Reuters also bothers to go to the trouble of citing two anonymous U.S. officials, as if the fact that there were two anonymous officials instead of just one in any way provides some kind of independent confirmation of the assertion.

Could the standards of reporting be any lower? Sadly, I suppose they could.


Sunday, February 11, 2007


 

Quote of the Day


"I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now and my understanding is that Mr Howard has deployed 1400. So, if he's ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them up to Iraq."

- Barak Obama, responding to Australian Prime Minister John Howard's statement that "If I were running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."
I'm not under the slightest illusion that Sen. Obama will actually, if elected, "pull America's combat brigades out of Iraq by March 31, 2008," as is his announced "plan" (even with the qualifiers, which excludes all the alleged "support" troops and probably the air power as well), nor would I want Australia to send even ten more soldiers to Iraq, much less 20,000, but still, giving credit where credit is due, it was a great response from Obama. The Aussie Rules ball is in your court, mate.


Saturday, February 10, 2007


 

An inconvenient truth about "An Inconvenient Truth"


Last night Al Gore's important film "An Inconvenient Truth" was shown on Cuban television. It was accompanied by some interesting discussion which probably won't accompany most showings in the United States (and certainly none on TV):
In order to present the documentary, the “Roundtable” invited John Saxe-Fernández, professor and essayist from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who criticized the maneuvers carried out by ruling circles in the United States to ignore alarming realities like climate change.

Buying the opinions of the scientific community and silencing the warnings of those who have more advanced environmental ideas has been the conduct of the U.S. government, which abrogates rights in order not to comply with international laws and regulations, Saxe said, noting that the White House continues to refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Nevertheless, Saxe noted that the film has the limitations of its author, who does not see that the root cause of the problem lies in the contradictions of capitalism, because the planet does not have the ability to continue withstanding the capitalist system.

Gore was one of the main advocates of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, which contributes to the pollution of the environment.


 

"Accidents"


Today's report:
A U.S. airstrike accidentally killed eight members of a Kurdish security force and injured six others who were working at an observation point near a political office in the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi officials said Friday.

The U.S. military said that five, not eight, Kurdish police officers died in the attack, which it said had been aimed at bombmakers affiliated with al-Qaida.

A statement from the U.S. military said that American troops had received intelligence that bomb makers connected to al-Qaida were operating in the Karama neighborhood of Mosul. Seeing armed men near a targeted bunker, ground forces fired warning shots and made several calls in Arabic and Kurdish for the men to lay down their weapons, the statement said.

As the men began shooting at the ground forces, an American aircraft "observed hostile intention from the bunker and exercised proper self-defense measures in response to the assessed threat," said the statement.
This was not an "accident," but the quite expected result of standard U.S. military policy, which is to shoot first and ask questions later. Note that the military claims the strike was "aimed at al Qaeda." It was not. It was aimed at people they thought they were some slight chance might be al Qaeda; that's the standard of proof they use (see the Robert Gates' standard of "proof" about Iranian bombs in Iraq in the post below this one for another example of the same way of thinking).

And, needless to say, everything becomes self-defense according to the "rigorous standard" propounded in the description above. "Exercising proper self-defense measures in response to the assessed threat" is what the Kurds were doing after some unidentified men showed up literally in the middle of the night and started firing at them, not what the American attackers were doing.

Out now isn't just a slogan, it's a life-saving imperative.


 

Hard(ly) evidence


The headline is unequivocal:
Gates: Bombs tie Iran to Iraq extremists
The article...not so much:
One intelligence official said the U.S. is "fairly comfortable" it knows where the explosives came from.

Gates told reporters that markings on explosives provide "pretty good" evidence that Iranians are supplying either weapons or technology for Iraqi extremists.

"I think there's some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found" that point to Iran, [Gates] said.
It's gotten so bad even the Associated Press is willing to point out the obvious:
Gates' remarks left unclear how the U.S. knows the serial numbers are traceable to Iran and whether such weapons would have been sent to Iraq by the Iranian government or by private arms dealers.


 

Corporate health "care"


Comment hardly needed:
Even on Skid Row, where life and dignity are cheap, it was a shocking scene: a paraplegic man "sliding along his bottom using his hands," carrying his meager belongings in a plastic hospital bag he clutched in his teeth.

Police said the man, who was dragging a colostomy bag behind him, had been dumped out on the sidewalk by the driver of a hospital van.

The case comes three months after the city attorney's office filed its first indictment for homeless dumping against Kaiser Permanente Hospital for an incident last year.

City officials have accused more than a dozen hospitals of dumping patients and criminals on Skid Row.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007


 

Maximum exposure for Minimum Security


In the right-hand column of this blog for more than a year has been a plug for my favorite politically correct (not to be confused with "politically correct") cartoonist, Stephanie McMillan, and her book, Minimum Security. From time to time (the latest here) I reproduce strips of Stephanie's that fit particularly with the subjects of this blog.


Stephanie has now had the exciting news of being carried on the comics.com site, which will carry new strips of hers every weekday here, and reports that if she gets enough hits on that site during 2007, it may lead to her being carried in daily newspapers starting in 2008. While I'm skeptical that any newspaper would actually carry a strip reflecting Stephanie's radical politics (about as likely as them carrying regular op-eds by, say, Mumia Abu-Jamal or Alexander Cockburn), one can always hope, so I pass on this information to readers. Visit the site and spread the word!

P.S. - No, I'm not her agent! Just a fan. :-)


 

Windows Crash of the Day


Yesterday was a travel day. Passing though an airport stop along the way, and looking up at the electronic board to find my next flight, I was amused to see this:


Sorry, no political content. Unless you consider knocking Bill Gates & Co. political.


Sunday, February 04, 2007


 

Visualizing the dead


Back in November I wrote (and posted a newspaper picture) about the goings-on in the town of Lafayette, California (about an hour from me), where activists were using a private hillside directly across from a major BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) parking lot to erect crosses commemorating the American (only American) dead in Iraq, along with a "controversial" (because it supposedly violated local sign ordinances) sign listing the number of dead. Back then the number was 2839, and the number of crosses numbered only a couple hundred. Now the number is up to 3097, and the activists have been hard at work increasing the number of crosses.

On Friday, I happened to be in the vicinity, albeit with only a crummy camera-phone on hand (one of the problems with camera phones, evident in the picture below, is that most of them don't have lens covers, so the lens are easily smudged, leading to imperfect pictures, even worse than should be possible with their mediocre-quality lenses). To say that the display was impressive would be to put it mildly; I trust that even with this lousy picture you'll get the idea. The sign, as you can see, is still up; the City Council has kept delaying making a decision, no doubt afraid of offending people no matter what they decide.


Field of crosses commemorating American war dead in Iraq, Lafayette, CA

Imagine each of these crosses is a person standing there, alive. Now imagine each of them is lying there, dead. Now imagine a field large enough to hold 700,000 crosses or other grave markers. Now imagine a world without imperialism.

Now stop imagining and get to work bringing it about.


Saturday, February 03, 2007


 

An important biological species is in danger of disappearing


The topic du jour (and likely the topic for decades to come, and centuries to come if there are centuries to come, at least for us) is greenhouse gases and global warming. But the underlying problem is far bigger than that, as one world leader spoke about fifteen years ago:
Cuban President Fidel Castro
U.N. Conference on the Environment and Development
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
June 12, 1992

An important biological species is in danger of disappearing due to the fast and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: mankind. We have now become aware of this problem when it is almost too late to stop it.

It is necessary to point out that consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the brutal destruction of the environment. They arose from the old colonial powers and from imperialist policies which in turn engendered the backwardness and poverty which today afflicts the vast majority of mankind. With only 20 percent of the world's population, these societies consume two-thirds of the metals and three-fourths of the energy produced in the world. They have poisoned the seas and rivers, polluted the air, weakened and punctured the ozone layer, saturated the atmosphere with gases which are changing weather conditions with a catastrophic effect we are already beginning to experience.

The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding. Every year thousands of millions of tons of fertile soil end up in the sea. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Population pressures and poverty trigger frenzied efforts to survive even when it is at the expense of the environment. It is not possible to blame the Third World countries for this. Yesterday, they were colonies; today, they are nations exploited and pillaged by an unjust international economic order. The solution cannot be to prevent the development of those who need it most. The reality is that anything that nowadays contributes to underdevelopment and poverty constitutes a flagrant violation of ecology. Tens of millions of men, women, and children die every year in the Third World as a result of this, more than in each of the two world wars.

Unequal terms of trade, protectionism, and the foreign debt assault the ecology and promote the destruction of the environment. If we want to save mankind from this self-destruction, we have to better distribute the wealth and technologies available in the world. Less luxury and less waste by a few countries is needed so there is less poverty and less hunger on a large part of the Earth. We do not need any more transferring to the Third World of lifestyles and consumption habits that ruin the environment. Let human life become more rational. Let us implement a just international economic order. Let us use all the science necessary for pollution-free, sustained development. Let us pay the ecological debt, and not the foreign debt. Let hunger disappear, and not mankind.

Now that the alleged threat of communism has disappeared and there are no longer any more excuses for cold wars, arms races, and military spending, what is blocking the immediate use of these resources to promote the development of the Third World and fight the threat of the ecological destruction of the planet? Let selfishness end. Let hegemonies end. Let insensitivity, irresponsibility, and deceit end. Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago. Thank you.


Friday, February 02, 2007


 

Quote of the day


"The two of them [George Bush and John Negroponte] are criminals. They should be tried and thrown in prison for the rest of their days. If he had any dignity, the president of the United States would quit. The U.S. president doesn't have the political or moral capacity to govern."

- Hugo Chavez, who also said that "a 'dictatorship' led by President Bush poses a true threat to democracy around the world."
And who among us could dispute that?


Thursday, February 01, 2007


 

Hugo Chavez "ruling by decree"


There has been quite a bit of coverage in the media about the Venezuelan legislature granting Hugo Chavez the power to "rule by decree" (for 18 months). But you would be hard-pressed indeed to know exactly what this was all about, since most coverage (like The New York Times) provides next to no details on exactly what this means. AP actually did provide some detail, but nowhere have I found as much about what this really is all about as in this article by Gregory Wilpert at Venezuelanalysis.com. Here's some of what we learn:
This is the third time Chavez has received such authorization during his presidency and Chavez is the fifth Venezuelan president to take advantage of this power, which both the 1961 and the 1999 constitutions permit.
Surprised? I'll bet you didn't hear that on CNN. Here's more:
The eleven areas where Chavez will be allowed to pass laws for the next 18 months are:

1. Transformation of the state, where laws are to be passed that make the state more efficient, honest, participatory, rational, and transparent.
2. Popular (grassroots) participation, in the economic and social policies of the state, via planning, social comptrol, and the direct exercise of popular sovereignty.
3. Essential values for the exercise of public functions, so that corruption would be eradicated definitively, the strengthening of ethics, and the formation of public servants.
4. In the area of economic and social policy, so as to create a new sustainable economic and social model. The goal is to achieve equality and the equitable distribution of wealth through investment in health care, education, and social security.
5. Finances and taxation, to modernize the regulatory system in the monetary, banking, insurance, and tax systems.
6. Citizen and judicial security, for the improvement of citizen identification, migration control, and the fight against impunity.
7. Science and technology, so it is developed to satisfy the needs of education, health, environment, biodiversity, industrialization, quality of life, security, and defense.
8. Territorial order, for a new distribution and occupation of subnational space, so as to improve the activities of the state and of endogenous development.
9. Security and defense, for the development of the structure and organization of the Armed Forces.
10. Infrastructure, transport, and services, to promote the existing human and industrial potential for the optimization of land, rail, sea, river, and air transportation, as well as of telecommunications and information technology.
11. Energy sector, so that oil production in the Orinoco Oil Belt may be nationalized and turned into joint ventures, tax rates changed, and electricity companies nationalized, among other things.
Remarkably, even a top U.S. diplomat recognizes the reality of the situation:
The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, said the enabling law isn't anything new in Venezuela.

"It's something valid under the constitution," said Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters in Colombia. "As with any tool of democracy, it depends how it is used," he added. "At the end of the day, it's not a question for the United States or for other countries, but for Venezuela."
Where'd he come from? Jeez, what a concept!

Update: An interesting article on the subject from a Canadian academic who has been based in Venezuela for some time now, entitled "Why Aren't You in a Hurry, Comrade?," discussing the question of democracy as process vs. democracy in practice.


Why stop here? There's more...

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