Saturday, May 31, 2008
Shocker of the day: "state sponsor of terrorism" is political
In news about as shocking as Scott McClellan's "revelation" that the Bush Administration waged a propaganda war on the American people, AP reports today on the political nature of the "state sponsor of terrorism" designation. I wouldn't even mention it, except for the unintentional humor at the end of the article:
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said: "It [being put on the list] is based on a very specific legal standard, and, whether it's Venezuela or any other country, if they meet that standard, they'll be put on that list, and if they don't, they won't."Ri-i-i-i-ght. North Korea, who may be about to be removed the list, is on the list because it was implicated (not proven by a longshot) in the bombing of a South Korean airliner 20 years ago. The "legal standard" by which Cuba is on the list stretches even further, involving such charages as "not supporting the U.S. 'war on terror'", by which is meant that Cuba opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Needless to say if there were real "specific legal standards," then a country which actively protects wanted terrorists from extradition to stand trial for their crimes, and even allows them to have public parties in the honor, would be first on the list.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Army suicides - an update
Yesterday's AP story on Army suicides has been updated with more precise figures. Here's what we're told today:
At least 115 soldiers killed themselves last year, up from 102 the previous year, the Army said Thursday.But, as I reported yesterday, official DoD lists of the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, from which the conventionally cited media totals are taken, list exactly two deaths by suicide in Iraq last year, and none (of Americans) in Afghanistan - 34 short of the real total. Not that there is the slightest difference whether 4594 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, or 4628, but it is nice to get the facts correct (and, obviously, that 4594 I just quoted isn't correct either, since it doesn't include the missing suicides in previous years, nor hosts of other categories of American deaths directly attributable to the wars, both "in country" and without. And we all know that American deaths don't account for but the tiniest fraction of the real total.)
Nearly a third of them died at the battlefront — 32 in Iraq and four in Afghanistan.
The latest outrage in Gaza
I'm sure most readers will have already seen this, but I'll reproduce it here anyway:
The American State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza hoping to pursue advanced degrees at American institutions this fall because Israel has not granted them permission to leave.Demonstrating once again that, far from "withdrawing" from Gaza, Israel instead continues to maintain Gaza as the world's largest prison.
Note that this is a U.S. government action as well as an Israeli action; it was the U.S. State Dept. under Condoleezza Rice which withdrew these grants, which it could have left in place and tried to pressure Israel to change its stance. That makes it not only appropriate but imperative for American politicians to weigh in on the situation. Will they? We'll see.
And, for your morning humor, try this on for size:
"This could be interpreted as collective punishment," complained Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Parliament’s education committee."Could be interpreted?" Are you kidding me? This is, of course, collective punishment, as is the entire treatment of Gaza by not only Israel but by the U.S., Egypt, and every other country actively supporting the blockade of Gaza and the attempted genocide of its people.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Cluster bombs banned - except by the countries that use them
111 nations agreed to a ban on cluster bombs. The U.S. military, who wasn't one of the 111, "says that it keeps the weapons in its arsenal as a defense against advancing armies, a strategy closely linked to conventional Cold War approaches to conflict, and that it has not used the bombs since the 2003 invasion of Iraq."
Well, I'm not sure about the "since 2003" part, but the bit about "defense against advancing armies" is a blatant lie. In its war against Yugoslavia, there were no "advancing armies," since the U.S. military wasn't even on the ground, yet dozens of documented examples of the U.S. of cluster bombs, with many civilians amongst the targets and the casualties. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians have also been killed by cluster bombs in the early days of the invasion, and although there was an actual land invasion in that case, there were no "advancing armies" except for the American one. Probably the only thing keeping the U.S. from continuing to use them is the likelihood that they themselves would become the victims.
The other significant non-signatory of the ban, and perhaps the most egregious user of cluster bombs, is Israel. I don't know what "official Israeli military doctrine" on the use of cluster bombs is, but I do know that the actual practice is beyond despicable. In its 2006 war against Lebanon, Israel fired thousands of cluster bombs containing more than a million bomblets and, as reported by the U.N., 90 percent of those occurred in the last 72 hours of the war, not for any military reason whatsoever, but simply as a "f*** you" from Israel to the Lebanese people. Even the head of the Israeli military unit responsible described the action as "insane and monstrous." Since the end of the war, nearly two years ago, 40 people have been killed and 252 wounded as a result of that "insane and monstrous" act, far exceeding, by the way, the number of Israelis who have been killed by Palestinian "terrorist" actions during the same period of time, but, in comparison, receiving not a single word of condemnation from any American politician and certainly not producing a worldwide blockade of Israel by an outraged "civilized" world.
And, by the way, those cluster bombs used by Israel against Lebanon? U.S.-made. And not only that, but resupplied during the war. Ah, but don't worry. "Israel may be told that it must be especially careful about firing the rockets into populated areas." They were careful, all right. Careful to fire them into populated areas.
Dan Bartlett repeats the biggest of the big lies - that they weren't lying
Responding to Scott McClellan's new book, former Bush administration communications director Dan Bartlett had this to say:
"The fact of the matter was the weapons of mass destruction were not there. The intelligence was wrong. But that doesn't make people out to be liars or manipulators or propagandists. It makes them wrong."I'm forced to repeat something I've said many times, for example here last year:
And that [that they weren't lying] might be true, if they had said to the American public, "We think Iraq has WMD" or "Our most reliable evidence strongly suggests that Iraq has WMD" or something along that lines. As soon as they said "We know Iraq has WMD," they were lying, just as surely as if they had said "The moon is made of green cheese" without ever having been to the moon to subject it to a taste test (which has been done, by the way).But, of course, they didn't say they "think," they presented it to the American public as a certainty. Why? Because as illegal as it was to invade a country which wasn't threatening the U.S., the American people could still be brought to support a war given the certainty that Iraq had WMD (not that they would have used them against the U.S. even if they had). But only given the likelihood or even just the possibility that Iraq had WMD, that support would have been much harder to obtain. So they lied. Flat out lied, Bartlett and everyone else who tries to pass off that "honest mistake" nonsense to the contrary.
Counting deaths in Iraq: 108 <> 2
A report today says there were 108 Army suicides amongst active duty troops (by the way, note that that includes Army and Army National Guard only, not Marines or other forces), of which we are told that "about a quarter of the deaths occurred in Iraq."
Now take a look at the DoD confirmed death list, from which the conventionally cited count of (currently) 4084 U.S. military deaths in Iraq is taken. In 2007, you will find exactly two deaths listed as "suicide." There are four listed in 2006, a year in which we're told that by the current report that 102 suicides actually occurred (no breakdown on how many happened in Iraq or Afghanistan). Interestingly enough there are eight listed in 2005 (and one in 2004 and five in 2003). Sounds to me like pressure is being brought to bear not to list such deaths at all. Actually, today's report provides some evidence of that:
Preliminary figures released in January showed as many as 121 troops might have killed themselves, but a number of the deaths were still being investigated then and have since been attributed to other causes, the officials said.Sure, "other causes." "Accidental discharge while cleaning weapon" is a big one, I'm sure. Who's to say it wasn't (except for the missing cleaning cloths or whatever else you use to clean a weapon)? But clearly, even when they apparently are being classified as suicides, the vast majority are not being added to the DoD fatality list, and hence the total most people associate with the U.S. death toll in the war.
The story repeats itself in Afghanistan, which is included in the 108 (and similar numbers from previous years), although we aren't told how many of that number occurred in Afghanistan. In the official accounting, there is exactly one death by suicide listed for 2007, and that's a Canadian. In 2006, one Dutch soldier and one American, in 2005, one, and in 2004 and 2003, none whatsoever. Believable? Hardly.
All in all, in five years of war (six and half in the case of Afghanistan), that's a lot of dead people who aren't being counted, whether they were officially classified as a suicide, or whether it is being passed off as something else.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
John Bolton=Homer Simpson?
John Bolton has something in common with Homer Simpson's brain, which, from time to time, "speaks out loud," blurting out the things that Homer is thinking but really shouldn't be saying. Likewise Bolton is one of those rare members of the ruling class who hasn't the slightest inhibition about saying out loud what the rest are thinking:
John Bolton, who was a leading hawk in President George W. Bush's administration, told an audience at the Hay literary Festival that five years of "failed" negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program had left just two options for dealing with the issue -- regime change and use of force.The radical idea of leaving the Iranian people (or the people of dozens of other countries we could name) to decide on their own fate just never occurs to the likes of Bolton; it's simply not an "option" according to him. They will bend to our will...or else.
Two words about Scott McClellan: "Cognitive dissonance"
So Scotty McClellan says the Bush Administration did bad things and the long knives are out for him. Dana Perino says he's "disgruntled." Fran Townsend, who's been all over TV, says he's "self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional," and complains that he didn't speak up when he was in the White House, as does Karl Rove.
All these people, and all the pundits and columnists writing about the subject, seem to have forgotten two words: "cognitive dissonance." According to Wikipedia, it's actually "the uncomfortable feeling when a person begins to understand that something the person believes to be true is, in fact, not true," but I've always understood it to be something that Wikipedia says is the "popular usage" (i.e., not exactly correct but close enough):
Maintaining conflicting principles (e.g. logically incompatible beliefs) or rejecting reasonable behavior to avoid conflict can be increasingly maladaptive (non-beneficial) as the gap being bridged widens, and popular usage of the term "cognitive dissonance" tends to stress the maladaptive aspect. It is often associated with the tendency for people to resist information that they don't want to think about, because if they did it would create such dissonance, and perhaps require them to act in ways that depart from their comfortable habits. They usually have at least partial awareness of the information, without having moved to full acceptance of it, and are thus in a state of denial about it.Putting it another way, even those of us on the left have a tendency to say, just like Townsend and Rove (but with different motives in mind), well, thanks a lot, pal, why didn't you say something a few years ago when it mattered? It's something we've said time and again as one after another rat jumped ship and spilled his guts out in public. But the fact of the matter is that, thanks to "cognitive dissonance," people like Scott McClellan don't see what's happening as it's happening. They resist information which contradicts their mindset, similar to being in a cult but the effect is much, much broader than that, and doesn't require a real "cult" to come into play.
Marxists talk about "dialectics" and about how quantity becomes quality. In the case at hand, information accumulates until finally a qualitative break from the past must be made. Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge's theory of punctuated equilibrium is probably even better as an analogy. Forces build up (the internal, unacknowledged contradictions), but nothing external changes, until one day a major event (leaving the White House and getting away from the groupthink, or perhaps just a book contract being signed, if one is being cynical) causes a major break, and a major shift.
Thus endeth today's lesson.
Update: OK, not quite. I don't want to leave the impression that I think that no one in the Bush Administration (or other administrations) consciously knows they are lying. Colin Powell, for example, in my opinion knew he was lying (or, at the very least, greatly pushing the boundaries of the truth) in his famous speech to the U.N. before the invasion of Iraq, but held his tongue because he felt (erroneously, in my opinion) it was his "duty" to do so. But others, and I'm guessing McClellan is in this group, simply subconsciously ignore (i.e., aren't conscious of) the bullshit piling up all around them, until it finally reaches the level of their nose.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Brzezinski on Iran
Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Odom have a major article in the Washington Post today calling for a more sensible policy on Iran. Two quotes:
Current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of "sticks" and "carrots," including the frequent official hints of an American military option "remaining on the table," simply intensifies Iran's desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Alas, such a heavy-handed "sticks" and "carrots" policy may work with donkeys but not with serious countries. The United States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats of military action and its calls for regime change.Naturally, I responded with a letter to the editor. You can read it here first, and, quite probably, last:
The widely propagated notion of a suicidal Iran detonating its very first nuclear weapon against Israel is more the product of paranoia or demagogy than of serious strategic calculus. It cannot be the basis for U.S. policy, and it should not be for Israel's, either.
While I applaud Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Odom's call ["A Sensible Path on Iran," 5/27/08] for a more sensible policy on Iran, they continue to propagate myths about Iran, most notably in their reference to "the fantasy rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding the use of nuclear weapons."
In a speech given on April 11, 2006, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had "joined the nuclear club," referring to their initial success at enriching uranium. Here's what he said at the time: "We have declared many times, and we declare again, that our nuclear technology is in the service of peaceful goals. We declare that mass destruction weapons are sought by those who still think in the mode of 50 years ago. Those who think that political equations and cultural and economic equations can be solved to their benefit by relying on arsenals of mass destruction weapons." Nothing he has said since that date has ever contradicted that initial statement; the idea that he has delivered "fantasy rhetoric" about the use of nuclear weapons is itself pure fantasy.
That fact alone casts rather strong doubt on Brzezinski and Odom's opening statement that "current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons," but as it happens there is even stronger evidence. Considering the religious character of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and considering that it is a widely-held belief amongst American politicians and pundits that the most powerful person in Iran is not Ahmadinejad but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it is surely relevant that on August 10, 2005, Khamenei issued a fatwa declaring "that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons." Curiously, Brzezinski and Odom, along with every other American politician and pundit, fail to mention that rather salient fact.
Iran, like every other signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a perfect right to develop nuclear power including the enrichment of uranium. As Brzezinski and Odom note, it is the United States, with its failure to significantly reduce its nuclear arsenal, which is in violation of the NPT, not Iran.
Monday, May 26, 2008
More on Obama and CANF
Barack Obama spoke last week to the Cuban-American National Foundation. I wrote about the speech here and here, and noted the role of CANF leaders in a string of hotel bombings in the 90's which killed an Italian tourist and wounded many others. Today Fidel himself comments on the speech, and reminds us of something even more recent - the attempted assassination of Fidel in 1998 while he was visiting a summit of Latin American leaders on Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela.
And what was the role of CANF, revealed when a ship carrying men and weapons en route to the assassination was searched by the Coast Guard?
One of two .50 caliber Barrett assault rifles seized on board turned out to be registered to Francisco (Pepe) Hernandez, president of the the foundation, according to an F.B.I. report. The tan 46-foot cabin cruiser itself, Florida state records show, belonged to a company owned by Jose Antonio Llama, a member of the foundation's executive board. The boat set sail from Coral Gables, Fla., from the private dock of another foundation member whose business partner is the group's treasurer.Francisco Hernandez? None other than the current President of CANF.
Memorial Day memories
You'll never hear the words "Waltzing Matilda" again without thinking of this song, which brought tears to my eyes, from the great Liam Clancy:
(Huge hat tip to Politics in the Zeros)
The best defense is a good offense
Iran to Canada: "Put your own house in order":
The Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini says the Canadian government is among real violators of human rights.For more about the treatment of indigenous people by Canada, read "Resisting Canadian Colonialism: The Indigenous Struggle for Self-Determination" (second pamphlet downloadable on this page).
"Canada has a very thick file of violation of its nationals' rights. Based on published documents of the United Nations, the Canadian government has violated the rights of its indigenous people for many years. Currently, the situation of the people of Canada is a matter of concern," Hosseini said Monday.
He made the remark in response to the recent interventionist statement by the Canadian foreign minister who accused Iran of violating human rights.
We believe that instead of charging other countries with violation of human rights and going into huge costs to issue resolutions against them, the Canadian government should adopt measures toward protection of the rights of its own nationals and amelioration of their pain and suffering," the spokesman said.
He added that the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had recently written to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling for the UN investigation into the case of the indigenous people of Canada.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Left I at the Movies: In the Valley of Elah
A week or so ago I finally got around to watching In the Valley of Elah, about the disappearance (which, I don't think I'm giving anything away, quickly becomes the murder) of a soldier just back from Iraq. It's not primarily about the war itself, although it is that, and as a "police procedural" it's just ok (the mystery isn't that complex; if you like murder mysteries, you're better off watching Monk or Inspector Lynley or Miss Marple or all sorts of other things on TV). But the acting, notably from Tommy Lee Jones as the father and Charlize Theron (who I didn't even recognize for the longest time) as the main cop involved in the investigation, is excellent.
What the film is really about is the soldiers, and the effect the war has on them, and in that, it's really good. I've written many times here (I'll skip the links) about, for example, soldier suicides, spousal murders, and other tragedies of the war (and war in general), but this film really brings home that kind of thing very effectively. For me, one of the most poignant lines in the whole movie was when one of the soldiers in the dead man's unit tells the father about how much he hated every second that he spent in Iraq, and that when he got home, he only wanted to go back - not only a commentary on how the effect the war had had on his psyche had made him useless for other things, but also on how hard it is in many cases to even find a job for someone whose main training is in killing people.
One of the things I like about DVDs, as I've mentioned before, is the extras, and watching the extras on this DVD I learned two very interesting things. First, the movie, while not a documentary or even a docu-drama, is very much based on a true story. Knowing that, for me at least, gave the movie even more weight. And second, that most of the actors playing soldiers in the movie, and I'm not just talking about the extras in the background, were chosen by director Paul Haggis (a frequent speaker at antiwar rallies in Los Angeles, by the way) because they had recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it's clear that they bring something to the movie as a result which probably wouldn't have been there otherwise.
How often do similar stories repeat themselves? The very day after I watched the movie, this story appeared in the news, about a Camp Pendleton marine found shot to death near his base; just yesterday, another Marine was arrested for the murder.
Bush remembers his victims...for a second
In China, the country paused for three solid minutes to remember their dead. The customary time for remembering even a single dead person is a "minute of silence." But evidently that was too long for George Bush to remember 4587 people (Iraq+Afghanistan) that he sent to their deaths:
President Bush asked Americans to pay tribute to veterans by pausing on Memorial Day for "a moment of remembrance."As for the other million-plus deaths he's caused, I'm sure that even a "moment" is longer than Bush has ever paused to consider their fates.
Today's good news story
You've gotta' love it (hat tip to Skippy):
A Tuesday fundraiser headlined by President Bush for U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is being moved out of the Phoenix Convention Center.
Sources familiar with the situation said the Bush-McCain event was not selling enough tickets to fill the Convention Center space, and that there were concerns about more anti-war protesters showing up outside the venue than attending the fundraiser inside.
Political Humor of the Day
Another right-on gem from MAD Magazine (click to enlarge). Note in particular that the center one on the bottom refers to Iran, not Iraq. If only the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN et al. were as conversant with the truth as MAD Magazine:
Friday, May 23, 2008
Who's more off the wall? The Miami Herald, or Barack Obama?
I wrote below about Barack Obama's speech to the Cuban-American National Foundation, the group which bankrolled and supported the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles just a decade ago, back when he was organizing the bombing of hotels in Cuba and killing Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo. The Miami Herald reports that Obama was demanding "radical change in U.S. policy" towards Cuba? "Radical change"? Like ending the blockade and allowing all Americans to travel to Cuba and all Cubans to travel to the U.S.? Not quite. No, the only concrete proposal Obama makes is to allow Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba, returning U.S. policy all the way back to the days of the first George W. Bush administration. Not the first George (H.W.) Bush administration, mind you, the first George W. Bush administration. Man, what a radical!
But, if anything, Obama had something even stranger to say. "It is time, I believe, to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions." That itself wouldn't be strange. No, it was what he said next: "And as president, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people."
Sure sounds like "preconditions" to me.
No child left behind
In the country which, contrary to the opinion of George Bush, John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and every other establishment politician and pundit in the United States, is in fact a beacon to millions of people around the world. This is from the latest column by the former President of that country, Fidel Castro, someone who I suspect Barack Obama would describe as someone whose "actions just serve[d] his own power":
Just a few days ago, a friend of mine sent me the text of a report from Gallup, the well-known U.S. opinion pollster. I started to leaf through the material with the natural lack of confidence given the lying and hypocritical information usually used against our nation.
It was a survey on education in which Cuba was included, although it is usually ignored. It analyzed the situation in four regions of the world: Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. A number of Caribbean nations were included in some aspects.
First question: Are children in your country treated with dignity and respect? Positive answer: Asia 73%, Europe 67%, Africa 60% and Latin America 41%. If the Caribbean countries are included, Gallup states that in Haiti, only 13% of those surveyed responded affirmatively to that question.
Second question: Do children in your country have the opportunity to learn and grow every day? In Asia 75% answered yes; in Europe, 74%; in Africa, 60%; in Latin America, 56%. Many of the countries of this region were under 50%.
Third question: Is this country’s education accessible to anyone who wishes to study independently of his or her economic situation? The answers reveal a painful situation in many Latin American nations and better answers from the English-speaking Caribbean.
I do not wish to offend any of the countries that I mention, but it would be meaningless to write these lines without noting the place occupied by Cuba – so many times slandered – in the survey. It was in first place among all the countries in the world. Of those surveyed by Gallup, 93% answered yes to the first question; 96% to the second; and 98% to the third. As it is known, Cubans have the habit of answering any question with complete frankness.
Another particularly salient fact is that in Venezuela, 70% and 80% answered positively to the first and second question, respectively. This is a country that is developing a large-scale education program, eradicating illiteracy and promoting study at all levels, a process that began only a few years ago. On account of that, Venezuela occupied second place in the region.
The response to the third question was a yes from 82%, placing it third in Latin America and the Caribbean, exceeded by Trinidad and Tobago, in second place with 86%.
Barack Obama on Latin America
Barack Obama spoke today to the Cuban-American National Foundation. Naturally when the subject came to Cuba and political prisoners, he didn't mention the five Cuban political prisoners he'll have control over when and if he's President - the five Cubans unjustly held in U.S. prisons for attempting to stop the Miami-based terrorism against Cuba. When he talked about people living in fear of violence, there was naturally no mention of one of the sources of violence he'll be able to do something about when and if he's President - Luis Posada Carriles (a terrorist who is the hero of the people Obama was speaking to).
If I was amused by anything in his speech, it was this:
"Now I know what the easy thing is to do for American politicians. Every four years, they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba. That’s what John McCain did the other day. He joined the parade of politicians who make the same empty promises year after year, decade after decade."He then proceeded to join the parade of politicians who make the same empty promises year after year, about how he's going to be the one to bring "libertad" to Cuba. His big change is to allow Cuban-Americans (not the rest of us second-class citizens) to freely travel to Cuba, which, it's worth noting, is the one change that is endorsed by the vast majority of the people he was speaking to, so it wasn't exactly a bold proposal. Any other changes, like the embargo whose purpose from the beginning was to bring about "hunger and desperation" among the Cuban people to force them to submit to American will, will await Cuba "changing" to our (his) satisfaction.
But if anything it was his briefer remarks on Venezuela which really annoyed me:
"In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power."His actions "just" serve his own power, do they? Let's take a look at Venezuela under Chavez:
In 1998 there were 1,628 primary care physicians for a population of 23.4 million. Today, there are 19,571 for a population of 27 million. The Venezuelan government has also provided widespread access to subsidized food. By 2006, there were 15,726 stores throughout the country that offered mainly food items at subsidized prices (with average savings of 27% and 39% compared to market prices in 2005 and 2006, respectively).Well, if those are the kinds of things Hugo Chavez sees as being part of "serving his own power," I'd say the American people can only hope our next President will want to just serve his (or her) own power in the same way.
The central government's social spending has increased massively, from 8.2 percent of GDP in 1998 to 13.6 percent for 2006. In real (inflation-adjusted) terms, social spending per person has increased by 170 percent over the period 1998-2006. But this does not include social spending by PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company), which was 7.3 percent of GDP in 2006. With this included, social spending reached 20.9 percent of GDP in 2006, at least 314 percent more than in 1998 (in terms of real social spending per person).
The poverty rate has decreased rapidly from its peak of 55.1 percent in 2003 to 30.4 percent at end of 2006.
Measured unemployment has also dropped substantially to 8.3 percent for June 2007, its lowest level in more than a decade; as compared to 15 percent in June 1999 and 18.4 percent in June 2003 (coming out of the recession).
For my response to Obama, see the post below this one.
Political Humor of the Day: Alfred E. Neuman speaks
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Today's lesson in innumeracy - the solution to global warming is not at hand (or at foot)
I was briefly extremely excited when I read this the other day in eWeek (rhymes, quite appropriately, with "geek") Magazine:
For three days, participants powered 21 bicycle stations to generate more than 12.9 megawatt hours of energy - enough to power more than 12,000 average American homes for an entire year.Wow, thought I, the solution to global warming and the source of alternative energy is literally under foot (or, more accurately, under waist, in the quads and thighs). Hire the unemployed, or put the armed forces to good use, and we won't need any oil, coal, or nukes at all!
Then I decided to think about the story, unlike the editor who published what was certainly a press release from the company which sponsored this event. If 21 bicycle "stations" (more about that below) ridden for three days could power 12,000 homes, then they could power 4,000 homes with one day of riding, and just one bicycle station ridden for a day could power 200 homes for a year! You could power one home for a year with just 7 minutes of riding!
Really? That seems rather unlikely, doesn't it? Now you can get electricity from bike riding, for sure. If you ever watched the delightful "Living With Ed" [Begley, Jr.] show on TV, you watched him riding his bicycle while pronouncing, "I'm making toast!", as the electricity he generated was fed back into his (solar- and wind-powered) system. But generating enough electricity to run a toaster and enough to run an entire home are two very different things! I've also been told that some fitness centers in Japan are also "collecting energy" from their participants. But how much?
Research tells me that Lance Armstrong can sustainably generate 400 watts of energy. Let's be very generous and use that as our figure, although finding even one more human being that powerful would be hard. 400 watts times 72 hours times 21 bicycles is 0.6 megawatt-hours, a far cry from 12.9 megawatt-hours!
Now this was a try for a Guinness world record, so maybe those bicycle "stations" were not a single stationary bicycle, as I assume, but banks of bicycles. There would have had to have been 21 such banks, or 400 (approximately) bicycles total, meaning, with trading off rides, several thousand bike riders. A group that large would be made up of riders who likely could generate only half of Armstrong's power, if that, putting us in the neighborhood of 10,000 riders needed for this feat. Somehow, I suspect that if 10,000 riders had been involved in this exercise, the article would have mentioned it!
But, as it turns out, the claim about 12,000 homes is wrong even if 12.9 Mwh were generated by 21 superhuman bicycle riders (each with 20 times the power of Lance Armstrong). The average home uses 500 kilowatt hours of electricity per month, or 6000 Kwh (6 Mwh)/year. So 12.9 Mwh would power not 12,000 homes for a year, but two!!
I hope I haven't embarrassed myself by screwing up these calculations, because I'm trying to illustrate a fairly simple point - don't believe everything you read, even if there's no obvious political motive, and especially when numbers are involved! However, you can believe everything you read in Left I on the News - I hope!
Olmert calls for (U.S.) war on Iran; U.S. "scholars" say "attack could work"
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed in talks with a U.S. congressional leader [Nancy Pelosi] that a naval blockade be imposed on Iran to try to curb its nuclear program, an Israeli newspaper reported Wednesday.Reuters avoids the use of the word "war," but the simple fact is that a blockade is an act of war under international law. Note that, assuming this report is true, Olmert isn't calling for Israel to initiate this war, but the U.S. How thoughtful.
The prime minister's suggestions, Haaretz said, included a naval blockade of Iran using U.S. warships to limit the movement of Iranian merchant vessels.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, U.S. "scholars" are preparing to issue a report which says the consequences of an actual attack on Iran might not be as bad as a lot of people think:
The standard assumption is that a military attack by the United States or Israel to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be disastrous for the attackers, and would threaten the stability of the entire Middle East.Despite the rising drumbeat, I still do not personally believe such an attack is in the cards (though a blockade could be likely). But there is little doubt that very serious thought is going on in Washington and Jerusalem about how to carry out such an attack, and there is likewise little doubt that there are many powerful proponents of such an heinous act.
But a new paper, to be published this month in the U.S. by two well-known experts on the subject, sketches a different and more complex picture. The paper is "The Last Resort," written by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The main point, notes Dr. Clawson in an interview with Haaretz, is that the success or failure of a military attack depends on many variables, and not just the degree of damage the attack would cause.
Peaceful Palestinian protest? Not when Israel is involved
Many people don't want to understand the need for the Palestinians to protest, and resist, the occupation of their land with force. "Why can't they just protest peacefully, like Gandhi?" they ask.
Israeli military forces have opened fire on a group of demonstrators in the Gaza Strip, killing one and wounding at least 17 others.Ha'aretz adds more detail:
An estimated 2,000 people attended the protest called by Hamas on Thursday to demand an end of the crippling Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Several Israeli tanks crossed into Gaza and troops fired live bullets at the protesters, witnesses said.
At least three boys aged 12 to 15 were among the wounded, including one who was in a critical condition, said Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services.
Israel Defense Forces troops opened fire into a crowd of protesters at another border passage, killing a 22-year-old man and wounding 16, including three children, a Gaza health official said. The military said it was looking into the report.Any bets on hearing the followup of the IDF [sic] "looking into the report"? No, I didn't think so.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Gosh it's been a long time since I visited my favorite pet subject - innumeracy. Here's what stirred me up - discussing the results from the Kentucky primary, AP writes:
Almost nine in 10 ballots were cast by whites, and the former first lady was winning their support overwhelmingly.As I write this, with
It may be true, and quite likely is, that her support from black voters is underwhelming; it could actually be zero. But with 90% of the vote coming from whites, drawing conclusions about her "white" support vs. her support in general simply doesn't hold up.
The big lie(s) on Iran, again
In an interview with NBC's Richard Engel, George Bush had this to say:
"And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you've got to take those words seriously."Readers know that such words never spoken, and alert readers will even remember that Ahmadinejad actually "clarified" the oft-misquoted (or mistranslated) remarks when he said:
"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out."A quote which makes obvious that Ahmadinejad is saying that Israel will collapse under its own weight, not that it will be "wiped out" by an attack from Iran.
So, since the misquoting/mistranslation of Ahmadinejad's remarks has become widely acknowledged, did Engel respond to Bush's misstatement by pointing out the error? Is the Pope Jewish? No, of course not, instead in his next question he threw in a big lie of his own:
"Repeatedly you've talked about Iran and that you don't want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon. How far away do you think Iran is from developing a nuclear capability?"I won't repeat the whole story here; here's the latest post which demonstrates that the idea that Iran is "developing a nuclear capability" is utterly without foundation, putting Engel's question into the "when will you stop beating your wife" category of big lies.
Cuba demonstrates U.S. government, terrorist ties
No huge surprise in the second part of the headline; the U.S. government not only has ties with a long list of terrorists from Osama bin Laden to Luis Posada Carriles, the CIA actually helped create and finance many of them. Still, it's rare when the proof of such ties is made publicly available, and this is a different kind of case. Cuba presented evidence yesterday that the U.S. government was funneling money to Cuban "dissidents" through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. That too wouldn't be that big a surprise, since the U.S. does so openly (though in contravention of Cuban law and probably U.S. law - the blockade/embargo - as well) through the National Endowment for "Democracy."
What is news is the source of the funds - Santiago Alvarez, who was sending several thousand dollars a month to various "dissident" (counterrevolutionary) groups in Cuba using Michael Parmly, the head of the U.S. Interests Section, as a go-between. We've mentioned Alvarez here before. First, he helped smuggle an illegal immigrant into this country. That itself is a crime, but what made it an even bigger crime is the name of the person smuggled in - Luis Posada Carriles, a convicted felon and known terrorist (and a wanted criminal, wanted in Venezuela for 73 counts of murder in connection with the mid-air bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976). Second, Alvarez himself is a known terrorist, having participated in, among many others, the string of Havana hotel bombings which killed an Italian tourist, Fabio di Celmo.
And third, Alvarez is currently in prison! Why? Well, first he was serving an absurdly light sentence of 30 months for weapons possession. Why is that "absurdly light"? Because we're not talking about a concealed handgun. We're talking about one of the largest arsenals ever seized in the United States, a true terrorist arsenal. How big was it? He and his partner turned over 14 pounds of plastic explosives, 200 pounds of dynamite, 30 semiautomatic and automatic weapons, and a grenade launcher, among other things; how much more they're still hiding isn't known. That sentence has been served, but Alvarez is still in jail, serving 10 more months for refusing to cooperate with a U.S. government prosecution (a fake one, but still...) by testifying against Luis Posada Carriles (on the question of how Posada entered the country, not on terrorism, for which the U.S. government continues to refuse to extradite or prosecute Posada, as required by international law).
That is the man from whom the U.S. government is taking money and handing it to people in Cuba. In Washington today, a press conference will not only call for the extradition of Posada and the freedom of the Cuban Five (five men who were monitoring the actions of people like Alvarez in order to prevent future acts of terrorism and are now serving long sentences in the U.S.), but will also announce the filing of a FOIA request (pdf) demanding the U.S. government turn over all documents related to the transfer of funds to Cuba.
Monday, May 19, 2008
More U.S.-inspired mass graves uncovered
In South Korea:
Grave by mass grave, South Korea is unearthing the skeletons and buried truths of a cold-blooded slaughter from early in the Korean War, when this nation's U.S.-backed regime killed untold thousands of leftists and hapless peasants in a summer of terror in 1950.Needless to say, the U.S. knew all about this (the picture above is from U.S. Army archives), and has been keeping it secret for 60 years. The U.S., which is always issuing dire warnings about impending "bloodbaths" should their troops leave Vietnam, Iraq, or wherever else they happen to be, which has played a key role in two of the biggest bloodbaths in history - the slaughter of Korean leftists (and, no doubt, many, many who weren't leftists at all) described above, and the massacre of an estimated half million Indonesian Communists (and, again, many, many who just lived in "communist villages") in 1965. Not to mention the bloodbath of civilians that took place in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, Fallujah, and so many other places the mind reels.
With U.S. military officers sometimes present, and as North Korean invaders pushed down the peninsula, the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.
The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were "the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War," said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.
Hundreds of sets of remains have been uncovered so far, but researchers say they are only a tiny fraction of the deaths. The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million.
That estimate is based on projections from local surveys and is "very conservative," said Kim. The true toll may be twice that or more, he told The Associated Press.
Update: By the way, this story was buried well inside the pages of the San Jose Mercury News today. On the New York Times online right now, the front page carries a story from South Korea...about two soap opera stars engaged in an extramarital affair. I could find the AP story by searching, but not just by browsing. The situation is the same at the Washington Post, minus the soap opera stars. CNN? Nothing either online or, as far as I can tell from sporadic viewing during the day, on air either.
Pelosi endorses the Bush doctrine from the other side of the looking-glass
In Jerusalem, Nancy Pelosi, just like her party's two remaining Presidential contenders, gave explicit support to the Bush doctrine of launching unprovoked, illegal attacks on other countries:
While saying that a military option should not be taken off the table, and adding that an attack by Teheran on Israel certainly "cannot go unanswered," Pelosi said that a preemptive strike on Iran would have consequences that needed to be considered. Among the consequences she listed were the effect such an attack would have in rallying Iranians around their current leadership, what it would do to the price of oil, and the response of the rest of the Muslim world.So, just as Barack Obama wasn't opposed to the invasion of Iraq on principle (of course, Clinton wasn't opposed to it at all), but only because it wasn't a "good idea," Pelosi espouses the idea that attacking Iran is just fine, and perfectly legal, but we shouldn't do it without "considering the consequences," including the price of oil (!). As with the old sexist joke about the women who wouldn't have sex with a stranger for a dollar but would for a million dollars, it's not a question of arguing about what she is, only about the price. Pelosi's talk about "consequences" actually echoes quite closely Obama's words on Iraq:
"I spoke out against what I called 'a rash war' in Iraq. I worried about, 'an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.'"And the "other side of the looking-glass" part of the post's title? Try this on for size:
"We owe you a great deal of gratitude," she said, "because in resisting weapons of mass destruction, Israel was not only looking after her own security interests but those of the rest of the world.""Resisting" weapons of mass destruction? Israel is one of the world's major builders of nuclear weapons, and, outside of the United States, probably the most likely to actually use them.
Friday, May 16, 2008
It's enough to make you feel proud...
The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come.The word "prisoner," however, is used rather loosely, if one holds to the standard definition:
A person held in custody, captivity, or a condition of forcible restraint, especially while on trial or serving a prison sentence.In fact, of course, virtually none of these people, who would be better described as "kidnap victims," are either "on trial" or "serving a prison sentence":
Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five years, officials said.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Original sin - al Nakba at 60
Events in the Middle East are generally framed in the shortest of short-term time frames - one side (usually framed as Israel) responded to a "provocation" or attack by the other side (typically Palestinians according to the media). It's rare indeed for any corporate media to even mention the ultimate source of the problem - the "Nakba" which, beginning with the U.N. Resolution partitioning Palestine 60 years and 6 months ago, resulted in the forced expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians by the time Israel declared its independence 60 years ago today, and 3/4 of a million Palestinians by the end of the year. Richard Becker provides an important update on an article he first wrote six months ago, laying out not only that history, but the resulting centrality of the demand of the "right of return."
Which brings us back to the corporate media. Remarkably, in the last week, I have seen three different pieces on BBC World News which gave the viewer an intimate and rarely-seen view of Palestinians who had been evicted from their homes, with Palestinians showing the reporter the deed to their home and discussing their desire (and right) to return to their home. The words "return" or "right of return" were actually mentioned on the air.
In contrast, I haven't seen any such piece, not one, on any American network or cable show. On CNN right now, for example, you not only won't find anything about the ongoing commemoration of Nakba day in Palestine on the front page, you won't find anything even if you drill down to the Middle East page. And actually it's even worse than just omission. Consider this AP piece published today which appears several places, including MSNBC online and the New York Times (online, don't know about print):
Palestinians marked the 60th anniversary of their uprooting with rallies, sirens and black balloons Thursday...Thursday's events commemorated the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who either fled or were driven out of their homes during the 1948 war over Israel's creation. Palestinians call it their "nakba," Arabic for catastrophe.So they mentioned what's happening, and even used the word "nakba." What they didn't say is that this wasn't just a "commemoration" of being forced out of their homes, but a demand to return to those homes - the "right of return." Those words, or even the word "return," are nowhere to be found. The uninformed reader might get the idea that the Palestinians are celebrating being kicked out of their homes, and have no interest at all in returning.
Not coincidentally, a few days ago I was listening to a very interesting discussion of a book entitled "The Lemon Tree, about one of those expelled Palestinians, and his experiences getting to know the Israeli family who had come to live in his house. You can read a chapter of the very interesting story here, and listen to the author discuss the book and the man's life at great length here (mp3 file), but let me cheat and tell you part of the ending - the young woman who he originally meets ends up owning the house (her parents die), and when she is going to get married, she wants to give the house back to the Palestinian man. A rare case of the "right of return" actually welcomed by the current occupant of the house! Just one little catch - the racist laws of the State of Israel actually prevent her from doing that!
For closure to this story, listen to David Rovics "The Key" (mp3 file).
I reported below about the outrageous party given in honor of renowned terrorist Luis Posada Carriles in Miami recently, and about the equally outrageous remarks he made at that meeting threatening further terrorist acts against Cuba (which, needless to say, have not brought any rebuke from any Presidential candidates, much less legal action). Now the ANSWER Coalition has re-energized its campaign to demand the extradition of Posada; I encourage readers to click the button above to join in that effort.
In other news of Cuba, the Council on Foreign Relations has just released a report (not online yet) calling for a major change in U.S.-Cuba relations. The report calls for, among other things, the repeal of the Helms-Burton law (but not, as far as I can tell from the summary, the entire embargo, contrary to the headline at the link), and for permitting more Americans, but not all, to travel to Cuba (only those falling into "thirteen categories of licensed people-to-people 'purposeful travel'"). Positions well to the left of all of the Presidential candidates; it remains to be seen if the report has any effect, either before or after the election. Clearly, the vast majority of Democrats acknowledge that the U.S. Cuba policy has "failed"; unfortunately, their definition of "failure" (as seen, for example, in Barack Obama's op-ed in the Miami Herald), is that the policy hasn't succeeded in overturning the Cuban Revolution. And as a result, most join in the approach expressed by Obama in his op-ed, that the cessation of the U.S. economic, political, and yes, physical warfare against Cuba should be relaxed bit by bit as a carrot to lure Cuba into gradually bending its knee before the U.S. empire (phrased of course in noble sounding language about "democracy"). Which means that any such changes are unlikely to come soon, if at all.
Breaking news on gay marriage
In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that would allow same-sex couples in the nation's biggest state to tie the knot.Sadly, and unsurprisingly, the battle is far from over, since an amendment to the state Constitution may be on the ballot in November, overturning this decision.
Domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, the justices ruled 4-3. (Source)
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Bizarre Quote of the Day
"I didn't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."Yes, because he would never be seen doing something frivolous in times of war, sending the wrong signal...
- George Bush, explaining why he gave up golf in 2003
Is he really so insensitive, or does he think we're that stupid, that we wouldn't notice this pompous and entirely unjustified claim of sensitivity? Probably both.
Friday, May 09, 2008
Obeying the NPT is bad for the NPT
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees signatories the right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes; the "non-proliferation" applies to nuclear weapons, not nuclear power. So you might think that a signatory complying with the treaty would be a good thing, as opposed to the four nations which are not signatories which have developed nuclear weapons - Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. But no, you'd be wrong:
The five permanent UN Security Council members claim Iran's uranium enrichment activities undermine the Non-Proliferation Treaty.Next up: Switzerland's neutrality poses a grave danger to the Geneva Conventions.
"This ... imperils prospects for progress on other NPT goals such as nuclear disarmament and hurts prospects for expanding international (civil) nuclear cooperation. The proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear program continue to be a matter of ongoing serious concern to us," they claimed.
Reporting on the NPT story, AP incorrectly claims that "Iran...is under U.N. Security Council sanctions meant to pressure the Tehran government into allowing inspections that will ensure it isn't developing nuclear weapons." This is false. Iran was and is in full compliance with the NPT, and has been allowing inspections. The sanctions were put in place in an attempt to deny Iran its right under the NPT to develop nuclear power. However, since complying with the treaty still resulted in sanctions, Iran has now announced that those inspections are at an end:
An Iranian envoy said Monday his government will not submit to extensive nuclear inspections while Israel stays outside the global treaty to curb the spread of atomic weapons.At the same meeting, Christopher A. Ford, U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, decided to give Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice a run for their money in the irony and phony compassion departments, when he talked about "a proud and sophisticated people already suffering from economic turmoil and mismanagement by its regime's leaders." Uh, Chris, have you been home lately, or have you spent the last seven years in Geneva? Because if you're looking to criticize a country for the mismanagement of its leaders and in economic turmoil, you really need to see that your own house is in order before pretending you care about the Iranian people.
"The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear-weapon states," [said] Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
May Day video
My friend and Presidential candidate (of the Party for Socialism & Liberation for sure, and hopefully also of the Peace & Freedom Party in California) Gloria La Riva speaks at the ILWU-sponsored May Day event in San Francisco (she spoke later at the immigrants rights rally as well). Video shot and edited by me:
Phony of the Day: Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today on the crisis in Myanmar, calling on the government there to allow more foreign aid workers into the country:
"This is not a matter of politics, this is a matter of a humanitarian crisis and it should be a matter that the government of Burma wants to see its people receive the help that is available to them."This, of course, is the same Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who refused to allow 1586 much-needed Cuban medical personnel into the United States when a hurricane ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the same Condoleezza Rice who spent her time shopping for shoes and attending Broadway plays while New Orleans was drowning. Condoleezza Rice no more cares about the fate of the people of Myanmar than she did about the people of New Orleans.
In reality, of course, with Rice and her colleagues it is all politics, and she only wants to use this occasion to score points against the government of Myanmar. Just for starters, if she actually wanted to have the government there listen to her, she might have tried using the name "Myanmar" instead of "Burma."
Perhaps Rice should offer the people of Myanmar the same advice she offered the people of New Orleans, in lieu of actual government aid: "The Lord is going to come on time -- if we just wait."
Terrorist preaches violence...at a Miami party in his honor
Many things put the lie to the claim that the United States is fighting a "war on terror," but few do so as effectively as its treatment of one of the world's most notorious terrorists, Luis Posada Carriles, a man responsible for the mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455 and the death of its 73 passengers and crew, along with a long string of other terrorist actions, including some as recently as the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro during a visit to Panama in 2000, an action in which Posada was personally involved (and convicted).
And now Posada walks free in Miami, with the U.S. government still refusing to comply with, or even formally acknowledge, an extradition order by Venezuela filed three years ago (Flight 455 originated in Venezuela, and it is in Venezuela where Posada is wanted on 73 counts of murder).
Ah, but that's not enough either. Here's what Posada had to say at that gala Friday night, and let me emphasize that this was not a secret party but a public event, attended by members of the press:
"We must not wait for Fidel Castro to die...for Raul to make mistakes. We must recall the words of [Cuba independence hero] General Antonio Maceo 'liberty is not something we must beg for. It is conquered with the sharp edge of the machete.' We ask God to sharpen our machetes because difficult times are arriving."So now we have a man in the United States illegally, wanted for murder, with a long string of terrorist activities to his name, being feted in Miami and threatening violence against another country. Will the U.S. government act now against this particular terrorist? No, on the contrary, within the last week, the U.S. State Department issued its latest report once-again labeling (and it's not just "labeling"; there are real consequences) Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism," on the basis of completely absurd charges like "The Government of Cuba remained opposed to U.S. counterterrorism policy, and actively and publicly condemned many associated U.S. policies and actions." So Cuba's vocal opposition to the illegal U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which in reality makes them a state opponent of terrorism, make them a state "sponsor" of terrorism according to the U.S. government.
Who are the most dangerous terrorists in this world? The ones who created, trained, financed, and continue to coddle terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles. The ones who are literally inflicting terror on millions of people in country after country around the world, and killing people by the tens and hundreds of thousands, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Somalia to Palestine. Their headquarters? Washington, D.C., with satellite offices in London, Jerusalem, and elsewhere.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Capitalism kills...lots of mostly black and brown people
Save The Children is out with a new report detailing the state of the world's children (and women as well). Their major conclusions are shocking, sadly unsurprising, and once again put the "civilized" world's preoccupation with "terrorism" as a cause of death in perspective: 9.7 million children die every year (26,000 each and every day) from diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia which are not only treatable but treatable at extremely low-cost. 6.1 million of those 10 million could be saved if those low-cost solutions were made available to the world's population. Unfortunately the report does not attempt to estimate the cost in total, but given that antibiotics to treat pneumonia can cost less than 30 cents, and that the oral rehydration salts needed to prevent a child from dying of diarrheal dehydration cost less than 50 cents, I think it's safe to say that the total cost of saving the lives of 6.1 million people would be well under the cost of the war in Iraq. Probably less than one month's worth. Maybe less than a day's worth.
You probably won't be surprised to find that Cuba, where the government not only provides health care to all its citizens but also makes sure that enough doctors are trained to provide that health care (with plenty to spare to save lives and eyesight of people around the world), is ranked second in the "less developed countries" listing, second only to Israel (whose exclusion from the "more developed" countries list is probably questionable anyway, if by "more developed" we confine ourselves to economic issues), and above every other country in Central and South America and the Caribbean (Costa Rica, often touted as some kind of model country, is 9th). The United States? 27th out of the 41 "more developed" countries, with it's infant mortality rate having risen to 8, putting it behind Cuba on that issue. But that's the average infant mortality rate in the United States. Here's another part of the story, something the report calls the "Survival Gap" - the difference between black and white infant mortality:
The picture caption sums up the story:
Infant mortality rates among black infants are at least twice as high as white mortality rates in nearly every U.S. state with available data. In Wisconsin, Delaware and Michigan, a black baby is over 3 times more likely to die compared to a white baby. Survival gaps of this magnitude are comparable to those in Bolivia, Nigeria and the Philippines – some of the most inequitable countries in the world.
Monday, May 05, 2008
The Iraq silver lining
Not that such considerations would ever conceivably lead me to support an invasion of Iraq, or oppose an immediate and complete withdrawal, but it turns out there is a silver lining in the (very dark) cloud that is Iraq:
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are making such heavy use of the nation's Green Berets and other elite warriors that they cannot fulfill their roles in other parts of the world, the military's top commando told The Associated Press on Monday.And where might those "other parts of the world" be? Here's one:
Olson said that when the 7th Special Forces Group, which is based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and whose normal area of focus is Latin America, rotates into Afghanistan for seven-month tours, it takes two of its three battalions, leaving just one in Latin America.Yeah, hard luck, pal.
"That leaves us underrepresented" in Latin America, the admiral said.
If you're thinking that these "special forces" are so "elite" that there's just a handful of them running around the world, like James Bond, think again:
There are now about 50,000 people in special operations forces.That, needless to say, does not include the CIA agents who are running around the world engaged in similar "mischief."
And if John McCain is still looking for ways to cut government spending, instead of going after the measly $1 million for the Woodstock Museum, how about saving 7,000 times more money:
Olson's command has seen its budget jump from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $7.3 billion this year.
Laura Bush is criticizing Myanmar for its poor preparation and response to the disastrous cyclone which has hit that country. I guess it would have been too ironic even for the Bush Administration for George "fiddling while New Orleans drowns" Bush to have been the one doing the criticizing.
The Iranian looking-glass
Earlier today on CNN, someone (I think John King) was talking with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton about the "obliterate Iran" kerfuffle. First of all, over and over people don't seem to be able to get the basic facts right - Clinton did not say the U.S. would obliterate Iran, she said the U.S. could obliterate Iran. But that aside, Clinton refuses to retract her comment, while Obama says it was "intemperate language" (I think that's the word he used). But what really got me was his follow-up "diplomatic" comment (quoted from memory): "We need to use a combination of diplomatic and economic tools to get Iran to stand down."
I was dumbfounded. Stand down? Iran? Are they amassing troops on our border, ready for an invasion? Are they even amassing troops on the Iranian border, ready for an invasion? No, it's the U.S. which has Iran completely surrounded, with hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, and elsewhere. It's the U.S. which has warships floating off the coast of Iran. It's the U.S. which has Presidential candidates announcing that "no options are off the table" and proclaiming that we could "obliterate" Iran. It's the U.S. which is driving the world to increase its level of economic warfare against Iran. It's the U.S. whose President, according to Andrew Cockburn, six weeks ago "signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, 'unprecedented in its scope.'" and which authorizes actions "up to and including the assassination of targeted officials."
And it's Iran who should "stand down" according to Obama? And, for the record, the interviewer didn't blink an eye at that phrase, nor, I'm sure, would have Clinton or McCain.
And it goes without saying that Obama (nor Clinton nor McCain) would dream of challenging the conventional wis
domdumb that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, or the further conventional wis domdumb that, in the hypothetical situation that they did have nuclear weapons, that they would use them, unprovoked and out of the blue, to attack Israel. This, from a nation which hasn't attacked another country in hundreds (or is it thousands?) of years. Why on earth would they attack Israel? To what end? It doesn't matter, that's simply the base, the ground level, on which American Presidential politics starts. At least, for the candidates of the twin parties of imperialism.
Friday, May 02, 2008
The Liberty City
7 6, III
A movie this bad wouldn't get a sequel, much less two, but the government is now about to go after the Liberty City 7, now 6, for a third time, after two failures to get a jury to convict them of the absurd charges against them, the best efforts of the judge in the second trial to make sure the jury knew they were "terrorists" notwithstanding. This article sums it up nicely.
Meanwhile, in news of a real terrorist, the U.S. government, Democracy Now! this morning interviewed Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, who has just been released from Guantanamo after spending six years there, been tortured, subjected to more than 200 interrogations, lost 60 pounds, and generally had his human dignity degraded. CNN has a long article online, but as far as I know the story never made any of the national news broadcasts.
It goes without saying that al-Haj was never convicted, given a trial, or even charged with any crime during his six year tenure as one of the "worst of the worst." It also, unfortunately, goes without saying that the terrorists responsible for putting him in Guantanamo in the first place, and terrorizing him for six years, have also not been charged with any crime, or put in jail. Yet. I wonder if that's one of the things that Barack Obama is "hoping" for. I doubt it.
"No (more) war for oil!"
So says John McCain:
"My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will -- that will then prevent us -- that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East."
- John McCain, admitting the obvious
Good news! The bad news isn't so bad!
As usual, the nation's newspapers do their best to spin the news, as illustrated by this AP headline:
Employers cut fewer jobs in April, jobless rate fallsYes, the "good news" is that "only" 20,000 jobs were lost in April, an "improvement" over the 81,000 jobs lost in March. Left unmentioned is that 150,000 jobs were needed just to stay even with population increase, meaning that the actual job shortfall wasn't "only" 20,000 jobs, it was more like 170,000 jobs.
Of course, even that 20,000 is probably bogus, as we learn from the next paragraph, which informs us that "Job losses for both February and March turned out to be a bit deeper than previously reported." So odds are that even the "non-population-inflation-adjusted" job loss is going to exceed 20,000 jobs.
But c'mon! "Many economists...were bracing for job cuts of 75,000," so the news is so much better than expected. Although I assure you, if those economists thought their own job was on the line, their feelings would be stronger than just "bracing."
In local news, Sun Microsystems is cutting 1,500 to 2,500 jobs.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Shut down! ILWU shuts down West Coast ports
Today was May Day, and as part of International Workers Day, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union called for a shutdown of West Coast ports to protest the war in Iraq, and in solidarity with immigrants' rights. Every port on the West Coast of the United States, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, from Seattle to San Diego, 29 ports in all, were shut down by this political labor action. To top it off, Iraqi port workers shut down two ports in Iraq for one hour in solidarity with the ILWU. I make note of this here in particular because, although this is obviously a news item, I'll be surprised if it actually makes the national news. We'll see.
In San Francisco, several thousand workers marched through the streets:
At the rally which followed, some of the stirring speeches were given by Danny Glover, who, as a remembrance of other black preachers who have taken heat for their anti-imperialist views, read the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cynthia McKinney, who lambasted Nancy Pelosi for, among other things, her plan to pass the largest Iraq war spending bill ever.
An immigrants' rights march followed later in the day (sorry, no pictures). Some movies from the antiwar, pro-worker rally are in preparation. Watch this space!
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