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Friday, August 31, 2007


 

Support the troops? No thanks.


These are "our boys," the ones we're supposed to "support" and keep funding as long as they're in "harm's way." No thanks.
The leader of a squad of Marines that killed 24 Iraqis in Haditha told two soldiers a week before the assault if they were ever hit by a roadside bomb they should kill everyone in the area, a former squad member testified Friday.

"We were smoking outside ... for whatever reason Staff Sergeant Wuterich made this comment that if we ever got hit again we should kill everybody in that vicinity, sir, to teach them a lesson."
(Hat tip to WIIIAI, who has made a point to follow this and similar trials closely)


 

Fallujah - the mythology begins


I think I'm going to be sick. Just a few days after George Bush did his bit to spread the right-wing mythology of Vietnam ("we could have 'won' if we hadn't 'quit'"), along comes CNN to do the same for the battle massacre of Fallujah. I just watched a trailer for a show coming up tonight, entitled (please empty your mouths of liquid before reading further), "The Anvil of God: the Battle for Fallujah." Reporter Tom Foreman informed us in solemn tones about how we'd learn about all the American soldiers had to endure, what they did "for America."

I may or may not have the stomach to watch it, but if anyone does, feel free to use the comments here to discuss it. Will they mention the words "mass graves"? "White phosphorous"? The refusal to let civilians leave the city? The bombing of hospitals? Stay tuned.


 

How not to stop the war


CounterPunch todays features an article by Jeff Gibbs (one of Michael Moore's associates) entitled "Why I Am Not Going to the Protest." Interestingly, right from the start we note a certain hostility, because he doesn't even mention what protest he's not going to. The perfectly-timed Sept. 15 protest in Washington, D.C., originally called by ANSWER and joined by many others? The Sept. 29 march on Washington called by the Troops Out Now Coalition? The Oct. 27 marches across the country called for by United for Peace & Justice (which still, as was the case two weeks ago, has details posted for only a single one of their ten regional demonstrations posted - the one called by ANSWER in San Francisco)? Hard to say; evidently Gibbs is so hostile to all of them that he doesn't even want to mention them, lest he inadvertently give them publicity. Does he think they're so counter-productive that they promote the war? Probably not, but his avoidance of even mentioning them is curious.

No, marches haven't yet stopped the war. They have, as I have noted before, put limitations on it, most notably at the beginning when the U.S. used far fewer troops than it would have really liked, because it couldn't risk admitting that the people of Iraq would not only need to be conquered but pacified as well. So what does Gibbs propose in its place? The usual ultra-left "shut-er down," a workers and consumers general strike. We can't get several hundred thousand people to a demonstration, but Gibbs (with no organization of his own to actually make this plan a reality, of course) thinks that enough people are going to join a "no business as usual, don't go shopping or go to work" movement to have an impact on the American economy and the warmakers. Well, I'm not opposed to that, but good luck, pal.

In the meantime, I'll be in San Francisco on Oct. 27, and wishing I were in D.C. on Sept. 15, and continuing to agitate on the streets of my town and the letters section of my local paper and everything else I can think of in the meantime.

No one action is going to stop the war, with the possible exception of a massive show before the war starts. Once the war is on, our task is much, much harder. But that doesn't mean you stop. If you're driving from San Francisco to New York, you can't stop after 2000 miles and say, gosh, I've been at this for a long time and it's just not working, I'm never going to make it to New York. Bad analogy probably, because in that case there is an easy way out - stop in Chicago and get on a plane, and you'll be in New York in a few hours (or more, the way things are going). When it comes to stopping the war, there are no short cuts, no "magic bullets," no more than there are when it comes to overturning the whole bloody system. We just have to keep on struggling.

One thing is for sure. Carping at other people's efforts to stop the war is definitely not the way to stop the war.


 

I know you are, what am I?


Pee Wee Herman's catch phrase just seemed to be the perfect title to lead off this nugget from today's news, further enlightening us on "the rules of engagement" in Iraq:
Another Iraqi man who lived in the house also was questioned, though he wasn't detained. What did he know about Sunni insurgents living in the area, asked Staff Sgt. Kenneth Braxton, who's from Philadelphia. Nothing, the man said. Braxton said he knew the man was lying because of the way he moved his eyes. The sergeant tore an American flag Velcro patch from his sleeve and told the Iraqi to hold it to his chest. Then another soldier used a digital camera to take a picture of the man.

"So we've got a picture of you holding an American flag now," Braxton said. He told the man that if he didn't cooperate, the photo would be posted around the neighborhood.
Nothing like a good old indirect death threat, based on the fact that people hate you and will kill anyone who cooperates with you. It's really so much more dignified than holding a gun to someone's head, don't you think? And, without question (at least by Alberto Gonzalez and whoever his successor might be), perfectly within the bounds of the Geneva Convention.

And, while I like the Pee Wee Herman reference, actually this cultural reference is closer to the situation:


 

Shocking word of the day


"Escalation." Why is that shocking? Because it appears in this AP article:
There are more than 160,000 Americans in Iraq, up from around 130,000 before the escalation Bush ordered in January.
Thank you, AP, for your rare escape from the White House spin zone.


Thursday, August 30, 2007


 

Headline of the Day


This headline appeared over an op-ed in today's San Jose Mercury News. It refers to events in California, but could just as well apply to the nation as a whole (not to mention many other issues - withdrawal from Iraq, impeachment, and more):
Single-payer health coverage proposal gaining ground - but only with public
Ah, that pesky public. Lucky thing they don't amount to much.


 

Bush "decides," the media lies


Yesterday on the local FOX News channel, the D.C. reporter concluded her segment by saying something like, "And now President Bush is awaiting the upcoming report from Gen. Petraeus in order to decide on his strategy in Iraq." Aside from the fact that the report is reportedly being written in the White House, not by Gen. Petraeus, the fact is that George Bush has spent the last week (and more) giving speeches that make clear his decision was made long ago, and that the only possible "strategy change" he has in mind for the region is an escalation, not an end to the grossly misnamed "surge" (much less a withdrawal, even a partial one).

I thought this might be an isolated incident. An AP report today suggests instead that the lying about Bush and his impending "decision" is widespread:

In preparation for an expected decision next month on whether to prolong the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, President Bush planned to visit the Pentagon on Friday to hear the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Joint Chiefs spokesman said.
Oh please. What odds do you suppose you'd get in Las Vegas that that decision will be no? 10,000:1? Even at that, the house would be cleaning up, if they could get any suckers to take the bet. Maybe FOX and AP will bite.


 

All socialists are not the same


This item was only worth mention in a "news in brief" item in the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times, and no doubt many others; I doubt it made many TV news broadcasts, if any:
Police used tear gas, water cannon and clubs against demonstrators staging national protests Wednesday against government social and economic policies.
And why didn't this get more coverage? Because this wasn't Venezuela or Cuba (where, by the way, police do not use tear gas, water cannon, and clubs against demonstrators), in which case it would have been front page news, an occasion for diatribes from American politicians and pundits, and calls for overthrowing the brutal government might have ensued, but Socialist-ruled (but definitely not "socialist") Chile, and the demonstrators were calling for "higher pensions and better education, health and housing services" and opposing "free-trade agreements with the United States and other countries." Obviously trouble-makers, and deserving whatever they got from the government in question, at least according to the U.S. ruling class.


 

Nothing happened in Haditha


Don't I remember a massacre of Iraqis? I do, and you do too, but it didn't amount to anything much, or so says the U.S. military:
The preliminary hearing for Marine Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich begins today, marking possibly the last chance for prosecutors to bring to court-martial any of the Marines charged with murder in the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the Iraqi village of Haditha.

But to prevail, prosecutors have to convince a hearing officer who has been skeptical of the case and also a top general who does not believe in punishing enlisted Marines for mistakes made in a "morally bruising" conflict in which insurgents hide behind women and children.

The Haditha charges represent the most serious case of alleged war crimes committed by Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan. But what once looked to some like a slam-dunk murder case against four enlisted Marines could be on the verge of collapsing.

Of the four initial defendants in the 2005 deaths, charges were dropped against one in exchange for his testimony against other Marines; charges were dismissed against another by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis after a preliminary hearing; and charges against a third appear to be on the verge of being dismissed by Mattis, also after a preliminary hearing.
And this should shed a little light on how the U.S. operates in Iraq. Not only aren't they committing war crimes (according to them), but they're simply following the "rules of engagement":
Under the rules of engagement for Marines in Iraq, suspects running away from a roadside bomb explosion can be shot in the back even if they are unarmed and there is no immediate proof of their involvement in the explosion, according to testimony from a Marine lawyer called by the prosecution in Tatum's preliminary hearing.
Good old Catch-22. Stick around and you might be injured in a second explosion; run way and you're a "suspect" and subject to being shot in the back.

When reading about Haditha, it's always important to remember that Haditha is the exception, not the rule. Not the exception when it comes to the U.S. slaughter of Iraqis, but the exception when it comes to that slaughter coming to light. This particular incident only came to light four months after it happened, and only then due to exceptional circumstances (including the size of the massacre).


 

Mass transit


An interesting item on the news this morning. Mass transit is, quite obviously, an essential component in reducing not only global warming but also the depletion of the earth's resources. But in the U.S., mass transit is caught in a capitalist-inspired, profit-required death spiral - raise the rates to make a profit, ridership drops, raise the rates some more to make up for it, ridership drops, cut the number of trains or buses, thereby reducing the frequency and providing even less incentive to use it, ridership drops some more, continue until death.

But today in northern California is a "Spare the Air Day" and mass transit is free (for part of the day, anyway) to discourage car usage. And what does the news report? "Regular commuters" on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) are complaining of overcrowding. Whaddya know? Make mass transit free and people actually use it!

Think anyone might draw the obvious conclusion? Maybe, but they can't do anything about it, because "we don't have the money." And you all know why that is. See the item immediately below this one in case you don't.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007


 

Spending priorities


In today's news:

Item 1:

The Road Home, the government grant program created to help Louisianians rebuild, has not been so giving. It has sent checks to about 43,000 of the 184,000 people who sought assistance, and is $5 billion short of what it needs to help the rest. That's progress: At the start of the year less than 1% had gotten a dime from the program, which pays up to $150,000.
Item 2:
President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.

The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq.
The headline on the second item, from the Washington Post, is telling: "Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War." No, according to the article itself, Bush wants $197 billion more for the Iraq War (and as you all realize, there's plenty of "Iraq War" in that $460 billion "defense" [sic] budget as well, not to mention elsewhere in the budget). Was it really that difficult for the Post to add 50 and 147 and come up with 197? No, of course not, but anything they can do to help the Bush Administration keep fighting the war (in this case, by minimizing public awareness of the total expense) they're glad to do.

Let me help a bit with some more math. $197 billion divided by a population of 300 million means that the average person in the United States is going to be charged $656 this coming year alone for this war, or $1705 for the average household of 2.6 people. I don't know about you, but I can think of 1705 better things to do with the money.

And if you don't like thinking about it on a personal level, try it on a larger scale. A city of one million, like San Jose, would have $656 million more this year to spend on its pressing needs like infrastructure, health care, education, and more. Money they don't, and won't, have, and needs which will go unmet. Not to mention the unmet needs of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007


 

Misreading the news


The item below mentions Fidel Castro's latest column, which discusses American politics. Here's a direct quote from the column:
Today, talk is about the seemingly invincible ticket that might be created with Hillary for President and Obama for Vice President. Both of them feel the sacred duty of demanding "a democratic government in Cuba". They are not making politics: they are playing a game of cards on a Sunday afternoon.
I don't pretend to understand the metaphor of the final sentence, but I certainly understand the first one. Fidel says that "talk is about the seemingly invincible ticket." But now here's CNN's (mis)interpretation:
Add another name to the list of political observers who think a Clinton-Obama ticket would be unbeatable: Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

In an editorial in Cuba's communist party newspaper, Granma, the ailing dictator said the pairing of the two White House hopefuls seemed "invincible."
Balderdash. He said no such thing. He said "talk" (i.e., conventional wisdom) is that the ticket is "seemingly invincible." He didn't say the ticket was invincible. Reuters makes the same mistake, asserting that Fidel "is tipping Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to team up and win the U.S. presidential election." Nonsense.

Is it really that hard to read the English language?

Update: I didn't think it possible, but it just got worse. Wolf Blitzer, pitching his upcoming show, says we'll hear "who Fidel Castro will be casting his vote for" and who he "prefers for President." Of course we'll hear no such thing.

Second update: Just to show it can be done, AP gets it exactly right, with a headline, "Castro essay criticizes U.S. presidential hopefuls" and a lead that starts, "A new essay signed by ailing leader Fidel Castro accused U.S. presidential candidates of 'submission' to his exiled foes in Florida and offered a favorable assessment of only one of the 10 presidents he has known: Jimmy Carter." No absurd talk of Fidel "tipping" certain candidates or claiming they're "invincible."


 

Dueling op-eds on U.S.-Cuba relations


A few days ago, Democratic Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama made headlines with an op-ed in the Miami Herald that was described in the media as "breaking ranks," "easing the Cuban embargo," "blasting the Bush Administration Cuba policy," and even calling for "lifting U.S.-Cuba travel sanctions."

As if! What was this "bold" stance by Obama that, sadly enough, positioned him to the left of all the other Democrats except Kucinich? Why, a rollback of reactionary U.S. policy towards Cuba all the way to...2004! Because what Obama actually calls for in the op-ed is a lifting of restrictions on travel to Cuba of Cuban-Americans, not Americans, a position supported by the vast majority of the Miami Cuban community, even some of the most extreme right-wingers, and something that was allowed until just three years ago. And his call to "ease the embargo"? Actually it had nothing to do with the real embargo, better described as the blockade, and only applied to increasing the amount of remittances that Cuban-Americans can send to their families in Cuba. Returning U.S. policy towards Cuba to where at was at the end of the first George W. Bush administration hardly consistutes bold steps.

Obama's real position is well described by the headline on his article, presumably chosen by him: "Our main goal: Freedom in Cuba," a position properly in line with American imperialist arrogance, and the idea that it is up to us to tell Cubans how to run their country. For nearly 50 years, the U.S., the most powerful economy in the world, has waged economic warfare on Cuba, dropping the equivalent of bombs on Cuba in terms of the amount of economic damage (if not also human lives) caused. And Senator Obama, magnanimous soul that he is, proposes that the U.S. will "ease up" on those economic bombs (not stop, mind you, just "ease") "if a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change." I wonder if Sen. Obama is even aware, as most Americans surely are not, that Cuba is in the midst of its election season, in which, unlike the U.S., every position must be contested by a minimum of two and a maximum of eight candidates, and in which not a single person is elected because they raised more money (much less hundreds of millions of dollars) than their opponent (a system vastly more democratic than what preceded it, and arguably than the United States system as well)?

Sen. Obama talks, as all American politicians do, about "human rights." Strangely, he seems to have forgotten one - the right of non-Cuban Americans to travel freely to Cuba or anywhere else. On what possible basis can he justify allowing some Americans to travel freely to Cuba, but not all? What are Obama, and the rest of the American politicians, afraid we might see or learn?

If Obama, or any other politician, really wants to talk a "bold" first step, how about calling for repeal of the Helms-Burton act, the extraterritorial extension of the blockade which has led to such incidents as kicking Cubans out of (or refusing admittance to) hotels in Mexico and Norway because the parent companies of the hotels involved were American (and lots more serious things, of course)? The U.S. blockade of Cuba has been denounced by the United Nations General Assembly for fifteen consecutive years, most recently by a vote of 183-4. Surely if Obama or any other Democrat wanted to demonstrate their commitment to "multilateral diplomacy," endorsing a position supported by virtually every other country in the world would be a start. But no, no mention of Helms-Burton by Obama.

The headline of this post talks about "dueling" op-eds. The other one? The latest column from Fidel Castro, in which he offers his opinions (and knowledge) of American Presidents past (and even future) with respect to their stance and actions on Cuba. Quite interesting, and well worth reading. I won't summarize it here, but I'll note just one thing: Fidel's description of Jimmy Carter as the "one [President] who, for ethical-religious reasons, was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba." But even Carter, Fidel notes, "embarked on several imperial adventures."

Clinton and/or Obama (or Clinton/Obama) will most assuredly embark on even more. Fidel Castro didn't say that. I did. But I feel certain he would agree.

Oh, and by the way, Fidel's article was written yesterday. From the grave, no doubt. ;-)


 

Sarkozy repeats the big lie about Iran


An article appeared in the Times (UK) yesterday with this headline: "Sarkozy talks of bombing if Iran gets nuclear arms". Here's the first paragraph (with emphasis added):
President Sarkozy called Iran’s nuclear ambition the world’s most dangerous problem yesterday and raised the possibility that the country could be bombed if it persisted in building an atomic weapon.
Later in the article come references to Iran's "nuclear aims" and how "a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable." Charitably, one might describe all these references as indirect quotes, but not once does the article include even the most cursory of boilerplate language noting the fact that Iran has denied any such intention and that there isn't the slightest evidence that it is "building an atomic weapon."

Out of such subtleties is public opinion in the world of the "free press" molded.


Monday, August 27, 2007


 

Fidel Castro, columnist


Many years ago (1979 if I recall correctly) I went to Cuba during a brief period when it was legal for Americans to do so (after the Supreme Court ruled that an outright ban was an unconstitutional restriction on American's right to travel, and before laws accomplished the same thing by using "trading with the enemy" to make it illegal to spent money in Cuba). During a stopover in Miami airport, the "news" came out that a firefight had broken out in the Presidential Palace in Havana, and Raul had shot and killed Fidel (or something like that, anyway).

As a result, I rarely even notice rumors of Fidel Castro's death, and wouldn't have bothered to comment on the latest round, which swept Miami a couple days ago, and now, thanks to the need to give Wolf Blitzer and other "newspeople" on the 24-hour channels something to talk about, the rest of the country as well. But what amused me, and prompts me to write, was CNN's conclusion that it was highly significant, and a possible ploy by the Cuban government, that Cuban newspapers had published a column by Fidel after the appearance of this rumor, presumably a ploy to dispel the rumors (with the unspoken implication that it might also have been a way to cover up Fidel's death).

Just one little detail CNN neglected to mention. Fidel Castro has published 43 essays (columns) since late April, eight in August alone. The vast majority have been on timely topics (i.e., not possibly written in advance).

If you want to look for evidence of Fidel's declining health, look for the disappearance of his periodic columns, not their appearance. Sheesh.


 

Back to the front (sort of)


I'm back from the vacation from hell. Canceled flights (on United) in both directions (eastbound and westbound) resulted in many hours sitting in airports to bookend a week that would have been spent on the beach had it not rained almost every day, and had a website I manage not experienced a server crash which required transferring the entire site to a new server, from a dialup connection no less (and an inconveniently-placed one at that). To say that even watching the news, much less commenting on it, was farthest from my mind would be an understatement.

For a bit of obvious political analysis of my week, I'll sum it up with this -- capitalism fouls things up. The whole airline situation is such a classic illustration of profits before people. Enough agents to service customers at the counter? Spare planes or spare parts or even proper maintenance of anything other than (hopefully) the engines? No chance. Returning home the flight took off four and a half hours late, and we were offered...nothing. Not a free "dinner" (a cold sandwich), not even a free drink other than the usual. The customer comes first...as long as you count from the bottom. In the last two years, I have spent more time waiting in airports thanks to delayed and canceled flights than I did in the previous ten. Is capitalism completely falling apart, or is it so ascendant that it just doesn't care about looking good? A bit of both, I suspect.

So what did I miss? I arrive home and turn on CNN - the lead story this morning, occupying the first five minutes of the hour, is about Michael Vick pleading guilty. Only after that did we turn to the resignation of Alberto Gonzalez, which was worth less than half the time. Actually the Vick story was interesting, because despite what I had thought, his team owner came on and went into a long song and dance about how they had not yet made a final decision on firing him, saying something about doing what's right for the team's fans. Sure. Doing what's right for his own bottom line.

On the front page of the paper today is an article about how San Jose needs $900 million to fix its infrastructure backlog. The cost of the Iraq war so far is up to $450 billion with an equal amount certain to be spent (on such things as health care for injured veterans) in the future. San Jose, with about 1/300th of the nation's population (and a greater percentage of its income), has paid $1.5 billion already; well over the amount that could have done all those infrastructure repairs. But instead of calling for an end to the war, local politicians are talking about a tax increase.

Inside the paper, we learn that 3,814 Army recruits have been paid $20,000 to show up more or less immediately - $76 million all told. And, although the article doesn't note this, I'm pretty sure that amount (and lots of other things, of course) is not included in the cost of the war, even though it clearly is.

Further back, a letter writer is incensed, and rightly so, about the paper's news judgment. While I was gone, a helicopter "accident" (?) killed 14 American soldiers in Iraq. The news appeared in the last few paragraphs of another article on Iraq, which itself was placed on page 12 of the paper. Wouldn't want anything to interfere with the new "line" about how the "surge" is "working."

Did I miss the news? To be honest, not really.

Well, back to catching up on work and life. And, sooner or later, watching and reading the news. And, yes, commenting on it as well.


Thursday, August 23, 2007


 

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti - Presente!


Eighty years ago today, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were murdered by the State of Massachusetts. Wikipedia has a lengthy and reasonably fair summary of the case, not the first and not the last but one of the most famous cases of the American "justice" system at work, protecting the ruling class from members of the working class who have different ideas about how society should be run.

Here, a 1977 song from Charlie King (from the album "Somebody's Story") entitled "Two Good Arms," based on Vanzetti's final speech.


Saturday, August 18, 2007


 

Book Review - Static


Nothing like a cancelled cross-country flight (the second time this has happened to me in a row flying United), a new flight that takes off two hours later, and then a three-hour weather delay during a stop over (a stop-over that wouldn't have even happened on the original non-stop flight) to give you time to read a book. Silver linings etc.

This time it was the no-longer "new" book by Amy Goodman and her brother David, entitled "Static." The subtitle lays out the scope of the book rather cleanly: "Government liars, media cheerleaders, and the people who fight back." In other words, it's a review of things that have been covered on Democracy Now! in the last bunch of years, but organized into topics like "Watching you" (government spying), "Outlaw Nation" (no need to elaborate), "The Torturer's Apprentice" (ditto), "The Anti-Warriors," and many more.

Even if you've listened to every Democracy Now! for years, the book is still well worth reading, both as a review, as a way of seeing these kinds of patterns come together, and also, if you're like me, for learning a lot you either missed along the way or maybe that never made it to the air. An example - everyone these days knows about "extraordinary rendition." DId you know the program began in 1995 under the Clinton administration? That per se may not surprise you. But did you know that in 1998, a series of renditions took place in Albania, with Islamic militants being captured, spirited off to Egypt, and tortured and in some cases killed? And why is that particular case of interest? Because several months later, on August 5, 1998, a letter in a London paper from the "International Islamic Front for Jihad" promised to avenge the Albanian operation against the United States "in a language they will understand." Two days later the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, and 224 people were dead. The Goodmans quote Maher Arar, a subsequent victim of U.S. rendition and sub-contracted torture, summing up the situation: "You can't protect people's lives by destroying other people's lives."

Let me close this review with one quote on the media, which is after all one of the central focuses of this blog. It's a quote from Malcolm X, which leads off a chapter on the relationship between the media and the CIA:

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses."

- Malcolm X
Read independent media. Listen to independent media. And, when you have some time, read "Static." And make sure not just to read and listen, but to do something about it. In the words of Arundhati Roy which close the book, "Join the battle [to reclaim democracy]. History is giving you the chance. Seize the time."


Friday, August 17, 2007


 

Capitalism kills...trees


Huge fires have been engulfing the surroundings of Athens, Greece this summer. And they are quite likely arson:
Forest protection is written directly into the Greek constitution...As such, it is difficult to rezone forest land for other uses -- even on the edge of growing cities like Athens

Because there are no official maps indicating the boundaries of forests, though, once the trees have been reduced to ash, developers come in to claim land. "This is the heart of the problem," the researcher from Forest Research Institute said. "Politicians, though, would never touch it. It wouldn't be so difficult to provide good maps, but they don't want to because there are so many votes involved."

Throughout the summer, Greece was full of rumors that many of the fires had been set by arsonists hired by developers looking to build on valuable land inconveniently covered by trees.


Thursday, August 16, 2007


 

Padilla guilty, smears continue


To no one's surprise, Jose Padilla has been found guilty. Largely of thought crimes, and as far as I can tell rather ill-formed (if formed at all) thoughts at that - conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism. No actual murder, kidnap, or maiming, and not even any actual plan for murder, kidnap, or maiming. He was also convicted, on the basis of absurdly thin evidence, of "providing material support for terrorism."

Ah, but that doesn't stop the media, who once the "dirty bomber" mud was thrown against the wall by, if memory serves, John Ashcroft, has continued at every opportunity to remind its audience of that not only unproven, but even uncharged accusation. Padilla was branded in public as the "dirty bomber," and he'll be that until the day he dies (quite likely in Federal prison, because, as I learned recently in connection with the Cuban Five case, there is no parole in the Federal system). On CNN he was also slandered with the "blowing up apartment buildings" with natural gas charge, yet another not only unproven but unprosecuted accusation. Did he have a fair trial? No way on earth.

And in a similar farce with tragic consequences, next Monday an appeals hearing will be heard in the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta in the case of the Cuban Five. Attorney Leonard Weinglass explains the outrageous nature of their conviction. The question of "prosecutorial misconduct," which also arises in the Padilla case, I explained below. Another issue is this "conspiracy" business. Three of the Five have life sentences (again, in Federal prison, remember that life means life) for "conspiracy to commit espionage." They did not possess (nor transmit) a single classified document, nor was there any evidence presented that they ever attempted to obtain any, yet, as Weinglass explains, they received the same life sentences as those who committed actual espionage, like Robert Hansen of the FBI, Aldrich Ames of the CIA, and Robert Walker of the Navy, each of whom gave hundreds if not thousands of classified documents to foreign governments.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


 

"The bomb drop was reported to have good effects."


It was "just another" act of mass murder by American planes in Afghanistan two weeks ago; I passed on commenting on it. I might have if I had noticed the same thing noticed by Marc Herrold in the "August 2: Airpower Summary" posted on the official website of the United States Air Force: "An Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s on enemies hiding in a tree line near Baghran. The bomb drop was reported to have good effects."

I guess so. If you consider the intentional (see Herrold for an elaboration on the use of that word) murder (ditto) "good effects."


Tuesday, August 14, 2007


 

"Chinese" toys


Yet again today we hear of millions of Chinese toys being recalled (because of lead paint and magnets), with the emphasis on the word "Chinese." But while Chinese manufacturers certainly bear responsibility, the ultimate responsibility not only of American companies, including not only the toy companies but the toy-selling companies as well, is downplayed.

These toys, like many other things, are being made in China (and even made "on the cheap" in China) because American "manufacturers" (i.e., companies that used to manufacture things) want lower and lower prices. That part is probably fairly well-understood. Less well-understood is how companies like Wal•Mart (but especially Wal•Mart) use their size to constantly pressure their suppliers to lower their prices, which in turn drives price pressure and wage and other cost-cutting all the way down the line.

It's not the Chinese who bear the ultimate blame for these problems. It's capitalism, the system which is driven by profits rather than human needs.


 

Tom Tomorrow's parable: Republicans and Democrats



Shades of Marty McFly! Anybody home, McFly?

A parable can't include everything, unfortunately. This one misses the part where the Democrats assure their supporters they really don't want to jump off the cliff and are totally opposed to jumping off cliffs (right before they do).


 

Not-so-free speech


From ANSWER:
In an unprecedented action, the ANSWER Coalition today received citations fining the organization $10,000 for the placement of posters announcing the September 15 March on Washington DC. The fines come after a campaign led by FOX news calling for the DC government to take action against those putting up posters for the September 15 demonstration. Tens of thousands of dollars in additional fines are expected in the coming days. Bush’s Interior Department is threatening similar actions against ANSWER. The September 15 posters are legal and conform to city regulations.

This is part of a systematic effort to disrupt the organizing for the September 15 Mass March that is timed to coincide with the report of General Petraeus and the debate in Congress on the Iraq war. Iraq war veterans and their families will lead this dramatic march from the White House to the Congress on September 15. The last thing the government wants is to see the streets of Washington DC fill up with throngs of anti-war protesters right in the middle of the debate. But we will not be stopped. Organizing for this demonstration is taking place in cities and towns throughout the country.

The best way to take action is to call the Director of Department of Public Works, William O. Howland, Jr. at 202-673-6833, and the Mayor of DC, Adrian Fenty, at 202-724-8876. You can also send a letter or fax by clicking this link.
It's unfortunate that the antiwar movement couldn't come together in action. United for Peace & Justice still won't endorse the perfectly-timed ANSWER-initiated Sept. 15 action (although they do list it on their calendar), while their own campaign which calls for "10 Massive Demonstrations for Peace Across the U.S. on October 27" still has not a single actual action associated with it - indeed, the only action currently announced for October 27 is another ANSWER-initiated march in San Francisco.

Nevertheless, wherever you stand on any of this, an injury to one is an injury to all, and if the government (with the prodding of FOX News) succeeds in imposing fines on ANSWER for postering for an antiwar march, it will be to the detriment of the antiwar movement everywhere. Protest this outrage!


Monday, August 13, 2007


 

No evidence? No problem!


In fact, no evidence is evidently the best evidence:
Wiretapped phone conversations between Padilla and Hassoun demonstrate that Padilla was patient and secretive, Frazier said.

"This is why he was a star recruit," he said.
In other words, they never caught him actually saying anything incriminating, so he must be guilty!

For more on the actual evidence, here's a review.

This business about Padilla being a "star recruit" seems to me (a non-lawyer) to fall precisely under the description of prosecutorial misconduct which Attorney Leonard Weinglass describes here in the case of the Cuban Five, who have an appeals hearing upcoming on August 20.

Closing argument is constrained by very precise rules of law that prohibit counsel from arguing outside the scope of the evidence. In other words, a prosecutor cannot make claims in the final argument that are without any evidence or proof in the case. In this particular instance the prosecutor went far beyond the bounds of proper argument.

For example he claimed at one point that the Five came to the United States, not to monitor the activities of the terror network that had been assaulting the Cuban people, but instead he argued that their purpose in coming was to destroy the United States. That was mentioned not once but three times in the course of his argument. The Five were unarmed, they carried no explosives, they committed no acts of sabotage or arson, they threatened no one, and yet the prosecutor made that claim.

We contend that that is outrageous prosecutorial misconduct.
In the Padilla case, since there's no testimony that his co-defendants referred to him as a "star recruit," that language is entirely an invention of the prosecutor.


 

The Pollack-O'Hanlon "war critics" view of the war


Alleged (but most definitely mis-characterized) "war critics" Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack got a lot of TV coverage out of their New York Times op-ed trumpeting "progress" in the war based on their recent trip to Iraq. Glenn Greenwald utterly demolishes this article, based not only on correcting the record on their very much pro-war history (which others have done), but also on exposing the fact that their entire trip was organized by the military and that virtually everyone they spoke to (Americans and Iraqis) about the alleged "progress" was hand-picked by the U.S. military, not to mention the scant number of hours they actually spent outside the Green Zone.

Unfortunately, the ones who most need to read the article (and report on it), the corporate media who have been giving O'Hanlon and Pollack a stage, won't.

(Hat tip Cursor)


Sunday, August 12, 2007


 

The New York Times calls out the Democrats


The New York Times notices what most Democratic partisans would rather overlook:
Even as they call for an end to the war and pledge to bring the troops home, the Democratic presidential candidates are setting out positions that could leave the United States engaged in Iraq for years.
This being the New York Times, in a 1380-word article, they never actually mention the most antiwar Democrat, Dennis Kucinich. Although I'm not exactly sure what his position is these days either. It used to be "U.S. out, U.N. in," which had the minor negative aspect that the U.N. wasn't about to go "in," which would mean the U.S. wasn't going "out" either. His website still carries the same formulation.


 

Capitalism kills


The AP reports today that the U.S. has slipped even further in life expectancy, to 42nd place (down from 11th 20 years ago). But, we're told, "it's not as simple as saying we don't have national health insurance," and to justify that claim, AP proceeds to cite such factors as obesity and "the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times." That's somewhat fair, but of the several causes of obesity, one is poverty, as poor people eat a lot more cheap starches and a lot less expensive fish and lean meat. But the last two "excuses" for the shorter U.S. life expectancy really stretch things: there are "racial disparities" ("Black Americans have an average life expectancy of 73.3 years, five years shorter than white Americans"), and "a relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations."

Both are true, of course. And both are a direct result of the lack of, not "national health insurance," but national health care. The distinction between those two is particularly notable with respect to the infant mortality rate, of which, the article informs us, "Forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004." And health insurance, which often doesn't cover pre-natal care, and when it does, the deductibles and co-pays often discourage poor people from taking advantage of it anyway, isn't the answer.

The final statistic quoted by AP is particular telling in this regard: "The U.S. rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It was 13.7 for Black Americans, the same as Saudi Arabia."

The current number in Cuba, a poor third-world country, but a country which actively promotes pre-natal care, making sure that every expectant mother in the country has access to all the pre-natal (and post-natal, of course) care they need? 5.3.

As I have written before, it's easy just to see statistics. These aren't just numbers. They are people. And, in the case of the infant mortality rate, dead people. The birth rate in the United States is 14.2/1000; with a population of 300 million, that makes 4.3 million babies born each year. Blacks are 12.9% of the population, and assuming roughly comparable birth rates, that makes around a half-million Black babies born each year. If that many babies were born in Cuba, 2900 of them would die before age one. But of those babies born to Black mothers in the United States, 7600 die before age one - four thousand, seven hundred "excess" dead Black children (and, by the way, another 5600 "excess" dead White, Asian, and Latino children as well, representing the difference between 6.8 and 5.3/1000). [Readers: feel free to check my math! I'll be glad to correct any errors.]

Capitalism kills. More than ten thousand young babies each year, just for starters. More than three "9/11's." Each year.


Thursday, August 09, 2007


 

The really forgotten fatalities in Iraq


The media has taken note of the death of the 1000th Defense Department contractor in Iraq. As far back as November, 2003 I was writing about the need to include the deaths of contractors in the death totals from Iraq.

But surprisingly enough, contractors are not the most forgotten deaths in Iraq, and no, it's not Iraqis either. While the number of Iraqi deaths is routinely undercounted (or not counted at all) in the media, at least the subject is mentioned. No, the most forgotten group of fatalities resulting from the Iraq war are the British, Italian, and other "coalition" soldiers. I've been writing about them since my very first post on this blog, but, as I've noted before, British fatalities are even routinely forgotten by British media, who report American death tolls rather than total "coalition" fatalities.

It's interesting to see this play out in the latest report of contractors' deaths:

The contractor fatalities are in addition to the 3,672 U.S. military personnel the Defense Department as of Wednesday had confirmed dead in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003.
By now you should see what's wrong with that statement. The 1001 contractors are of multiple (and unspecified) nationality. So if you want to add them to military personnel killed, even if you intend to ignore "our" Iraqis, then the number you need to add them to is not the 3672 American fatalities but the total coalition fatalities, which is 3981. Which means that in a week or so, the "coalition" will have lost 5000 people, and really lots more once "allied" Iraqi armed forces and police are included. But in the media, in three or four months we'll be reading about how the "casualty [sic] total" has just passed 4000. And that statement will be as wrong then as it has since the first days of the war, when the undercounting and misdirection began.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007


 

The Algiers Accords - who knew?


An article by the always knowledgeable Stephen Zunes acquaints me with something I hadn't previously heard of - the Algiers Accords (pdf). Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iranian students seized hostages at the American diplomatic mission, and held them until the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated (which is a whole other story) in January, 1981. What I didn't know is that the release was accompanied by the signing of an accord between the United States and Iran (negotiated in Algeria, hence the title).

And what is the very first point of the Accords?

The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs.
Oops! Make that just one more in a long line of treaties unilaterally abrogated by the United States. I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007


 

Oh My Beautiful Friends


It's been a while since we've had a musical post, so a propos of no particular event in the news (aside from the daily American slaughter of Iraqis and Afghans), here's Holly Near from her 1973 album Hang In There, singing a song of solidarity with the Vietnamese people entitled "Oh My Beautiful Friends" [remember sometimes depending on traffic it can take a while to respond, so don't click on the arrow twice, just once, and wait]:

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Monday, August 06, 2007


 

The big lie


It never stops:
"This is a government [Iran] that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon."

- President George "Pinocchio" Bush
I'll update this post periodically to see how the major media do on this. Will they label it an "out-and-out lie"? A "misstatement"? Will they say, as they have with similar lies in the past, that it "appears to contradict" the truth (that in response to Bush's "We demanded that Saddam Hussein let the inspectors in. He did not let them in" lie)? Will they mention it at all? We shall see.

Update 1: The New York Times doesn't disappoint as it covers for Bush:

Mr. Bush has long viewed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, and is deeply suspicious of its nuclear ambitions, a view he reiterated Monday.
No, he didn't "reiterate" any "suspicions" of Iran's nuclear ambitions. He flat out lied in claiming they have "proclaimed" such a desire (actually it's really a double lie, since not only haven't they proclaimed such a desire, they have very clearly proclaimed exactly the opposite).

The Washington Post waits until the 13th and penultimate paragraph to quote Bush's assertion, and then in the final paragraph, the one most likely to be cut when the story is reprinted in other papers, it lets its readers in on the truth: "Iran actually has not proclaimed a desire to build a nuclear weapon, maintaining that its enrichment program is aimed only at peaceful civilian power." Not content to let the truth speak for itself, though, the Post follows that with an attempt at an "explanation" for the lie by a Bush spokesperson, an explanation which basically consists of "we think they want nuclear weapons," which in no way justifies Bush's statement.

Update 2: The Los Angeles Times manages to quote the next paragraph of Bush's answer, where he says "the burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they're a positive force." As far as the burden of proof on George Bush (and the Los Angeles Times) to tell us the truth? Nary a mention (I won't even get into the subject of the United States as a "positive force"; I'll let the two million Iraqis who have fled the country the United States invaded speak to that).

From the AP: nothing about Bush's lie. Ditto for Reuters. Chicago Tribune? Not a mention. Baltimore Sun? The same. NPR? Likewise.

My prediction above about the Washington Post's story is even more correct than I thought. Here's a link to a reprint of the story in the Contra Costa Times where you won't find the final two paragraphs about Bush's lie. And that's online where there aren't even any space considerations! The print edition of the San Jose Mercury News also carries the Post story, but, as predicted, not the final two paragraphs about Bush's lie (never labeled as such, of course).


 

The 190,000 missing weapons


The big scandal in the news today is the report that 190,000 weapons given to Iraqi security forces are unaccounted for. But the entire story, as I've seen it in print and on talk shows, has missed the forest and seen only the trees. People, especially Democrats of course, want to play this up as yet another "Bush Administration incompetency" story, which I'm sure it is. They don't even have serial numbers for all the weapons they gave out. Plus there's the "military really needs more money so it can modernize" angle, exemplified by this: "the records are on a spreadsheet that requires three computer screens lined up side by side to view a single row."

But so what? What difference would it make if they had all the serial numbers? The problem isn't that they don't have the serial numbers, or that they didn't keep track of where they went. The problem is that they gave them to Iraqis who in large measure don't want the U.S. there, and were all too willing to sell (or give) the guns to resistance forces, or who were themselves resistance forces infiltrating the Iraqi army and police. The problem, in other words, is the fundamental problem of an occupation, and the resistance that exists to that occupation. Once a weapon is in the hands of the resistance, does it really matter if the U.S. military knew what the serial number was?

To repeat: the problem for U.S. imperialism isn't missing weapons. The problem is the missing support for the occupation, and the converse, the very definitely not missing resistance.

For more than two years I've written about the sham "exit strategy" (the no-longer-mentioned "as Iraqis stand up we'll stand down strategy), in words like this:

Because the only way in which the Americans, the best-equipped ground force in the world, have managed to score major victories against the resistance is through the massive use of aerial power, in the form of attack planes and helicopter gunships. Is there any chance at all that the U.S. is not only training Iraqi pilots, but also preparing to leave attack planes, helicopters, and cruise missiles behind for the Iraqi government to use on that mythical day when American forces leave? Are you kidding? And let them fall into the "wrong hands" when that government falls the week after the Americans leave? Not on your life.
I was wrong about one thing though. I wrote: "And let them fall into the "wrong hands" when that government falls the week after the Americans leave?" As the lesson of the guns illustrates, it isn't what happens after they leave that worries the Americans. Imagine what would happen while they were still there were they ever to put a tank or a fighter jet or an attack helicopter in the hands of an Iraqi. Fuhgeddaboudit.


 

Little big man Hamid Karzai


Some people just love to talk "big." Hamid Karzai, meeting with George Bush, has this to say:
"The Taliban do pose dangers to our innocent people, to children going to school, to our clergy, to our teachers, to our engineers, to international aid workers. They're not posing any threat to the government of Afghanistan. They are not posing any threat to the institutions of Afghanistan or to the buildup of institutions of Afghanistan. Instead, it's a force that's defeated, it's a force that is frustrated, it's a force that is acting in cowardice by killing children going to school."
Yeah, sure they don't pose any threat to the government of Afghanistan...as long as that government is propped up by tens of thousands of "foreign fighters" (and their jets and bombs). Let's see how long his big talk about a "defeated force" lasts if U.S./NATO forces pull out.

There's another reason the Taliban doesn't pose a threat to Karzai's government as well -- Karzai's government barely exists in most of the country.


Sunday, August 05, 2007


 

"Defense" spending


The House voted yesterday for a new defense bill. Note how AP covers this event:
The House's $459.6 billion version of the defense budget, approved on a 395-13 vote, would add money for equipment for the National Guard and Reserve, provide for 12,000 additional soldiers and Marines, and increase spending for defense health care and military housing.
I'm surprised they didn't mention the vote included money for puppies and apple pie for the soldiers, too. The fact that 99% of this $459.6 billion does not go for "equipment for National Guard and Reserves" or "defense [sic] health care or military housing" goes unmentioned; only the fact that the money provided for 12,000 additional soldiers (and note that only 13 House members voted against that and the entire budget) is the only indication this money is actually for war. Much later, we do learn that this money "represents a nearly $40 billion increase over current levels" and includes money for "major weapons systems such as the next generation Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor fighter jet."

Oh, and as if you didn't know, "The measure does not include Bush's 2008 funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," which at the current rate of spending, should add up to another $140 billion or so.


Saturday, August 04, 2007


 

War crime upon war crime


...and throw in a media crime as well.

For the last few days, stories have appeared in the press about the near total lack of running water in Baghdad, and now we read the associated story that the power grid is near collapse. Richard Becker, writing on pslweb, documents how these are not just tragedies, but war crimes as well. Occupying powers have a legal obligation to provide for the population, and they should be rushing water to Baghdad with every means available to avoid a catastrophe.

Meanwhile, trying to explain the cause of this catastrophe to its readers, the AP writes this:

The national power grid became decrepit under Saddam Hussein because his regime was under U.N. sanctions after the Gulf War and had trouble buying spare parts or equipment to upgrade the system.
But the power grid didn't just "become decrepit," nor did the water purification plants. It's not Saddam Hussein who needs to be blamed for this situation. The power grid and the water purification plants were deliberately bombed by the U.S during the first Gulf War, and deliberately bombed with complete foreknowledge of the consequences, thereby committing a double war crime - not only attacking civilian targets, but doing so with the knowledge (and, one can only presume, the intention) that genocide would result (in the form of more than a million dead Iraqis during the sanctions period).


 

Imperialism's wet dream: war without soldiers


What you're looking at to the right is the latest addition to tools like pilotless drones designed to allow imperialism to fight wars remotely, without danger to their own forces, and ultimately without the need to even pretend they are fighting for a "cause." And, once they add artificial "intelligence" to the unit (my extrapolation), without even the need for soldiers. War as video game. These are "SWORDS," a perverted extension of the Talon, a robot designed for search-and-rescue missions and also for remote bomb disposal.

Three of these armed robots are now deployed in Iraq. It seems certain there will be more (although we're told no more are planned at this time).

(Hat tip After Downing Street, where, if you're into war pornography, you can watch a video of them at work)


 

The terrorism two-step


Remember the Liberty City Seven, the seven Miami men who were set up by an agent provocateur, a group that presented such a "danger" to the United States that they had to be given a camera to take pictures of targets (targets suggested by the agent provocateur)? Well, get ready for the latest twist: A year ago (but only coming out now because of the trial), the leader of the group told the FBI the whole "plot" was a scam designed to hustle $50,000 out of al Qaeda.


Friday, August 03, 2007


 

Howard Dean on activism


Howard Dean spoke today at the YearlyKos convention. No, I'm not there, but I happened to listen to part of his speech (more on that in a moment). He was speaking in the context of firing people up to work for the election of Democrats, which needless to say is not my idea of activism. Nevertheless, what he had to say, at least in the section I'm about to quote, applies to all of us who want to bring about change in this world (following the dictum of Karl Marx in the upper-right-hand corner of this blog). Dean was speaking about the civil rights struggle, and how many young people look upon it as a "moment in time":
"It was 13 years between the Montgomery bus boycott and signing the civil rights bill. 13 years. Not every day was a good day for Dr. King and his folks during those 13 years. There were a lot of times that he and his folks had to get up and dust themselves off and go out and do something else that was really tough. Not all of them survived that. And so what I say to all Americans, but particularly to young people, is that this is not a one-day or a one-election struggle. This is something that we have to do every single day for the rest of our lives."
Things can change quickly, but in almost all cases, when they do, it's because of a long period of preparatory buildup laying the ground for that "quick change." In evolutionary theory, it's called "punctuated equilibrium," but it applies to a lot more than evolution. Remember that the next time you're frustrated about how your efforts to upset the equilibrium (or the status quo, if you prefer) seem to be having no effect.

Back to how I stumbled on the video with this speech. Robert Greenwald (of Iraq for Sale and Wal•Mart - the High Cost of Low Price and Outfoxed fame) has a website on which videos are being posted. I can't quite figure out if it's like YouTube and that anyone can post on it, or just selected people, but there are a lot of interesting things there. It appears, for example, that almost every segment of every broadcast of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are being posted there. Anyway, it looks like it might be worth knowing about so I'm passing on the info.


 

Question of the Day


Jonathan Cook writing at CounterPunch asks the question of the day: If Iranian President Ahmadinejad is the next Hitler bent on the destruction of Israel and committing genocide against the Jews, why are there 25,000 Jews not only living peacefully in Iran, but even resistant to financial offers by Israel of $60,000 to settle in Israel?

By the way, that 25,000 is rather different than the number of Jews left in Baghdad - eight.


Thursday, August 02, 2007


 

Left I on the News - Year Five begins!


Watch the video of the first four years below.


 

Rumsfeld: "No coverup on this matter"


Yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld was being questioned by Rep. Dennis Kucinich about the Tillman affair, and in response to an assertion about a coverup, Rumsfeld says, "I have not been involved in any cover-up whatsoever and I don't believe there is an individual at this table who I know well and observed at close quarters in very difficult situations who had any role in a cover-up on this matter." Well, it may actually be true. I don't know who was sitting at the table (and hence who is covered by his statement), and it is possible that Rumsfeld himself wasn't involved in this particular scandal.

But the interesting thing in his answer is to listen to the inflection, which you can hear in the video here. At precisely 4:00 into the video (the first few minutes of which aren't that interesting), you'll hear (or you'll take my word for it) a very strong inflection on the word "this." Not quite a confession, but as close as you'll get from Rumsfeld or anyone else in the Bush Administration.


 

Political Humor of the Day


Sometimes, there's nothing like a cheap shot laugh, especially when the target is the Dark Lord himself, Voldemort Dick Cheney. And Jay Leno is the master:


 

Iranian nukes (again)


In a syndicated column yesterday, Derrick Jackson takes the Administration to task for planning to ship $63 billion in military "aid" to various countries in the Middle East (half to Israel, half to others). In the course of the column, Jackson refers to "sav[ing] us from Iran's future nukes," and quotes peace activist Frida Berrigan saying "Iran is five to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon" and referring to "Iran's desire to have a nuclear weapon."

Those things wouldn't have been enough to make me repeat things I've said before, though. Instead, it was Jon Stewart's Daily Show last night, in which Stewart added one more to a long list of establishment warmongers he's given a platform to; this time it was Jed Babbin, a former undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. Babbin, as you'll see in the brief clip below, was insisting that "we" have to focus on the "real threats" in this world, and names Iran as "the central terrorist nation in the world, the most dangerous nation." But unlike most, who focus on President Ahmadinejad, Babbin insists the real person we need to listen to (as evidence of the threat Iran poses) is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And so my question is the same as it has been before: why is it that people who are so threatened by Islamic fundamentalism, and think that the hold of this religion is so powerful, never mention that this same Ayatollah issued a Fatwa on August 10, 2005, saying "that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons." Never. You will never hear any of the critics of Iran mention this, even to say something like "well, you can't believe what they say." Never. Because they know they can't talk about the power of Islamic fundamentalism in one breath, and then deny its power (in the form of a Fatwa issued by the "Supreme Leader") in the next.


And people like Derrick Jackson and Frida Berrigan, who claim to be opposed to war against Iran, should avoid giving ammunition to people like Babbin (and Stewart and Bush and Cheney) by talking about "Iran's desire for nuclear weapons."


Wednesday, August 01, 2007


 

American "justice"


It's been a long time since I've written about Jose Padilla. As with the trial of Slobodan Milosevic (and others), once it was clear things weren't going too well for the government, the trial virtually disappeared from the media. Lewis Z. Koch over at Firedoglake has been doing a nice job keeping an eye on things, and provides a good review of the "evidence" on which Padilla may well be sentenced to life in prison.

Another case of American "justice" I haven't written about at all is the case of the Jena 6, six black Louisana high school students charged with attempted murder for a school fight in which a white student was beaten up, a fight which broke out after white students hung three nooses from a tree where the black students had sat. One of the Jena 6 has already been convicted of aggravated battery and faces up to 22 years in prison. Democracy Now! has been one of the few covering the case, but for a good single article summary, I'd recommend this from pslweb.


 

Cuban athletes "defecting"


Whenever a Cuban athlete "defects" from Cuba, as happened in a number of cases at the recent Pan-American Games, it's guaranteed to be news in the U.S. media, and trumpeted as a failure of the Cuban system. By contrast, here's something the average American will never read:
In 2005, when the number of soccer players playing abroad reached record numbers, Brazilian clubs made deals worth $159 million US for 857 players, while 64 million tons of banana exports brought in just $33 million US.

In 2006, the "sale" of players abroad reached $131 million US, way ahead of the $64 million US in grain exports.

So far this year, the number of players joining foreign clubs has already reached 600, for a price tag of some $50 million US.
The number of players in 2006 isn't noted, but interpolating, we can guess that in the last three years, well over 2000 Brazilian soccer players have left their country to play abroad.

There's a big difference, however. A Brazilian player playing in the U.S. doesn't have to apply for asylum in order to play, and can repatriate their salary to their own country. Thanks to U.S. law, a Cuban athlete can do neither.


 

Cheap labor in Iraq


It's not a new story, but this article provides some interesting information about the nature of U.S. contractors (a.k.a. "mercenaries") in Iraq:
The former Peruvian army sergeant is only one of many Latin Americans who have gone to Iraq to work for security firms -- most of them based in the United States -- that now employ 6,000 to 10,000 men from around the world, according to news accounts.

The Latin Americans typically served in the military back home -- many fought leftist guerrillas in places like El Salvador and Colombia -- and were taught by U.S. instructors, making it easier for them to use U.S. weapons and work under American security procedures.

But after leaving their armed forces, these soldiers found themselves in low-paying jobs. So they agreed to risk injury or death in Iraq for $1,000 to $1,500 a month -- $5 to $7 an hour -- a good wage for them, but far below the $10,000 to $15,000 monthly pay for American contract employees.

Peruvians guard the outer perimeter of a U.S. installation in Basra. Chileans protect the governmental Green Zone in Baghdad. Hondurans have provided security within the terminal at Baghdad International Airport. Salvadorans once protected the Green Zone in Baghdad, but they and some Ecuadoreans reportedly have left the jobs after media in their home countries labeled them "mercenaries."

The practice has become widespread enough to attract the interest of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Over the past year, the Geneva-based office has sent a five-person Working Group to Fiji, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

"The companies say they are private guards, but really they are private soldiers," said José Luis Gomez del Prado, a Working Group member who is a Spanish human rights professor. "They are provided with military equipment and weapons. You are privatizing war. That is the concern of the international community."


 

Imagine...four years of Left I on the News


You don't have to imagine, because tomorrow is the fourth anniversary ("blogiversary") of the first post at Left I on the News, which means that today marks four full years of posting. That very first post on August 2, 2003 touched on a theme that would recur frequently - the undercounting of fatalities in Iraq (trying to avoid counting those who didn't die "in combat," counting only those who died "since President Bush declared major fighting over on May 1," and of course not counting Iraqis at all).

At the time of that first post, 251 American soldiers had died in Iraq, and some unknown number of Iraqis. Today the number stands at 3657, with another 293 from "coalition" countries, hundreds of more contractors, and an estimated one million Iraqis. The call of Left I on the News remains the same - Out Now! Not partially out sometime in the future. All out. Now.

By way of marking this four-year milestone, I've prepared a short video reviewing those years. The video concentrates on the major event of those four years, the U.S. war against Iraq. It touches on a few other things (Cuba, Katrina, Israel/Lebanon/Palestine), but skips many other of the subjects the blog has covered over the years - terrorism, imperialism, socialism, unemployment and the economy in general, Cuba, Venezuela, and even the Tour de France. For those, you'll need to review the archives (and feel free to do so the next time you have a free day or three).

On to the future! While you're waiting, enjoy (as much as you can "enjoy" hearing about death and destruction) this brief review of the past:


Why stop here? There's more...

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