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Monday, December 31, 2007


 

Bhutto and Musharraf and the "conspiracy" to hide the cause of death


Things I don't understand:
Pakistani and Western security experts said the government’s insistence that Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, was not killed by a bullet was intended to deflect attention from the lack of government security around her.
This is absurd. We know there were gun shots fired at Bhutto. We know there was a bomb exploded near her car. It is 100% clear that there was insufficient security around her, be it "government" security or her own security. Whether she was actually killed by the gunshots, shrapnel from the bomb, or by smashing her head into the car thanks to the force of the bomb, makes absolutely no difference whatsoever, other than which individual gets charged with attempted murder and which individual with actual murder. Otherwise it's a complete tempest in a teapot, and the idea that what is happening is some kind of government conspiracy rather than routine confusion surrounding an event like this is nonsense, and a complete diversion from the real story.

Update: And a close runner-up:

The United States provided a steady stream of intelligence to Benazir Bhutto about threats against her before the former Pakistani prime minister was assassinated.
A "steady stream" of intel, eh? That must be a real testament to the value of U.S. intelligence, right? Uh, not so much:
Much of what was passed on dealt with general threats from Taliban extremists and al-Qaida sympathizers and "was not actionable information."
Yes, I'm sure Bhutto really needed that "steady stream of (unactionable) intel" to let her know she was in danger. I wonder if John McCain will be going after this wasteful government spending, an "intelligence" agency which knows no more than every reader of a newspaper.


 

Three-nine-zero-zero


Repeating in part a post from July, I note that the words to the song "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" (from the musical "Hair") were taken from a 1966 poem by Allen Ginsberg entitled "Wichita Vortex Sutra", written at a time with 3500 Americans had died in Vietnam. This video combines the pictures I took yesterday with that song, mixed in with a bit of the more hopeful "Imagine" at the end.


Sunday, December 30, 2007


 

3909


The number is only ephemeral, it will be gone tomorrow, replaced by a new one. The lives are already gone, along with a million others. As the year ends, the actual number is 4209 non-Iraqi, uniformed "coalition" soldiers who either died in Iraq or shortly and directly attributably afterwards, 3902 (the sign in the picture below says 3909) of them Americans. Another 748 dead in Afghanistan, and another thousand "contractors" in Iraq.

Today I again found myself in Lafayette, California, where a display of crosses has been (but seems no longer to be) a subject of controversy. Using my new camera and its panoramic mode, I was actually able to get them all in - all 3909 crosses. I know it's hard at this size to see that much, but take a look:


Every cross represents a life snuffed out. Every cross represents a family grieving, having lost a father, a mother, a son, a sister. Every cross represents a tragedy, multiple tragedies - tragedies for the dead, tragedies for the families, tragedies for friends, tragedies for society. These crosses represent only the lives of uniformed American military personnel in Iraq.

Now picture another hillside of crosses, almost the same size, representing all the other coalition soldiers, contractors, stateside suicides, and murdered spouses. Every one of those deaths also a tragedy.

Now picture another hillside of crosses, larger than the first, representing all the Afghan civilians killed by the U.S. and its NATO allies in their "war on of terror." Every one of those deaths also a tragedy.

Now picture 250 hillsides, stretching much farther than the eye could see, covered with crosses, representing the million Iraqis who have died thanks to the U.S. invasion. Every one of those deaths also a tragedy.

Try to keep this picture in your mind as the politicians and the media try to convince you that Iraq or Afghanistan will soon be a "success."

If you're not depressed enough yet, watch this video, supposedly made by Yoko Ono, set to John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". Unfortunately, war is not over "if you want it"; it will take a lot more than just wanting to end war. You, and I, and a lot more of us worldwide, have to get off our rear ends and make it happen. Will it be a "Happy New Year"? Only if we make it so.


Saturday, December 29, 2007


 

Fidel Castro and U.S. plans for Cuba


A lot of attention in the press today on Fidel Castro's message to the Cuban Parliament, where he talked about not clinging to power. Actually on that subject, the very last sentence of the message, which no one seems to have noticed, is even more significant: "Levantaré mi mano junto a la de ustedes para apoyarlo (I will raise my hand next to yours (or "together with yours") to show my support (for the report read by Raúl))." Which, to me, sounds like he plans on being just "another member" (as if!) of Parliament, rather than President of the Council of State.

However, I thought the most interesting part of the message wasn't on this subject at all, but where Fidel commented, somewhat indirectly but unmistakably, about U.S. "plans" for Cuba (embodied in "Plan Bush"), by reminding his audience about what happened to the Communists in another country where U.S. imperialism had its way:

Other problems, foreign to our nation and many others under similar conditions, also threaten us. A victorious counterrevolution would spell a disaster for us, worse than Indonesia's tragedy. Sukarno, overthrown in 1967, was a nationalist leader who, loyal to Indonesia, headed the guerrillas who fought the Japanese.

General Suharto, who overthrew him, had been trained by Japanese occupation forces. At the conclusion of World War II, Holland, a U.S. ally, re-established control over that distant, extensive and populated territory. Suharto maneuvered. He hoisted the banners of U.S. imperialism. He committed an atrocious act of genocide. Today we know that, under instructions from the CIA, he not only killed hundreds of thousands but also imprisoned a million communists and deprived them and their relatives of all properties or rights; his family amassed a fortune of 40 billion dollars--which, at today's exchange rate, would be equivalent to hundreds of billions— by handing over the country's natural resources, the sweat of Indonesians, to foreign investors.
And if you think this is hyperbole, you need to read the plan, and remember that, along with everything the U.S. government admits to wanting in public, there is a secret appendix to the plan.


Friday, December 28, 2007


 

Racism disguised as "national security"


It's not really a surprise; Mike Huckabee says the situation in Pakistan is why the U.S. needs to build a fence on the Mexican border. It's hardly just Huckabee, although no one else may have (yet) tried to capitalize on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in exactly the same way; virtually every one of the Presidential candidates tries to cover their position on immigration by claiming it's all about "national security." But, strangely, not a single one of them to my knowledge, not even Tom Tancredo (no longer running), has called for a border fence to be built along the U.S.-Canada border. Funny, that.

Incidentally, not that I'm particularly worried about Pakistanis, some of whom are in fact my neighbors, but since Huckabee raised the issue, we should note there are an estimated 100,000 Pakistanis in Canada. The number in Mexico? 250.


 

Immigration


Lots of talk about immigration during the political campaign in the U.S. I haven't heard one candidate, nor can I find a single mention in the U.S. press (this comes from Granma Internacional) of this relevant fact:
The number of Mexican immigrants who have died crossing the country’s border with the United States has reached 562 so far this year, reported the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Incidentally, for those who like to point to the relatively small numbers of people leaving Cuba as "fleeing Communism" or at best leaving a "failed economic system" for a better life in the U.S., it might be difficult to explain this other statistic from the same article:
The Mexican Congressional work group on migratory affairs also stated that 560,000 Mexican nationals emigrated to the U.S. during 2007 looking for work.
All of them fleeing that failed economic system known as...capitalism.


 

Cuban ecology and the blockade


An interesting article in today's New York Times discusses efforts by Cuban and American (and other) scientists and environmental lawyers to ensure the continued protection of the Cuban environment after the end of the "embargo" which, we're told, is "widely anticipated...after Fidel Castro and his associates leave power." Don't hold your breath for either event (depending on how you define "associates", I suppose).

The World Wildlife Fund says the biggest threat to Cuba's ecology, something they describe as relatively well preserved "in dramatic contrast" to its neighbors, is "the prospect of sudden and massive growth in mass tourism when the U.S. embargo lifts." Which is certainly true. But considering that Cuba already has considerably more tourism than, say, the Dominican Republic, the article doesn't try hard enough to explain the current state of affairs. It does mention "a very strong structure" of environmental laws, but doesn't really explain them. And it quotes an American lawyer who apparently worked on those laws thusly:

"But all laws do is give you the opportunity to slow down the wrong thing. Over time, you can wear the law down." That is particularly true in Cuba, he said, "where there’s no armed citizenry out there with high-powered science groups pushing in the opposite direction. What they lack is the counter pressure of environmental groups and environmental activists."
I assume by "armed citizenry" he means "armed with knowledge and laws," not guns, but what he, and the article, miss, is what the nature of the interests involved. If a corporation wants to develop something in the United States, environmental groups and environmental activists are very much needed to counter them, because the interests (and indeed, the fiduciary responsibility) of the corporation lie solely in maximizing profit. But Cuba isn't letting foreign corporations do development projects because it wants to maximize the profits of those corporations. No, it's doing so to maximize the benefit for the Cuban people. Now it is true that not all people have the same values. Some may value better housing, say, over a cleaner environment, and others the opposite, and the environment may not always win out. But those are competing values which deserve to be debated and weighed against one another, without the "heavy thumb on the scale" of corporate profits biasing the debate.

The article is replete with examples of another heavy thumb - the heavy thumb of the blockade of Cuba and its countless consequences, intended and not. The meeting itself was held in Mexico (and even there such meetings are subject to the blockade), since the U.S. routinely rejects applications by Cuban scientists to travel to the U.S., and rarely gives permission to U.S. scientists to visit Cuba. It's even worse for scientists in Florida, who are banned by state law from using public or private funds to travel to Cuba. Then there are the Cuban scientists, whose Internet access is limited because the U.S. government denies Cuba access to fiber-optic cable access, forcing Cuba to use slower, lower-bandwidth, and more expensive means (the article, by the way, insists on spreading the slander, attributed to "critics" with no evidence provided whatsoever, that the Cuban government "limits access to the Internet as a form of censorship"). American scientists would love to help their Cuban counterparts by providing equipment and supplies, but can do so only by violating the law (and incurring greater expense) by shipping such things through Canada.

Click here for the slideshow that accompanies the article. Incidentally, if you haven't seen it, there's a PBS special entitled "Cuba: Wild Island in the Caribbean" which is an absolutely fascinating look at Cuban ecology, and which I reviewed here.

Oh, and personally, I'm still holding out hope that the Ivory-billed woodpecker is still alive in Cuba, where the last confirmed sightings occurred (not including the disputed sightings in Arkansas).


Thursday, December 27, 2007


 

Single-payer health care makes people healthier...in the U.S.!


It's called Medicare, and here's the latest finding:
If you don't have health insurance, your health gets worse and worse compared with people with health insurance. That changes at age 65, when universal Medicare health care coverage kicks in. Then you stop losing ground -- although you're not likely to become as healthy as someone who had health insurance all along.
And guess what? Healthier people...incur fewer health care costs:
David Schulke, executive vice president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Health Quality Association, said the study highlights a basic flaw in the current system.

"There is lasting harm done to the health of people who are uninsured, and they are sicker when they enter the Medicare program," he said. "This suggests that there will be a savings to the Medicare program if insurance coverage is created by Congress for people under the age of 65, because health care of the otherwise uninsured will improve, and they won't be so debilitated by the time they become eligible."


Wednesday, December 26, 2007


 

Body count, Iraq


Not to be confused with Iraq Body Count, with its "media and politician-friendly" undercount of Iraqi fatalities, requiring "confirmation" by publication in two different English-language sources. Leila Fadel reports on one of those uncounted deaths, a report which as far as I can determine appears only on her blog despite the fact that she is the Baghdad bureau chief for a major newspaper chain:
Suheila Hammad held her daughter in her arms before dawn on Tuesday. Outside she heard the U.S. Special Forces and the Iraqi Army in her area just south of Fallujah.

First they raided a home two doors down, blew the doors out and went in looking for their target. The soldiers pulled the family out of the home and the second floor was destroyed, the family said. A picture shows a burned out room and shattered glass.

The soldiers progressed to the second house, searching for their target, an Al Qaida in Iraq member who was believed responsible for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.

At the second house in this place, once an Al Qaida bastion, they blew the doors off and pulled the residents from the house. The Iraqi soldiers toyed with them, telling them to raise their arms up, drop their arms and raise them again.

A few soldiers walked away speaking a language the families didn't understand. It was then that a bullet pierced the window where Suheila held her daughter Hadil. The bullet pierced Hadil's neck and passed through her, embedding in the wall of the room. No one came into the house and Suheila was too afraid to call out for help, she said.

Hadil bled to death in her mother’s arms. Three men were detained, two were later released. The U.S. military said the man detained is an Al Qaida in Iraq member. There were no reports of Hadil's death, they said.
Having just watched (see post below) "Black and Tans" performing exactly the same kind of brutal assault on civilians in "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," the picture painted by Fadel of this raid was all too vivid in my mind.


 

Left I at the Movies: "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"


Last night I got to watch a movie that has been touted in progressive circles - "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," about the struggle in the early 20's to free Ireland from British rule, a subject about which I acknowledge only rudimentary knowledge. The film was difficult to watch, not because it was poorly made, but because of the opposite - because it was so well made, a seemingly realistic portrayal of the very harsh reality of a brutal war.

What is particularly interesting about the movie, and, from reading some reviews, of other movies by director Ken Loach, is its overt thought-provoking nature regarding questions facing all those who struggle for revolutionary change - when to fight and when not, when is a compromise the "best you can get" and when is it a "sell out," is it possible to fight to end an occupation without fighting to institute a new social order at the same time, what do you do when the struggle changes stages and those who were previously on the same side find themselves on opposite sides? To me, without trying to force the parallel, the Irish struggle in this film, and particularly the struggle within the revolutionary forces, is the struggle between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine, the fight between those in Iraq who have now taken American money to fight for the Americans and those who still fight against the Americans, and no doubt many other examples as well.

Curiously enough, none of the reviews I read (post-viewing) mentioned this timely relevance of the movie, but in one quite interesting review, I found the director himself making the point:

"There is a pattern you see again and again - this kind of manipulation by the ruling power, how different interests will unite in the face of a common oppressor and then ultimately how those contradictions inevitably have to work their way out. I’m sure you can see it in places like Iraq now, where the opposition to the US and Britain brings together a lot of people who will find that they have different interests when the US and the British are finally forced out."
I'm pretty sure that was written by Loach before the creation of the "Awakening Councils" in Iraq, which makes the parallels with the movie even more striking.

Two thumbs (all I've got) up.

Side note on the DVD: thank God for subtitles! No way I could have understood all that thick Irish brogue without them! Also the extras (a feature on Ken Loach and the director's commentary) are both well worth watching.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


 

The Bay Area from above


The view of the San Francisco Bay Area on Christmas Day, from atop Windy Hill (the top of the ridge between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, a bit north of Palo Alto). This is a "stitched image" of a dozen or so photos. Believe it or not, by eye it was actually clearer than it appears in the picture - possibly the clearest day I have ever seen in the Bay Area, simply spectacular. At the extreme left end is downtown San Jose in the background, and Black Mtn in the foreground. Swinging around to the east and south we come to the Pacific Ocean about 40% of the way across, then when the San Francisco Bay appears we see San Francisco at the left (about 75% of the way across the picture),

The original is 13325x720, so I'm afraid when Flickr scales down the horizontal, it scales down the vertical and you probably can't appreciate it, but for what it's worth here's that version. Clicking on it will give you the (very large) original that you can scroll horizontally (with some browsers, including Safari, the large picture will open in a reduced format; click on the new picture to see the real full version - SORRY, TOO LATE, DOWNLOAD LIMIT ALREADY EXCEEDED :-( ):


As an experiment (SORRY, TOO LATE, DOWNLOAD LIMIT ALREADY EXCEEDED), here (below) is a QuickTime VR "movie" of the same image. This may not work on everyone's system; if it doesn't, well, that's the way it goes. The orientation is opposite to the picture above, that is, what appears first is the extreme right-end of the scene. To scroll left, hold the mouse button down and move it left (or right or up or down). To zoom in, hold down the Shift button; to zoom out, the Control button.


 

Quote of the day


"We could say in Cuba we have two parties: one led by Fidel and one led by Raul, what would be the difference? That's the same thing that happens in the United States ... both are the same. Fidel is a little taller than me, he has a beard and I don't."
- Raul Castro
Yes, there are policy differences between Republicans and Democrats. But the differences pale in comparison to what they have in common.


Monday, December 24, 2007


 

"Charlie Wilson's War"...


...Hollywood's U.S.-friendly fiction.

[First posted 12/23, 9:05 a.m.; updated and bumped]

NPR's "Talk of the Nation" discusses the movie, promising in their into to "explore the ramifications with respect to Osama bin Laden and 9/11," but never does, allowing guest Martin Frost, also a Texas Congressman, to offer a quick and unrebutted claim of how Wilson had nothing whatsoever to do with bin Laden or the Taliban (and that only in response to a call-in question).


 

Happy Blogmas from Left I on the News


I've been touting Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus" since my very first Blogmas, but thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I can now offer up the music into the collection basket as well. The version below is pure Jackson Browne, and is reasonably well illustrated (something I've been meaning to do for a year but is unlikely will ever be a priority). A better (in my view) musical version is the version with The Chieftains, which has a pro-forma video (five minutes of the album cover), but you can listen to/"watch" that one here.


 

Your assignment for today, class


See what you can do along these lines:


This week an arts group in Oakland, the Center for Tactical Magic, began shopdropping neatly folded stacks of homemade T-shirts into Wal-Mart and Target stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The shirts feature radical images and slogans like one with the faces of Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. It says, "Peace on Earth. After we overthrow capitalism."
Too challenging? OK, maybe you can handle this one:
Moving Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section.


Saturday, December 22, 2007


 

Judge stacks the deck for Liberty City retrial


If at first you don't succeed...stack the deck for the second try. A mistrial was declared in the trial of the Liberty City 7 "gang" of "terrorists" (the ones whose "well-thought out plans" involved a "one-two punch" of poisoning salt shakers and bombing a building they had never seen in a city where they didn't live and couldn't even afford bus fare to). So for the retrial, the judge has decided to give the government a little help, and make sure the jury knows these are real terrorists, not just clowns and would-be con artists. She's having the jury members identified only by number (aren't they always?), ordered criminal background checks on all prospective jurors, and having those chosen escorted to and from the courthouse, all to increase the atmosphere of fear and "terror" on the part of the jurors, and help assure a conviction on the second go-round.

The judge claims that "there is a strong reason to believe the jury needs protection,", because "here we have defendants accused of being members of a terrorist cell." Of course the latter was true the first time as well, and there wasn't a single threat or any action during that trial which would prompt her to conclude that protection was necessary. Only one thing has changed - she, and the Justice Department, have realized just how laughable this case is, so they've decided to put their thumb on the scales of justice to see if they can't change the result the second time around.

Judge Joan Lenard, by the way, is the very same judge who denied a change of venue to the Cuban Five, forcing their trial to be held in a city (Miami) where the public expression of any kind of support for Cuba has been the source of bomb threats, actual bombings, and murders over the years, and at a time when that anti-Cuban atmosphere was even further exacerbated by the ongoing Elian Gonzalez saga.


 

Marxy Holiday!


At a non-religious holiday party last night, I was introduced to an absolutely brilliant piece of work (below) called "Manifestoon," which is the Communist Manifesto illustrated by cartoons. It might sound silly, which I guess it is, but it is also brilliantly done. Over and above admiring the work of the videographer, if you haven't read the Manifesto at all or in a long time, as I hadn't, what stands out as you listen to it is the remarkable prescience of its words. 157 years before Thomas Friedman (hate him as I do, but credit where credit is due) popularized the term "the world is flat," Marx and Engels were talking about precisely the same thing.

This version is in English, but if you type "Manifestoon" into the YouTube search box, you'll find it's available in numerous languages. Enjoy!


Friday, December 21, 2007


 

Capitalism kills


In a story probably most of you heard:
Cigna refused to pay for a 17-year-old leukemia patient's liver transplant until the family staged a protest Thursday, but Nataline Sarkisyan died shortly after the reversal.
A story which demonstrates Michael Moore's wisdom in focusing "Sicko" not on people without medical insurance, but on people with insurance, because it is that group which demonstrates all the more the insatiable, murderous greed of capitalism, and the imperative of providing all Americans (and all people in the world) not with health insurance, but with health care.

Capitalism is not just greedy, it's also completely irrational. For the last week I've been listening to ads on TV from "1-800-DENTIST." The pitch? "If you've already used up your deductible for 2007, now's the time to visit your dentist and get more care you won't need to pay for." As it happens, I'm in precisely the opposite situation - I need a fairly expensive medical procedure, but since I'm way under my deductible, I put it off until next year so it will kick start my satisfying my deductible for 2008. In both cases, medical care is being scheduled not on the basis of medical need, but on the basis of an insane medical insurance system.


Thursday, December 20, 2007


 

Not so MAD Magazine speaks


From the latest issue:



 

Fair and balanced news coverage


There's a major struggle going on in New Orleans over the impending demolition of thousands of public housing units. If you watched either CNN or MSNBC coverage today (no, you don't need to watch FOX to get "fair and balanced" coverage), you would think there was a near-riot as demonstrators tried to storm City Hall. But why were they doing that? You wouldn't have a clue of what was really going on:
Protesters said they pushed against the iron gates that kept them out of the building because the Housing Authority of New Orleans had disproportionately allowed supporters of the demolition to pack the chambers.
Not that the AP coverage (just quoted) doesn't have its own "fair and balanced" problems. Try this sentence on for size:
The City Council voted Thursday in favor of demolishing some 4,500 public housing units, a milestone in the city's effort to balance its heritage and its hurricane rebuilding efforts.
Where the "balancing act" is isn't clear. "Heritage" would seem to require saving existing housing, and aren't there thousands of completely demolished homes that can be rebuilt with having to intentionally demolish even more? Later on, we read:
There is no consensus on what's best for New Orleans' poor, even among public housing residents. Redevelopment would diminish the public housing stock and drive many into less stable voucher programs. Repair of brick and barracks-style projects badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina would keep intact poor but close-knit neighborhoods.
And what's wrong with keeping close-knit neighborhoods, poor or not, intact? Does someone think that diminishing the public housing stock is a better idea? That's rather hard to believe.

In the AP article, and in all the TV coverage, I only heard a single mention (from an opponent of demolition) mention that the proposed "redevelopment" was going to result in a net loss of thousands of housing units. Keira Phillips on CNN, for example repeatedly talked about how nice it would be to replace "crime-ridden" housing with nice new housing, as if there was going to be a one-to-one (and instantaneous) replacement.


 

"Miracles"


The news is filled with the story of a Christmas "miracle" - a family who went out to cut down a Christmas tree and got lost in the snow for three days. The father pointedly appears on TV now with a "Jesus is my Pal" baseball cap. But it wasn't Jesus or a miracle that rescued the Dominguez family - it was the California Highway Patrol, something you'll be hard-pressed to learn unless you read the news very carefully. The real "miracle" is that government services in this country haven't yet been gutted so much that such services weren't available, or totally privatized, available only to the rich.


 

The Israeli lobby


Many opponents of the war in Iraq and the potential war against Iran blame "the Israeli lobby" as the primary cause of those events. Stephen Zunes updates his criticism of the book by John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt in an article well worth reading. A brief excerpt:
Both authors blindly accept a number of naive and demonstrably false assumptions regarding America's role in the world. For example, they assert that the foreign policy of the United States -- the world's number one arms supplier for dictatorial regimes -- "...is designed to promote democracy abroad" and the U.S. effort to spread democracy throughout the Middle East "has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion." The reality, of course, is just the opposite: it has been U.S. support for the majority of the dictatorships in that part of the world that has primarily contributed to anti-American sentiment.

According to the disturbing nativism implied in Mearsheimer and Walt's thesis, foreigners and those allied to their interest by ethnic or ideological connections undermine the benign instincts of America's leaders. In doing so, the two analysts create an artificial duality with the Israel lobby on one side and U.S. national interest on the other.


 

What the right hand giveth...


George Bush yesterday, taking credit for a bill he would have vetoed had it passed the Congress with a narrower margin and that he's opposed for seven years:
"Today we make a major step with the Energy Independence and Security Act. We make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure."
George Bush's EPA, also yesterday:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blocked California's pioneering plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles Wednesday.
Because George Bush's idea of "confronting global climate change" is very similar to the Democrats' concept of "confronting" Bush over the war in Iraq.


 

Capitalism kills


Comment unnecessary:
Uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as those with private coverage, according to the first national study of its kind and one that sheds light on troubling health care obstacles.

People without health insurance are less likely to get recommended cancer screening tests, the study also found, confirming earlier research. When these patients finally do get diagnosed, their cancer is likely to have spread.


 

Is Zionism racism?


I've asked that question before; here's some more evidence for you to consider when you answer:

Take a look at the nice middle-class couple at the left, Fatina and Ahmad Zubeidat. They're citizens of Israel, and to me they look like a lot of the Israelis who live here in Silicon Valley. He's an architect. But they have a problem...they're Arabs, not Jews:

They had hoped to be in Rakefet, a nearby town where 150 Jewish families live on state land close to the mall project Ahmad is building. After months of interviews and testing, the town's admission committee rejected the Arab couple on the grounds of "social incompatibility."
"The problem lies not with us, but with Jewish society that does not accept the other," says Fatina.

It's not just her perception. Here's something that may well sound familiar to those who have experience with "reasons" why a black in America can't be allowed to have a particular job, or live in a particular neighborhood:

He [the official in charge] told them, Fatina recalled, that although they were "very nice people," he would have to begin marketing Rakefet as a "mixed community" to possible buyers in Tel Aviv if they moved in. The designation would hurt sales.
Nor is this a policy limited to "Israeli rednecks" (a term I just made up by analogy; don't quote me). Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, is as "mainstream" as they come, not an ultra-right winger like Avigdor Lieberman. Yet even she wants to see people like Fatina and Ahmad leave the land they were born in.
But some Jewish political leaders have suggested that Israel's Arabs, who commonly refer to themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, should eventually live in a future Palestinian state, the subject of peace negotiations inaugurated last month in Annapolis, Md. Israel's foreign minister and lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said before the meeting that such a state would "be the national answer to the Palestinians" in the territories and those "who live in different refugee camps or in Israel."
The "right to return"? The Israeli leaders want precisely the opposite - the right to expel (or force out by more subtle means - the position of the "moderate" racists) the Palestinians who still remain in Israel.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


 

One more victim of the U.S. blockade of Cuba


Lee Thomas (left) is a news anchor in Detroit afflicted with a surprisingly common disease, vitiligo, which turns dark-pigmented skin white. Vitiligo affects an estimated 65 million people worldwide, and 2 million in the United States. He's also a double-victim of the U.S. blockade of Cuba, a victim not only of the lack of a medicine produced exclusively by Cuba, but of the information blockade which allows him to make the following uneducated statement:
"There is no cause. There is no cure."
But, as I wrote when I wrote about the same thing four years ago (scary thought, that!) with respect to Michael Jackson, who suffers from the same disease, there is in fact a cure:
Michael Jackson is just one more victim of the U.S. blockade of Cuba. Why? Because the leading treatment in the world for vitiligo is Melagenina, a product of the Cuban biotechnology industry. And, like all such products, because of the blockade, Melagenina is not available to Michael Jackson; it would be a violation of U.S. law for him to fly to Cuba for treatment or to purchase the medicine. And, because of the virtual blockade on coverage of the Cuban biotech industry by the U.S. press, it's quite possible Jackson has never even heard of Melagenina, and certainly even less likely that he had heard of it in 1986, shortly after it was first developed, and when its application might have done Jackson some good.


 

How much does the U.S. hate and fear Cuba?


Enough to shoot itself in the foot:
Catching Americans who travel illegally to Cuba or who purchase cigars, rum or other products from the island may be distracting some American government agencies from higher-priority missions like fighting terrorism and combating narcotics trafficking, a government audit to be released Wednesday says.

That high rate of inspections and the numerous seizures of relatively benign contraband “have strained C.B.P.’s capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens from entering the country at Miami International Airport,” says the audit.
Terrorists? Narcotics? Sorry, not as important as trying to prevent Americans from seeing the reality of Cuba for themselves, and contributing mightily to the Cuban economy by bringing back a bottle of Havana Club.


 

March on Washington announced



A new coalition, Year5.org, has announced plans for a march on Washington against the war(s), to be held on March 15, 2007. A massive turnout can help re-focus the politicians on the urgency of ending this illegal, immoral, and costly (in lives and dollars) series of wars.


 

Doonesbury on "God"


My sentiments exactly (ok, not exactly, since I don't believe in God, but my sentiments exactly about people who repeatedly invoke God):


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


 

Cynthia McKinney says she's in


I'll let her speak for herself without comment. I will say one thing about the media, however. This video was posted on YouTube two days ago. Now I don't know what kind of press campaign McKinney is capable of conducting, but I have to assume that at least some kind of press release was sent out to the media to accompany this announcement. Two days later...crickets. Outside of places like Indymedia, I cannot find a single mention of this announcement.


 

Fuel for Iranian nuclear power


Iran is about to get a nuclear fuel delivery from Russia. George Bush has this to say:
"If the Russians are willing to do that, which I support, then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich," President Bush said Monday. "If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich."
He "supports" it? But later on, we read the truth (or, at least, the "truth"):
"We for many years tried to stop it, and for the last year we've known there was no way to stop it, and that it was coming, and we held our breath on the timing," a senior administration official said.
Needless to say, Bush's statement comes from the head of country where every single Presidential candidate is busy campaigning on a theme of "energy independence." They all realize that having a country dependent on others for vital resources like energy or food puts the country at the mercy of others. And indeed, we read precisely that point later in the article:
But privately, administration officials said they had been hoping, with dwindling confidence, that Russia would continue to stall on delivering the fuel, in part to send a message to Iran that the United States and its European, Chinese and Russian allies were hanging tough in their attempts to punish Iran for refusing to suspend enrichment.
Of course, this is precisely why Iran insists on its right to enrich its own uranium -- because relying on other countries gives those countries a tool that they have proven they will use to "send a message" (or worse); that is, to attempt to control the fate of Iran. And Iran, foolishly proceeding under the premise that it's a sovereign country, seems to think that's not a good idea. Quelle surprise!

Update: I missed an extra bit of irony - while Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. are busy demanding that Iran must be dependent on other countries for its energy needs (and continuing to press for harsher economic sanctions and/or military action should they not accede to that demand), on this very day they passed the "Energy Independence and Security Act."


Monday, December 17, 2007


 

Illegal immigrants


Three illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants slipped into the United States across the Canadian border yesterday, all looking for better economic opportunities (or perhaps they might even be terrorists, who knows?). Not one Republican or Democratic politicians has been, or will be, heard to object, much less calling for the building of a wall between the United States and Canada.


 

Lie of the Day


Q I'm concerned about the nations like Iraq, who now have nuclear weapons --

THE PRESIDENT: Iran.

Q Iran and Iraq both.

THE PRESIDENT: Not Iraq. (Laughter.) (Source)
Yeah, another funny one. Bush goes on to elaborate with six paragraphs of blather about how Iran had a nuclear weapons program, etc., but a simple correction to the questioner, a simple statement that "Iran does not have nuclear weapons" is never forthcoming. And from such evasions are borne the kind of statistics which will show (if they don't already) that 35% of the American public believe that Iran has nuclear weapons.


 

Bonus Picture of the Day



Cedar waxwings on a persimmon tree, Palo Alto, CA


Sunday, December 16, 2007


 

Jeppsen update: The bottom line is...the bottom line


Major news in the Jeppesen case. First, the local (Santa Clara County) Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to condemn extraordinary [sic] rendition, specifically naming Jeppesen for its role in the torture flights. The one who voted "no" didn't resort to the usual "this isn't the business of the Board of Supervisors" dodge, no, he came right out and endorsed torture as necessary to keep "us" safe.

Second, a former employee of Jeppesen has come forward and said the company openly acknowledged that they were involved with the rendition flights. So the possible excuse that the CIA just called them up and said arrange our flight plan from Afghanistan to Romania (or whatever), without telling them what was going on, is out the window. And, at least according to this employee, the reason wasn't that this was a particularly sadistic company with a penchant for torture. No, it was the usual - profit:

According to the declaration of Sean Belcher, who worked briefly for Jeppesen as a technical writer in San Jose in 2006, the director of Jeppesen's International Trip Planning Service, Bob Overby, told new employees during an introductory breakfast that "we do all the extraordinary rendition flights."

When some employees looked puzzled at the statement, Overby added that he was referring to "torture flights," according to Belcher's declaration.

According to Belcher, Overby then said he understood some employees were not comfortable with that aspect of Jeppesen's business but added "that's just the way it is, we're doing them," and that the rendition flights paid very well.


 

Christmas Bird Count Picture of the Day


Today was another year in the 108-year tradition of the Christmas Bird Count, a project in which Audubon Societies all over the country survey birds, to provide a long-term view of the health of one part of the natural ecosystem. The team I was on was in Ed Levin Park in eastern San Jose, not far from the location of all those foreclosures discussed two posts down.

A species that isn't particularly exotic (although we only saw two on our particular route) is the Bewick's wren, but it happens to be one of my favorites because they're just so darned adorable:


 

The injustice system


All all-too-typical story:
There was one major problem with the Santa Clara County crime lab report that implicated a San Jose man of sexual assault:

It wasn't true.

The document was a fake, created by a San Jose police detective. The crime lab analyst who purportedly prepared the document doesn't exist. The number used to identify it was false.

Even so, detective Matthew Christian testified as though the phony report were authentic.

The case unraveled when the defense attorney sought the résumé of the lab analyst, only to learn there was no such person. Christian then remembered that he had concocted the report in an attempt to trick the defendant, Michael Kerkeles, 54, into admitting that he had forced a developmentally disabled neighbor into sexual acts. It was an acceptable tactic. But Christian said that by the time he was called to testify, more than a year later, he had forgotten the ruse.
Yeah, sure, he "forgot," then "remembered" when the defense attorney questioned the fake report. And notice the "it was an acceptable tactic" line, which comes not from the cop or the D.A. but from the reporter, a simple statement of "fact." Not that the cop said something like, "listen, buddy, we've got the goods on you so you'd better confess," but actually typed up a false crime lab report. And then, after confronting the defendant with it (and evidently not producing a confession, or there wouldn't have been a trial), not destroying it, but leaving it in the files.

We all know about cops fabricating and planting evidence. But the "officers of the court," the prosecutors, are no better:

Stringfield [the D.A.] said in an interview last week that she had paid scant attention to the real report, because it did not help her case. During that interview, she blamed Kerkeles' defense attorney for not exposing the discrepancy between the two reports, both of which had been provided to the defense.
This, of course, is the essence of the injustice system. The job of the prosecution isn't to find the truth, it's to convict the defendant. The fact that they know of exculpatory evidence? Not their job to mention it; if the defendant is poor and can't hire the best attorney, or if the defense attorney just happens to slip up, too bad.

And do note that this isn't just any old case, but a sexual assault case. Why do I mention that? Because in the United States in the 21st century, a conviction on a sexual assault case is almost guaranteed to damage a person for life. They might find themselves limited to living in some rural county, or even ordered by the government to live under a bridge. A conviction on a sexual assault case, almost as much as a death penalty conviction, has very serious consequences.

But in the U.S. injustice system, there's only one consequence that matters to the prosecution - a conviction, obtained by any means necessary. Try to remember that the next time someone tells you how they're sure that Mumia Abu-Jamal is guilty.


 

Foreclosures don't strike all equally


The basic trend isn't that shocking, but the numbers are (to me, anyway):
Nearly 60 percent of the 1,429 properties in [Santa Clara] county taken back by lenders from Jan. 1 to Nov. 15 were owned by people with Hispanic surnames...In San Jose, that figure was 69 percent.

Latinos comprise 26 percent of the county's population and 32 percent of the city's, according to census data.

The damage comes as foreclosures in the county through Nov. 15 have skyrocketed to five times the number for all of 2006.


Friday, December 14, 2007


 

Lingering illusions in Democrats?


I doubt it, but just in case:
The Democratic-led Congress authorized more Iraq war spending on Friday, sending President George W. Bush a defense bill requiring no change in strategy after failing again to impose a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.

The defense policy bill, approved 90-3 by the U.S. Senate, also expanded the size of the U.S. Army and set conditions on the Bush administration's plan to build a missile defense system in Europe.

The measure already had passed the House of Representatives and now goes to Bush, who is expected to sign it into law. It authorizes Pentagon programs expected to cost $506.9 billion during fiscal 2008, which began in October.

The bill authorized another $189.4 billion for the Iraq and Afghan wars, for which Congress has already approved some $600 billion.
Just for the record, Here's the Senate vote and the House vote (which was 370-49).

Just what the world needs, by the way, a United States with a bigger Army. That couldn't be a stimulus to more invasions down the line, could it? Only a cynic (or an open-eyed realist) would think so.


 

Bonus picture of the day


I got a new camera yesterday. Well, not really, a few weeks ago my Canon S1 IS self-destructed; it turned out to be the main sensor, which was having some sort of recall (the sort they don't bother to tell you about). After a $30 diagnosis fee at a camera store and having to pay $15 shipping and waiting more than a month, Canon finally says (after I called the camera store and had them call Canon), oh gee, we don't have the parts for the old camera any more, so we'll replace your camera with a new (refurbished) S3 IS. Done! Longer lens (12x vs 10x), 6 megapixel vs 3, faster autofocus (which was the worst feature of the old model, really limiting the ability to capture either moving subjects or still subjects which fly away while the camera is busy autofocusing), and less shutter lag (the time from when you push the button until the picture is actually taken), another weakness of the previous model (and many digital cameras). There are some other enhancements as well, so all an all, a heck of a deal for $45.

So here's your bonus picture for today - a Black phoebe just leaving its perch on a rock in front of a nearby house.


 

The Washington Post piles on Chavez


A couple days ago I criticized right-wing columnist Andres Oppenheimer (of "Castro's Final Hour" will be 1992 fame) for asserting that Hugo Chavez "only accepted his [referendum] loss under pressure." He attributed the claim to "independent election monitors," which seems like a highly unlikely source for inside knowledge about the inner deliberations of the Venezuelan government.

Now along comes the Washington Post editorial board to go him one better, claiming that "Chavez,...according to multiple independent reports announced the vote against his "Bolivarian revolution" only under pressure from the Venezuelan military." First of all, note there is no actual identification (even by category) of these alleged "multiple independent reports." And how would you know they were really independent? If one guy makes up a story (or puts a slant on the truth), and tells it to three people, and those three people each speak to a reporter, that doesn't constitute independent sources. You would have to know for a fact that each of your sources either had personal, first-hand knowledge of the truth, or had each obtained their information from a different person, each of whom in turn also had personal, first-hand knowledge of the truth. None of that is impossible, but in this case, it's highly unlikely, even more so because, as I noted in the earlier post, the results were announced pretty much as soon as they possibly could have been, just a few hours after the polls closed (and, by the way, the results were not announced by "Chavez" at all, but by the Electoral Council). None of this deters the Post from throwing out this unsupported slander. Incidentally, the Post's editorial the day after the referendum, which was pretty much a diatribe against Chavez, contained no such allegation.

Of course they don't stop there, asserting that "Bolivia and Ecuador are pressing ahead with copycat constitutional coups." Pretty funny way to conduct a coup, I'd say, asking the people to vote on something. Isn't that more of an "electoral revolution" than a coup? Of course, it isn't the American way. Here, the President just keeps usurping more and more power without even getting the approval of Congress, much less of the American people.


 

Muslims and Jews and racists, oh my


A story that got coverage on the news yesterday involved some racists on a New York subway attacking some Jews, and a Muslim man coming to their aid (successfully stopping the attack and getting beat up himself in the process). Some versions of the story, including the one I heard on TV, say he "ended up in the hospital." But, in what Lenin's Tomb calls an "All-American Muslim story," that's not true. Only the New York Daily News reports the real story:
Askari, all of 5-feet-7 and 140 pounds, said he was left with a swollen face.

He said he didn't go to the doctor because he's too busy working two waiter jobs and doesn't have the money for medical care.
George Bush would be so proud (if only Askari weren't a Muslim). I'm sure at least some of you remember Bush's response to the woman who mentioned she had three jobs:
THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)
Yup, funny stuff, hyuk, hyuk. George didn't dare ask her why she was working three jobs, or if any of them provided medical coverage.

Incidentally, in one of the more bizarre aspects of this tale, I can find absolutely no evidence that the New York Times has ever mentioned this story (searching for both the name of the Muslim and the original Jewish victim on both the Times site and on Yahoo News).


 

A liberating holiday present


No matter what your religion, if any, or the religion of your family and friends, if any (that's if your family and friends have any religion, not if you have any family and friends ;-) ), most of you are going to be giving presents at this time of year. And what better way to get under Bill O'Reilly's skin and help make his imaginary "War on Christmas" real than by giving out subscriptions to a socialist newspaper?

I briefly noted back in June the appearance of a new paper, Liberation, a paper published by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (many of whom I know from working in the antiwar and Cuban solidarity movements in San Francisco). The way the paper works is this - first, most of the material appears on the website, updated a few times a week. Then, every two weeks, a "real" paper is published in both physical (paper) and electronic (PDF) formats. The downloadable version is free, and there's a cost for the physical version, but of course it's the latter that would make a nice gift. And, as much as I read online, there's nothing like something you can hold in your hands and read.

What prompts me to write this post isn't just the approaching gift-giving season, but a spate of articles which just appeared online, which really illustrate the breadth and quality of the writing. Here's the briefest of summaries:

"Why the U.S. backs Kosovo 'independence'", an article which summarizes the history of the imperialist assault on Yugoslavia (something newer activists may know little about, even though it occurred as recently as the Clinton administration) and bringing us up to date with the attempt of the U.S. and its allies to force through "independence" for Kosovo.

"Struggle to free Mumia gets media, legal boost" demonstrates the value of continued struggle on the part of activists to break through the one-sided treatment of all "enemies of the state" by the media, and updates us on the very real prospects of a new trial for a clearly unjustly convicted man.

"Rising hunger sours holiday cheer" covers the phenomenon of hunger (35 million people in the U.S., billions worldwide) in a world in which there is enough food to feed every single person. It includes a section on the subject of charity which could be taken straight from one of my all-time favorite books, "The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists":

Charities are an essential feature of capitalist functioning precisely because they provide an alternative to this type of political movement. They give society a safe way to let off steam, telling workers that the only way to address hunger is through individual handouts and not social movements, and a way for the capitalists to repair their image and alleviate class hatred.
Other articles, all equally interesting, on Iran, "Imperialism and Kurdish self-determination", the conflict between the environment and capitalism (no, it's not my article), crime, and the U.S. antiwar movement and the way forward. Another article from last week, also well worth reading, is an analysis of the referendum defeat in Venezuela.

And over and above the education that such articles provide, with luck they may be the trigger that stimulates you, or a family member or friend, to take up Stephanie McMillan's entreaty:

It’s time for us to muster our courage, for each of us to decide how we will most effectively engage, and dedicate the rest of our lives to fighting for the survival of all life on Earth.


Thursday, December 13, 2007


 

Suck on this, Justice Department


The latest on a case we've been following here:
A homegrown terrorism case that allegedly sprouted in one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods wilted on Thursday when a judge declared a mistrial in the prosecution of six of seven defendants.

Federal jurors acquitted one defendant in the so-called Liberty City 7 trial.
Of course, they're not free or out of jail; as with many such defendants (e.g., Sami al Arian), the government will just keep trying until they can get a conviction or a plea bargain.

Here's one interesting aspect of this case - the men in this case, accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower ("conspiracy to commit terrorism"), had a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison. Three of the Cuban Five, who were convicted of "conspiracy to commit espionage," never had a single classified document in their possession nor was there any testimony of any attempts to obtain any, yet they were sentenced to life in prison (and once again, a reminder that there is no parole in the Federal prison system; life is life).

So allegedly thinking about stealing classified documents is worse than blowing up the Sears Tower? Only if you're defending Cuba. For others, not so much. Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba's National Assembly, reminds us of the case of Leandro Aragoncillo, born in the Phillipines. Aragoncillo was an FBI officer assigned to the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney. He worked in the White House, and was also tied to the executive mansion back when Al Gore was the vice president. Aragoncillo wasn't thinking about stealing classified documents, he was doing it - 733 of them, to be exact, which he turned over to a foreign government in an attempt to topple the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. His sentence? Ten years.

How much does the U.S. government hate and fear (yes fear, the example, not the military) Cuba (and want to protect its gang anti-Cuban terrorists)? Enough to put innocent men in jail for life. Or even more.


 

Political Humor of the Day


An op-ed in today's San Jose Mercury News asserts the need for a third political party. And where does the author see it fitting on the spectrum? On the left, where there's a gap as wide as the ocean? No, between the Republican and Democratic parties! What's it going to be called, the "Paper-thin Party"? The "let's get out of Iraq in 2015, halfway between when the Democrats want to leave and the Republicans want to leave" party?

For an additional laugh, the author is Les Francis, the former deputy chief of staff in President Jimmy Carter. Here's what he tells us about himself:

When serving as the executive director of the Democratic National Committee in 1980, I oversaw my party's efforts to block ballot access to independent John Anderson, believing that every vote he was likely to receive that November would come at the expense of Jimmy Carter, who was seeking re-election to the White House against Republican Ronald Reagan. During the course of that campaign, I even wrote an opinion piece on the topic for the Mercury News, arguing for the preservation of the American two-party system.
Wow, a real democrat. That was sarcasm, just in case it didn't come through. What he was was a real Democrat. Small "d" democracy had (and still has) little or nothing to do with it.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


 

The profit motive vs. the environment


When I cross-posted the "crowded theater" post below on Daily Kos, some of the commenters seemed to think it all had to do with "human nature," and here, the question of socialism not being a "magic bullet" are raised. The latter is certainly true. But what is key, and I think some people (particularly the ones reading the post on Daily Kos; probably not so much here) don't really understand the effect of the profit motive (i.e., capitalism), so let me give just two examples.

Last night on the news, there was a report on a "green entrepreneurs" forum, where venture capitalists were deciding on "green projects" to fund. And what got funded (at least, the one the story focussed on)? A guy making Porsche-like all-electric cars which go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds and are going to sell for $200,000. And why would this guy get funded, vs., say, a guy making super-inexpensive electric cars to sell to the masses to $10,000? Surely if one were producing things, or using society's accumulated capital, to fund projects based on need, the latter would win out. But because this is private capital, and because of the perceived profit potential of the former (selling fancy toys to rich people), it's the former that got funded, and the environment, which could have benefited from large numbers of people driving inexpensive electric cars, takes the hit because instead there will just be a tiny number of people driving super-expensive electric cars.

Here's a completely different example - near where I live, there used to be a huge neighborhood of older (older in California means 1950's; sorry to offend your sense of "old," you Europeans) one-story houses. One by one over the years they have been virtually all knocked down and replaced with huge, two-story "McMansions" that sell for $1 million plus, each using more wood (and hence consuming more CO2-reducing trees) than its predecessor, and also each much more expensive to heat and consuming more natural gas (not a huge factor in this relatively warm part of the country, but still a factor). Why is this happening? Are families getting bigger? No, actually they're getting smaller. But, with a fixed asset (a given piece of land), developers are doing the only thing sensible under capitalism - using it to its maximum profit potential by putting up the largest house allowed by law on the property, and thereby selling it for the most money (and the most profit). They aren't doing this because they are "greedy," although they may be. They're doing it because that is the natural response for anyone working in the profit system. The system doesn't make them greedy, but it brings to the fore the greed which is inherent in everyone by rewarding it.

And the environment suffers. The examples here are hardly the most egregious ones, just two that confronted me in the last 24 hours. The phenomenon they represent, and the damage caused, are widespread.

Update: I can't resist posting this, although it has nothing to do with the profit motive, and more in the category of "the rich are different than you and me":

[Paris] Hilton...also told reporters that she is making an effort to personally contribute to protecting the environment.

"I changed all the light bulbs to energy safe light bulbs and I'm buying a hybrid car right now," Hilton said, adding she also turned off the lights at home, didn't leave the TV on or the water running when she left the home.

"Little things that people can do every day to make a huge difference."
Anybody out there usually leave the TV on or the water running when you leave home? Anybody? Anyway, I guess the appropriate thing to write here is to repost the most important quote from Al Gore's Nobel Prize speech:
"We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action."


 

Justifying murder


First posted 12/11, 1:40 pm; updated [see below]

It happens so easily you hardly notice it happening. I know I don't. You read an article like this:

About 30 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles pushed into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Tuesday, sparking clashes with Palestinians in which five militants were killed, medics and militant groups said.
and you think, "well, it was just "militants" that were killed, I guess they deserved it, being "militants" after all. Later on, you read even more cover, this time courtesy of the news agency itself:
The Israeli military often attacks militants in the coastal territory to try to stop them firing rockets and mortar bombs into southern Israel and has intensified the raids since last month's Annapolis peace conference.
But wait a minute. It's true that some Palestinians are firing rockets at Israel, and you may or may not think that's legal or justifiable or defensible. But there isn't the slightest indication that any of these five "militants" were involved with that. What they were "militant" about was resisting an invasion of their "country" (territory, land, whatever you want to call it) by foreign or occupying troops. Israel tanks came bursting across their border and they fought back and paid the price. That makes them brave, or perhaps foolhardy, but certainly not deserving to die, and it makes their deaths...murder.

In the old days, Israel used to try to justify such actions on the grounds that someone was "on the way to fire a missile." Now they don't bother. Just the fact that they might have been thinking about it, or might know someone who was thinking about it, or they might think about it in the future, is enough.

Update: Let's play "spot the bias" in this AP rendition of the news:

Israeli tanks and bulldozers pushed into the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing five Islamic militants and trapping hundreds of people in their homes, while another extremist died from an airstrike elsewhere in the territory.
Incidentally, the remainder of the article contains exactly zero information on that airstrike or on the identification of that "extremist."


Tuesday, December 11, 2007


 

Chavez and Morales: the corporate press speaks


Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer write a book entitled "Castro's Final Hour"...in 1992, so I really don't expect too much from him in the way of insightful analysis. But at least he could get his facts straight. From his latest column:
While Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez suffered a huge defeat in the Dec. 2 referendum -- independent election monitors say he lost by a wider margin than officially announced and only accepted his loss under pressure -- he may still make a significant comeback in 2008.
First of all, how would otherwise unidentified "independent election monitors" know that Hugo Chavez "only accepted his loss under pressure"? Were they monitoring his conversations with his inner circle? And how would they know what the "real" results were? Exit polls are illegal in Venezuela, and unreliable anyway. Actually, though, it's easy to disprove both ludicrous claims with one piece of evidence - the election results were reported late on the night of the election (or early the next morning, depending on your time zone). If Chavez was actually being "pressured to accept" the result, or if there was some "fiddling" going on to manipulate the final vote, there's no way the result would have been reported just a few hours after the polls closed.

And finally, for the record, Chavez did suffer a "significant" defeat. He did not suffer a "huge" defeat.

Then we come to Evo Morales and Bolivia. There's actually interesting news from Bolivia. Here's the Miami Herald version:

After 16 tumultuous months of debate, allies of Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales hurriedly approved nearly all of a new constitution Sunday morning in a marathon overnight session.

The proposed constitution grants more power to Bolivia's indigenous majority; abolishes the opposition-led Senate; imposes more state control over natural gas, minerals and other natural resources; and permits presidents to be elected to two consecutive five-year terms, a proposal that Morales' opponents call an authoritarian power grab.

An earlier version of the document had allowed indefinite consecutive presidential reelection.
I love the bit about how two five-year terms constitute an "authoritarian power grab." I'll be waiting to see the corporate media apply that term to the many things George Bush & Co. have done which really constitute an "authoritarian power grab."

Curiously enough though, the Washington Post reports the story differently:

Bolivia's constitutional assembly approved a new charter Sunday that would empower the poor South American nation's indigenous majority and let President Evo Morales run for reelection indefinitely.
Well, I'm sure we'll hear more; there will be a referendum where the people of the country will get to vote and approve the new Constitution. What is it with these South Americans and democracy, anyway? Don't they know that actually letting the people vote on critical issues is dangerous?

Of course, unlike the American Congress and its collection of millionaires, the Bolivian Constitutional Convention was actually filled with "regular" people to begin with:


 

We all live in a crowded theater, the law of the jungle, and other memes


So much going on, I really need to write a major essay. Instead, I'm just going to throw together a few things and let you put them into your own mental blender.

1) Al Gore's Nobel Prize acceptance speech discussing the global climate crisis. Shorter Al Gore: "I'm not going to talk about what caused the problem, I'm just going to keep using the word 'we' as if everyone on the planet is equally responsible, but capitalism is the solution." He does briefly venture into interesting territory with this:

"We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action."
But he very quickly steps away from that "collective action" nonsense to the idea that "entrepreneurs and inventors" are going to "change the world."

2) An essay by cartoonist Stephanie McMillan entitled "At War" which is not (primarily) about the war against Iraq or Afghanistan but about the war against the planet. A few excerpts of things which Gore forgot to mention:

How is it possible that humans have developed an economic and social system that ends up destroying our entire planet?

We're told to blame ourselves for our greed and stupidity, but how much choice do we have as individuals?

The global economy is a machine with one objective: to extract wealth from the earth and the labor of the poor, convert it to money, and transfer it to the hands of the rich.

The sick drive to dominate everything has been consistently served, protected and defended by every institution in every exploitative economic system in the history of human civilization, from slavery through feudalism and on into capitalism and global imperialism. Today the "right" to accumulate wealth is held so sacred that it's considered suspect to even question it. It’s more important than freedom, happiness, or life itself. It justifies crushing anyone or anything that gets in its way. Every aspect of modern society has been fashioned to facilitate it.

This is a very important time to be alive.

We, the humans who are here right now, with all our flaws and limitations, are probably the last ones who still have a choice to either stop or allow the murder of the planet. No one smarter or more enlightened is going to come along and solve this for us. Nor is the perfect moment ever going to arrive. We can’t wait until we’re financially stable, achieve physical fitness, read more books, get family approval, or plant all our fruit trees. We can’t wait until everyone else gets something going first. We have to do this now.

At this late date, we each just need to begin, to join in however we can, wherever we understand a need that matches our ability. We need to steel ourselves for the tremendous challenges and difficulties that lie ahead. Whatever is still in our lives that doesn’t serve this struggle needs to be cast aside. We must focus every bit of the willpower and determination we possess, and take responsibility for the future.

It’s time for us to muster our courage, for each of us to decide how we will most effectively engage, and dedicate the rest of our lives to fighting for the survival of all life on Earth.
3) A speech by Prince Charles (which I used to have up on video but got taken down by YouTube) as he was given the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment Global Environmental Citizen Award on Jan 28 of this year (where, incidentally, he was introduced by Al Gore). The quote I liked (not to be confused, if you heard the rest of the speech, with any rejection of capitalism):
"There seems to be a view in some quarters that in commerce, there is only a ruthless 'law of the jungle' to be observed. Yet this is a much-abused metaphor, because a jungle is in fact a vivid example of an immensely complex natural system in which the various parts survive and thrive as much through cooperation as competition."
4) My review of the movie "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil," showing how collective action organized by a government motivated by the needs of its people and not the needs of the profit system can make a dramatic change in the ability of people to live sustainably on the planet.

5) This article from The Guardian entitled "It's capitalism or a habitable planet - you can't have both." The opening two paragraphs:

There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. A cap on this and a quota on the other won't do it. Tinker at the edges as we may, we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system.

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.
6) And finally, my thoughts (from the review mentioned above) about how the solution to this problem runs smack into the American (even more than the rest of the "West") obsession with "freedom," which to most people means freedom of speech and "good things" like that, but to the people who run society, its essence is really the economic freedom to do whatever you want with your money, regardless of its effect on the planet or on others:
And here's what I think about that: everyone knows the classic definition of the limits of freedom - you don't have the freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. But here's the thing - we live in the equivalent of a crowded theater, and leaving the lights on (or whatever other behavior you choose) is the equivalent of shouting "Fire!" The metaphorical stampede might not trample the people who are alive today, but it may well kill their children, or their children's children, just as surely as if they were right there in the theater.

Socialism is the only possible future for humanity that can deal with these problems, a "social" or "community" solution in which we recognize that we are all in the same crowded theater (or the same boat, to use a more standard metaphor), and we have to work together for the good of all. Capitalist solutions cannot solve the fundamental problem - the Tragedy of the Commons.
Your thoughts in the Comments (as well as other recommendations for reading) are most welcome. I'll close with a phrase which is well-known in the socialist movement, but whose origin I cannot precisely track down with the aid of "the Google." It seems to be sometimes attributed to Rosa Luxemburg, but I can't find that exact phrase in her writings. The phrase is: socialism or barbarism. It seems an appropriate close to these thoughts.


Monday, December 10, 2007


 

Is Zionism racism?


Add in this evidence while deciding on your answer:
Anna Jagnos-Paliashkon, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor who has undergone heart surgery, has a single, functioning relative who can care for her: Sergei Dzhedan. Her daughter, Dzhedan's wife, died of cancer and Jagnos-Paliashkon's husband is in a geriatric hospital. But the Interior Ministry insists on deporting Dzhedan.

Israel's real policy is to do everything to block the entry to the country of non-Jews because they are non-Jews.
That wasn't me talking. That was from an editorial in a leading Israeli newspaper.

Having an official state religion in your country is not racism. Excluding people from immigrating to your country on the basis of their religion? That's racism.

This may or may not qualify as "racism," but it certainly qualifies as a crime against humanity:

The World Health Organisation voiced alarm on Monday about the health consequences of the "intolerable" isolation of the Gaza Strip, sealed off by Israel after Hamas seized control six months ago.

The WHO, which organised a Jerusalem symposium to highlight its concern, voiced particular alarm about Israeli fuel cuts, which it said affected Gaza hospitals, and limited access to outside treatment for those seriously ill.

The WHO says that 23 percent of requests in October for treatment in Israel were refused, compared with 17 percent in September and 10 percent in June.

"A number of people died in this process," said WHO official Mahmud Daher.

The Palestinian health ministry says 23 people have died in recent months, while Physicians for Human Rights-Israel puts the number at 17.


 

Reporters in the Middle East, II


Just the other day I mentioned McClatchy's Baghdad bureau chief, Leila Fadel. Editor & Publisher has a very interesting article (hat tip the invaluable Cursor) today which profiles Fadel. Fadel became bureau chief at age 25. Here's what she faced:
"It was a difficult first month," admits Fadel, who had covered Iraq on three previous rotations starting in June 2005. She had already been through a lot. Seven days into her first rotation, the bureau's well-regarded translator, Yasser Salihee, was killed by American soldiers who mistook him for a suicide bomber; a week into her second rotation, the bureau's hotel was bombed.
And this, a description of her by a colleague, is why McClatchy's reporting is often noticeably different from that from the larger corporate news organizations:
"She is always out there talking to Iraqis -- regular people as well as political and religious leaders. ... When I read her stories, I feel like I'm reading the stories that Iraqis would like people to hear. That isn't something that always comes through in conflict reporting, where there often is a tendency to focus on men in suits and uniforms."
It is possible to do "Dahr Jamail-like" reporting for the corporate media. It's just not common, and you're not guaranteed that your editors will actually print what you write.

Update: Readers may find this, from Cairo bureau chief Hannah Allam's blog, interesting:

The young men are among a handful of Americans who play for sports teams in the Middle East...As luck would have it, I sat next to one of the American players, Marvin, who folded his 6'7" frame into the tiny EgyptAir seat. He pulled two books from his backpack, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" and a Noam Chomsky commentary on imperialism.


Friday, December 07, 2007


 

Izzat so?


A year and a half ago TIME Magazine published an interview with Izzat al-Douri, Iraq's former vice-president who it appears is, more than anyone, directing the resistance in Iraq. Today we learn he's still out there:
Former Iraq's vice president under Saddam Hussein has escaped an Iraqi security raid on him in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad.

A senior provincial official told Xinhua on Friday that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri escaped an overnight raid on his hideout in a village east of Tikrit City, 170 kilometers north Iraqi capital.
Back in 2003 the U.S. arrested al-Douri's wife and daughter to try to force him out of hiding; it didn't work. At least six months later they were still being held; for all we know they still are, just like the still un-charged Gen. Amer al-Saadi (crime: telling the truth to Colin Powell's lies), Tariq Aziz, and many others who have for all intents and purposes been "disappeared."


 

Out Now!


Say the families of those with family members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan:
One-quarter say American troops should stay "as long as it takes to win." Nearly seven in 10 favor a withdrawal within the coming year or "right away."
Now that, even with a margin of error of 8 percentage points, is a stunning result.


Thursday, December 06, 2007


 

A grammar lesson


All those people who always talk about how Iran is threatening to attack Israel? They really need to stop confusing the subject and the predicate:
Israel has warned Iran to either co-operate with the West over its uranium enrichment program or face military action.
From the same article, a bit of heart-warming news:
AN Israeli cabinet minister has canceled a trip to Britain out of concern he could be arrested on war crimes charges, an aide said yesterday.

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service, was to have taken part in a conference on Middle East peacemaking but backed out on the advice of Israel's Foreign Ministry, the aide said. Mr Dichter was among the planners of the 2002 assassination of Hamas commander Salah Shehadeh in an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip.

The operation also killed 14 Palestinian civilians.


Why stop here? There's more...

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