Thursday, July 31, 2008
In defense of...Barack Obama (!)
Yesterday Ted Stevens, today Barack Obama! Will wonders never cease?
I'm violating a rule here, which is that when something has attracted the outrage of liberal Democrats, it hardly needs my jumping on the bandwagon. But I just can't resist commenting on the John McCain "Barack Obama is just Paris Hilton and Britney Spears" ad, with its implication is that Obama is just an "empty suit" who is somehow just "famous for being famous."
Before getting to Obama, let's start with Paris and Britney. Paris Hilton is indeed "famous for being famous." And how did she get that way? Because she's part of a very wealthy family, just like John McCain (and, not surprisingly, her parents are in fact McCain donors)!
Britney Spears is a different story. She became famous for actually having talent, or, should I say, having what some people think is talent. She can sing and dance in that Disney/American Idol generic American Pop sort of way, and actually has one or two decent songs to her credit. Wikipedia reports she's the eighth best-selling female recording artist in the United States and has sold 83 million albums worldwide. Now it's true that Spears has been in the news most recently because of her trainwreck of a life, which reminds us of nothing less than...the trainwreck of a campaign which is John McCain's, reduced to running ads like this one. Nor should we forget that Spears is on the record as "having confidence in George Bush." Also just like John McCain.
And Obama? It's true, as I've written here many times, that he has a remarkable ability to speak in generalities while simultaneously letting people project their own hopes and desires on him. Which is, no doubt, a talent. Not necessarily one I admire, but a talent for sure! But Obama hardly got where he is now by "just being famous." He got to be famous by running a brilliant campaign (brilliant by capitalist standards, to be sure). In state after state both he and Hillary Clinton racked up more votes than John McCain. No doubt by the end of the process, people were coming to his campaign rallies just to experience the "phenomenon." But it certainly didn't start that way. He's not in the news because he's "famous." He's in the news because he's running for President, and, by conventional U.S. standards, doing a darn good job of it. Foreign leaders are willing to, and no doubt want to meet him not because he's "famous," but because they perceive he's quite likely to be the next President of the United States, and at the same time isn't going to rub their shoulders or talk to them while he's got food in his mouth like the current bozo in the office.
Don't get me wrong. Obama's success isn't just because he's an intelligent, charismatic man. If he was the same person, but with the positions of a Dennis Kucinich, say, he never would have got the establishment backing which allowed him to get where he is. He would have been ignored by the media, prestigious advisers like Zbigniew Brezinski wouldn't flock to his campaign, and he would have ended up on the cutting room floor along with Kucinich, Gravel, and the rest, even the moderately populist John Edwards. But the fact is that is who Obama is, a "centrist" able to entice the progressives with the idea that he just might be one of them "really" but is also able to attract the Democratic rightwing who correctly perceive he's ready and willing to do their bidding. McCain's ad asks, on a serious note, "Is Obama ready to lead?" I'd say there's little question about it. If the ruling class of the United States needs someone competent to manage their affairs, and help right their listing ship, they could hardly find anyone better.
But none of this has anything in common with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. For someone with things in common with them, John McCain will need to look in the mirror.
By the way, did you notice that McCain didn't include Miley Cyrus in the list, who is actually much more of a "celebrity" these days than either Hilton or Spears? Afraid he's alienate what he thinks his base, no doubt.
And, while I'm rambling, the Obama camp's response included the phrase "Oops, I did it again" referencing McCain. I've heard and read numerous news reports reporting that fact. Not one made note of the fact that that's a Britney Spears song title. Do they assume that every one of their readers and listeners knows that? I'll bet John McCain doesn't!
Headlines I can't stand
No, sorry, AP. The US toll was at an "all-time low" before the invasion, when the number was zero. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, even then their toll wasn't zero, since the decade-long embargo, not to mention the continued bombing in the "no-fly" zones, took lives by the tens of thousands every month.
Iraqi deaths are down from where they were, clearly. That is, death by violence. But what about "public health" deaths - deaths due to the continuing lack of health care in a country where so many doctors have fled, the continuing shortage of electricity and clean drinking water, and so on? The truth is we have no idea whatsoever where those deaths stand. One thing is pretty certain, though - they're not at an "all-time low" either. Because Iraq once had one of the best health-care systems in the region, a system of nationalized health care which provided care for everyone.
Jon Stewart has "the Beard's" number
Great catch from Jon Stewart last night, re the Justice Department's hiring scandal (hiring only conservative Republicans in contravention of civil service law).
Wolf Blitzer: "A new investigation suggests that the Bush Administration may have violated those [civil service] laws.
Stewart: No! No! The report doesn't "suggest" that they "may," it says that they did.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Adding insult to injury
...is bad enough. Adding injury (and even death) to death is worse:
Israeli troops wounded nine Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday in a clash with stone-throwing protesters at the funeral of a 10-year-old boy killed a day earlier, Palestinian medics said."Stone-throwing protesters." Of course, they wouldn't have been throwing stones in the first place had not the Israeli Army been present on their territory, building an illegal wall. But such is the logic of occupation, from Palestine to Iraq to Afghanistan and around the world. The presence of occupiers causes protest, and the occupiers, with no regard for the lives of the occupied, shoot and kill.
They said the Israelis had shot the protesters with rubber bullets. A 21-year-old Palestinian was hit in the head and doctors described him as brain dead.
Not that a Palestinian throwing stones in the heart of Tel Aviv would be justifiably executed, mind you. A thrown stone might put someone's eye out, but it's hardly likely to kill. Whatever happened to "an eye for an eye"?
On the domestic front, updating a story from the other day, the autopsy has now shown that the young man killed by police in Oakland was shot in the back, i.e., while running away. DWI or resisting arrest are both illegal acts, but neither is a capital offense. Unfortunately, DWB (driving while black) all too often is, just like PWP (protesting while Palestinian).
Sen. Ted Stevens (but not what you think!)
Yes, Sen. Ted Stevens was indicted yesterday for corruption. In a world where war criminals responsible for the deaths of more than a million people walk free, it's not something I'll get all worked up about; I'll leave that to the Democrats.
No, what I'm all worked about is Stephen Colbert last night, following in a long line of comedians and bloggers and others making fun of Stevens because Stevens described the Internet as a series of "tubes." And why am I worked up (ok, not really worked up, just mostly amused)? Because the standard metaphor for the Internet is "pipes." And if anyone can tell me why "pipes" is an acceptable metaphor, but "tubes" is so ridiculous that we should all fall over laughing because Stevens used that one instead, feel free to do so. Actually, I'd say the fact that Stevens used a different metaphor shows he probably understands the Internet a lot better than most people in his position, who might be able to parrot the conventional language without even having a clue of what it really represents.
Bet you weren't expecting this post. :-)
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Iraq: 'Progress' for whom?
An excellent editorial at pslweb.org this morning asks the title question. The entire article is worth reading, but let me just quote two paragraphs:
There has indeed been less open warfare in Iraq recently than there has been in previous years. But one must not forget that 148,000 foreign troops patrol Iraqi streets, set up checkpoints and dominate just about every aspect of Iraqi life.
When the government and media call this progress, we ask: progress for whom? If an attacker comes into your house, breaks your most precious belongings, shoots your family members, steals your money, and, after you fight back for a while, succeeds in putting duct tape over your mouth and starts walking around the house as if it was his, is this progress? He has successfully pacified the situation, but his success is in direct conflict with yours.
Monday, July 28, 2008
The budget deficit
[Updated; see below]
All the news agencies are leading with this statement:
The next president will inherit a record budget deficit of $482 billion, according to a new Bush administration estimate released Monday."But in typical media fashion, they act as stenographers to power first, and reporters of the truth only later, if at all. The AP article linked above finally gets around in its seventh paragraph to the full story:
The administration actually underestimates the deficit, however, since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.So the deficit isn't $482 billion, it will be $562 billion. Reuters does a little better, getting to that extra $80 billion in the fourth paragraph. The New York Times does the worst, putting the $482 billion figure into its headline, and only mentions that it "does not reflect the full cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan" without ever specifying what that cost might be.
The corporate media would like the public to forget how much we are paying for the continued occupation and assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan. The public pays the price not only in dollars but in lost services and a withering economy, but the more they can be made to forget the connection between those things and the wars, the better able the ruling class is to continue those wars (and even prepare for new ones), and continue their quest for world domination.
Update: The New York Times crown for "worst" has now been stolen by the Los Angeles Times, which not only puts the $482 billion into its headline, but doesn't even mention the additional $80 billion for war anywhere in its 17-paragraph article. I expect next to turn to the sports page and read about how a baseball team is composed of eight players, since the pitcher is obviously in some different category and therefore doesn't count.
The prescience (?) of the Kinks (!)
Perhaps not. But it might sound like prescience when I quote a few lyrics from a little-known song by the Kinks, entitled "A Gallon of Gas":
Who needs a car and a seven-forty-sevenWell, as it turns out, it wasn't really a song about peak oil, or the end of the gasoline engine, it was a song recorded in 1979 and clearly engendered by the 1979 oil crisis, when long lines appeared at gas stations, at least partially as a consequence of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by the Iranian Revolution. But now, under the everything old is new again theory, I think it's time for another listen, this time with a view toward the perhaps not-so-distant future:
When you can't buy a gallon of gas
Who needs a highway, an airport or a jet
When you can't get a gallon of gas
There's no more left to buy or sell
There's no more oil left in the well
A gallon of gas can't be purchased anywhere
For any amount of cash
You can't buy a gallon of gas
From Oakland to Baghdad, the killing (and the lying) continue
In today's news:
The U.S. military said an investigation into an incident in which American troops killed three Iraqis near Baghdad airport last month showed the victims were not criminals but innocent civilians.Note that carefully. No weapon was found, but the military had previously released a statement not only claiming that a weapon had been found, but that the troops had "come under attack." A complete and utter fabrication. But despite those facts, here's the conclusion:
In a statement released at the time of the June 25 incident, the military said troops fired at a car near the airport after coming under attack. It called the three people inside the vehicle "criminals," adding a weapon had been found in the car.
"A thorough investigation determined that the driver and passengers were law abiding citizens of Iraq," the military said in a statement released late on Sunday.
No weapon was found in the vehicle, it added.
The statement also said troops involved in the incident were not at fault.Really? Who was at fault? The Iraqis for...living in Iraq? Shades of "she deserved to be raped because she was dressed provocatively, therefore the rapist wasn't at fault."
Well, on the one hand, it's true the soldiers who did the shooting weren't the only ones at fault, or perhaps even the main ones. It's the Administration and Congress who sent them there in the first place who bear ultimate responsibility. The invasion is the original sin, the original crime from which all others flow.
Then on the other side of the world, in Oakland, more killing, more official lying:
An attorney representing the family of a man killed by Oakland police said Sunday he will seek criminal charges, including homicide, against the officer who fired the shots.Do I even need to mention the official lie in this case? All together now: "He was reaching for a gun." Unfortunately for the police, just as in Baghdad, there was no gun. Not in the hands of the victim, anyway. Just in the hands of someone drunk with power who had been taught to consider the victim as less than human.
Oakland attorney John Burris said the police shooting of Mack "Jody" Woodfox after a traffic stop Friday was an illegal use of deadly force. Burris said it was Officer Hector Jimenez's second fatal shooting in seven months after he shot and killed another suspect on Dec. 31, 2007 [and the fifth in Oakland this year].
Woodfox "was unarmed, police had no indication a serious crime had been committed, and he posed no immediate bodily danger to anybody," Burris said. "We have interviewed (four) witnesses to the shooting and all evidence clearly indicates the officer wrongfully, deliberately and egregiously killed him."
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Obama's and McCain's position on Iraq is now identical
Don't act surprised; you're a reader of Left I on the News. :-)
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said in an interview published on Saturday the size of a residual U.S. force left in Iraq after the withdrawal of combat troops would be "entirely conditions-based."When Obama was running against Hillary Clinton for the nomination, we heard repeatedly how he had opposed the invasion of Iraq, and she hadn't. Now he's running against John McCain. McCain has recently claimed on many occasions that his judgment on Iraq has been vindicated, because "the surge worked." Now without arguing about the truth of that claim, the rather obvious rejoinder from Obama would be that no, his judgment on Iraq has long been vindicated, since if the invasion had never happened, 4400+ Americans and allies and more than a million Iraqis would still be alive, and millions more wouldn't have been driven from their homes. But, in case you haven't noticed, Obama has not responded to McCain in that way. Some will say he's just pretending to move to the right in order to appeal to the "center" for votes. Some also believe in the tooth fairy.
"We're going to have to provide them with logistical support, intelligence support. We're going to have to have a very capable counterterrorism strike force...We're going to have to continue to train their army and police to make them more effective."
Asked if he had a clearer idea after talks with diplomatic and military officials how big a force would need to be left behind for those tasks, Obama replied: "I do think that's entirely conditions-based.
"It's hard to anticipate where we may be six months from now, or a year from now, or a year and a half from now."
"Barack Obama is ultimately articulating a position of sustained troop levels in Iraq based on the conditions on the ground and the security of the country. That is the very same position that John McCain has long held," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. (Source)
Update: Incidentally, Obama keeps talking about the "safe and orderly" withdrawal of troops and implying that 16 months to pull out some of them (fewer and fewer every day, it would seem) is the only way to act "prudently" and ensure the safety of the troops. I personally think that's poppycock, but let's accept it for the moment. What about stopping all offensive activities, or even just stopping all aerial bombing? Those things could be done not in 16 months, not in 16 days, but on the first day Obama is in office. Has he ever promised to do that, or even hinted at it? Not to my knowledge.
Carrots and sticks
In a recent post, I commented on the "sticks" part of Barack Obama's "offer" of "carrots and sticks" to Iran. It's worth also making some observations on the "carrots" part.
Offering someone "incentives" to do something is perfectly normal. Offering "carrots," while it may be a relatively common phrase, is also at its core insulting, because it derives from the classic image at right - holding a carrot in front of the nose of a donkey to entice the donkey to continue to move forward in a vain attempt to reach the carrot.
But saying that brings us to the second point about "offering carrots," namely that the United States has a long history of doing precisely that - "offering" carrots but never actually delivering on them. In 1994, for example, in an extremely close parallel to the situation in Iran, the United States under Bill Clinton promised to build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea in return for a North Korean suspension of uranium enrichment. The reactors were promised by 2003, but, needless to say, they never materialized. The U.S. welshed on the deal.
Then there was the U.S. promise in the 1973 Paris Peace Accords to pay $3.5 billion in reparations to Vietnam for all the damage caused to that country by the U.S. war. That too never materialized.
In a different way, not involving actual signed agreements, we can recall the U.S. treatment of Nicaragua under the Sandinistas (the first time they were in power, from 1979-1990). The U.S., just as it does now with Cuba, had an embargo against Nicaragua in an attempt, largely successful, to cripple its economy. And just as the donkey with the carrot, they kept holding out the promise of removing the embargo if only the Sandinistas would make this concession, or that concession. After each concession, the goalposts kept moving - there was always one more concession demanded. The final concession was holding the election of 1990 in which the Sandinistas were voted out of power. There's nothing wrong with elections per se, obviously, although elections under the conditions of civil war are a dubious process to begin with. Let's let Wikipedia tell us something of what happened:
The elections of 1990, which had been mandated by the constitution passed in 1987, saw the Bush administration funnel $49.75 million of ‘non-lethal’ aid to the Contras, as well as $9m to the opposition UNO—equivalent to $2 billion worth of intervention by a foreign power in a US election at the time, and proportionately five times the amount George Bush had spent on his own election campaign.. When Violetta Chamorro visited the White House in November 1989, the US pledged to maintain the embargo against Nicaragua unless Violeta Chamorro won. .The Sandinistas lost, and the revolution was overturned. Then, and only then, did the U.S. remove its embargo. All the concessions the Sandinistas had made in the hope of seeing it removed earlier were in vain.
In August 1989, the month that campaigning began, the Contras redeployed 8,000 troops into Nicaragua, after a funding boost from Washington, becoming in effect the armed wing of the UNO, carrying out a violent campaign of intimidation. No fewer than 50 FSLN candidates were assassinated. The Contras also distributed thousands of UNO leaflets.
Years of conflict had left 50,000 casualties and $12b of damages in a society of 3.5m people and an annual GNP of $2b. The proportionately equivalent figures for the US would have been 5 million casualties and $25 trillion lost. After the war, a survey was taken of voters: 75.6% agreed that if the Sandinistas had won, the war would never have ended. 91.8% of those who voted for the UNO agreed with this.
Caveat emptor. Especially if what you're "buying" is a promise from the United States government.
Friday, July 25, 2008
More Obama language problems
In France, Barack Obama had this to say about Iran:
"Continue your illicit nuclear program and the international community as a whole will ratchet up pressure with stronger and increased sanctions."But unless Obama is challenging the National Intelligence Estimate, and joining the George Bush's of the world who proclaim that their "intelligence" exceeds that of the so-called "intelligence community" (to whom we pay hundreds of millions of dollars for their "intelligence"), then Iran does not have an "illicit" nuclear program. It has a perfectly legal nuclear program - developing fuel for nuclear power, something it is quite entitled to do as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Just because bullying from the Western powers has caused the U.N. to demand that Iran stop its legal activities doesn't make them illegal.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Obama's problems with the language
Barack Obama said today that he plans "to offer carrots and sticks" to Iran in order to deal with the alleged nuclear problem with Iran. But here's the thing. You "offer" people carrots. You don't "offer" people sticks. You threaten them with sticks. You beat them with sticks. Terrorize them even.
Obama understands this, of course. It just doesn't sound as pleasant when you say it.
Political Humor of the Day
Republican John McCain on Wednesday credited the recent $10-a-barrel drop in the price of oil to President Bush's lifting of a presidential ban on offshore drilling. (Source)Any investor who was idiotic enough to change their investment strategy based on this kind of "evidence" wouldn't be an investor for long, they'd be wandering the street in a barrel, having lost their shirt. Psychology does play an important role (in this ridiculous capitalist system) in stock market prices, and classic investment advice (not that I really know, mind you) is "buy on the rumor, sell on the news," i.e., you should invest based on what will happen in the future. But not the future seven years away, even making the completely unwarranted assumption that the Congress and the states will follow Bush's lead in lifting the ban on offshore drilling, and even then making the almost equally unwarranted assumption that the oil companies would activate drilling programs immediately.
I've turned this post into a serious one. I shouldn't have. The reason it's posted under "Political Humor of the Day" is that I literally burst out laughing when I heard that statement from McCain.
God save us from religious people
Barack Obama says Israel is a "miracle." Haven't we had enough of Presidents divorced from reality? There are no "miracles." Israel is indeed the product of intervention, but it's imperialist intervention, not divine.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Jay Leno reads Left I on the News?
Probably not, but this joke from last night certainly carried echoes of a recent post:
"Human rights activists have sent a letter to President Bush asking him to raise human rights issues with the Chinese government during the Olympics. Unfortunately, they also sent a letter to the Chinese government asking them to bring up human rights issues with President Bush."
Terrorist manifesto uncovered
And its author won the Nobel Peace Prize:
A pamphlet warning Britons to leave the Middle East or face death has come to light in a stash of illicit propaganda.
The document does not hail from Basra or Baghdad, nor was it penned by the Islamists of al-Qaeda or the al-Mahdi Army. It was found in Haifa, about 60 years ago, and it was issued by the underground group led by Menachem Begin – the future Prime Minister of Israel and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The document, which surfaced at an auction house this week, is addressed to “the soldiers of the occupation army” and aimed at British soldiers serving in Palestine.
In the document, Irgun tells British troops: “It is unavoidable that many Jewish soldiers and many British soldiers should fall. And it is only fair that these people know at least why they may be killed.”
It adds: “Most of you have been in this country for quite a long time. You have learned what the word ‘terrorist’ means, some of you may even have come into direct contact with them (and heartily desire not to repeat the experience). But what do you know about them? Why does a young man go underground?”
It then draws a parallel with what would have happened if, seven years earlier, Britain had been overrun by Nazi Germany. “Remember 1940. Then it seemed quite possible that your island country would be conquered and subjugated by Hitler hordes . . . what would you have done? Would you have gone underground?” The pamphlet says that the occupation is “illegal and immoral” and “parallel to the mass assassination of a whole people”, in language that echoes that used on a note pinned to the booby-trapped bodies of two British intelligence officers executed by Irgun that same summer.
Truer words were never spoken
Than this headline over an AP story about a meeting between Barack Obama and Afghan President Karzai:
Obama tells Karzai he plans to continue terror war
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Guess the solar power advocate
Who said this?
"Some day some fellow will invent a way of concentrating and storing up sunshine to use instead of this old, absurd Prometheus scheme of fire. I'll do the trick myself if some one else doesn't get at it.Answer: the person who was an early advocate of turning sunlight into electricity to replace burning things (oil and coal) was also instrumental in turning electricity into light...Thomas Edison, who said the above in 1910, almost 100 years ago.
"Sunshine is spread out thin and so is electricity . . . the trick [is], you see, to concentrate the juice and liberate it as you needed it. . . . This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of—it is so wasteful. . . . When we learn how to store electricity, we will cease being apes ourselves; until then we are tailless orangutans. You see, we should utilize natural forces and thus get all of our power."
Visit this page for a series of fascinating, albeit technically challenging, articles on modern-day efforts to fulfill Edison's vision.
Friday, July 18, 2008
It's official: the U.S. will be in Iraq forever
What, you say? Why, I just read that the U.S. and Iraq "have agreed to set a "general time horizon" for bringing more U.S. troops home from the war." So you did. But perhaps you've forgotten something about the horizon: No matter how long you keep moving toward the horizon, or how fast, the horizon always remains exactly the same distance away from you!
Readers know that Patti Smith is perhaps my favorite artist, even if she is supporting Barack Obama in this election. ;-) Her most recent album, Twelve, is still in frequent rotation on my iPod. Yesterday (hat tip Cursor), I learned she had recently played in Beirut, and played a 2006 song of hers I hadn't heard before, Qana, about one of many Israeli massacres of the people of Lebanon. You can listen to or download the mp3 here or watch a YouTube video here. It's not her greatest song by a long shot, but it's an important subject (lyrics are here).
Yesterday I stopped at Starbucks (ok, shoot me, disown me, whatever). Actually I didn't buy anything (line was too long and I was in a hurry) but I did snap up one of the free music download cards. Every time I've done that before, the music has always been some pop pablum not worth the price (which is hard to do when the price is free!). But this time it was someone I've never heard of before named James Hunter. Hunter sounds like (and plays music like) a black guy from New Orleans, but actually he's a white guy from England. As it turns out, you can go to his website and listen to his entire latest album (as well as an earlier album) which is fabulous stuff. Check it out! There are a number of YouTube videos up; here's one:
‘Centrists’ Running the Asylum
A very perceptive analysis by David Sirota:
In the asylum that is American politics, beware a candidate like Barack Obama when he is lauded for moving to “the center”—because usually that means he is drifting away from it.The corollary, which Sirota doesn't discuss, is when slightly liberal Democrats like Daily Kos or MoveOn.org are referred to by the media as the "far left." This serves a double purpose. One is to discredit and marginalize such actual moderates, and the second is to put real people on the far left (say, Cynthia McKinney or Gloria La Riva) as so far beyond "far left" that they aren't even to be discussed in "polite company."
Day after day, smiling anchormen, blow-dried correspondents and silver-tongued congressmen follow the Big Lie theory of indoctrination, taking to our televisions, radios and newspapers insisting that crazy is normal, the majority is the minority and—most important—the fringe is the “center.” This is no accident.
These voices of the status quo do not want the status quo challenged. They deliberately broadcast messages crafted to get us—the mainstream—to question our mainstream-ness, while convincing politicians that the Establishment’s extremism represents a responsible middle ground.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Talking to Iran: the cover story
The Washington Post reports:
President Bush's decision to shift policy and send a senior U.S. envoy to nuclear talks with Iran this weekend was made after increasing signs that Iran was open to possible negotiations and that international sanctions were having an impact on the Islamic republic, U.S. officials said yesterday.Really? Let's start with the second. Here's the "evidence":
U.S. officials said they felt comfortable making this shift because there are increasing signs that sanctions are beginning to harm Tehran, such as the decision last week by France energy giant Total SA to abandon plans to develop a liquefied natural gas project in Iran.OK, what that shows is that U.S. pressure for sanctions has had an effect on U.S. allies. It might or might not "harm Iran" in the long term, but it says nothing about any changes in attitude in Iran which might signal an improved position for negotiation.
But the first claim ("increasing signs that Iran was open to possible negotiations") is even more problematic. The West tries to imagine, or create, a split between President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei. Why, I don't know, since they universally claim that only Khamenei's opinion counts (something I don't believe), so if that's true, they shouldn't even bother listening to what Ahmadinejad says. But let's accept that idea and look at what Khamenei had to say just yesterday:
The Leader of the Islamic Revolution says that the West must respect Iran's 'red lines' before entering nuclear talks with Tehran.It is true that Khamenei, just like Ahmadinejad, says Iran is "ready for negotiations." But since he's ruled out the thing the U.S. really wants to negotiate over, it becomes clear that the U.S. claims of meeting with Iran because of changes in Iran's attitude, claims the press is happy to parrot, are completely bogus. No, it's changes in the U.S.' attitude, and recognition, if only a glimmer, of reality, that brings about this change. But it wouldn't do to admit that in public, hence the cover story.
Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that Tehran is ready for negotiations with world powers as long as no one threatens Iran over its nuclear program.
"We have made clear our stance and red lines on the nuclear issue. Our position on the matter should be respected," the Leader said.
Say it with me. Because the media, once again, is happy to fall right in line with the White House euphemism:
Pentagon leaders on Wednesday signaled a surge in U.S. forces in Afghanistan "sooner rather than later," a shift that could send some units there within weeks, as officials prepare to cut troop levels in Iraq.Sending more troops to Afghanistan isn't a "surge." It's an es-cal-a-tion. However, headlines announcing "U.S. plans to escalate war in Afghnistan" don't go over so well with the public.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Where your money goes
The U.S. is preparing to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two big mortgage companies. The CEOs of those two companies, whose bacon is about to be saved with our money, were paid (I'll make sure to avoid the completely inapplicable term which is more commonly used, "earned") $12 million and $10 million last year.
Barney Frank, respectable Democrat and champion of the working class, says that's outrageous. Why, he says, $2 or $3 million ought to be enough to pay for "talent."
Actually, there are people who run large organizations (ANSWER, UfPJ, AFSC, etc.) who get paid a lot less than that (if they get paid anything). $12 million, or even $2 million, isn't paying for "talent," it's paying to bind that person, whatever their origins, to the ruling class and to ruling class interests. It's to make sure their sympathies lie with their friends at the country club, and not with the people being kicked out of their houses.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Once again on satire
I've been thinking some more about the New Yorker cover and the question of satire. Long-time readers may recall that we've had disagreements here over Stephen Colbert, whose "satire" I have claimed is often not (although I feel that less so recently than I did a year or two ago).
Expanding on things I've written before, here's my working definition, which applies to Colbert and the New Yorker: if the only thing that distinguishes alleged "satire" from an original is the source, it isn't satire, it's "imitation." It may or may not be funny, but it isn't satire.
If you could take a transcript of a Colbert interview, hand it to Bill O'Reilly, and have him read it without batting an eye, then it wasn't satire - it was imitation.
Likewise, imagine if the Obama cover had appeared not in the New Yorker but in "Ku Klux Klan Monthly." Would it be satire then? Hardly. People would immediately brand it as scurrilous racist trash. How about a more "respectable" (and actually existing) magazine like National Review? Same deal. I doubt people would just be talking about how it was "tasteless." Nor would they be claiming with a straight face it was "satire."
Satire has to be distinguishable in some way, if only with a wink (but preferably with a lot more), from the original or the imagined original or it isn't satire. Take the New Yorker cover. Most people will be familiar with the famous "a New Yorker's view of the world" which shows an utterly distorted view of the country from the point of view of a New York-centric person. It's obviously exaggerated, and funny (well, it was the first time). The Obama cover could have been done as "a right wingers view of Obama" as both a parody of the "New Yorker's view of the world" and a satire on ludicrous right-wing views of Obama, with a cover making it clear that the object of the satire wasn't Obama, but the ridiculous rumor-mongers. It didn't do that, though.
Real satire is both over the top and, and the same time...not. Stephen Colbert's talk at the White House Correspondent's dinner in 2006 was one of the best examples ever, a nuclear bomb of satire, so powerful that, to mix metaphors a bit, it went over like a lead balloon with the crowd and the corporate media because it hit too close to home. The New Yorker cover, as is, could never be that, because something that corresponds too closely to something actually believed by far too many people couldn't possibly be over the top.
The insight you gain with an M.B.A.
George Bush, quoted by Kevin "Mr. Subliminal" Nealon:
"The economy is growing (smaller), productivity is high (and so are you if you believe me), trade is up (mostly imports, exports not so much), people are working (fewer every day, of course)."Bush's basic message in his talk was that the "system" is "sound." He said this on the same day that the word "bankruptcy" was uttered by the CEO of the world's largest automobile company, if only to deny that that was in the cards. If the economy were "sound," would GM even be discussing bankruptcy?
John McCain says he knows how to "win" in Iraq. Barack Obama says that Afghanistan is a "war that we have to win."
Both of these men undoubtedly think that if you buy a $1 lottery ticket every day for a year, and then finally win $5 on one of them, that you have "won." Of course you haven't, since, you've already lost $364 before you finally "won" that $5.
And, it goes without saying, in Iraq and Afghanistan it isn't just money that has been lost on the way to "winning." It's lives. Hundreds of thousands of them.
Of course the lottery analogy is far from perfect. Because even after you think you've "won," someone is going to come along and pick your pocket and take that $5, eliminating even your short-term "win."
Today's logic test
Spot the logical flaw in this article about new rules announced by the Federal Reserve:
Among other new guidelines announced Monday, lenders cannot make high-risk loans without assuring that borrowers are able to repay them.OK, I'm sure you got it, but just for the one person (not you!) who didn't: If you can "assure" that the borrower is able to repay you, it isn't a high-risk loan!!! I know that, you know that, but apparently the Fed doesn't.
"Democrats"? Yes. "democrats"? Definitely not.
In the news:
As part of an ongoing public corruption investigation, agents from the Attorney General's Office today filed numerous theft charges, as well as criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest charges, against 12 suspects, including a state representative from Beaver County, a former House Democratic Minority Whip and four current House Democratic staffers. The investigation has uncovered the illegal use of millions of dollars in taxpayers' funds, resources and state employees for political campaign purposes.And just what was the activity which has generated all these criminal charges by the Pennsylvania State Attorney General? High on the list: trying to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot in 2004:
Two outstanding examples of misappropriation of taxpayers' resources on petition challenges were the Ralph Nader for President of the United States in 2004 and the Carl Romanelli for the United States Senate in 2006.If the "Democrats" actually embraced "democracy," they wouldn't be opposed to people challenging them at election time. Why, if they really embraced democracy, they might even throw their support behind instant runoff voting so they wouldn't have to hide behind the "lesser of two evils" scam in order to get elected.
The grand jury found that as many as 50 Democratic House Caucus staff members participated in the Nader petition challenge and contributed a staggering number of man-hours. A House Democratic employee testified before the grand jury that "everybody was working on this." It was virtually a caucus wide endeavor and many of the employees spent an entire week on the Nader petition challenge.
I won't be holding my breath.
Who's the criminal here?
In the news again is the story of a young Canadian, Omar Khadr, captured and tortured in Afghanistan and Guantanamo by the U.S. The news is about a video which shows his interrogation, and about the sleep deprivation technique involving moving him from cell to cell every three hours. But once again, as when his story was in the news in March, what caught my eye wasn't the specifics of his torture, but the circumstances of his capture, so let me just repeat what I wrote back then:
But what catches my eye is the underlying "crime" for which this young man was imprisoned and apparently now, years later, even charged:George Bush (and Barack Obama and the Congress and the media and etc.) insist the U.S. is at "war" in Afghanistan, and they don't mean that metaphorically as in the "war on drugs," they mean it literally. Well, if the U.S. is at "war," then Omar Khadr is a prisoner of war and has to be treated as such. If every single person captured by the U.S. in such a "war" is an "illegal combatant" and not a prisoner of war, then the U.S. can't possibly be at war, since there is no opponent in this war. You can't have it both ways.Omar Khadr, 21, ...is charged in the Guantanamo war court with murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan when Khadr was 15.OK, let's back up for a minute. Omar Khadr was in Afghanistan legally. U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer, who Khadr allegedly killed, was in Afghanistan illegally, part of an illegal invasion of that country. But instead of Speer's cohorts, and their masters, being charged with a war crime, it's Khadr, who was doing nothing more than defending a country (whether his native country or not) against an illegal foreign invasion, and killing someone who would have killed him first had events run a different course.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Left I at the Movies: Persepolis
Two nights ago I watched Persepolis, an animated film about a young girl (and later, woman) coming of age in Iran before and after the overthrow of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution. When the film started, the words "Sony Pictures Classics" appeared on the screen, and I joked to the person with whom I was watching the film, "How can this film be a 'classic'? It just came out!"
Well, it didn't take the full hour-and-a-half, or anything close to that, for me to eat my words. Persepolis is a classic, and if I were to write a one-word movie review, it would be "Wow!" What an unbelievably good film, a great story combined with innovative and captivating filmmaking in the form of (largely) black and white animated graphics. And I'm not just saying this because most of the heroes of the film are Communists!
Watching the extras on the DVD, I listened to Marjane Satrapi (the writer, co-director, and the autobiographic subject of the film) claim the film was "universal." Well, I suppose it can be taken that way, but perhaps not in the way she intended, which was as a condemnation of "dictatorships" everywhere. I saw it more as a condemnation of imperialism everywhere (over and above the coming of age story, obviously). Imperialism is depicted installing the Shah, then after the overthrow of the Shah we see the imperialist-inspired (and assisted) Iraqi invasion of Iran which led to more than a million dead. We also see, just as in Palestine, the imperialist supported government (the Shah) destroying the left, leaving the field of opposition to be dominated by religious fundamentalists.
Some readers will no doubt wonder how, after the countless posts on this blog in defense of Iran and even Ahmadinejad, I could be defending this film with its strong anti-Iranian message (anti-Iranian in the sense of being opposed to its religious fundamentalist leadership). Clearly I do not support religious fundamentalism of any kind or in any country, be it Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Israel, or the United States for that matter, where there's plenty of it. But I also don't support, even more strenuously, the idea that the "West" has any right to intervene and "set things right" with our "Western standards." The people of Iran, or Saudi Arabia, etc., have to sort things out for themselves. One million plus dead Iraqis and tens of thousands of dead Afghans are testimony to the folly of thinking otherwise. Not to mention the ludicrous idea that people like George Bush et al., at the forefront of the opposition to women's rights in their own country, have the slightest concern for women's rights (or any rights) in any other country.
Update: Watched it again last night, in English this time (the first time I watched it in French with English subtitles, which I assumed was all that was available until I watched the "extras.") The second viewing was just as good as the first. I didn't really mention above the mix of humor and tragedy in the film, pulled off incredibly well. Truly a work of genius.
Racism as "satire"
You've probably all seen or heard about the latest New Yorker cover (at left) which the magazine defends as "satire." No, anti-black racism (Michelle Obama as an armed black militant) and anti-Arab racism (Barack Obama depicted as a Muslim burning the American flag and honoring Osama bin Laden) is not "satire," and it's not just "tasteless and offensive" as the Obama camp labels it. McCain won't even go that far, apparently doesn't think it's offensive himself, he just would "understand if Senator Obama and his supporters would find it offensive".
The whole cartoon is kind of like the scurrilous "some people say" mode of reporting which has overrun the national media. They never make accusations themselves, you understand. "Some people say, Senator, that you beat your wife. How do you respond?"
Some people say :-) (no, really, I heard someone on TV say it) that the cartoon is just "politically incorrect," and people who don't like it are just insensitive. But criticism of "political correctness" almost always disguises the real message behind it. If someone is fat, making a joke about them being fat could be described as "politically incorrect" (not to mention tasteless, offensive, insensitive, and downright bad manners). But if someone isn't fat, making a joke about them being fat not only isn't funny, but it reveals the joke-teller's prejudice against fat people.
I can't speak for the actual prejudices of the artist or the editors of this magazine. But for reinforcing existing prejudices, they've managed to do a heck of a job. The same "defender" of the cartoon I heard on TV made the argument that people who read the New Yorker won't believe the cartoon represents anything real, and anyone who does wouldn't have voted for Obama anyway. Maybe, maybe not, but wherever they stand, their subconscious prejudices have been enhanced. Maybe they won't ever make a public statement about Muslims, but deep down inside they might well be a little more inclined to think of all Muslims as bin Laden-loving, America-hating terrorists, and support legislation or vote for candidates who reinforce those ideas. Not to mention the effect the cover and its attendant publicity will have on the millions of non-New Yorker readers who see it and have their prejudices reinforced.
How about a cover making fun of Obama for talking out of both sides of his mouth on Iraq, or a host of other issues? How about a cover showing Obama saying "let's withdraw troops from Iraq" and then saying "let's send more troops to Afghanistan" labeled "man of peace?"? But this cover? To me, it's blatant racism, and I'll have none of it.
Update: I should have commented on the New Yorker's defense: the cover "combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are." Really? How does it show them for "obvious distortions"? Maybe Michelle Obama really was an armed Black Panther when she was young. How would this cover show such an idea as an "obvious distortion"? Maybe Barack Obama really is a closet Muslim. Plenty of people believe it (of course, plenty of people still believe that there were WMD in Iraq and even that they were found after the invasion). How would this cover demonstrate that that idea was an "obvious distortion"? It does nothing of the sort.
Second update: CNN (I think) did a feature where they interviewed people in front of a newsstand, asking if this cover made them feel positive or negative about Obama. It was of course an edited piece, but everyone they showed thought it was negative. And the figures they gave on, e.g., how many people believe Obama is a Muslim, emphasized all the more that encouraging that belief with this cover is a gross disservice to the truth. There are lots of reasons not to vote for Obama (from my point of view). The "fact" that he's a Muslim, which he isn't, certainly isn't one of them, and it shouldn't be for anyone on the right (i.e., in the wrong) either. The New Yorker's reinforcing of that belief is truly despicable.
Poverty in America
The city of New York, sensibly realizing that federal poverty standards based primarily on the cost of food are invalid, has updated their measuring methods to include clothing, shelter, transportation, utilities and out-of-pocket medical expenses. Not exactly a radical concept. As a result, the number of people they consider are living in poverty in New York City is now an almost unbelievable 23 percent. Not that the previous rate, 18.9 percent, was much better. Whether the number is 1 in 4, or 1 in 5, it's still an utterly appalling reflection on a country and, ultimately, on the economic system on which it rests - capitalism.
By the way, this new "method" of measurement, hardly requiring brilliant insight, was actually proposed to Congress in 1995 by the National Academy of Sciences. However Democrats and Republicans alike have no interest in seeing poverty statistics, any more than unemployment statistics, accurately reflect the state of the country. Calling capitalism into question isn't something they are about to do.
Israel agrees to give up nuclear weapons
You don't believe me? How else could you read this?
Forty-three nations, including Israel and Arab states, pledged Sunday to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction...Well, simplest agreement ever! Israel, the only nation in the Middle East which actually has nuclear weapons, gives them up and presto, the agreement is implemented.
In a final declaration, Israel, Syria, the Palestinians along with countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa agreed to "pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction."
Ah, but you say, Israel has never admitted it has nuclear weapons. True enough. Surely then, since that's the case, this "pledge" can be implemented by Israel agreeing to allow full inspection of every facility in the country (starting with, say, just at random, Dimona) to verify that indeed they don't have nuclear weapons.
I sense your skepticism. In case anyone has forgotten, Israel is one of the only countries in the world which refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It's commitment to this "pledge" is, shall we say, not to be given much credibility.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Covering for Bush
Three days ago, this was the front-page headline (over a New York Times article) in the San Jose Mercury News:
Right off the bat, it didn't take a genius to see that that headline was complete nonsense. The "pact" referred to was a conference "declaration," not an actual pact, and had completely unenforceable "goals" for more than 40 years in the future (with no intermediate goals) and lacking even a baseline year from which to measure those goals. A more accurate headline might have been, "Bush succeeds in avoiding any commitment on global warming."
Bush joins pact to fight global warming
Today there was actual news under this, more accurate headline:
And where did that story appear? Buried on page 7, naturally.
Bush efforts on clean air, warming end
Friday, July 11, 2008
At the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
It's about land...and water. Whatever the Palestinians have, the Israelis want, and they're willing to starve Palestinians to get it:
According to the World Health Organization, the minimal amount of water per capita needed daily for household and urban needs is 100 liters, or just over 26 U.S. gallons.
Average per capita consumption throughout the West Bank is 66 liters, or just over 17 gallons—two-thirds of the minimal amount specified by the WHO. In the northern West Bank, consumption has dropped even more, to only one-third of the designated minimum.
In comparison, average daily water consumption per capita in Israeli cities is 235 liters, or 62 gallons. That amount is 3.5 times that consumed by Palestinians in the West Bank.
As an occupying force, Israel is required under international humanitarian law to ensure public order and safety in the occupied territory, without discrimination. In addition, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a signatory, ensures access to clean drinking water without discrimination.
In flagrant violation of these laws, Israel holds complete control of the water sources shared by Israel and the Palestinians, primarily the Mountain Aquifer, and prohibits by army order any Palestinian drilling of wells without a permit. Israel allocates to Palestinians only 20 percent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, and prevents the development of additional water sources to enable greater water supply for Palestinians in the West Bank.
Oh no he din't
Oh yes he did:
President George Bush signed off with a defiant farewell over his refusal to accept global climate change targets at his last G8 summit.Also the world's biggest a**hole. He left out that part.
As he prepared to fly out from Japan, he told his fellow leaders: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
War crime watch
In the midst of the grand war crimes which were the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, individual war crimes are committed on a regular basis. In today's news, Marines admitted shooting and killing four handcuffed Iraqi prisoners, and the U.K. agreed to pay compensation (hat tip Cursor) for the beating death (93 separate injuries!) while in detention of an Iraqi suspected of being an insurgent.
And how well is that Western "justice" doing? The first case occurred in Fallujah in 2004, and is just coming to trial four years later; the second occurred in 2003, and only one person has spent time in prison (a whole year!), and only because he was silly enough to plead guilty to "inhumane treatment"; seven others were either acquitted or had the charges against them dropped.
Think these are isolated incidents? Of course you don't. The only reason both of these incidents came to light is because of extraordinary circumstances. 99% of such incidents undoubtedly never see the light of day, thanks to omerta, the "code of silence."
Did I say 23 Afghan dead?
I did, but it looks like I was wrong.
The real number is 47 including 39 women and children.
The U.S. military is still in denial. Actually that's not true. They're not "in denial" (meaning they don't acknowledge it to themselves), they're just in denial mode. It's highly unlikely they aren't fully aware of the truth by now.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Sauce for the goose etc.
The latest contender for the chutzpah crown:
The British Foreign Office says it does not see any reason at all for the Islamic Republic to need long-range missiles such as Shahab-3.Really? Then why is the U.K. wasting money on their own long-range missiles (not to mention nuclear weapons and lots more)? What possible reason could they have for needing long-range missiles that doesn't also apply to Iran?
The war powers two-step
Under the fraudulent headline "Put War Powers Back Where They Belong," two war-mongers, James Baker and Warren Christopher, propose an equally fraudulent replacement for the War Powers Act. They start with another fraudulent statement:
Our Constitution ambiguously divides war powers between the president (who is the commander in chief) and Congress (which has the power of the purse and the power to declare war).But the "commander-in-chief" doesn't decide what wars to fight, any more than generals do. The commander in chief and generals decide how to fight wars. What wars are to be fought is unambiguously the province of Congress, which has the sole power to declare war. Indeed, as this blogger writes (hat tip Cursor), when the Constitution makes the President commander-in-chief, the rest of the sentence must be read as well:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.So only after Congress declares war, calling the armed forces "into the service of the United States," does the President even become commander-in-chief.
But for all the fraudulent character of its underlying premise, Baker and Christopher's actual proposal is even more fraudulent. It "provide[s] that the president must consult with Congress before ordering a 'significant armed conflict' — defined as combat operations that last or are expected to last more than a week." Even ignoring the fact that "expectations" can be substantially lower than reality (Donald Rumsfeld on the invasion of Iraq: "It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."), there have been many illegal U.S. invasions which have lasted less than a week - the invasion of Grenada and the invasion of Panama for starters.
Then there's that word "consult." WTF does that mean? Why don't they write "the President must get the 'approval' of Congress," why just use the word "consult"? Because that's precisely what they mean. "Hey guys (and gals), I'm about to invade Iran. What do you think? You don't approve? Ah, well, thanks for letting me 'consult' with you."
Then we get to the "well, not always" clause:
If secrecy or other circumstances precluded prior consultation, then consultation — not just notification — would need to be undertaken within three days.But "secrecy or other circumstances" can always be invoked when war is concerned, and once a war is launched, well, we all know we can't deny funding to the troops "in harm's way." Well, maybe you and I could, but Congress can't or won't. It's downright unpatriotic, don't you know? Practically treasonous not to "support the troops" in "harm's way."
Ah, but the Congress has options!
Unless it declared war or otherwise expressly authorized a conflict, it would have to vote within 30 days on a resolution of approval. If the resolution of approval was defeated in either House, any member of Congress could propose a resolution of disapproval. Such a resolution would have the force of law, however, only if it were passed by both houses and signed by the president or the president’s veto were overridden. If the resolution of disapproval did not survive the president’s veto, Congress could express its opposition by, for example, using its internal rules to block future spending on the conflict.Did you follow all that? First, Congress gets to vote to approve. But if they don't approve, it doesn't mean a thing! Next, someone has to propose a "resolution of disapproval." Not a law, mind you, just a "resolution," which has not the slightest force of law. Even then, the resolution of disapproval can be vetoed by the President, which means that unless 2/3 of the Congress disapproves, the resolution of disapproval fails. And if it passes? It still doesn't mean a damn thing! Because whether it does or not, Congress' only real power is to block "future spending" on the conflict. But since the budget for any given year already includes a trillion dollars for the military, it could be one heck of a long time (and one heck of a lot of dead people) before Congress' power of the purse could be brought to bear (assuming it ever would be, of course, which history shows has a probability of precisely zero).
Baker and Christopher conclude:
"The statute is good for Congress because the legislative branch would get a more significant role when the nation decides whether to go to war."To which I conclude, hahahahahahahahahahaha. Are you effing kidding me, Jack?
U.S. to Iran: "Just roll over and
play be dead"
Iran test fired some missiles yesterday. Naturally, their preparation to defend themselves against the attacks which are openly discussed by ruling circles in Israel and the United States is portrayed as a belligerent move. Turning the world on its head, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, ""Those who say that there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defense system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims." Their claims? Their claims are that they are prepared to respond to any attack with a counterattack, not exactly the most surprising of claims.
But the cake-winning entry from the U.S. was this:
A White House spokesman called the tests "completely inconsistent with Iran's obligations to the world."Yes, Iran, don't you know your "obligation to the world" is to leave yourself defenseless so the U.S. and Israel can threaten and ultimately attack you with abandon without fear of reprisal, and even overthrow your "regime" when they choose to? Didn't you learn anything from Saddam Hussein?
Update: The actual claims from Iran, in case Condi or the media actually care:
"Our missile capacity is just for defensive purposes, to safeguard peace in Iran and the Persian Gulf region," said Brigadier General Mohammad-Najjar on Wednesday.
"Our missiles will not be used to threaten any country, they are only intended for those who dare attack Iran," he added.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
I'm sure everyone has seen this, but just to get it on the record:
Iraqi officials stepped up pressure on the United States on Tuesday to agree to a specific timeline to withdraw American forces.Sovereignty? What sovereignty?
In Washington, the State Department...reiterated that the United States fully intends to withdraw troops from Iraq when conditions are appropriate to do so.
"We want to withdraw. We will withdraw. However, that decision will be conditions-based," said Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman. "We're looking at conditions, not calendars here."
The Bush administration has finally, if only very occasionally, gotten around to uttering the word "recession." Do you suppose they might actually utter the word "occupation" as well? Even in regard to a question posed by the press corps? Helen Thomas, are you listening?
Obama speaketh the truth
Asked by a voter about accusations of flip-flopping, Democrat Barack Obama dismissed the notion Tuesday that he has been shifting stances on Iraq, guns and the death penalty to break with his party's liberal wing and court a wider swath of voters.Well, I've been listening to you, Barack.
"The people who say this haven't apparently been listening to me," the likely Democratic presidential nominee said in response to a question at a town-hall style event. (Source)
Blaming the victim: Google vs. Viacom
Google has been ordered to turn over its records on every video watched by every user to Viacom in a copyright infringement suit. Press reports, commentators, and Google itself all blame Viacom, or the judge, for this massive infringement of privacy. Huh? The massive infringement of privacy has been carried out by Google, which amasses this information (and, not to scare anyone, but for all we know, turns it directly over to the government, just like the telecoms did).
If my blog "accidentally" disappears in the near future, don't be surprised. ;-)
The cluster bomb two-step
The U.S. government is getting good press for its plan to "require that after 2018, more than 99 percent of the bomblets in a cluster bomb must detonate." But as Democracy Now pointed out, this is actually a step backwards, since "in 2001 a defense policy issued by then-Defense Secretary William Cohen called for a similar reduction in submunitions from cluster bombs by 2005."
Even that, however, is a joke. In its war against Lebanon, Israel dropped 1.2 million cluster bomblets ("submunitions"). One percent of 1.2 million still would leave a whopping 12,000 unexploded bombs on the ground. How do you suppose the American public would feel if they learned that there were 12,000 unexploded bombs in Connecticut (a state about the size of Lebanon)?
The best defense...
...is a good offense:
Iran's President has urged the international community to pressure London and Washington into dismantling their nuclear arsenals.Love it.
“While the G8 Summit is being held in Tokyo, governments and nations should urge Britain and the US to destroy their nuclear stockpiles,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a Tuesday press conference on the sidelines of the D8 meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Ahmadinejad also called for U.S. military bases around the world to be "eradicated and removed" (no doubt that will be taken as a threat that Iran is about to attack U.S. military bases), U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and challenged Obama and McCain to a debate. :-)
Bumper snicker of the day
Driving around yesterday:
A little Googling finds "Born right the first time" as an alternative, also available for purchase on the Internet (isn't everything?).
Born OK the first time
I'm afraid I can't take credit for "bumper snicker," a phrase I find extremely clever in its simplicity. It's something I read long ago on a list I belong to, and I'm afraid I don't remember the originator. Actually I take that back. Now that I think of it, that phrase was "rumper snicker," which was the author's idea of bumper stickers you could put on your rear end. So maybe I am the originator of "bumper snicker." :-)
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Afghanistan: Another day, another 23 dead
This one another wedding party (this report says 27 dead). There are rather conflicting reports of the incident, to put it mildly.
From the U.S. military:
"We have had no reports of any non-combatants killed or injured in this incident," said 1st Lt. Nathan Perry. "This may just be normal, typical militant propaganda."And from the local governor:
The U.S. military issued a statement, saying "intelligence revealed a large group of militants operating in Deh Bala district. Coalition forces identified the militants in a mountainous region and used precision air strikes to kill them."
Haji Amishah Gul, governor of Deh Bala, told the Times just two of the dead were men. The rest, he said, were women and children.Gosh, who to believe? Other than relying on decades of lies from the U.S. military to guide you as to their credibility, it's unlikely you'll be able to decide by reading the U.S. corporate press, since after tomorrow, your chances of reading about the story, beyond yet another story about Afghan President Karzai "ordering an investigation" into the incident, are slim to none. Partly that's because the chance that the Democrats will seek to turn it into a political issue are also slim to none, since their own criticism of U.S. policy in Afghanistan is that we should have been doing it sooner.
"The bride is among the dead," he said.
In the news today is the reaction to George Bush's decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Personally, I think it's time for China to say that George Bush isn't welcome. The head of a nation that has so little respect for human rights that it butchers civilians on a daily basis really shouldn't be accepted in polite company.
"Recession"? How about "depression"?
While the corporate media and politicians do their best to avoid the word "recession," the head writer for the San Francisco Mime Troupe weighs in with a harsher word for today's economy while discussing the group's latest play:
"It's not really about the presidential election," says the troupe's outspoken head writer, Michael Gene Sullivan. "It's about a much more basic question, and that is: Can you have political freedom without economic freedom? What good does it do to vote for one millionaire or another? Why is there never enough money to fix the libraries and the sidewalks but always enough money to subsidize the corporations?"
Sullivan says the sagging economy has brought the issues of the play to the forefront of popular culture. From the gas pump to the grocery store, the consumer is feeling a pinch (hard) in what many analysts describe as a recession. Sullivan begs to differ.
"The country is in a depression," he says. "It may not be the Great Depression, but it is a depression. They don't call it that because they don't want to scare people, but that's what it is. And whoever wins the election needs to be held accountable."
The history of the Great Depression and its echoes today were very much on Sullivan's mind as he wrote "Red State."
"The economy is squeezing everyone to the point where people are ready for change," Brown says. "The thing is, you can't wait for the change; you have to be the change."
The mass graves of Korea
The AP follows up on an article from May about the murder of an estimated 100,000 Korean leftists and "suspected" sympathizers in mid-1950, and the U.S. complicity therein. As was the case in May, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has judged that this is among the "all the news" that's "fit to print" (the Los Angeles Times actually has a different AP story on the topic).
The big "debate" in these articles is whether the U.S. was really responsible. All they did was give approval, take pictures, file reports, and then participate actively in the coverup for 50 years (not just passively, by hiding evidence, but actively, by positively denying it had happened and calling it "Communist propaganda"). I'll say no more, except to note that Saddam Hussein was hung for his role in the judicial death by hanging of 148 men who had been convicted, after a 2-year trial, in participating in an attempted assassination of Hussein. The 100,000 Koreans were all slaughtered without benefit of trial (or charges) in "a few weeks," quite possibly one of the greatest mass slaughters in the shortest time in history, outside of the other U.S. atrocities of the time - the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo.
Left I at the Movies: The Devil's Advocate
Last night, courtesy of a recommendation from Roeper and not-Roeper, I watched the fascinating documentary, "Terror's Advocate" (the French title, "Avocat de le Terreur," means both "Terror's Lawyer" and "Terror's Advocate"; I suppose either translation would have been accurate). It's the story of a famous French lawyer, Jacques Vergès, who had a communist, anti-imperialist background and started his career defending Algerian and Palestinian freedom fighters ("terrorists" in Western language). In later years, he has been involved with the defense of Slobadan Milosevic and Tariq Aziz, but has also been involved with the defense of such right-wing figures as Nazi Klaus Barbie.
The film raises questions about the legitimacy of the use of terror as a weapon in a freedom struggle, and also the question of the "equivalence" (or lack thereof) between the terrorism of the oppressed and the terrorism of the oppressor. In addition to a portrait of Vergès himself, it's also quite a history lesson. Its coverage of the Algerian independence struggle forms a nice companion piece to "The Battle of Algiers", even interviewing some of the principals in that struggle.
A famous Vergès quote, when asked during his defense of the Nazi Barbie if he would have defended Hitler, he replies, "Hitler? Why, I'd even defend Bush...but only if he agrees to plead guilty."
Friday, July 04, 2008
Meanwhile in Afghanistan...
Twenty-two civilians, including women and children, were killed in an air strike by U.S.-led forces on Friday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nuristan, an official said.As usual, the U.S. military sees (or claims to see) the situation differently:
"The civilians were evacuating the district as they were told by the U.S.-led troops to do so because they wanted to launch an operation against the Taliban," he said.(Source)
The U.S. military confirmed the mission, but said there was no report of civilian injuries.For starters, that statement is obviously false. Clearly there is a "report" of civilian "injuries" [sic]. That there wasn't a report filed by members of the U.S. military I wouldn't doubt, since for starters they were in the air, and undoubtedly never landed on the ground to find out who they killed, and even if they had, no doubt they would have found weapons or something enabling them to classify the dead, even the women and children, as "militants" (or perhaps "civilians the militants were hiding behind").
As always, the article carries an amusing part:
The issue of civilians killed by foreign troops is a sensitive one in Afghanistan as it undermines public support for the presence of around 71,000 international troops in the country and the government of President Hamid Karzai.Really? Ya' think?
The article also provides us with some numbers which we rarely see:
In the first six months of this year, 698 civilians were killed, 255 of them by Afghan government and foreign forces. In the same period last year, a total of 430 civilians were killed, the United Nations said last week.No figure for an entire year, but if we add up the first six months of this year with the first six months of last year, that's 1128 Afghan civilians documented dead as a result of the U.S./NATO invasion and occupation in just one year, with a substantial number of them killed by the U.S. and its allies (that's what they own up to; for all we know, all of those dead were killed by Afghan government and "foreign forces").
All together now...Out Now!
Update: On the question of numbers, this article claims (no source given) that "last year insurgency-related violence claimed 8,000 people's lives." If only a thousand or so of those were "civilians," that would make 7,000 of them "militants." Somehow I doubt it.
The impeccable logic of the bloodthirsty
As further proof that Yale does not deserve its reputation as one of the top schools in the country, Yale graduate John Bolton offers this impeccable logic on Iran:
"I don't ask anybody to relay on any kind of intelligence. Just bring the publicly available reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency and you'll see there is no explanation for what Iran is doing in the nuclear area other than pursuing nuclear weapons."Right. Can't think of a single one. Other than the desire for nuclear power which begin 40 years ago under the Shah with U.S. help and encouragement. Other than that, nope, can't think of a single explanation.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Obama: "16-month timeline is firm...or not"
Press conference #1 in Fargo, N.D.:
Senator Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot sustain a long-term military presence in Iraq, but added that he would be open to “refine my policies” about a timeline for withdrawing troops after meeting with American military commanders during a trip to Iraq later this month.Press conference #2, also in Fargo, N.D.!:
“I’ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability.
He said what he learns from military commanders on his upcoming trip to Iraq will refine his policy but "not the 16-month timetable" for withdrawing U.S. troops from combat in Iraq. He said what he learns could affect how many residual troops might be needed to train the Iraqi army and police.Was this a world's record for the fastest flip-flop in history? Probably not, but it must be in the top ten.
Airline crimes of the (last) century
There have been a number of famous attacks on airplanes in the last 50 years: the 1976 mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455 (the first in the Western Hemisphere) by mercenaries hired by CIA agents Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, which took the lives of 73 people and whose perpetrators are to this day being protected by the United States, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, attributed (emphasis on that word) to Libyan agents, which took the lives of 270 people, and the 1983 mid-air shootdown of Korean Air Flight 007 by Russian jets as the plane strayed over Russian territory, which took the lives of 269 people.
But the mid-air shootdown or bombing of a plane which took the most lives of all, as far as I can determine, took place precisely twenty years ago today, on July 3, 1988 - the murder of 290 people, including 66 children, aboard Iran Air Flight 655 by a missile fired by the USS Vincennes, whose absolutely laughable excuse was that they confused that Airbus A300 (a 177 foot long, 147 foot wide plane) with an F-14 Tomcat fighter (62 feet long, 64 feet wide). The murder was committed by an American warship which was in the Strait of Hormuz, inside Iranian territorial waters, and the plane itself was within Iranian airspace. Although they paid a measly $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians killed, the U.S. has never taken responsibility nor apologized for their murderous act. A murder which, if committed by the Iranian navy, would surely have been the occasion for an all-out war launched by the United States.
Why do we want "U.S. Troops Out!", not just out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but everywhere they are situated around the world? Their ability to murder 290 people with impunity is just one of the many reasons.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
One year of Press TV
I discovered Iran's English-language Press TV last September, but apparently it's now one year old. It's a very worthwhile effort to break the Western stranglehold on the news (and on the minds of news consumers), and I wish it continued success.
The liberal assault on Iran
Joseph Cirincione, the former head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (I should probably put a "sic" after that) and now the head of the equally peaceful sounding "Plowshares Fund," has been consistent on Iran. Twice in 2006 (here and here), I wrote about his taking the "not if, but when" attitude toward Iran developing nuclear weapons. You might think the National Intelligence Estimate in late 2007 might have given him pause, but no, there he was on Democracy Now this morning, pushing the same line still, with statements like
"The major nation in the world we’re concerned about at all is Iran with its civilian nuclear program that could be used for military purposes."and
"If we don’t stop Iran...then it’s almost inevitable that these stockpiles will spread."Those were bad enough, albeit typical. But then he resorted to outright lying. Here's his explanation for why nations want nuclear weapons:
Historically, the three major reasons are security, number one—that’s why we got them; we thought Hitler was developing a nuclear weapon, we wanted to offset that potential threat—the second is prestige—...But never underestimate the third: the role of domestic politics. You see that happening in Iran now, where President Ahmadinejad is using the nuclear issue to consolidate his otherwise shaky presidency.His assertion that the U.S. developed nuclear weapons because we thought that Germany was developing them is dubious at best, but it's the last part that concerns me. The unwary listener wouldn't have a clue that, far from advocating nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad has been outspoken in his opposition to nuclear weapons, so implying he is trying to gain domestic political advantage from their development is just preposterous.
To her utter discredit, none of these statements were challenged by host Amy Goodman.
Perhaps the most preposterous thing Cirincione said, also unchallenged, was in this exchange:
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Israel is the only country that refuses to acknowledge its nuclear status, nor does it deny it. Everyone else has sort of seen these weapons as a source of national pride and prestige.Excuse me? Other countries aren't under any pressure to "imitate or match" Israel's nuclear weapons because Israel "officially denies it," even though the entire world knows that they not only have nuclear weapons but, more or less, how many? You must be kidding.
AMY GOODMAN: Why doesn’t Israel admit it?
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: It actually works out fairly well for US policy. They don’t want to acknowledge that they have nuclear weapons, because they don’t want other countries in the region to be under pressure to imitate or to match their nuclear stockpile.
AMY GOODMAN: Like India and Pakistan?
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, no, like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt.
Why did I put the word "assault" in the title of this post? After all, neither Cirincione nor Goodman were advocating attacking Iran, or even imposing sanctions on them (though it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Cirincione, or even Goodman, supports them). But this is precisely the role that liberals like Cirincione serve. Even while opposing the methods used to attack regimes the U.S. opposes, be it Iraq, Iran, Cuba, etc., they lay the groundwork in the public mind by providing the justification for such attacks. After all, once you agree that "we" have to "stop them," you're only arguing about the most effective means of doing so.
Baby condors in danger
On February 11, I watched and filmed two condors mating in the Ventana Wilderness. In today's news, we learn that three condor chicks born in the wild are in serious danger, with one possibly already dead, from the fire which is raging in the area, only 3% contained.
Is there a connection? Gestation period for condors is 54 days, and we're told the condors are "about 2 1/2 months old." That puts their date of conception somewhere in the middle of February, right about when I filmed them. Not "proof," certainly, but there's a definite possibility!
Watch it again:
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
What is the California "National Guard" guarding?
It isn't California, evidently. 11 days after more than 1400 fires raging in California have burned more than 660 square miles, Governor Schwarzenegger has taken the bold step of ordering a whopping...200 members of the California National Guard to help in the firefighting. I can't find current numbers, but in June, 2006, 2000 members of the Guard were "overseas" (i.e., in Iraq or Afghanistan), and another 1000 were sent to the border to "protect" us Californians from those evil Mexicans.
By the way, it's not just that some members of the Guard are off occupying other countries. The Guard is also significantly down in size, 5,000 below its authorized size of 21,000, and it's pretty safe to assume that people aren't signing up precisely because they don't want to be the next ones sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.
"National security"? The only "security" this nation cares about is the security of oil company profits. The security of people in their home from fires (or floods) which could be successfully fought with enough people and equipment isn't nearly as high on the list, if it's on the list at all.
Obama's "Sister Souljah"
Back in January, Barack Obama had this to say, revealing not only the "depth" (or rather, the lack of it) of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, but also his feelings about the anti-Vietnam war movement:
"I didn't come of age in the battles of the 60s. I'm not as invested in them...Even when you discuss war, the frame of reference is all Vietnam. Well, that's not my reference. My frame of reference is 'what works.' Even when I first opposed the war in Iraq, my first line was, 'I don't oppose all wars,' specifically to make clear that this was not just an anti-military, 70s love-in kind of approach, rather, that I thought strategically it was a mistake for us to go in."As I wrote then, his claim that the movement against the war in Vietnam was "anti-military" or a "love-in" and not the "opposition to imperialist wars of aggression and occupation" that it actually was is telling.
Today he explored that "theme" further:
"Some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day."Obama is clearly alluding to the thoroughly discredited right-wing lie that returning soldiers were spat upon by antiwar activists, and, just for good measure, dredges up the old "flag-burners" image as well, as if flag burning was more than the most infinitesimal part of the antiwar movement. This picture stands reality on its head - as the movie Sir, No Sir! made clear, it was the antiwar movement which honored soldiers by placing them front and center in the movement. If there is any one symbol which should represent the antiwar movement of the time, it's the antiwar soldiers, not the flag-burners.
Sister Souljah, move over, antiwar activists have taken your place as the whipping boy of the 2008 election. The only "approved" antiwar stance is evidently that which says that we think the war was a bad idea, and we do need to get out, really we do, but we don't want to do so rashly, and until it seems the time is right we'll just have to keep voting more money to "support the troops." If you think the war and occupation represent something deeper, like American imperialism or even just its simple thirst for oil, you're in Obama's sights as one of those "extremists" who is attacking "the very idea of America itself."
Why stop here? There's more...
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