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Saturday, February 28, 2009


 

Losing the Iraq "war"


I've written many times about the abomination of even discussing the idea of "winning" the Iraq "war" (which was little more of a "war" than the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, and, after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 wasn't a "war" at all). But I tend to resort to statistics when I discuss the subject - more than a million dead Iraqis, hundreds of thousands more injured, three million widows, millions of orphans, two million exiled and 2.7 million more internally displaced, and so on.

Of all the things I have read in the last while, none has moved me more than this article from the latest issue of The Nation, which discusses the plight of Iraqi refugees, not with statistics (although they're there too, of course), but with the stories of the refugees. The horrible things they suffered that caused them to flee their country, and the horrible suffering they've endured since then in countries where they can't work, where they live in squalid conditions, women forced to work as prostitutes, and worse. I'm not even going to attempt to excerpt any of the stories; to do so would be an injustice to the author, and the power of her article. Please read it.

We discuss the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, but the Iraqi refugees suffer from a problem just as serious - they have the right to return, they just can't return because their former neighborhood has been ethnically cleansed and, even today when we're told things are "safer" in Iraq, their lives are still in danger. Indeed, the fact the many of the two million Iraqis who fled Iraq live in horrible circumstances and still consider that life better than returning to Iraq tells us more about the real state of things in Iraq than any speeches from American politicians or articles in the American media.

The author doesn't say this, but I will: Every one of these tragic stories is the direct result of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq. And the fact that the U.S. has given asylum to fewer than 20,000 of those refugees is just one more insult on top of that massive injury.

I can't recommend reading this article more highly. It should be required reading for anyone who has ever uttered the word "winning" while talking about Iraq. Not to mention required reading for anyone who even contemplates supporting "humanitarian intervention."


Friday, February 27, 2009


 

Disgusting Quote of the Day


From the same Barack Obama speech:
"I want to take a moment to speak directly to the people of Iraq.
...
Our nations have known difficult times together. But ours is a bond forged by shared bloodshed, and countless friendships among our people. We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours."
The U.S. invaded Iraq, saw a million Iraqis die while a few thousands Americans also died, and that generates "a bond forged by shared bloodshed"? Are you effing kidding me? We "offered up...our young men and women" to "root out our common enemies"...who weren't anywhere near Iraq until the U.S. invaded? Are you kidding me? And we "offered up" the lives of those same "young men and women" in order to "seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren" and for Iraqi children and grandchildren? Are you kidding me? The invasion of Iraq has done incalculable damage to the prosperity of both the U.S. and Iraq, indebted our children and grandchildren to the tune of trillions of dollars, not to mention what it's done to the Iraqis.

The invasion of Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with "destroying despotism" or "rooting out enemies" or "seeking peace and prosperity." It had to do with "remaking the Middle East" and oil and extending U.S. hegemony and eliminating a leader who wasn't under the U.S. thumb, to name just some of the driving forces.

Platitudes are one thing. This is way beyond that. It's disgusting.

Update: I should add that this lie is obviously equally reprehensible:

"We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime."
We did no such thing.

Then there was this:

"We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars."
A trillion? Think again. Three years ago Harvard economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz estimated the total cost of the war at $2 trillion. A year ago they upped their estimate to $3 trillion. Who knows where we are now? What we do know is that "$1 trillion" is a gross underestimate.


 

Dept. of "It's all about us"


Coming up on "Hardball": "Iraq: Did the U.S. win or lose?"


 

"Major combat operations have ended"


George Bush took a lot of flack when he said, on May 1, 2003, "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." It wasn't actually true, but most of the flack Bush took wasn't because of that statement, but because he said it in front of the infamous "Mission Accomplished" sign. In truth, "major" combat operations continued at least through the second battle of Fallujah at the end of 2004, and, depending on your definition of "major," sometime after that. But "major" combat operations in Iraq certainly have ended.

Today, Barack Obama went one step further, asserting (or is it "predicting"?) that "by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end." And what will the 35-50,000 troops who remain (or who it is claimed will remain at that time, if there are no "tactical adjustments" as Obama puts it before then) be doing, troops who, if our "combat mission" is ended, must by definition be "non-combat" troops?

"We will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq."
So now we come to the pop quiz part of this post. Aside from those three missions, and, oh yes, handing out candy and soccer balls to small children, can anyone tell us what else the troops have been doing for the last four years or so? And, for extra credit, please explain why "conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions" doesn't qualify as "combat." Indeed, since the fall of Baghdad and the Iraqi army in April, 2003, every operation the U.S. has conducted has been a "targeted counter-terrorism mission," hasn't it? For sure every person the U.S. has been killed has been labeled a "terrorist" (or the occasional "collateral damage" which was really the fault of the terrorists who were hiding behind those civilians who became the "collateral damage").


Thursday, February 26, 2009


 

Interesting development of the day


Iraq is planning to expel the Mujahedin Khalq:
Iraq's Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati was asked by reporters about his government's plan to expel some 3,500 Iranian exiles who have been based at a camp in Iraq for two decades.

"They can't stay in Iraq anymore," he said, adding the exiles can either go back to Iran or find a third country. "The People's Mujahideen is an organization which is not welcome."

Human rights groups say forcing the Iranian exiles to return to Iran, where they could be jailed or executed, or move to a third country is a violation of their human rights. Iraq says the exile group is a terrorist organization.
And where might they go?
Egypt has agreed to the establishment of a Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) base in the country as the terrorist group seeks a new home.


 

Gambling in the casino


We're shocked, shocked I tell you:
Britain's defense minister made an unusual public apology on Thursday, admitting Britain had taken part in the "rendition" of suspects detained in Iraq after denying it for years.

In a lengthy statement to parliament, Defense Secretary John Hutton confirmed that Britain handed over two suspects captured in Iraq in 2004 to U.S. custody and that they were subsequently transferred to Afghanistan, breaching U.S.-British agreements.

The Ministry of Defense has been repeatedly asked over the past five years about its involvement in rendition, the unlawful transfer of suspects to a third country, and consistently denied it played any role in the U.S.-administered program.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


 

"Saving or creating" jobs


President Obama has repeatedly referred to his plans to "create" millions of jobs (the exact number has varied, and of course depended on the actual bill that got through Congress). Here in December, for example, before the Inauguration, the headlines read "Obama outlines initiative to create 2.5 million jobs." By Jan. 10, MSNBC was headlining "Obama: Stimulus will create 4.1 million jobs," but if you read the actual quote, it wasn't quite that; Obama actually said that the plan "will likely save or create three to four million jobs." Save or create.

And there it was again in the speech last night: "over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs." Save or create.

Here's the thing. If employment goes up in the next two years, it will certainly be possible to quantify how many jobs have been created (although the reason will obviously be debatable). But quantifying how many jobs have been saved (i.e., how many jobs would have been lost had the stimulus not been passed) is entirely unknowable, which means that ascertaining whether 3.5 million jobs have been "saved or created" two years from now will be an utter impossibility.

No one has ever accused Obama of being dumb. Not me, anyway.


 

Carlos Alvarez for Mayor of Los Angeles


The Republicans and Democrats can only wish they had 22-year-old candidates as articulate as Carlos Alvarez. This link takes you to a number of videos, some of them "canned spots," but the top two make for great watching. They're from FOX (!) "Good Morning LA". The hosts treat him with respect, and like him so much they invite him back for a second segment (labeled "Interview on FOX News Extra"), also worth watching.

There are, of course, some Democrats who do stand up for working people. While we're on the subject of FOX News, here's Lansing, MI Mayor Virgil Bernero letting FOX News have it with both barrels while defending auto workers. Also good stuff.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009


 

Media complicity in U.S. complicity


Read WIIIAI for a nice analysis of how the U.S. media covers up U.S. complicity is Israel war crimes, specifically with reference to the latest Amnesty International report. Couldn't have said it better myself.


 

Dennis Ross and Iran: more of that Obama "change"


Dennis Ross has been appointed to "develop a strategy for engaging Iran." And what might that strategy be? It's hardly a mystery. In Ross' most recent book, Statecraft, Ross "argues that the Bush administration's problems stem from its inability to use the tools of statecraft -- diplomatic, economic, and military -- to advance our interests." Actually, the Bush administration employed all three of those extensively - diplomatic and economic efforts to isolate Iran, and very real military efforts (funding counterrevolutionary groups inside Iran) as well as continued threats of more serious military action. Pretty much the only thing missing is actual, direct U.S. military action.

Ross laid out his "New Strategy on Iran" in detail in a 2006 article in the Washington Post. His starting point:

With the Russians and Chinese seemingly determined to block sanctions, our efforts at the United Nations promise to evolve slowly while Iran presses ahead with its plans. If we stay on the same path, we will be left with two choices: accept the reality of Iran's nuclear weapons capability or take military action to set back its ambitions.
Ross' objections to military action are entirely pragmatic; the legality or morality of attacking a country which has neither attacked nor threatened us doesn't enter into it. It's the usual assortment of "we might not succeed" and "Iran could retaliate" and "might inflame tensions" reasons why we shouldn't attack. All no doubt true, but all irrelevant.

Ross' "insights" are telling. He resorts, for example, to the old "our enemies are lunatics" argument:

With an Iranian president who sees himself as an instrument for accelerating the coming of the 12th Imam -- which is preceded in the mythology by the equivalent of Armageddon -- one should not take comfort in thinking that Iran will act responsibly.
Personally, I would think that someone who saw himself as such an instrument would hardly be making public speeches like this:
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. Our nation is a civilized nation, a cultured nation, that relies on the faith and will of its young nationals. Our nation, in order to achieve its aspiration, relies on the thoughts and beliefs and enhanced values that lie in the Islamic culture and Iranian culture. Our nation does not elicit its power from nuclear weapons. The power of our nation is rooted in the justice of its beliefs.
And the "new strategy" on Iran Ross described in that article?
Iran must see that it either loses more than it gains by proceeding to move toward nuclear weapons or that it can gain more by giving up the effort...

Why not have the president go to his British, French and German counterparts and say: We will join you at the table with the Iranians, but first let us agree on an extensive set of meaningful -- not marginal -- economic and political sanctions that we will impose if the negotiations fail. Any such agreement would also need to entail an understanding of what would constitute failure in the talks and the trigger for the sanctions.
Yes, what a radical "new strategy." Try to squeeze our "enemies" (Iran, Cuba, Hamas) until they cry "uncle." And get as many other countries as possible to join us.

One of Ross' main problems, like that of pretty much everyone else in Washington and the media, is his inability to grasp the possibility that Iran's desire for nuclear power might just be a desire...for nuclear power! Yeah, hard to believe, isn't it? Except it isn't hard to believe at all. Here's something from an article I wrote three years ago:

Iranians point out that nuclear energy makes profound economic sense for their nation. The nuclear energy program aims to use the nation's own uranium resources.

More important, nuclear energy development would allow Iran to husband its natural gas resources that are currently being exhausted for electricity generation, but that could much more profitably be exported to growing industrial markets such as China and India.
But why can't Iran just be content with accepting nuclear fuel from Russia, as the U.S. proposes? The Bush administration explained why they can't (unintentionally, of course) when they commented on Iran's first deliveries of fuel from Russia at the end of 2007:
"We for many years tried to stop it, and for the last year we've known there was no way to stop it, and that it was coming, and we held our breath on the timing," a senior administration official said.
...
But privately, administration officials said they had been hoping, with dwindling confidence, that Russia would continue to stall on delivering the fuel, in part to send a message to Iran that the United States and its European, Chinese and Russian allies were hanging tough in their attempts to punish Iran for refusing to suspend enrichment.
In short, as is obvious to anyone with half a brain, if Iran were allow itself to have a sole source of its nuclear power be an external source, it would open itself up to pressure, threats, and extortion from that source (or others with influence on that source) at any time. Russia wants Iran to do something? Threaten to stop deliveries of fuel. The U.S. wants something from Iran? Threaten Russia and make them threaten Iran. Would the U.S. put itself in such a position? Hardly.

And finally, as I pointed out last year, Iran is the largest producer of wind turbines in the Middle East, demonstrating clearly their interest in energy alternatives to oil and their understanding that oil is a finite, depletable resource.

Will there be a "change" because Ross will actually talk to the Iranians directly in order to threaten them with more sanctions and military action, rather than just doing those things indirectly? Quite possibly. Does it actually reflect any real change in the U.S. position or the U.S. "strategy" for "dealing" with the "Iran problem"? Not if Dennis Ross' past writings and statements are any indication.


Monday, February 23, 2009


 

Israeli use of human shields


The evidence is incontrovertible that Israeli troops frequently hid behind human shields in Gaza; taking over houses, imprisoning the residents on the ground floor while using the upper floor for firing positions automatically makes the house a military. But, as Amira Hass reveals, the use of human shields was much more extensive than that, and much more literal:
Haaretz spoke with eight residents of I'zbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood, who testified that they were made to accompany IDF soldiers on missions involving breaking into and searching houses - not to mention the family members who remained in the houses the army took over, which were used as firing positions. The eight estimated that about 20 local people were made to carry out "escort and protection" missions of various kinds, as described here [in the rest of the article which details specific instances, complete with names], between January 5 and January 12.
Meanwhile, the claim is that the U.S. is about to pledge $900 million for Gaza reconstruction. We'll believe that when we see it, but, needless to say, the money is intended first and foremost not to help the people of Gaza, but to undermine Hamas and try to re-establish the prestige (such as it isn't) of the Palestinian "Authority" [sic] by funneling the aid through them (how that is going to happen, given the near total lack of presence of the PA in Gaza, is rather unclear). Yes, that would be the same Palestinian "Authority" who, according to Hamas, provided Israel with maps to local mosques, institutions, tunnels and workshops, along with with the blueprints of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah's home, all for use in targeting during the assault of Gaza.

And in more of the "we'll believe it when we see it" category (and probably not even then), an email from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation asserts:

There are growing indications that the Obama Administration is considering sanctioning Israel. According to a senior Israeli security official in a Feb. 17 article in Ma'ariv, Israel fears that Special Envoy George Mitchell will convince the White House to cut military aid as a response to Israel's ongoing settlement activities in the occupied West Bank. A Feb. 15 Ha'aretz article speculated that amounts available for U.S. loan guarantees to Israel would be cut for the same reason.
They encourage people to write Obama and other actions which is certainly fine; as for me, if this actually happens in other than some extremely nominal amount or length of time, I'll re-register as a Democrat. Hey, I have an idea. Some people are busy questioning where that $900 million for Gaza mentioned above is going to come from given the state of the U.S. economy. Well, the answer is obvious if you think about it.


Sunday, February 22, 2009


 

SHAME on Liam Neeson and the Academy


Presenting the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars tonight, Liam Neeson (presumably reading words written by someone else, but still reading them) described the film Waltz with Bashir (which was widely expected to win, but didn't) as a film about a "controversial military action." Military action? The film is about a fucking massacre, the massacre of hundreds (possibly thousands) of Palestinian civlians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon by Phalangist thugs with the passive, if not active, participation of the misnamed Israeli "Defense" [sic] Forces.

Controversial? An Israeli government commission found Ariel Sharon personally responsible for the massacre.

"Controversial military action?" Are you fucking kidding me?

Update: And kudos to Sean Penn for using the word "shame" in his acceptance speech to describe how people who voted to eliminate the right of same-sex marriage in voting for Proposition 8 in California should feel about themselves, and how their children and grandchildren will feel about them in the future.

Second update: Some interesting reviews and discussion of Waltz with Bashir (which I haven't seen, so I'll refrain from any comments myself aside from what I said about the Oscars comment above).


 

Afghan airstrike: the numerology of death


See if you can spot the errors in this story:
An airstrike by the United States-led military coalition killed 13 civilians and 3 militants last Tuesday in western Afghanistan, not “up to 15 militants” as was initially claimed by American forces, military officials here said Saturday.

The civilians killed included three children, six women and four men in the Gozara district of Herat Province, in addition to three people suspected of being Taliban fighters, according to an aide to the provincial governor.
First of all, I'm obliged to point out that saying they killed "up to 15 militants" was technically correct. They also killed "up to 1000 militants." They just didn't happen to kill the maximum number they claimed.

But, conversely, the claim that they killed "13 civilians and 3 militants," while it sounds more accurate, is actually false. Because, from the second paragraph, we know those last three weren't "militants," they were suspected militants. So the correct claim now is that they killed "up to" three militants. In actual fact they may have killed none.

Now think about the original story. Where did they get the number "15" from (which seems to be pretty much accurate) in the first place? Anyone actually on the ground, even an informant, could have easily identified the children and women as non-combatants. Most likely this was a night airstrike, as so many of them are, and the death count was supplied by thermal imaging, through which one dead Afghan or Iraqi or Somali pretty much looks the same as another. As does one living Afghan, before the bombs are dropped.

The article reminds us that "Initially, American forces described the bombardment as a 'precision strike' that hit an insurgent hide-out, killing as many as 15 militants," which tells you the usefulness of that phrase "precision strike." No doubt it was a precision strike, if measured by GPS coordinates. It's only when measured by the actual target, a minor detail to the U.S. military, that that "precision" becomes a little less precise. Or a lot less precise in this case.

For sick amusement, I'll quote the U.S. military's latest claim: "the investigation shows 'how seriously we take our responsibility in conducting operations against militant targets and the occurrence of noncombatant casualties.'" Really? How so, exactly? Because they don't just shoot first, but they actually ask questions later? How very thoughtful. Pointing out the blindingly obvious, if they actually took the "occurrence of noncombatant casualties" so "seriously," they would ask the questions first ("Just who exactly is in those tents we are about to bomb and how can we be sure they aren't filled with women and children and other non-combatants?") and wouldn't be causing so many of them in the first place. Of course if they really took that responsibility seriously they would stop dropping bombs on people in other countries, period.

On a total side note, why is it that the media never reports demonstrations in the same manner as they report military death counts? Why do we never (or virtually never) see an article which says "up to a hundred thousand people demonstrated yesterday against the war in Iraq"? No, instead it's "10,000 people demonstrated yesterday against the war in Iraq." Which is perfectly true. It just doesn't bother to mention the other 90,000 who also attended the demonstration.

Update: I need to add one more thing about the identification of the "militants." The U.S. "proof" is that "weapons and ammunition were found at the site." Really? I'm guessing that the vast majority of Afghans (and Americans too!) found in rural areas are in possession of "weapons and ammunition." Now if there were RPGs, yes, I'd concede they were militants. But if there were RPGs, the U.S. military would surely have called attention to that. "Weapons and ammunition"? Sorry, just doesn't cut it.


Saturday, February 21, 2009


 

ROTFLMAO


"Obama is a radical communist."

- former Presidential candidate (!) and wingnut extraordinaire Alan Keyes
Cue the Beach Boys: Wouldn't it be nice..."

Meanwhile that President Obama who we were told had made a "clean break" from the Bush administration? Yeah, not so much.


Friday, February 20, 2009


 

The Iranian nuclear bogeyman


In the latest in a long-running series, the Iranian nuclear bogeyman raises its non-existent head in today's scary headline:
Iran has enough nuclear fuel for bomb, experts say
There is just one problem with the headline...it's contradicted by the very first sentence of the article which follows [emphasis added]:
Iran has enough nuclear fuel to build a bomb if it decides to take the drastic steps of violating its international treaty obligations, kicking out inspectors and further refining its supply, U.N. officials and arms-control experts said Thursday.
Right. Other than those "ifs," Iran "has" enough fuel. In other words, it doesn't.

Of course, nothing here was surprising. What nearly caused me to fall off my chair, however, was the very last sentence of the article:

Iran steadfastly denies it seeks to build an atomic bomb, which Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says violates principles of Islam.
I've been calling attention to Khamenei's opposition (in the form of a "fatwa" no less) for three years now, but this might just be the first time I've ever seen reference to that opposition in the corporate media (if not the very first, it's certainly as rare as a Democratic politician willing to speak the truth on the subject).


Thursday, February 19, 2009


 

Stalinist name-calling


Hillary Clinton spoke to reporters on her way to South Korea. See if you can tell what she said:

AP:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that North Korea's leadership situation is uncertain and the United States is worried the Stalinist country may soon face a succession crisis to replace dictator Kim Jong Il.
FOX News:
Speaking to reporters aboard her plane from Indonesia to South Korea, Clinton said "the whole leadership situation (in North Korea) is somewhat unclear." She said the difficulties of dealing with the Stalinist regime of Kim Jong Il -- who is believed to have suffered a stroke last year -- have been compounded by "the uncertainties that come from questions about potential succession."
Bloomberg:
The Obama administration is concerned that uncertainty over who will succeed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il if he is incapacitated may be behind rumored preparations for a long-range missile test by the Stalinist state, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
So did Clinton call North Korea "Stalinist"? A casual reader might think so, but judging from the carefully placed quotes in the FOX article, I doubt it.

Calling North Korea "Stalinist" (be it "country," "regime," or "state") is practically de rigeur in the media. But what on earth does that mean? For most of the media, and for that percentage of their readers who even have a clue, I have little doubt it means little more than what "fascist" does for most people - an epithet and little more. The word does nothing to enlighten the reader about the contents of the specific story. Consider this from the Los Angeles Times:

[An American teaching in South Korea] said that if young people have concerns about North Korea, it's what effect any news of the Stalinist state would have on the South Korean economy.
Did that word "Stalinist" tell the reader anything? Yes and no. "No" if we're talking substance, "yes" if we recognize that it's just a clue, like the media which routinely referred to Fidel Castro as "Cuban dictator" rather than "Cuban President," that these are "our" enemies, meant to be vilified at every opportunity.

The dictionary.com definition says this, by the way:

The principles of communism associated with Joseph Stalin, characterized esp. by the extreme suppression of dissident political or ideological views, the concentration of power in one person, and an aggressive international policy.
Aggressive international policy? I seem to recall it was the Western powers which invaded the Soviet Union upon its founding in an attempt to strangle Communism in its cradle, and Germany which attacked the Soviet Union. I also recall that in the last 50 years the majority of the wars in the world have been started by two so-called "democracies," the United States and Israel, and that, since the Korean War, whose origin (i.e., "who started it") is hardly clear in the first place, North Korea hasn't attacked any other country, nor are its troops stationed in 100+ countries around the world.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


 

The mis-named and ignorant Mr. Duguid


State Department spokesperson Gordon Duguid isn't just working in the wrong place to match his name, he's also not very bright. He claimed today that "[The U.S.] will continue to seek to maintain a positive relationship with Venezuela," which could only be true if the U.S. had been seeking to maintain such a relationship. Perhaps that's arguable, and certainly it can be excused as diplomatic talk.

But this can't be called anything but ignorance: "In the United States, we have term limits, but that's our practice." Well, it's true we have term limits for some offices, including President, but Robert Byrd, just to name one of thousands, would certainly be surprised to learn that term limits are some kind of "universal truth" that applies throughout elective office in the United States. And to the extent that it exists at all, it's almost entirely, perhaps entirely, a late 20th century phenomenon, and very much an anti-democratic practice (and to an extent an anti-Democratic practice as well), pushed by right-wingers as a way to increase corporate power and the power of lobbyists (two sides of the same coin).

Anyone claiming (as, to his credit, Duguid did not) that unlimited terms for office are undemocratic, even limiting the scope of the statement just to President, will have to explain why they think that the United States spent the first 175 years of its existence as an undemocratic country (at least from that standpoint only!).


 

TIME's "best" blogs (and worst fact-checking)


TIME Magazine has a "25 best blogs" article out. Left I on the News didn't make it :-(, but one who did, predictably, was every Cuba-bashers favorite blogger, the counter-revolutionary Cuban Yoani Sánchez. One little problem - TIME's article uses the pronoun "he" (or variants) four times in their short article, despite the fact that the blog carries a picture of the author and this description of her: "Yoani Sánchez: Graduate in Philology. Lives in Havana and combines her passion for information science with her work on the Portal Desde Cuba."

Time to re-hire the fact-checkers, TIME.


 

Shocking quote of the day


Talk is cheap, so it's not that I believe this will either happen or that she really means it, but still...
[Tzipi Livni] told a convention of American Jewish leaders that "we need to give up half of the Land of Israel" [to secure peace with the Palestinians]. (Source)


 

Yet another new logo


I decided I couldn't resist the lovely and symbolic red left eye of the Black-crowned Night-Heron, so he or she (the sexes are monomorphic, or identical in appearance) takes his or her place on the masthead.


Monday, February 16, 2009


 

Beware of unemployed young men!


The news yesterday reported on the 25% unemployment (almost certainly an underestimate as they always are) among young men ages 15-29 in Iraq. This is a "threat to stability," we're told, because:
U.S. and Iraqi military and political officials have said that young men in particular need to find work, or they will become vulnerable to recruitment by insurgents willing to pay people to plant bombs and commit other acts of violence.
Which is totally different than unemployed young men in the United States, mind you. Because they're recruited by government employees in uniforms and are paid to drop bombs, not "plant" them.

Other than that, it's hard to see much difference. Although I'm willing to bet that those "U.S. and Iraqi military and political officials" would be aghast at the thought of such a comparison.

There is of course one other difference between the two groups of young men. One is being employed to occupy another country; the other to resist that occupation.


Friday, February 13, 2009


 

Birds in the News


First of all, to all you lovebirds (and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks), Happy Valentine's Day!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

On to the news. I suspect many of you saw the latest "birds are proof of global climate change news," news which I actually had a (microscopically small) part in:

Driven by a warming climate, North American birds are moving northward and inland, according to new analyses by scientists with the National Audubon Society of 40 years of observations by birdwatchers.

Sophisticated computerized analysis of data gathered during Audubon's Christmas Bird Counts since 1968 show that 58 percent of the 305 widespread species that winter on the continent have shifted north, some by hundreds of miles.
My part, of course, was having been one of tens of thousands of people helping to conduct those counts for a few years.

Then there was this news yesterday, in which we learned that small songbirds are capable of flying as much as 300 miles in a day. But even that didn't compare with the most amazing bird news of the last year:

A Bar-Tailed Godwit has broken the record for the world's longest known non-stop bird flight. Named only 'E7' she flew 7,257 continuous miles across the Pacific Ocean.

The migrating birds' [E7 and others] flights lasted between five and 9.4 days.
Isn't it time you stopped sitting in front of your computer and went for a run? Or at least a walk? ;-)


 

Israel getting desperate; out come the Hitler comparisons


Dan Gillerman, for five years Israel's representative at the U.N. and a frequent guest on American news programs, had this to say today, as he talked openly of the need for an attack on Iran:
"We all paid a huge price for not taking seriously the ranting of another small, moustached leader who some people considered as crazy, and I don't think we have the luxury to show the same indifference and apathy as we did before."
The fact that Iran hasn't attacked another country in hundreds of years? Apparently it's escaped Gillerman's attention.

A few other things have escaped Gillerman's attention as well, as seen in this remark:

"We have a very extreme, radical fundamentalist regime there with a President who denies the Holocaust while preparing the next one, and has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the map."
As far as "denying the Holocaust," Ahmadinejad has questioned the number of Jews killed (which is dumb and objectionable, but not much more objectionable than the American leaders who pretend the death toll in the Iraq "holocaust" is one-tenth what it really is), but mainly has objected to the use of the Holocaust as an excuse to punish people (the Palestinians) who had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

As far as "preparing the next one," if Iran wanted to start a Holocaust, they might start by killing, or even persecuting, the tens of thousands of Jews already in Iran. Of course they've done no such thing.

And as far as "vowing to wipe Israel off the face of the map," it's time to quit being polite and just say "bullshit." Not only has it been well established that Ahmadinejad said no such thing, he's even gone further and clarified what he did say by saying:

"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out."
And, as I wrote at the time (Dec. 2006):
I hardly need to remind readers that the Soviet Union was not defeated militarily (although the Nazis tried), but self-destructed with a large push from the imperialist world. Nor was the country "destroyed" in any physical sense. What it was was literally (well, nearly literally) "wiped off the map" (or "wiped out" in the latest formulation), that is, the words "Soviet Union" no longer appear on any current map. And in just the same way, Ahmadinejad (and millions more around the world) envision the word "Israel" being "wiped off the map" as a more just, democratic state takes its place.

Incidentally, although the Soviet Union per se was not physically destroyed, hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of former residents of that country have perished thanks to the replacement of the socialist economy with a capitalist one, with life expectancy dropping sharply.
And I wonder what Mr. Gillerman will have to say if Ahmadinejad is defeated in the upcoming election by Khatami. Luckily for Gillerman, Khatami is also "moustached," so I guess he'll be able to keep using that absurd Hitler analogy. Although any comparison between Hitler's facial hair and either Ahmadinejad's or Khatami's was absurd before we even got to the subtance of the comparison.

As I've written before, if Iran's alleged threats against Israel were as substantive and as frequent as Israel's threats against Iran, the U.S. bombs would have long since begun to drop.


 

Meanwhile in Gaza


I wish I had been keeping track on a day-by-day basis. Maybe someone is. All I know is, despite daily references in the press, even the left press, to the "ceasefire," there never has been a ceasefire. Attacks by Israel on Gaza, while obviously on a much lower level than they were during the recent assault, have continued on a almost daily basis, and not just attacks on inanimate objects like "tunnels" (not that there aren't people associated with them as well).

Just today, in one incident on the West Bank (note: not even Gaza):

Israeli soldiers have opened fire on stone-hurling Palestinians killing a teenager in the West Bank city of al-Khalil, medics say.

Ezzedine al-Jamal, 14, died on Friday after he was shot in the chest by Israeli soldiers.
And also today in Gaza:
Palestinian medical officials say an Israeli airstrike on Gaza has killed one man and critically wounded another.

Palestinian security officials said the men were riding a motorcycle near the town of Khan Younis when they were hit by fire from an Israeli drone.
As I said, someone should have been (and probably has been) keeping a running, daily list of these attacks. Few have made the Western corporate media, particularly the broadcast media (the print media more often has room for a paragraph somewhere on the inside pages), but they have been occurring virtually every day.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


 

Tom Friedman Is Not Smart. Why Is He Rich?


FAIR takes Tom Friedman to task for this:
Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn't through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.
FAIR notes, correctly:
If you don't understand that the United States developed its economy behind high tariff walls, then you probably believe the Earth is flat.
However, they missed some rather important additional points that Friedman left out of his "simple formula" - slavery and imperialism, through which the U.S. exploited both the labor and resources of other countries of the world to amass greater wealth than any other country had ever known. Just, you know, minor points which Friedman conveniently "forgot" along with the high tariffs.


 

Their terrorists and ours


Thanks to Stephen Colbert last night, I learned about the existence of the National Counterterrorism Center and their "Counterterrorism Calendar." Yes, that's an actual U.S. government publication which, we're told by the government, "contains significant dates in terrorism history."

Naturally I looked up Oct 6. What happened on that date? Why, just the first (and still the only) mid-air bombing in the Western Hemisphere, with the death of 73 people which was at the time the most deadly act of terrorism in the Western hemisphere (and still one of the most deadly). Of course readers recognize that I'm referring to the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, carried out by mercenaries in the employ of Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, two men currently living in Miami, protected by the U.S. government from standing trial for their crimes.

You won't be surprised, I'm sure, to learn that the bombing of Cubana 455 didn't make the Counterterrorism Calendar. Not "significant" enough, evidently. Or, judging by the U.S. government's treatment of the two men responsible for it, not even a terrorist action.

Interestingly enough, one of the three things that is listed on that date, beside for the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, is the start of the 1973 "Yom Kippur War" between Israel and Egypt and Syria, an event which certainly was a war, but how it qualifies as "terrorism" I have no idea. Other than that, you know, "Arabs" were involved.

Update: When I cross-posted this at Daily Kos, readers alerted me to the fact that there were a number of "insurance-related" mid-air bombings in the Western Hemisphere prior to the bombing of Cubana 455, which was the first mid-air terrorist bombing, but not the first mid-air bombing period as I wrote above (having read that at the link).


 

The right of return


Jimmy Carter has been all over (well, at least on the Rachel Maddow Show and Democracy Now!) with his new book and his two-state peace plan. One of the aspects of that plan I didn't comment on below is what he has to say about the right of return:
"And the third thing is the return of Palestinians. They have that right guaranteed under International Law. But I don‘t think it's possible for a massive number of Palestinians to return to Israel. They can return to the west bank and Gaza, and those that don't have a chance to return, then they can be compensated monetarily for the loss of their property."
Carter distinguishes himself from other American politicians by actually acknowledging the right of return, but says it isn't "possible" for a "massive number" to return. If a settlement along the lines he proposes does occur, I have little doubt that "massive number" would be zero.

But there is another "right of return", known in Israel as the "Law of Return", and also known by it's Hebrew name aliyah, the law (and it is a law, not like "the laws of God" but a real law of the state of Israel) that allows Jews to immigrate (and obtain citizenship) to Israel. And indeed, just the other day I recommended an article by an American who is thinking of "making aliyah," i.e., emigrating to Israel.

And that's precisely what we need to think about in assessing the validity of what Carter has to say. It's certainly "possible" to find room for one more Jew from Brooklyn to "return" to someplace they never left. Why is it "not possible" for a Palestinian refugee, who might still hold the key and the deed to a house they were forced out of, to exercise their right of return? There are an estimated four million Palestinian refugees, which is indeed a lot, but it's fair to say that most of them undoubtedly don't want to return. But what if a million do? Well, as it turn out, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, over one million Soviet Jews have emigrated to Israel. One of them was the new "kingmaker" of the Israeli elections, the hard-right racist Avigdor Lieberman, the one who, now that he's been allowed in, would like nothing better then to expel all the Arabs who were living there long before him. And the Russians aren't the only ones for whom there's no problem making room - over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews, tens of thousands of Argentinians and French, and more than 100,000 North Americans (many of whom fill the ranks of the most rabid settlers).

Exercising the right of return "not possible"? Oh, it's possible alright. For the "right" people.


 

The one-state solution


Shimon Peres, President of Israel, and Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, both think it's a bad idea. Gee, I wonder why?

Peres:

"From Israel's perspective, it is not possible for the Jewish people to accept an arrangement that signifies the end of the existence of a Jewish state."
Carter:
"A move toward a one nation or one state solution is a catastrophe, not only for the Palestinians and other neighbors but also for the Israelis because there are already a majority of non-Jews in that one nation arena. And Israel‘s only option would be to deprive their citizens, if it is one nation, of a right to vote or try to expel them from the area. And neither of those two things are acceptable.

"If they are given the right to vote, in just a few years, the Palestinians or the Arabs will have a majority vote in the one nation and this would also be a catastrophe for what Israelis define as a Jewish state."
This is, of course, what all the nonsense about "requiring Hamas/the Palestinians to recognize 'Israel's right to exist'" is all about. It isn't about Israel's "right to exist." It's about Israel's alleged right to exist as a Jewish state, a country in which Jews have special privileges (like the privilege of unlimited immigration to a country while the actual original residents of that country are forbidden that right - I started to write "privilege" but of course it's not a "privilege" for such a person, it's a right).

There are, of course, other religious countries. Iran, just to name a nearby example. But the international community doesn't recognize Iran's "right" to exist as a "Muslim state" (indeed, the "international community" led by the U.S. would very much like to end that situation, even though it has no such intentions in another Muslim state, Saudi Arabia). Only Israel is accorded that special status, and not only that, only the Palestinians are punished (allegedly, anyway; it's really primarily an excuse) for not acknowledging it.

By the way, it's interesting to read Carter's formulation, calling a unified state in which Arabs had the majority as a "catastrophe." A "catastrophe"? Really? What exactly does he think would happen under those circumstances? Has the end of apartheid been a "catastrophe" for the white minority of South Africa?

An interesting choice of words.


 

How to "get the banks loaning money"


Under George Bush, hundreds of billions (billions!) of dollars were doled out to the banks because we were told it was urgent to solve the "credit crunch" and get the banks loaning again. Instead, banks used the money to, among other things, buy other banks, an action which eliminates jobs. Now Obama and Geithner are about to follow with more of the same.

Really, if you don't want to have the government loan money directly (i.e., by nationalizing a bank and setting its policies according to public priorities), and you insist on using private banks, making sure that banks use the money to make loans is simplicity itself. For every billion the bank loans out, the government loans the bank the same billion. For every billion the bank spends to buy another bank or give a bonus to their executives or anything else, they get nothing.

What, too simple?


Tuesday, February 10, 2009


 

Jimmy Carter on Iran


Rachel Maddow had Jimmy Carter on tonight. Carter is far and away the "best" capitalist American politician on the subject of the Middle East (yes, that may not be saying much, but still...). And when the discussion turned from Israel/Palestine to Iran, here's what he had to say (plus what I have to say about what he had to say) [transcript mine from the online video; official transcript now online here]:
"There are four things that we ought to do about Iran now. First of all, withdraw from Iraq."
Yes!
"Because that invasion of Iraq which was totally unwarranted,"
Yes again!
"is a major cause for Iran to have its influence in the region greatly escalated."
No! The reason we should withdraw from Iraq has nothing to do with Iran. It is precisely because the invasion of Iraq was "totally unwarranted," as you just said, and the occupation of Iraq equally unwarranted (and in both cases, I might add, totally illegal).
"Secondly is to do something about the plight of the Palestinians,"
Right on! Go on...
"because in the absence of that, Iran has now emerged, unnecessarily I think, in an unwarranted way, as the champion of the Palestinian cause."
No! The reason to "do something about the plight of the Palestinians has nothing to do with Iran. It has to do with the unjust, immoral (and again, illegal) treatment they have received for 60 years (and continue to receive).
"The third way is to stop threatening to attack Iran, even with nuclear weapons, which some in the Bush Administration has done, at least indirectly.
Yes! Almost. "Almost" because, unless that was just a slip of the tongue, which it may have been, blaming the "Bush Administration" with threatening to attack Iran, even with nuclear weapons, is quite misleading. Because quite a few people in the Obama Administration, starting with the President and going on to the Secretary of State and on down the line, have continued to repeat the "all options are on the table" line, a line which means quite clearly "up to and including nuclear weapons," whatever the talk of "diplomacy" that accompanies such talk.
"And those things can be helpful. And the fourth thing is to have communication with Iran, so that we can work out with the Iranians, with mutual respect I might say, an alleviation of their fear and paranoia, and hopefully find, I can't guarantee this of course, that they will abandon their plans to move toward a nuclear weapon.
First of all, "paranoia"? The U.S. attacked two of Iran's neighbors and overthrew their governments, one with something that some people (not including me) consider justification, the other with (as you just said, Jimmy) no justification at all, is almost certainly funding armed rebel groups inside Iran and other attempts to internally destabilize the Iranian government, continues to actively practice and try to promote the escalation of a strong economic blockade of Iran, and Jimmy wants us to believe that the Iranians are "paranoid"?

And, last but not least, the subject I return to again and again. "abandon their plans to move toward a nuclear weapon"? Not only is there no evidence they have such a plan, there is considerable evidence that they reject such a course of action. Not to mention our own National Intelligence Estimate which says so. And despite that, even someone as "good" as Carter has to throw out that kind of nonsense. Well, at least Carter was willing to say in public that Israel already has nuclear weapons. Even better would be for him to call for them to A) publicly admit they have them, and B) destroy them. I'll keep hoping.


Monday, February 09, 2009


 

President Obama meets the press


I've been relentless bashing Barack Obama since he stepped into the ring, and I'll get back to that in the next paragraph. But may I at least say - what a relief to have an actual mature intelligent person in the office, answering questions coherently, thoughtfully, in the English language, and without a trace of the smirky fratboy arrogance hiding a massive inferiority complex with made me want to punch the previous occupant of the office in the face every time he opened his mouth.

On to the press conference. Most of what I have to say is on foreign affairs, naturally, but one quick word on this:

"More than 90 percent of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector."
Now I know Obama isn't a socialist, and clearly I don't expect him to be. But this quote, which I had heard him say earlier in the day as well, typifies one of the things that's wrong with Democrats - they never want to launch a frontal attack on the Ronald Reagan "the government isn't the solution, it's the problem" attitude, and even when they are proposing the government as a solution, they apologize for it, back away from it. To hear Obama talk, you'd think that private sector jobs are somehow superior to government jobs, that creating government jobs is something you have to apologize for.

Naturally on foreign policy, Obama's worst sins were on Iran:

MR. OBAMA: "I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world; that their attacks or -- or their -- their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they've used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon -- that all of those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace."
Notice the not one but two different "false starts" in this section. First he says that Iran attacked other countries, then he corrects himself to claim that Iran finances the allegedly terrorist activities of Hezbollah and Hamas. Then he claims Iran is "developing a nuclear weapon" but corrects himself (sort of) to claim (equally falsely) that they are "pursuing" a nuclear weapon. He still won't let go of this false notion, NIE or no NIE, facts or no facts.

Needless to say, that bit about "threatening the stability of the region" and "contrary to the interests of international peace" has to be read while supressing a large laugh, considering the role of the United States in not just "threatening" the stability of the region but actively destabilizing the region, and not just threatening the "interests" of international peace, but actively destroying it with their repeated invasions of some countries, bombing of others, funding, arming, and fully supporting the most aggressive state in the region, and so on.

The next part of his answer has to be read in conjunction with a subsequent question from the inimitable Helen Thomas. Answering the question above, Obama says:

"We're clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing."
Now you might wonder why, if a "nuclear arms race" was going to be triggered in the region, it wasn't triggered by the nuclear weapons possessed by the most aggressive state in the region, Israel. Now listen to Helen Thomas:
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan and -- are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?
I'll skip the answer to the first part, and go on to the second:
"With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger."
As opposed to now, when the only people in danger are everyone but Israel. You remember Israel, the country that everyone in the world, except evidently Barack Obama, knows has nuclear weapons.

By the way, how does he justify "speculating" on what he supposes Iran wants, but not on what Israel has already done?


 

Two fascinating articles on Israel and Palestine


First, an article from someone who had been to Israel 70 (!) times, was there once more on a trip exploring the possibility of "aliyah" (emigrating to Israel), and discovers the unbelievable racism permeating Israel:
[My experiences] reinforce my primal fear that Israel is losing its soul. There is an indifference to death that is not only chilling but an anathema to the faith I learned as a child. My grandfather was Irgun and he became emotionally torn apart from the death of British soldiers and innocents that he was responsible for. He was so conflicted by his activities that he could not live in an Israel born of the death of innocents. As a result he moved to America several months before Independence. I no longer see that kind of concern by a significant portion of Israelis'.

Like my grandfather I dream of a Jewish homeland. But year by year I see that dream slipping away. Our own decision on Aliyah will be made after the election results but frankly the current Israel is one I hardly recognize and am not sure I want to be a part of. This morning my heart is still yearning but my sadness cannot be masked.
Second, an article by Ben Wedeman, CBS' long-time correspondent in Israel, visiting the West Bank and discovering the extent of the despair permeating the Palestinian community. Once more, after decades of never being mentioned, the "one-state" solution features centrally in the article:
When Palestinians look back over the last 15 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, they've seen their lot only go from bad to worse.

As a result, more and more Palestinians are convinced the only way to beat the Israelis is to join them, to discard failed attempts at creating a Palestinian state in an ever smaller, ever more economically unviable territory, and go for what is known as the one-state solution.

That would mean Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza relinquishing their dream of an independent Palestinian state, and instead insisting on equal rights in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, an area that is, for all intents and purposes, under Israel's control anyway.

The one-state solution is an anathema to many Israelis, who are well aware that, with their higher birth-rate, Palestinians (those living within Israel proper, plus Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) could well become a majority within a generation.

Israelis increasingly worry the national struggle between Israel and the Palestinians will be transformed into an internal struggle, for equal rights for all those living within historic Palestine.

Those fears prompted Israel's current caretaker prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to warn as far back as November 2007 that if Israel doesn't move quickly to achieve a two-state solution, it will be in a position not unlike South Africa during the apartheid area, whereby a minority -- in this case Israeli Jews -- rules over a restive majority -- the Palestinians -- by means of force, repression and discriminatory laws.

Many Palestinians argue that is already the case, citing Israeli restrictions on movement, residence, and work.
Both very much worth reading.


Sunday, February 08, 2009


 

What passes as "antiwar"


I had a lot to say about the supposed "antiwar" Obama during the campaign. In an article today from AP, we find out what "antiwar" means when it comes to Congress:
"Before I support any more troops to Afghanistan, I want to see a strategy that includes an exit plan," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts liberal who at one point wanted to cut off money for the Iraq war.

Added Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold, another fierce war opponent: "The idea of putting the troops in without having more clarity at least gives me pause."
"Fierce war opponent"? And all it takes to change their "opposition" is a little "clarity" or an "exit plan"?

And these are some of the best of the Democrats.


 

Capitalist "jobs program"


Washington Post:
In 2006, a 62-year-old man in Ohio chose an unorthodox financial plan: He robbed a bank, waited for the police to arrest him, then asked the judge for a three-year prison term (a wish that was granted) because he hadn't been able to find a real job with benefits in several years and he could no longer support himself on the outside.
It's safe to say he's not the only person in prison because he couldn't find a job, whether the prison was intentional (as in this case) or unintended.

The same article talks, not particularly morbidly but just matter-of-factly, about older people wishing for death because, "I cannot afford to live too long. I cannot afford to live out my normal life expectancy." Delightful.


 

Nature interlude


It having finally started raining (a bit) here in California, yesterday was a good day to go see 70-ft. high Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. After more rain it (naturally) can have more volume, but actually at lower flow the wispier appearance can be even more beautiful (click to enlarge):

Berry Creek Falls

Banana slug population was down; I only saw two the entire time. But...after years of observing banana slugs, this picture showed me not one but two features I had never noticed before:

Banana Slug

First, at the top of the picture, notice the "muscular foot" which the slug uses for propulsion. That's not always visible. And second, I've always thought of banana slugs as having two "antennae" which they use for "sight" (sensing light and darkness, not actual sight per se). It turns out they have two smaller things I don't remember noticing before (apparently called "tentacles" and not "antennae") on the bottom which are used to "smell" (i.e., sense) chemicals. Clever little buggers.


Saturday, February 07, 2009


 

Today's reading


One of my favorite writers (John Pilger) pays homage to one of my favorite words ("bollocks") in analyzing not only Barack Obama (as well as the BBC and others), but also the media hype (and distortions and outright, well, in a word, bollocks) surrounding him. He closes with a quote I'm sure I've heard before, but had forgotten. I like it so much I've decided to add it to the others on my masthead:
"During times of universal deceit," wrote George Orwell, "telling the truth is a revolutionary act."


Friday, February 06, 2009


 

Quote of the Day


Madeleine Albright, talking to Rachel Maddow about U.S. relations with Russia:
"We made very clear to them that the 'new NATO' has nothing to do with pushing them around."
No, heaven forfend! It has to do with pushing everyone else around...Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq... But not Russia! Oh, no!


 

Leon Panetta: Plus ça change...


No, he didn't complete the phrase with "plus c'est la même chose." He chose to emphasize the alleged "change." You know, "waterboarding is torture," "we don't torture," etc.

But the fundamental change would be an acknowledgment that international law applies to the U.S. And that, not so much. The Convention Against Torture, ratified by the U.S., says quite clearly, "An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture." And what does Panetta say about the people who were involved with torture in the Bush administration? "It was my opinion we just can't operate if people feel even if they are following the legal opinions of the Justice Department" they could be in danger of prosecution. That is, no prosecutions. Nevermind that the orders were not legal.

And renditions, from which even more tortures ensue, most of which we undoubtedly don't even know about? They'll be continuing, but don't worry: "I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely," says Panetta. Not "better" assurances, not "ironclad" assurances, but "the same kind" of assurances! Oh, but, he's got it covered: "I intend to use the State Department to be sure those assurances are implemented and stood by, by those countries." If the subject weren't torture, I'd say, "now pull the other leg." Except I'm afraid I'd be taken literally.

Topping everything off, yesterday Panetta apparently said (can't find a link) that the Bush administration rendered people to be tortured, but today under questioning in his confirmation hearing he recanted. No, Leon, they just do it because the U.S. just doesn't have enough prison cells and interrogators, and if we weren't able to outsource that function like everything else being outsourced, why, we'd be helpless.

Bringing the discussion back to one of my favorite subjects, I remind readers that the reason that Luis Posada Carriles hasn't been extradited to Venezuela is becomes of the testimony (by his former lawyer and partner!) that he would be tortured if returned to Venezuela. And indeed, Venezuela does have a record of torturing prisoners. Not under the Chavez government, mind you, but at an earlier time...When Luis Posada Carriles was its chief torturer! The U.S. doesn't just not prosecute torturers...it protects them.


 

Cuban Five appeal headed to Supreme Court


Readers know of my involvement with the struggle to free the Cuban Five, five heroic men who have endured more than ten years in U.S. prisons for the "crime" of trying to prevent (and, in fact, preventing) acts of terrorism from being carried out against Cuba (and Cuban supporters elsewhere in the world) by right-wing gangs based in Miami, gangs involving notorious terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. Just a few months ago I was in Washington, D.C., protesting at the White House on the 10th anniversary of their unjust imprisonment.

This morning, Democracy Now! interviewed the lead attorney involved in the Supreme Court appeal; the video is below (transcript here for the readers among you). Amusingly enough, the video is filled with a series of slides taken by yours truly at a similar march held in Washington two years earlier; you can see the slides more clearly on an older YouTube video (a slideshow set to music, not an actual video).

La lucha continua.


Thursday, February 05, 2009


 

March March 21


A letter from Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, went out today, explaining why marching on March 21 (in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere) is so important. Rather than linking to it, I reproduce the central portion of it here, with emphasis added:
This is indeed a critical moment for the large-scale anti-war movement. All of us who are mobilizing for the March on the Pentagon and who have endorsed this action are making a significant political decision. The question before the progressive movement is paramount: stay in the streets and build a progressive movement from below or move instead in a different direction. This demonstration against imperial war and occupation is different from all previous anti-war demonstrations that were organized in response to the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the full scale assault on Iraq that began on March 19, 2003.

Each of the prior mass actions opposing war and occupation took place while Bush was in office. Bush, the despised war criminal, became synonymous with Empire and with the imperial invasion and bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan, the endless assault against the people of Palestine, and other brazen aggressions -- all carried out under the banner slogan of the “War on Terror.”

And when Bush was air-lifted out of Washington DC on a Presidential helicopter on January 20, 2009, the two million people assembled along the Inaugural Parade Route and the National Mall let out an amazing, emotion-drenched expression of celebration. They cheered and screamed, clapped, grabbed and hugged their partners and children. It felt like the awakening from a terrible nightmare. Bush was gone at last!

Moments before Bush’s helicopter headed for the horizon, Barack Obama took the oath of office and the celebration continued. Since racism has been such a dominant feature of this society for over four centuries -- the election of the first African-American president was a historical moment that was steeped in symbolism and meaning for millions of people.

Without discounting the jubilation over Bush’s departure, however, we in the anti-war and social justice movement are acting to build mass action on the 6th anniversary of the Iraq invasion because the nightmare of war and occupation has not ended for the people of Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine. Nor has it ended for the people of the United States who are forced to spend $1 trillion this year, and every year, on war expenditures while millions of families are losing their homes and jobs.

150,000 US troops and another 200,000 private contractors (mercenaries) still occupy Iraq. Robert Gates, Bush’s Secretary of Defense who was retained by the incoming Obama Administration as Pentagon chief, has promised that the US troop levels in Afghanistan will double in the coming year. Both he and Vice-President Joseph Biden are also promising an increase in casualties in the coming year. For the Palestinian people the nightmare of US -funded occupation has created thousands of fresh graves killed by US-supplied F-16 Fighter jets, Hellfire Missiles and attack helicopters.

We, all of us who are endorsers of the March 21 mass action, have rejected the argument made by some in the peace movement that we shouldn't be in the streets right now because we have to give the new Administration a chance “to do the right thing.” Frankly, that is an infuriating argument. Are the military contractors like Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Halliburton quietly waiting for the President to do the “right thing” from their point of view? Are the biggest banks and Oil giants like Exxon-Mobil waiting, with arms folded to see how policy is shaped in the new Administration? Are the architects of an expanding war in Afghanistan “waiting” to see the outcome of the debate? Are the advocates of Israeli aggression “keeping quiet” so that they don’t step on the toes of the new White House/State Department team? Far from waiting to see the outcome, the forces of militarism and corporate exploitation are working at full throttle to shape the direction of the country in the coming years.

The progressive movement must step up the pressure, not step back. It must also recognize that while Bush became synonymous with militarism and war, these are dominant institutions in our society and not simply the reflection of policies associated with this or that elected official. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have embraced and promoted these same institutions.

Barack Obama and the other candidates for the Democratic nomination were asked five days before the South Carolina Primary if they thought they would have received the endorsement of Dr. Martin Luther King, if he were alive today. Barack Obama, when he was running for office as a candidate promising change, responded to that question with the following comment:

”I don't think Dr. King would endorse any of us. I think what he would call upon the American people to do is to hold us accountable…I believe change does not happen from the top down, it happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that.
It was those women who were willing to walk instead of ride the bus. It was union workers who were willing to take on violence and intimidation to get the right to organize. It was women who decided "I'm as smart as my husband; I better get the right to vote." Them arguing, mobilizing, agitating, and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable. I think that's the key.”

Those words can be written off as appealing campaign rhetoric or they can be put into practice in the critical months ahead. For our part, we know that change comes from the pressure of the mobilized people. That's where real power comes from and that is the only antidote to the entrenched power of the Military-Industrial Complex, which connects the banks, corporations, and the Pentagon war machine. Dr. King didn't stay out of the streets because a Democrat was in the White House. Nor was the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed into law because of the beneficence of politicians. As then-candidate Obama correctly pointed out at the South Carolina debate, it was the “arguing, mobilizing and agitating” that became the “key” to change.

The March 21 March on the Pentagon is significant because it signals a determination by the progressive movement to stay in the streets, to expand the reach of the movement to draw in ever wider sectors of society and to make the compelling argument about the inter-connectedness of world politics and U.S. foreign policy with the badly needed struggle for economic and social justice at a moment of growing unemployment, foreclosures and evictions, and deepening poverty.

This movement can and must grow. The decision by you and nearly 1,300 others to endorse the upcoming March on the Pentagon was so important because it tells everyone “keep your marching shoes on.” It says to the people of the world that the “we the people” of the United States can be partners in the struggle against an Empire that speaks in our name but not with our consent.
Endorse, donate, volunteer, and get involved here.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009


 

The Left I Logo


You may have noticed the latest addition to the title bar - our new "left eye." This one is a Green Heron (click to enlarge), photographed, like the sunset picture below, two days ago at the Sunnyvale (CA) Water Treatment Plant (the usual kind of delightful place birders like to visit):

Green Heron


 

Rendition? Ghost prisoners? Just say no.


Cuba today became just the eighth country to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. 81 countries in total have signed (but most have not yet ratified). One of the notable non-signees? The United States. I know you're surprised.

Here's what the U.S. isn't willing to agree to:

"Enforced disappearance" is defined in Article 2 of the Convention as "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law."

Article 1 of the Convention further states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance."


 

Where is the outrage?


Two articles (and there are others) in the last day:

First threat:

An Israeli minister has called for the assassination of the Hamas leader, describing it as the only way to halt rocket-firings from the Gaza Strip.

Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim said Wednesday that the next step in operations against Hamas, the democratically-elected ruler of the Gaza Strip, must be aimed at assassinating Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.
Second threat:
Tel Aviv should attack Tehran in the coming year in order to get the mission accomplished, says an Israeli expert in weapons.

Isaac Ben-Israel, Israeli legislator and weapons expert, said Wednesday that Israel has only a year to pull off a successful strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The former defense official said an attack on Iran should take place before it is too late. "Last resort means when you reach the stage when everything else failed. When is this?"
Just imagine the outrage if Iranian legislators were making such threats against Israel. Did I say outrage? U.S. warships and planes would be heading for Iran as we speak.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009


 

Change we can believe in


William Blum (author of "Rogue State", among others) lays out in brilliant detail everything the Obama administration would have to do if it really believed in "change." Or, from the other side of the looking glass, a brilliant summary of everything the U.S. is doing wrong in the world.


 

There are armies and there are armies


The U.S. armed forces are currently actively engaged in killing people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, at a minimum (on that last point, I wasn't aware of the scale of it until I read this: "Since last August, 38 suspected U.S. missile strikes have killed at least 132 people in Pakistan").

Then there are the Cuban armed forces, actively engaged in...saving people's lives:

During a work session held in the city of Santa Clara, the Central Army’s Military Council analyzed measures in place and new strategies to mitigate the devastating impact of hurricanes, along with the response to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

They also analyzed ways to improve control, organization and discipline during the response and recovery phases.

The meeting was headed by Army Corps General and Vice President of the Armed Revolutionary Forces Joaquin Quintas Solá, and Division General and chief of the Central Army Raúl Rodriguez Lobaina.
No doubt the Cuban Armed Forces are ready, willing, and able to defend Cuba from any attack on the country. But while they're waiting for that hoped-never-to-be occurrence, they've got other things to do.


 

Political Humor of the Day


The hits just keep on comin':
US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen...said the main difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that "we are not an occupying force."
Well, not after they lose, anyway.


 

The music that will never die


Buddy HollyIt may look black and maroon, but that, my friends, is solid gold. Yes, that's a photo [click to enlarge] of my own copy of "The Buddy Holly Story," released shortly after the death 50 years ago today of Buddy Holly in one of history's most famous plane crashes. He may be dead, but his music is as much alive today as it was 50 years ago, as you'll hear if you click here to listen to him sing one of my favorites, "Rave On."

Also on that flight and tragically killed was the first great Chicano rock and roll artist, Ritchie Valens. Here's an old post in which you can hear him sing the politically relevant "Framed," written by two people who were as much a part of the birth and growth of rock and roll as Buddy Holly: Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.


 

Let's play "Spot the Racism"


Iran launched its first satellite into space today. Let's play "Spot the Racism" [Hint: it's not hard]:
In Jerusalem, the head of Israel's Space Agency, Zvi Kaplan, said initial reports show that a satellite was launched.

"From what I have been investigating it is true," he said. "We are not surprised because in this day and age of information and technology and with Iranian scientists studying abroad they can obtain the knowledge."
They never could have done it on their own, don't you know. It's only with the use of knowledge from more "advanced" countries that they were able to do this. Well, no wonder Israel denies permission for students from Gaza to study abroad.


Monday, February 02, 2009


 

Your moment of zen



 

The deliberate destruction of the Gaza economy


[First posted 10:44 a.m.; updated with video (below)

I wrote a few days ago about the deliberate destruction of the economy of Gaza by the Israeli assault - in all, 230 factories destroyed. Today, CNN is broadcasting a segment (video below) by reporter Paula Hancocks on just one aspect of that destruction - the cement factories which are, obviously, a crucial need in any kind of rebuilding (or building). 17 out of 27 cement factories in Gaza were destroyed by Israeli bombing. The owner of the one Hancocks interviewed, who of course was accused by Israel of hiding weapons in his factory as the justification for the bombing, vehemently denied it. Israeli apologists will no doubt say he's lying. But 17 different cement factories? How many weapons does Hamas have, anyway?

Well, no doubt there are some Israeli apologists who will say why yes, it's quite possible that Hamas was hiding weapons in 17 different cement factories (not to mention the other 213 destroyed factories). For those die-hards, there was one more piece of evidence in the Hancocks segment. At the one factory she visited, all eight of their cement trucks had been tipped over and destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. Were they hiding weapons too?

The conclusion is absolutely, utterly inescapable - the Israeli assault on Gaza was not about "stopping rockets." It was about inflicting massive collective punishment on the people of Gaza (over and above the collective punishment inflicted by the long-standing blockade), a collective punishment that would last for years to come.

And I should close by noting that most of the money to pay for the weapons which did the destroying, and at least some of the money to pay for the reconstruction of what was destroyed, will come straight out of the pockets of the beleaguered American taxpayer, a group which has a hard enough time paying for our own needs. As with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this isn't just something that's happening to people in other countries and to American soldiers, although of course that would be reason enough to be outraged. It's very much something that happening right here, with every hospital closing, every teacher layoff, every unrepaired road.


 

Cuban "political prisoners"


The U.S. government, and the Miami right-wing Cubans (not to mention a plethora of pundits etc.) always accuse Cuba of holding hundreds of "political prisoners." It's pretty much taken as simple fact. But the fact is that, unlike the hundreds of political prisoners who are in Cuba in a place called Guantanamo (and the thousands elsewhere around the globe), every single person in a Cuban prison has been charged with violating an existing law, tried, convicted, and sentenced.

But here's something that will really open your eyes about the nature of those "political prisoners." Elizardo Sanchez is one of the most famous of Cuban "dissidents" and heads the self-importantly titled "Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation." This group (which probably consists of little more than Sanchez) claims it has "documented 205 political prisoners" in Cuba. And who are two of the people on that list? Two Salvadorans sentenced to death for a series of Havana hotel bombings that killed Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo in 1997 and wounded 11 others. Yeah, "political prisoners." I can't speak to the crimes of the other 203 people on Sanchez' list, but those two alone speak volumes about the political nature not of the prisoners, but of the list.

Incidentally, the person who organized those bombings, and hired those Salvadoreans, is Luis Posada Carriles, today walking the streets of Miami, still protected from extradition to Venezuela to stand trial for the murder of 73 other people in the mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455 in 1976.


Why stop here? There's more...

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