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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


 

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.


...As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton American political and media establishment Under the Direction with the assistance of The Marquis de Sade Senator Barack Obama.

I don't feel like making this a long post; anyone who's been watching TV in the last few days, and listening not to Rev. Wright himself, but instead or in addition to essentially every single talking head, be they a newscaster, a "pundit," or a politician, would think that Wright was practically the equivalent of a terrorist, or perhaps had said that whites were an inferior race, or some outlandish remark (other than the understandable and widely shared, though mistaken, comments about AIDS). And, sadly, along comes Barack Obama to help out, calling Wright's comments "outrageous" and "destructive."

And if Obama doesn't think that "equat[ing] the United States' wartime efforts with terrorism" is a valid exercise, I suggest he walk past Ground Zero in Manhattan, and then take a walk through downtown Baghdad, or perhaps visit a mass grave in Fallujah. He could try taking in the sites of Sadr City, where just yesterday the U.S. military, claiming (and probably truthfully) to be firing at "militants" on rooftops who were firing at them, simply fired rockets at the buildings, not knowing or caring who was inside, and killing some unknown number of civilians, including 2-year-old Ali Hussein, who were inside.

Update: Statement from Eugene Puryear, Vice-Presidential candidate of the PSL. One section I'd like particularly to quote here:

In wall-to-wall media coverage, we hear that the message of Rev. Wright has jeopardized the future of Obama’s campaign because it is unpalatable to white working-class voters. The same corporate media that never countenances the language of “working class”—before there was only one big happy America—have now become experts in class politics. The carefully primped talking heads on Fox News and CNN have suddenly become the spokespeople for the blue-collar white worker.

But the corporate media has left out the most important fact: it is they who decide what is palatable. Wright has not come under attack because his message is unacceptable to white workers. Wright’s crime was that he put out a message unacceptable to the white racist bourgeoisie. There are no white workers scripting the text for Anderson Cooper or Sean Hannity. The multinational working class—Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and white—has nothing to do with it. The working class, regardless of nationality, is a subject class, subjected to the media that molds public opinion. It is this ruling class that formulated Obama’s “electability” crisis.


 

The New York Times on Bush's "job growth"


No, they didn't claim he's "grown on the job"; that would be too big a whopper. But this comes close:
Mr. Bush has spent much of his presidency riding high on claims of solid job growth.
Actually there are two versions of this article online; the second one, the version I read in the San Jose Mercury News (and which, based on its URL, may be the later revised version), is even worse, with a change from "solid" to "unparalleled":
Mr. Bush has spent much of his presidency riding high on claims of unparalleled job growth.
Now I admit they stuck in that weasel word "claims," but since it's preceded by the (questionable) assertion that Bush has been "riding high" one has to assume that the Times feels those claims were at least basically true. That's reinforced by the rest of the sentence, which reads, "but with nine months left in office, he has to confront a new reality." So evidently that solid or "unparalleled" job growth was the old reality according to the Times. And my simple question is: WHAT PLANET ARE THEY ON??? (Sorry, bold or italics just didn't seem to cut it for that last bit).

Here's a graph I found at the U.S. Dept. of Labor:


What it shows, as we all know (check that: all of us except, apparently, the New York Times), is that during the first four years of the Bush Administration, from January 2001 to January 2005, the increase in jobs was...zero. None. And of course it's really a lot worse than that, because, as I was writing at the time, that doesn't take into account population increase, which in turn translates into something I've named "job inflation." In fact, as I wrote, in the first term of the Bush Administration, there were more than 7.5 million "job-inflation-adjusted jobs" lost.

The second term has clearly been better, although looking at the slope vs. the slope of the graph for the years that preceded Bush, I very much doubt the word "unparalleled" is remotely justified even for that period. But for the entire time ("much of his Presidency" says the Times), the increase in jobs has been only 5.5 million. But that's a decrease in "job-inflation-adjusted" jobs of a whopping 8.9 million jobs! And the "claim" that Bush "has spent much of his presidency riding high on claims of solid (or unparalleled) job growth" has about as much validity as my claim that I'm 6'11" - it falls well short of reality.


Monday, April 28, 2008


 

Quote of the day - Jeremiah Wright


"I said to Barack Obama last year, 'If you get elected, November the 5th I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.'"

- Rev. Jeremiah Wright, today at the National Press Club
I didn't catch all of it, but last night CNN played a major speech that Wright gave yesterday as the keynote at the NAACP Convention. Judging by the portions I heard it was very interesting. I haven't had a chance myself, but if you want to watch and listen to the whole thing (and this is definitely a case where a transcript will not do justice to the speech), it's online here.

While we're on the subject of Obama, and with the verdict in the Sean Bell murder trial fresh in the news, I should take note of Obama's comments on the subject:

"I said at the time, without benefit of all the facts before me, that it looked like a possible case of excessive force. The judge has made his ruling, and we're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down."
A possible case of excessive force? Are you kidding me? The police didn't even have the nerve to say they "saw" a gun (and then conveniently couldn't find it, as so often happens), no, they just said it looked like he (not Bell, by the way) "made a sudden move as if he were reaching for a gun." If 50 bullets fired without even seeing a gun isn't a prima facie case of excessive force, I don't know what is, not to mention firing bullets at someone who wasn't even the person claimed to have "made a sudden move as if he were reaching for a gun." What excuse was given for applying any force to Sean Bell or Trent Benefield? None as far as I know.

And this statement from Obama is quite wrong: "The judge has made his ruling, and we're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down." Leaving aside the arguable nature of the "we're a nation of laws" statement, and assuming it to be true for sake of argument, that statement only applies to the legal system itself. These officers will not be convicted of manslaughter, thanks to the double jeopardy statutes. That's the law. But any individual is under no obligation to "respect the verdict" in the sense of accepting it or agreeing with it; any individual, and that would include Obama, is perfectly within the law to denounce the verdict as a travesty of justice, to call for a federal prosecution under civil rights laws, and to throw their support behind a civil suit brought by the families and the injured survivors against the city, even if they want to restrict their actions to "legal" means (as opposed to demonstrating or committing civil disobedience in the streets). Obama could have done any of those things, but of course he didn't.

And, for the sake of completeness, the same naturally applies to Hillary Clinton and John McCain as well. As far as I can tell, though, neither, presumably because only black people are interested in the issue according to the press, has even been asked about the verdict, and neither has volunteered their opinion.


Sunday, April 27, 2008


 

Pictures of the day


Yesterday was birdathon day. As in previous years, our group being comprised of strictly "intermediate at best" birders doesn't attempt to match the "serious" groups who spend all day (by which I mean from well before dawn until past dark) driving all over the county seeing 150+ species; we confine ourselves to walking just one specific area, and ended the day with a non-record (for us) but perfectly satisfactory 51 species.

Here are two of the highlights, not in terms of rarity, but in beauty (click to enlarge):


Bullock's (a.k.a. Northern) Oriole


Cedar Waxwing


 

Why they call it the "ruling class"


Because they make the rules for the rest of us, but are above them themselves, as this article from today's San Jose Mercury News about, of all things, cigar shops, reminds us:
On Feb. 6, 1962, President John F. Kennedy secured a supply of 1,000 cigars from the legendary Cuban tobacconist H. Upmann. The next day, Kennedy made it illegal to import Cuban cigars, imposing a trade embargo that remains to this day.
Of course, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger continues the tradition to this day, even after it's illegal, and, as should be expected, receives very different treatment (i.e., none) than political activists and others who are hassled, fined, or threatened with worse after just visiting Cuba (and probably spending a lot less money than Arnold spends on his cigars).


Friday, April 25, 2008


 

"Building confidence and trust"


You have to love euphemisms. The US Navy has just announced the reestablishment of its Fourth Fleet, presaging an increased US presence in the Caribbean and Latin America. And how does the U.S. Navy describe that?
"This change increases our emphasis in the region on employing naval forces to build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests," said [Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of Navy operations].
Yeah, I'm sure that's just what the people of Latin America are thinking when they see U.S. warships floating off their shores - "confidence and trust."

Rear Admiral James Stevenson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, was a bit more honest than Roughead:

The fleet could "certainly bring a lot more stature to the area and increase our ability to get things done," Stevenson said.
Yes, they'd like to "get things done," alright. "Things" that don't have anything to do with "confidence" or "trust."


 

One more broken American promise


In World War II, 150,000 Filipinos responded to a call from the United States to fight with them against the Japanese. As a lure, they were promised benefits including a pension from the American government. After the war ended, a war in which many of those same Filipinos had been victims of the infamous Bataan Death March, Congress announced that the U.S. had had its fingers crossed when it made that promise, and rescinded the offer.

Ever since then, Filipino veterans have been fighting to obtain the benefits they were promised. Most have died by now; only 18,000 remain alive. And now they're happy, unfortunately prematurely so, because the Senate has passed a bill restoring those promised benefits (not, by the way, retroactively). I say prematurely because the House will be taking up the bill "before the end of the year" (no rush), and the President may veto the bill anyway.

Sooner or later the world is going to learn that the word of the United States Government, even in the form of a law or a treaty, is absolutely worthless.


 

The 51st shot to the body of Sean Bell


50 shots were fired at the unarmed Sean Bell and his companions by armed thugs employed as police officers, taking the life of Bell and leaving bullets in the body of one of his companions. Today a judge in New York fired the 51st shot by acquitting the police officers of all charges in the murder. Because, as always, he was "reaching for a weapon." Or rather, Joseph Guzman, the one who still has four bullets in his body, "made a sudden move as if he were reaching for a gun." Or so says the police officer. How that would justify shooting Bell isn't explained. The judge says "The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified" in firing, but what justification could there possibly be at firing at someone who wasn't even claimed to be "reaching for a gun"?

Maybe he was just reaching for his wallet, like one of the last famous murder victims of the New York City police, Amadou Diallo. Let's listen to Bruce Springsteen honor that victim, and as we do, let's remember that the New York City police had the audacity to picket Madison Square Garden while Bruce was inside singing this song.


Update: Statement from the La Riva/Puryear campaign.

Update 2: Bruce Springsteen's tribute to his recently deceased bandmate Danny Federici, in which we learn of their own encounters with the police.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


 

Tariq Aziz


It's been quite a while since I wrote about Tariq Aziz, whose "right to a speedy trial" (or even to being charged with anything) is no more a reality than tens of thousands of others being held by the U.S. in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But now it's time for an irony alert:
Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, the public face of Saddam Hussein's regime, will face trial next week over the execution of dozens of merchants in 1992, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

The merchants were accused of increasing prices of essential goods against state policy at a time when Iraq was suffering under U.N. sanctions imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
40 people executed (I'm willing to bet following a trial, however nominal, and a conviction, though the article doesn't say)! The U.S. will kill more people in Iraq than that before the trial even starts next week, much less before it ends (and much less than they've killed in total, needless to say).


 

David Letterman on hunger


I note in the post below that the $755 million the World Food Program urgently needs to keep people from dying is less than the obscene amount the U.S. spends in two days of prosecuting its war against the Iraqi people. David Letterman (!) last night compared the amount to another obscene figure - the amount being spent on the U.S. Presidential election:
"It’s just god awful. If you think about it, if you compare those amounts of money—and I heard this statistic the other day—to maintain, to maintain status quo of world starvation—that means not improve it...but just for people to hang on, we need $700 million. And these two, have generated more than that already and still people are going hungry."


Wednesday, April 23, 2008


 

Socialism or Death!


While the question of whether 300,000 people have died in Darfur in the last five years is being debated, 25,000 people a day (that's nine million a year) are dying the world over due to malnutrition.

"The world" has suddenly discovered the problem, which has, for sure, taken a significant turn for the worse. But there is one world leader, in my opinion the greatest political leader the world has ever known, who has been calling the world's attention to this problem, and to its cause, for nearly 30 years (and probably more).

Fidel Castro at the U.N., 1979:

Mr. President, distinguished representatives: Human rights are often spoken of, but we must also speak of humanity's rights. Why should some people walk around barefoot so that others may travel in expensive cars? Why should some live only 35 years so that others may live 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others may be exaggeratedly rich? I speak on behalf of the children in the world who do not even have a piece of bread. [applause] I speak on behalf of the sick who lack medicine. I speak on behalf of those who have been denied the right to life and human dignity.

Some countries are on the sea; others are not. [applause] Some have energy resources; others do not. Some possess abundant land on which to produce food; others do not. Some are so glutted with machinery and factories that even the air cannot be breathed because of the poisoned atmosphere; [applause] while others have nothing more than their emaciated arms with which to earn their daily bread. In short, some countries possess abundant resources; others have nothing.

What is their fate? To starve? To be eternally poor? Why then civilization? Why then the conscience of man? Why then the United Nations? [applause] Why then the world? One cannot speak of peace on behalf of tens of millions of human beings all over the world who are starving to death or dying of curable diseases. One cannot speak of peace on behalf of 900 million illiterates.

The exploitation of the poor countries by the rich countries must cease. I know that in many poor countries there are both exploiters and exploited. I address myself to the rich nations, asking them to contribute. And I address myself to the poor countries, asking them to distribute. Enough of words. We need deeds. [applause]

Enough of abstractions. We need concrete action. Enough of speaking about a speculative new international economic order that nobody understands. [applause] We must speak of a real, objective order that everybody understands.

I have not come here as a prophet of revolution. I have not come here to ask or to wish that the world be violently convulsed. I have come to speak of peace and cooperation among the peoples. And I have come to warn that if we do not peacefully and wisely resolve the present injustices and inequalities, the futurewill be apocalyptic. [applause] The sounds of weapons, of threatening language, and of prepotent behavior on the international arena must cease. [applause]

Enough of the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick, and the ignorant, but they cannot kill hunger, disease, and ignorance. Nor can they kill the righteous rebellion of the peoples. And in the holocaust, the rich -- who have the most to lose in this world -- will also die.
Fidel Castro at the WHO, 1998:
According to the calculations of renowned economists, the world economy grew six-fold and the production of wealth and services grew from less than five trillion to more than twenty-nine trillion dollars between 1950 and 1997. Why then is it still the case that each year, 12 million children under five years of age die -- that is to say 33,000 per day -- of whom the overwhelming majority could be saved?

Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet -- 53 years after the creation of the United Nations.

The children who die and could be saved are almost 100% poor and of those who survive, we must ask why 500,000 are left blind every year for lack of a simple vitamin which costs less than a pack of cigarettes per year? Why are 200 million children under five years of age undernourished? Why are there 250 million children and adolescents working? Why do 110 million not attend primary school and 275 million fail to attend secondary school? Why do two million girls become prostitutes each year? Why in this world -- which already produces almost 30 trillion dollars worth of goods and services per year -- do one billion 300 million human beings live in absolute poverty, receiving less than a dollar a day -- when there are those who receive more than a million dollars a day? Why do 800 million lack the most basic health services? Why is it that of the 50 million people who die each year in the world, whether adults or children, 17 million -- that is approximately 50,000 per day -- die of infectious diseases which could almost all be cured -- or, even better, be prevented -- at a cost which is sometimes no more than one dollar per person?

How much is a human life worth? What is the cost to humanity of the unjust and intolerable order which prevails in the world? 585,000 women died during pregnancy or in childbirth in 1996, 99% of them in the Third World, 70,000 due to abortions carried out in poor conditions, 69,000 of them in Latin America, Africa and Asia? Apart from the huge differences in the quality of life between rich and poor countries, people in rich countries live an average of 12 years longer than people in poor countries. And even within some nations, the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest is between 20 and 35 years. It is really sad to think that just in the area of maternal and post-natal services, in spite of the efforts of the WHO and UNICEF over the last 50 years, the number of deaths from lack of medical services has been 600 million children and 25 million mothers who could have survived. That would have required a more rational and more just world.

In that same post-war period, in the area of military expenditure, 30 trillion dollars were spent. According to UN estimates, the cost of providing universal access to basic health care services would be 25 billion dollars per year -- just three percent of the 800 billion dollars which are currently devoted to military expenditure -- and this after the end of the Cold War.
As a concrete example of what Fidel was talking about, the World Food Program urgently needs an additional $755 million to meet its needs, or even more people are going to die, without question. I'm sure I don't need to point out that that amount is what the U.S. (not including Britain and other "allies") spends in Iraq in two days.

By the way, in that second speech, Fidel also talked about another problem which no other world leader was talking about at the time...climate change:

The climate is changing. The seas and the atmosphere are heating up. The air and water are becoming contaminated. Soil is eroding, deserts are growing, forests are disappearing and water is becoming scarce. Who can save our species? The blind, uncontrollable law of the market? Neo-liberal globalization, alone and for its own sake, like a cancer which devours human beings and destroys nature? That cannot be the way forward or at least it can only last for a brief period in history.
Fidel and other Cuban leaders have long ended speeches with the phrase, "Socialism or Death!" One might have thought, and perhaps it was the case, that the phrase was the opposite of "Better dead than red," that is, the "death" in the phrase applied to the speaker, or at most to his or her countrymen. But in 2008, it becomes clear that the phrase "Socialism or Death!" really applies to the planet as a whole, and needs to replace "Socialism or barbarism" as the watchword of progressive people everywhere.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


 

Quote of the Day: Hugo Chavez


Soaring food prices are a "massacre" of the world's poor and are creating a global nutritional crisis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday, calling it a sign that capitalism is in decline.

"It is a true massacre what is happening in the world," Chavez said in a televised speech, citing U.N. statistics about deaths caused by hunger and malnourishment.

"The problem is not the production of food ... it is the economic, social and political model of the world. The capitalist model is in crisis." (Source)
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Update: Just so you know Chavez isn't spouting rhetoric about capitalism, read Bill Quigley's article on yesterday's CounterPunch to learn how Haiti, where there are now food riots happening and people are starving, was self-sufficient in rice 30 years ago, until capitalism in the form of the IMF stepped in and forced Haiti to reduce tariffs and open itself up to American rice.


 

Death in Darfur


Headlines proclaim: "UN says Darfur conflict worsening, with perhaps 300,000 dead," and the article refers to "a war that has killed perhaps 300,000 people in five years." This seems to be a yearly phenomenon, something I first wrote about in 2006 and then again in 2007, when the claims were that 200,000 had been "killed" in Darfur. And where does the number 300,000 come from? What scientific method was used to arrive at it?
Egeland, the former U.N. humanitarian chief, estimated in 2006 that 200,000 people had lost their lives because of the conflict, from violence, disease and malnutrition. He said this was based on an independent mortality survey released in March 2005 by the U.N. World Health Organization.

"That figure must be much higher now, perhaps half as much again," Holmes said Tuesday.
In short, this barely qualifies as a "guesstimate," but that doesn't stop the media from headlining it.

But the real point to be made is what I said back in 2006:

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

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

I'll close by quoting what I wrote last year:

But, of course, it's the U.S. and the U.K. governments which are responsible for the genocide of three-quarters of a million people in Iraq [now scientifically estimated at more than a million], and the displacement of an estimated three million people (two million to other countries and one million internally displaced) [now more than four million]. And that makes all the difference in the way that facts pertaining to that situation are treated in the press. The corporate-government-military press.

 

Suicide epidemic and cover-up


We've discussed U.S. military suicides before, but yesterday in a San Francisco court some startling information emerged in a suit against the Veterans Administration:
[The lawyer for the veterans] showed the judge two e-mails written last year among high-ranking officials that said an average of 18 military veterans kill themselves each day — and five of them are under VA care when they commit suicide. Another e-mail said 1,000 veterans under VA care attempt suicide each month.
18/day = 6570/year, more each year than military personnel who have been killed in Iraq in more than five years. 1825 of those were actually committed while under VA care.

Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell has more on the scandalous nature of the attempted coverup of this epidemic:

Yesterday, in federal court In San Francisco, attorneys for veterans' groups accused the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs of a shocking cover-up in lying about the epidemic of suicides among veterans. Internal emails written by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's head of Mental Health, seem to bear this out.

"There is no epidemic in suicide in VA," Katz told CBS last November. He had informed CBS that there were only 790 suicide attempts for all of 2007. And he attacked CBS numbers that suggested otherwise.

But in a February 2008 e-mail to his top media adviser, Katz wrote: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities." CBS notes today, "it appears that Katz went out of his way to conceal these numbers."

How's this: Katz titled his e-mail: "Not for the CBS News Interview Request" and opened it with "Shh!" Beautiful.

The e-mail ended: "Is this something we should (carefully) address...before someone stumbles on it?"
By the way, not all of those suicides are by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them are by veterans of Vietnam as well. The costs of war, both in money and lives, persist long after the war itself (and of course that's true for the people of the country where the war was fought just as much as the country from which the soldiers came from).


 

It's Earth Day


Appreciate the earth...


Stevens Creek

...and all things great and small...


Butterfly, San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

These are just some of the reasons that the earth and all its inhabitants need to be saved from the scourge of capitalism, and some of the things that an equitable distribution of the fruits of the labor of the working people of the planet would give more people more leisure time to appreciate (as opposed to having the leisure time to appreciate them because they're unemployed!).

And as a sort of poetic justice complement to that last paragraph, I'm reminded that today is Lenin's birthday.


 

Clinton on Iran


Everyone seems to be talking about Hillary's Clinton's comments on Iran on ABC and Countdown. Asked what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, she claimed "we would be able to totally obliterate them" [Evidently her aversion to answering hypothetical questions doesn't apply when Israel is involved]. By the way, just in the interest of accuracy, she didn't say she would obliterate them, as many people have written, she said we would be able to obliterate them, which isn't the same thing. But close enough, I'll grant.

As I've already explained in a post on the most recent debate, the idea that Clinton and Obama (and McCain, for that matter) have different positions on this question is nonsense. Anyone who thinks President Obama or President McCain wouldn't respond to this absurdly unlikely hypothetical situation with the identical "massive retaliation" that President Clinton would use is smoking something.

Meanwhile, a far more significant statement from an important political figure has flown under the radar. This one, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believes Iran is "hell bent" on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Not just planning to acquire them, but "hell bent" no less! This despite the collective judgment of the U.S. intelligence community expressed in the latest NIE, which said Iran has no nuclear weapons program. Rather a curious way for someone "hell bent" on acquiring nuclear weapons to behave. The group that is really "hell bent" is the American establishment, hell bent on convincing the American people that Iran is a dangerous threat to the American people that must be confronted.

Yes, Gates did say we shouldn't go to war with Iran because of their alleged development of nuclear weapons, but not for any principled reason, only because "another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need."


Monday, April 21, 2008


 

Leila Fadel, embed extraordinaire


Over the years I've had occasion to praise a handful of reporters employed by the corporate media; good ones do exist. Strangely enough, outside of the BBC's Orla Guerin, most of the rest have all been part of the McClatchy organization - Dion Nissenbaum, Hannah Allam, and Leila Fadel.

Recently Fadel, who is normally the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy and, as far as I can tell, pretty much reports independently, turned herself into an "embed" and accompanied U.S. troops into Sadr City during the recent fighting there. In doing so, however, she demonstrated that a good reporter can embed their body without embedding their mind. She appeared on Bill Moyers Journal a few nights ago to talk about her experiences (and more). The full video is 35 minutes, if you've got time:


Here are some excerpts from the interview, which demonstrate the extent to which Fadel actually behaves like an "embed"...with the Iraqi people:

LEILA FADEL: Yeah. I had been in Sadr City five or six days earlier talking to the victims of air strikes, U.S. air strikes, who had so much anger towards what the U.S. military calls collateral damage. I mean, these people were angry. Angry, angry that their four year olds had shrapnel in their body, that there were soldiers shooting from abandoned buildings in their neighborhoods. They were extremely angry.
...
And I asked these men [the U.S. soldiers she accompanied into Sadr City, who were using a supposedly unoccupied house as a sniper base, and whose owner returned, but wasn't allowed in, while they were there], you know, what would you do if there was a foreign army in your house?

BILL MOYERS: You asked the Americans?

LEILA FADEL: I asked the American soldiers. And one soldier told me he would blow up half the house to get back into it. And another said he would be a sniper on a rooftop and start taking people out. And I said, "Well, isn't that what this group is doing?" And one soldier told me-- he was from Athens, Tennessee, I think. And he said, "But we're trying to do something good for them."
I ask you, how many American reporters would ask the troops they were accompanying in battle such questions, or use a phrase like "what the U.S. military calls collateral damage"? Precious few. And how many dare to question the veracity of the pronouncements of the U.S. military, as in this exchange:
"The U.S. military says that they have people in detention that say they were trained and supplied in Iran and apparently have killed U.S. soldiers. I don't know. That's what they say. I don't know that it's true."
Update: As a reminder, both Fadel and Allam maintain very interesting blogs well worth checking out. Allam, Fadel's predecessor in Baghdad who is now based in Cairo, reports this week from Baghdad (since Fadel is out of town) and tells us about her trip into Sadr City with...wait for it...Ahmad Chalabi! Who even knew he was still around!


 

George Bush, "Commander-in-Chief"


I don't have the statistics to back this up, but I claim that George Bush has referred to himself, and had his aides refer to him, as "Commander-in-Chief," more than any previous President. If he were actually the Commander-in-Chief, though, wouldn't it be impossible to read something like this?:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday the Air Force is not doing enough to help in the Iraq and Afghanistan war effort, complaining that some military leaders are "stuck in old ways of doing business."

Gates said in a speech at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., that getting the Air Force to send more surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Iraq and Afghanistan has been "like pulling teeth."
Don't feel too bad for the military though; save your feeling bad for the Afghan and Iraqi people, who are on the receiving end of the weapons that Gates wants more of:
He cited the example of drone aircraft that can watch, hunt and sometimes kill insurgents without risking the life of a pilot. He said the number of such aircraft has grown 25-fold since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The military's reliance on unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft has soared to more than 500,000 hours in the air, largely in Iraq, according to Pentagon data.
Only 25-fold? Only 500,0000 hours? What ever will they do, having to actually risk the lives of real Americans in order to carry on their brutal war? The fact that increased reliance on air war, and unmanned air war at that, increases the likelihood that innocent Iraqis will die? It's ok, you see, because they aren't actually targeting any specific innocent Iraqis, so their deaths don't count. And, for that matter, often aren't counted.


 

The other war drags on


In case you've forgotten, although I doubt you have, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew its government in late 2001, a year and a half before the invasion of Iraq. And when will that occupation end? Not soon:
The Afghan Army and police forces should be able to secure most of Afghanistan by 2011, allowing international forces to start withdrawing, the American commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, said Sunday.
All he predicts is that forces will "start" withdrawing in three years, and even that prediction I think we're safe in characterizing with the old line, "If you believe that I've got a bridge to sell you."


 

As if occupation wasn't bad enough...


...it's now being carried out by an increasing number of actual criminals:
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps let 861 convicted felons join their ranks in 2007, an 88 percent jump over the previous year that helped meet recruiting goals in wartime, according to data released on Monday.

The waivers for convictions ranging from assault and burglary to manslaughter and sex crimes allowed the military to enlist people otherwise precluded by recruitment standards.
And about that "war on terror"?
Both the Army and Marine Corps also granted waivers to recruits convicted of making terrorist threats, including bomb threats. The Marine Corps granted five such waivers in 2007 while the Army granted two.

The Marines gave waivers to 11 people convicted of carrying a weapon on school grounds.
Delightful.


Sunday, April 20, 2008


 

Pentagon propaganda


The New York Times has a major exposé today on the extent to which the Pentagon used network "military analysts" to get its point of view across to the American people, less euphemistically described as propagandizing the American people. You can read the article, it's full of interesting details.

But there are a few things that have to be noted about the article. First, it's great, but like the Democrats' "opposition" to the war in Iraq, it comes about six years too late. If the Times wanted to make sure the American public was getting a "fair and balanced" picture of the war in Iraq, both before the invasion (with respect to the "justification" for the war) and after the invasion (with respect to the "success" of the effort, the "handful of rotten apples" at Abu Ghraib, etc.), it needed to do a better job itself at the time, not now.

Second, until you get to the final few paragraphs (of an article that takes 11 pages on the web!), you don't hear a word about the networks themselves. It's all from the point of view of "the Pentagon did this," "the Pentagon manipulated that." Which is certainly newsworthy, but the fact is, it was the networks who accepted this kind of "analysis," and who from the get-go acted as if the operative word in "military analyst" was "military" and not "analyst." Someone like Norman Solomon has every bit as much to say (and one heck of a lot more insight) about the "war effort" than any of the generals you could see on CNN or FOX or MSNBC etc., but you never saw him (or anyone like him) on any of those channels (and not just FOX) as any kind of analyst, much less as a "military analyst."

And even those final paragraphs of "network reaction," which didn't run in the print edition of the paper I read (and, for all I know the Times itself), don't shed any real light on that central question, only on the question of did the networks know of and disclose conflicts of interest their analysts had (like serving on the boards of defense companies profiting from the war they were "analyzing").


 

Electoral scandal in Colombia


I found this in the Miami Herald, but a search reveals the information hasn't appeared in a single other corporate media outlet:
A former Colombian congresswoman whose vote was key to approving a constitutional reform that cleared the way for President Alvaro Uribe's reelection bid in 2006 claims she was offered certain benefits for her ballot, in apparent violation of Colombian law.

Yidis Medina said in a previously unseen 2004 video that Uribe, then-Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt and Alberto Velásquez, then secretary general of the presidency, offered her "whatever she wanted" in exchange for her vote favoring the reelection.

According to Medina, 17 other congressional representatives were also approached with similar offers.

The granting of special benefits to congressional representatives in exchange for votes has been standard practice throughout the history of the Colombian Congress.

But a 2003 constitutional amendment backed by Uribe outlawed the practice.

Medina, who at first opposed the reelection proposal, admitted in the interview that she requested several government positions for friends and supporters to change her vote. She said she also accepted an offer by Uribe to appoint one of her close friends to a consular position.

She voted in favor of the proposal in mid-2005, allowing Uribe to run for reelection in May 2006.
OK, now go back and change the words "Colombia" to "Venezuela" and "Alvaro Uribe" to "Hugo Chavez." Now imagine how many outlets would be featuring this story, and the reaction from Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, et al., not to mention Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

And while you're at it, remember that Chavez put his proposal to extend the limits on Presidential terms of office up to a vote of the people, not up to a vote of easily-bribed members of Congress.


 

"Hunger is silent mass murder"


"Hunger has not been down to fate for a long time -- just as (Karl) Marx thought. It is rather that a murder is behind every victim. This is silent mass murder."

- Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food
He had more to say:
Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, told Kurier am Sonntag that growth in biofuels, speculation on commodities markets and European Union export subsidies mean the West is responsible for mass starvation in poorer countries.

Ziegler blamed globalization for "monopolizing the riches of the earth" and said multinationals were responsible for a type of "structural violence."

"And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this," he said.

Ziegler said he believed that one day starving people could rise up against their persecutors. "It's just as possible as the French Revolution was," he said.
Of course, I can't pass up an opportunity to remind readers that the first major world figure to warn of an impending crisis in hunger (and water, by the way) caused by biofuels was...Fidel Castro, who predicted more than a year ago:
"More than three billion people in the world condemned to premature death from hunger and thirst."
Interestingly enough, TIME Magazine just had an article on the same topic, entitled " How Hunger Could Topple Regimes." A warning to the ruling class to "shape up or [be] ship[ped] out," perhaps? Naturally, TIME has to take the opportunity to take a [completely absurd] shot at Karl Marx: "The social theories of Karl Marx were long ago discarded as of little value, even to revolutionaries." The final sentence of the article confirms the fact that this article is meant as a warning to the ruling class, to say that, if you don't make some changes now, there may be bigger changes in store for you in the future:
The reason officials such as [World Bank president Robert] Zoellick are sounding the alarm may be that the food crisis, and its attendant political risks, are not likely to be resolved or contained by the laissez-faire operation of capitalism's market forces. Government intervention on behalf of the poor - so out of fashion during globalization's roaring '90s and the current decade - may be about to make a comeback.
A related article from a socialist point of view, worth reading, is Ian Thompson's "Stamping out hunger?", which focuses on the United States itself. His conclusion:
Heating up the class struggle to expose the incurable contradictions of capitalism is a central task for the working-class movement.


Saturday, April 19, 2008


 

Police state


Capitalist media frequently refer to socialist countries like Cuba or North Korea as "police states." I haven't been to North Korea, but I have been to Cuba, and I can tell you that you'll never see a scene like this at a Cuban university:


This is, in fact, not a "live" situation, but a drill on the campus of San Jose State University in one of the most peaceful large cities in the United States, San Jose, CA. But the point is not that this was "real," but to see how the campus police (campus police!) are equipped in this country.


Friday, April 18, 2008


 

Pope Benedict, the man of "peace"


Everyone knows Pope Benedict opposed the invasion of Iraq, although actually backing up his opinion with actions was beyond the limits of that opposition, evidently. If he really opposes the war, perhaps he needs to have a stern talk with one of his Cardinals, who needs to be taught the meaning of the word "violence":
On March 23, six activists from Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War staged a die-in during Easter Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Ill. The protest was one of many direct actions that took place all across the country on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war.

During the die-in, the activists spoke out against the war and spurted a packet of fake blood on themselves to dramatize the violent nature of the U.S. war on Iraq.

All six were arrested shortly after the anti-war action. They were later charged with felonies for criminal damage to property: Purportedly, some of the fake blood stained the carpet.

The outrageous charges against the six are a brazen attack against the anti-war movement meant to discourage protest.

At an impromptu press conference after the arrests, Cardinal Francis George suggested that the protesters were guilty of committing a violent act.
Not that the Pope is really opposed to violence; he just wants it approved by the U.N. Security Council, where countries are free to sell their souls to the devil United States (or perhaps even NATO, where the U.S. carries almost total sway, would suffice for "his holiness"):
"The international community must intervene [in the event of unspecified "massive human rights abuses and humanitarian disasters" in other countries of their choosing] with the juridical means provided in the U.N. charter and other international instruments," Benedict said. Such action, if carried out lawfully, "should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty."
Oh no, I'm sure the people of Iraq don't see the death of a million of their compatriots as an "unwanted imposition," and I'm sure no one thinks the wholesale bombing of Yugoslavia in response to alleged (and later proven virtually non-existent) ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was a "limitation of sovereignty."

The Pope did say that "What is needed is a deeper search for ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts by exploring every possible diplomatic avenue, and giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation." As I recall, George Bush said pretty much the same thing before invading and destroying Iraq. He explored "every possible diplomatic avenue" to avoid the "need" to attack Iraq.

The poor Pope. I'm sure he longs for the days when he had his own army.


 

How much are Israeli "peace deals" worth? (Part II)


You don't have to wait until Benjamin Netanyahu gets elected and renounces previous agreements; the current government is already doing that:
The Israeli government revealed plans Friday to build 100 homes in two Jewish settlements — one of them deep in the West Bank — in violation of its pledge to freeze settlement expansion.
And why is this happening? Here's the explanation we're offered:
The new construction apparently is part of ongoing negotiations between the Israeli government and Jewish settler leaders. Approval for the 100 homes came in return for the recent voluntary evacuation of two small unauthorized settlement outposts.
So Israeli settlers build "unauthorized" outposts (which I'll point out, since AP doesn't, aren't just "unauthorized" but illegal, as are all the settlements), and the Israeli government "negotiates" with them to close them in return for building other housing, while, if a Palestinian builds an "unauthorized" house, it's bulldozed by the Israeli military.


Thursday, April 17, 2008


 

Quote of the day


"It's an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. It's a crime... I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on."

- Jimmy Carter, speaking in Cairo about the Israeli blockade of Gaza
Carter also noted that the people of Gaza "receive fewer calories a day than people in the poorest parts of Africa."


 

What's the deal with flag pins?


Regarding the Democratic debate, can I just add one thing about the ridiculous question about why Obama doesn't wear a flag pin? What's up with flag pins? If the flag is such an important symbol, and prima facie evidence of "patriotism," shouldn't everyone be flying an actual flag over their house every day? Indeed, the Flag Code (Section 6D) says "The flag should be displayed on all days," and it's not just referring to public buildings.

And Section 8J of the code says, "No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart." Which implies that anyone who isn't "military personnel..." etc., like, say, most members of Congress or talk-show hosts or many others shouldn't be wearing the pin at all. Hmmmm.


 

The big lie about Iran


To the surprise of few, last night's Democratic debate featured yet another repetition of the big lie about Iran, this one delivered by questioner George Stephanopoulos and not only not rebutted, but reinforced by Clinton and Obama:
"Iran continues to pursue a nuclear option. Those weapons, if they got them, would probably pose the greatest threat to Israel."
The words "nuclear option" are ambiguous, but since they are followed by the words "those weapons," it's 100% clear that what Stephanopoulos wasn't just talking about nuclear power, but was saying was "Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons."

Obama or Clinton could have taken the opportunity, as Dennis Kucinich did at one of the early Democratic debates*, to point out that this was a complete fabrication, rebutted by the total lack of evidence, the repeated positive statements by Iran's leaders disavowing any desire for nuclear weapons, a fatwa issued by Iran's supreme leader, and, last but not least, the U.S. government itself in the form of a National Intelligence Estimate.

Needless to say, not only did they not do that, they both took the opportunity to issue threats against Iran. Clinton vowed "massive retaliation" should Iran attack Israel, and has been portrayed as having issued the more "aggressive" response to the non-existent threat. Obama vowed only "appropriate action" in the event of such a hypothetical (and highly improbable) attack, which has been portrayed as more "diplomatic," but surely everyone (everyone in the leadership of the United States) thinks that an "appropriate action" in the event of an Iranian attack on Israel would be "massive retaliation." But Obama went even further, claiming that "no options [would be] off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons, and that would include any threats directed at Israel or any of our allies in the region." "No options" is code for anything up to and including nuclear weapons, and Obama would be taking this action not just in the event of an attack on Israel, but if Iran obtained nuclear weapons or even if it "threatened" Israel or other "allies" (which would include Iraq), and in fact American politicians and media all pretty much agree that Iran has regularly "threatened" Israel and is doing more than "threatening" Iraq, but actively helping to attack its "government." Which means "all options are on the table" right now according to Obama.

By the way, doesn't the U.S. have to have a treaty with Israel in order to justify such a response, and even if it does, doesn't the President have to get a vote from Congress before launching a war? Or do Obama and Clinton think the law means as little as Bush does?

Update: *As a reminder, here's what Obama had to say at that debate a year ago about Iran's nuclear weapons:

Obama: I understand that, but they're in the process of developing it. And I don't think that's disputed by any expert.
Presumably he wouldn't say today that he doesn't think it's "disputed by any expert," since the NIE has rather forcefully "disputed" it. But the fact that he was willing to make that statement a year ago, based on about as much evidence as George Bush had for invading Iraq, is telling.


 

Did I say 75,000 casualties? Think again.


The other day I wrote about how US casualties had reached 75,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan, although after factoring in people being treated by the VA back home, the number jumps to somewhere between 195,000 and 375,000.

It turns out that isn't half the story:

About 300,000 U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, but about half receive no care, an independent study said on Thursday.
And that's not all!
The study by the RAND Corp. also estimated that another 320,000 troops have sustained a possible traumatic brain injury during deployment.
I'm sure I don't need to point out that those figures are to date (or to some recent date, anyway). By the time Obama or Clinton or McCain is ready to get the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, they'll be a lot higher.


 

How much are Israeli "peace deals" worth?


Even less than you thought:
Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu says he would ignore agreements reached between Olmert and Abbas, should he be elected.


 

Amnesty International jumps on the anti-China bandwagon


Amnesty International issued a report today branding China "the world's top executioner," and its report puts China on top of the list with 470 executions. Not a single table or sentence in the report mentions population. Simple calculations, using population data from the CIA World Factbook, says that in fact Saudi Arabia is the world's leading executioner, with one person executed for every 196,000 people in the country. Iran is close behind at one per 208,000. China actually executed 14 times fewer people per capita than Saudi Arabia, and half as many as Pakistan. It executed only 2 1/2 times as many people per capita as the U.S., where court rulings had pretty much put executions on hold in much of the country. Indeed, when executions peaked (in recent years) in the U.S. in 1999 (at 98), the execution rate was one per 2.8 million, exactly the rate in China last year.


 

War is an environmental disaster


I have written before about how war and even the preparation for war is an environmental disaster. Today, a letter writer to The Nation steers me to this site with a long summary of the environmental cost of the war in Iraq, which I am going to reproduce here at length because of its importance:
  1. Projected total US spending on the Iraq war could cover all of the global investments in renewable power generation that are needed between now and 2030 in order to halt current warming trends.

  2. The war is responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) since March 2003. To put this in perspective, CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US this year.

  3. Emissions from the Iraq War to date are nearly two and a half times greater than what would be avoided between 2009 and 2016 were California to implement the auto emission regulations it has proposed, but that the Bush Administration has struck down. Finally, if the war was ranked as a country in terms of annual emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do. Falling between New Zealand and Cuba, the war each year emits more than 60% of all countries on the planet.

  4. Just the $600 billion that Congress has allocated for military operations in Iraq to date could have built over 9000 wind farms (at 50 MW capacity each), with the overall capacity to meet a quarter of the country’s current electricity demand. If 25% of our power came from wind, rather than coal, it would reduce US GHG emissions by over 1 billion metric tons of CO2 per year – equivalent to approximately 1/6 of the country’s total CO2 emissions in 2006.

  5. In 2006, the US spent more on the war in Iraq than the whole world spent on investment in renewable energy.

  6. US presidential candidate Barack Obama has committed to spending "$150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of green energy technology and infrastructure." The US spends nearly that much on the war in Iraq in just 10 months.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008


 

22 Dead in Gaza


If you live in the U.S., and watch American network (or cable) TV, there are certain things you won't see, or at least, extremely infrequently - dead American soldiers in Iraq for one, and Palestinians killed by Israelis for another. BBC World (admittedly available in the U.S., on some public TV stations) tonight broke the second barrier tonight (not for the first time), with some graphic footage of today's events in Gaza, where 22 Palestinians were killed by Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships. The dead included five children and a Reuters photographer.

The Israelis, as you'll see in the footage, blame all the civilian deaths on "Palestinian militants using civilians for cover." Watch the footage and see if you think there were gunmen hiding behind the two boys on bicycle. Watch the footage and see if, from where they were, the Israeli tank gunners who fired the shell that killed the Reuters cameraman could have possibly identified him accurately, and imagine if you think it's likely he would have allowed militants to use him for "cover" as he was filming the Israeli tanks.

If you're an American, as I am, these are your (our) tax dollars at work.


Update: Overlapping (but supplementary) footage posted by Al Jazeera on YouTube. I am reminded that Al Jazeera posts a lot of its coverage on YouTube, which is important because, thanks to U.S. corporations (and no doubt pressure from the U.S. government), only a minuscule fraction of the American cable-TV viewing public gets Al Jazeera English on their TV.

Additional update: Thousands turn out for the funeral of Fadel Shana, the Reuters cameraman.


 

Obama: nothing to see here, move on


Barack Obama has this to say about impeachment [emphasis added]:
"I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances."
Nothing "exceptional" going on here, not to worry. Just the wholesale shredding of the Constitution, and the wholesale destruction of people's lives around the world.


 

Stuff you can't make up


The Pope was greeted at the White House with a 21-gun salute.


 

The obscenity of capitalism


Today's pornography:
Hedge fund managers, those masters of a secretive, sometimes volatile financial universe, are making money on a scale that once seemed unimaginable, even in Wall Street’s rarefied realms.

One manager, John Paulson, made $3.7 billion last year. He reaped that bounty, probably the richest in Wall Street history, by betting against certain mortgages and complex financial products that held them.

Mr. Paulson, the founder of Paulson & Company, was not the only big winner. The hedge fund managers James H. Simons and George Soros each earned almost $3 billion last year, according to an annual ranking of top hedge fund earners by Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, which comes out Wednesday.

To make it into the top 25 of Alpha’s list, the industry standard for hedge fund pay, a manager needed to earn at least $360 million last year, more than 18 times the amount in 2002. The median American family, by contrast, earned $60,500 last year.

Combined, the top 50 hedge fund managers last year earned $29 billion.
Like John McCain, I admit that economics isn't my strong suit, but I do know that the problem isn't simply that such people are parasites on actual working people, sucking up money which could have paid the salaries ($29 billion/$60,500) of 446,000 families (close to a million people given the prevalence of 2-income families), but that they distort the priorities of society, sending capital in unproductive directions which could have been used in ways which not only would have produced actual things that people need, but which also would then have had a "multiplier effect" providing even more benefit. Not to mention run-on sentences. :-)


Tuesday, April 15, 2008


 

US casualties reach 75,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan


The title of this post is a headline from an article in today's Daily Granma; searching Google News and Yahoo News turned up exactly one other news source (CBS News) reporting this item. Wouldn't want to disturb anyone; the "surge" is working, don't you know.
Around 75,000 US soldiers have been either killed, wounded or were evacuated during their participation in the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, admitted the Department of Defense on Monday.

According to the latest Pentagon report, the number of deaths in the two wars amount to 4,492, with 31,590 wounded and 38,631 troops that had to be sent away from the war scenes under the category of "non-hostile-related medical air transports."
As noted in the article, though, even those numbers don't tell the whole story:
The statistics failed to include the large number of veterans needing medical attention in the US.
On that point, the CBS News article does add this quantitative detail:
A January report by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed 299,585 veterans who recently served in the Middle East had been treated by the VA since 2002. Forty percent (120,049) of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought care from the VA did so for mental health disorders.
Which would make the actual number of casualties somewhere between 195,000 and 375,000.

Incidentally, I know of no estimates whatsoever of the number of wounded Iraqis, which clearly exceeds the million-plus killed, although not by the ratio of wounded/killed for the U.S. military, considering that the latter receive vastly better medical care than the Iraqis.


 

More politics at Google Earth


The other day it was the slighting (as in "disappearing") of six million Palestinian refugees from their "refugee project." Today, Iran is objecting to the fact that Google Earth labels the body of water separating Iran from various Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, etc.) as the "Arabian Gulf," in addition to its historical and internationally recognized proper name, the "Persian Gulf." "Persia," of course, is the former name for Iran, so the assumption is this is just one more (admittedly obscure and not particularly harmful) arrow aimed at Iran, which is, as it turns out, not limited to Google Earth.


Monday, April 14, 2008


 

Uneasy lies the chutzpah crown


No sooner had I awarded the chutzpah crown to Tzipi Livni (post below) than along come some other contenders:
Iraq's financial free ride may be over. After five years, Republicans and Democrats seem to have found common ground on at least one aspect of the war. From the fiercest foes of the war to the most steadfast Bush supporters, they are looking at Iraq's surging oil income and saying Baghdad should start picking up more of the tab, particularly for rebuilding hospitals, roads, power lines and the rest of the shattered country.

Their bill also would require that Baghdad pay for the fuel used by American troops and take over U.S. payments to predominantly Sunni fighters in the Awakening movement.
Perhaps the Republicans and Democrats are under the impression that Iraq asked to be invaded and have its country destroyed (not to mention the destruction caused during the preceding decade of sanctions and bombing imposed by the "civilized" world). Needless to say, they didn't, and every cent needed for rebuilding that shattered country should be coming from the millionaires and billionaires and huge corporations in the United States who this war was intended to benefit, not from U.S. taxpayers and certainly not from the Iraqi people, who have already paid the price many times over in shattered (and ended) lives.

As a reminder, in the Paris Peace Accords which ended (or began the end of) the U.S. war against Vietnam (a.k.a. the Vietnam War), the U.S. promised to pay $3.5 billion in reparations to Vietnam. Not a cent was ever paid. If the Iraqis are "hoarding" their money now, perhaps they, unlike Americans, actually learned a lesson from Vietnam, and are taking their reparations "in advance," rather than waiting in vain for them to show up after the Americans finally get out of their country.


 

Forget those parent-murdering orphans


Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni redefines "chutzpah" by asking Arab leaders to oppose Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program and to allow Israel to continue its status as the region's only nuclear power.

No, she didn't exactly phrase it that way. :-)


 

Freewayblogging



An inspiration to us all.


Sunday, April 13, 2008


 

Obama and Clinton call for war criminal to champion human rights


Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have now called for war criminal George Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in order to demonstrate concern for human rights. George Bush! The man whose administration tortures, who has imprisoned tens of thousands of people in the U.S., Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq without trial or any rights whatsoever (and even continues to imprison people who have been found innocent!), the man who launches unprovoked wars that send more than a million people to their graves, the man who has steadily eroded the human rights of the people of his own country, this is the man who Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama thinks is in a position to send a message about human rights to the world? Better they should call for China to refuse admittance to Bush and to make clear they don't allow war criminals into their country.


Friday, April 11, 2008


 

Absurtainty


"Absurtainty" - an absurd assertion of certainty. As demonstrated by George Bush yesterday in making this claim:
"[The amount of money being spent on war in Iraq] pales when compared to the cost of another terrorist attack on our people."
Really? What is the cost of another terrorist attack on "our people"? What were the costs of the most wildly successful non-governmental terrorist attack in the history of humanity ("non-governmental," i.e., not including the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fire-bombing of Dresden and dozens of Japanese cities, and other atrocities over the years)? $27 billion and 3000 dead. And against that, we're supposed to believe that $3 trillion (estimated total future cost), 4500+ American dead (Iraq plus Afghanistan, and that's to date, of course, not including any projection of future fatalities), thousands of Afghan and 1,000,000+ Iraqi dead, "pales in comparison"?

Is there really any reasonable chance, much less the absolute certainty expressed by Bush, that "another terrorist attack on our people" would extract a greater price than the one paid by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? I think not.


 

Ralph Nader


C-SPAN just carried an hour and a half talk by Ralph Nader. I only caught the last half or so, but in that time he covered all sorts of interesting topics, including corporate personhood, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, impeachment, repeal of Taft-Hartley, and more. It's broadcast again later on C-SPAN2 (which I no longer get), but you can also watch it online here.

I have issues with Ralph's approach to politics, but not with the content of his politics (ok, I have some issues with that too, but not much). His dedication to creating a better world is unsurpassed.


 

Palestinian refugees? Where?


Google is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread (although, frankly, what's so great about sliced bread anyway? Doesn't everyone have a knife?). The omniscience of Google search unfortunately doesn't carry over to aspects of the company which aren't as automated. Specifically, Google, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has recently been touting (and the media has been reporting) a new Google Earth feature which allows people to get "up close and personal" with "the world’s major displacement crises." They claim to offer the viewer a chance to "sit in front of your computer and, with a few clicks, see, hear and develop an emotional understanding of what it is like to be a refugee."

Well, I can't argue with the concept, but alas the execution has a rather major flaw. Because while you can get a close-up view of refugee camps in Darfur (the one that the media have focused on), Chad, Iraq, and Colombia, there's a rather glaring omission. Six million glaring omissions in fact - Palestinian refugees.

This site, which called my attention to the issue, claims that "Palestinian refugee camps within the Occupied Palestinian Territories" are slighted by the project, but actually, as far as I can tell, all Palestinian refugee camps are non-existent as far as this project goes. Indeed, there are various icons in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, but when you click on those, you learn about Iraqi refugees, not Palestinian refugees. Not to slight Iraqi refugees, of course, the latest Western-power-caused refugee crisis, but the omission of any mention of Palestinian refugees is rather striking. And reprehensible.

I can only speculate that Google wanted to focus on "non-controversial refugees," the kind that good liberals in the West can support without wrestling with their consciences. But the fact is that, whatever your view of the Palestinian liberation struggle, and of terrorism, only the tiniest fraction of the six million Palestinian refugees are actively involved in that struggle. The rest are just people living difficult lives, just like refugees from all sorts of other countries, and just as deserving of the world's sympathy and energies. The difference, of course, is that the "civilized" world ("civilized" in the Gandhian sense) doesn't want the Palestinian refugees returning to their homes, and would just as soon like to forget they exist.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008


 

Bush speaks the truth!


George Bush presented a Medal of Honor to the family of a dead Navy SEAL who died throwing himself on a grenade to save two others (interesting calculus, by the way; a certain death for one person vs. a possible death or certain injury for three). In presenting a tribute to the dead man, Bush described his repeated bravery:
Overall, Mike's platoon came under enemy attack during 75 percent of their missions. And in most of these engagements, Mike was out front defending his brothers.
And for once, Bush got it right. Petty Officer Michael Anthony Monsoor wasn't fighting to defend "us," or to defend "democracy," or even to win some mythical "war on terror." He, like virtually all members of the military, was "defending his brothers." Period.

Alas, Bush had to spoil it with a prediction which can never be fulfilled: "We will not let his life go in vain." Because Petty Officer Monsoor's life, like the lives of more than 4000 other members of the American military (note: I started to write "Americans," but some of them were most definitely not Americans, but foreign mercenaries fighting in American uniforms), hundreds of citizens of "allied" countries, and more than a million Iraqis, has already been lost "in vain," and nothing that happens in the future can change that. Actually some of those Iraqi lives will not have been lost in vain, because they were Iraqis who lost their lives trying to free their country from occupation. One day their efforts will be rewarded.


 

The War Drags On


A year ago I posted the audio of Donovan's little-known, but highly relevant, Vietnam-era antiwar song, "The War Drags On." In "honor" of the current testimony before Congress, and the prospects of an indefinite continuation of the war, here's a video version I found on YouTube, itself made more than a year ago. The war has indeed dragged on.


Monday, April 07, 2008


 

And meanwhile, back in Afghanistan


At least 23 civilians were killed today and up to 50 others injured in US airstrikes in east Afghanistan. It's hard to keep track, but here are the staggering numbers that basically never make the broadcast news, and only rarely the print media: "More than 8,000 people were killed in Afghanistan last year, about one-fourth of them civilians."

Obviously, the definition of "civilians" is somewhat fluid, especially in a situation where even "regular civilians" are willing to take up arms and expel an occupying force. Indeed, it's arguable that most of those 8,000 people were probably "civilians" in the sense that if there weren't an occupation, they'd be busy tending fields (poppies, probably) or doing something other than holding a gun. Some, of course, would be part of local militias, but what the proportion is is impossible to know.

In either case, however, and however one defines any particular dead person, the fact that 6,000 people died supposedly taking up arms against the occupation, and yet the resistance continues as strongly as ever, should provide a pretty good indication of the extent and resilience of that resistance, and, by extension, a pretty good indication of how unwelcome the occupation is.


 

Somalia invaded again


Thousands of Somali citizens flee their homes as more than 14,000 Ethiopian soldiers have entered the East African nation's territories.

Over 9,000 of the troops with armored vehicles are heading to the Capital, Mogadishu after crossing the border. (Source)
No doubt a fully approved part of the "War on Terror," to be treated by the corporate media as a benign, even positive, event. Think there'll be worldwide protests, even resolutions by the U.N. Security Council, against such an outrageous violation of a country's sovereignty? Sure, just as many as in late 2006 when the first invasion happened, and ever since.


Sunday, April 06, 2008


 

Why even single-payer health care isn't enough...


The New York Times reports on the health care situation in Massachusetts, with partial blame given to the new "mandated health insurance" (note: not "care") in that state:
In pockets of the United States, rural and urban, a confluence of market and medical forces has been widening the gap between the supply of primary care physicians and the demand for their services. Modest pay, medical school debt, an aging population and the prevalence of chronic disease have each played a role.

Now in Massachusetts, in an unintended consequence of universal coverage, the imbalance is being exacerbated by the state’s new law requiring residents to have health insurance.
Now read that list of excuses again. Notice anything missing? How about medical education? If this country were training enough doctors, the problem would disappear. But that would actually require the government to take an active (or proactive, not sure which is a better word) role in health care in this country, not just concerned with paying for it but also making sure it's available.

By the way, whenever the subject of single-payer health care comes up, someone is sure to talk about how long people in Canada wait for medical care. The family physician profiled in this article? Her next opening for a physical is not until early May — of 2009.

Update: Of course, the situation in the United States is to be contrasted with that in socialist Cuba, which not only trains enough doctors to care of its own people, but also enough to be able to send contingents of them halfway around the world to assist in medical emergencies, but even offers free medical training to medical students from other countries, even students from a country whose stated policy in Cuba is "regime change" and which has maintained a vicious blockade on Cuba for nearly 50 years.


Friday, April 04, 2008


 

It's not as bad as you think...


...it's worse. The news today reports the bad enough news that a whopping 232,000 jobs were lost in the United States in the last three months. What they failed to report, without exception as far as I can tell, is that "population-adjusted jobs" fell not 232,000, but 232,000 + 3 x 150,000 = 682,000 jobs - almost three times as bad as the news as reported.

Actually, the news is even worse, because, as I read in the article above but didn't hear on any of the broadcast coverage, a net 914,000 American workers have lost jobs in the last 12 months. This particular article, incidentally, claims that "economists say" that "to keep pace with normal rate of population growth, the economy needs to create about 100,000 jobs a month," which is interesting because it's a whole 50% lower than previous estimates of that number that I've read. Even at that rate, that would be 2.1 million "population-adjusted jobs" lost in the last year.

And some of those same "economists" are still debating whether the country is in a recession.


 

The war that keeps on killing


The last time I wrote about Israeli cluster bombs in Lebanon was in September, 2006; as of then, 12 Lebanese civilians had been killed since the end of war. But the killing has unfortunately continued:
Forty people have been killed and 252 wounded by Israeli cluster bombs dropped during the 2006 war in Lebanon, says the UN spokesperson.


 

Bipartisan headline


Headline:
Obama, Clinton, McCain to co-Chair Israel 60th committee
And lest you think Presidential candidates are alone:
The committee will also be co-chaired by former American presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and every living former U.S. secretary of state.
My only surprise is that no one has yet moved to make Israel's Independence Day a U.S. national holiday yet. Or maybe they have.


 

Political Humor of the Day


Never let it be said I don't have anything good to say about Barack Obama. This from last night's Daily Show (my transcription):
Chris Matthews: At any time in this campaign did you have a chuckle that you just couldn't get rid of? Something weird that happened, that was so crazy that you just went to bed laughing about it?

Barack Obama: Oh, I think that happens once a day. But then I stopped watching cable news.
Zing!


 

Capitalism kills...50 Americans a day


Report:
At least eight Californians die every day because they don't have health insurance.

An estimated 3,100 adults in the state died in 2006 because they lacked insurance and either couldn't afford the care they needed, got substandard care or got treatment after it was too late, determined researchers with Families USA, a national health care advocacy organization based in Washington.

The national Institute of Medicine concluded that between 2001 and 2004, a lack of insurance caused roughly 18,000 deaths nationwide per year.
Amount spent and to be spent on the invasion and occupation of Iraq: $3 trillion. Number of lives that could have been saved with that money if invested in health insurance - thousands every year. Number that could be saved if the money was spent on health care (as opposed to health insurance)? Even more. Number that could be saved if the pharmaceutical industry wasn't spending billions of dollars each year advertising drugs that don't even work (or worse!), and price-gouging on the ones that do work? Even more.


Thursday, April 03, 2008


 

Antiwar demonstration called


... for Iraq:
Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Thursday for a million Iraqis to march against U.S. "occupiers", threatening a massive show of strength a week after his Mehdi Army militia battled U.S. and government troops.

"The time has come to express your rejections and raise your voices loud against the unjust occupier and enemy of nations and humanity, and against the horrible massacres committed by the occupier against our honorable people," [the statement released by al-Sadr] said.
"Enemy of nations and humanity," huh? I might have to rethink my denial that al-Sadr is "anti-American." No, not really. Because, if opposition to the actions of the U.S. government is "anti-American," then I and millions of other Americans (a majority in the case of Iraq) are "anti-American" as well.


 

Windfall profits tax


While the U.S. Congress is holding hearings yet again, scoring points at the expense of oil company executives while doing nothing, somebody's actually doing something about it:
Venezuela is planning a windfall tax on what it calls "excessive" profits of energy firms to allow state revenues to benefit from high oil prices.

The tax will take 50% of oil revenues above $70 per barrel, and an additional 60% of revenues over $100 per barrel, legislator Angel Rodriguez said.


Why stop here? There's more...

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