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Thursday, April 30, 2009


 

Political prisoners


I wrote recently about the 200 people imprisoned in Cuba who the U.S. insists on calling "political prisoners," and who Barack Obama and the U.S. government suggest must be released before the U.S. makes any more "concessions" (as if removing restrictions on American citizens was a "concession" to Cuba), and who the Cuban government says they'll gladly release once the U.S. releases the Cuban Five heroes. Well, "political prisoner" is an entirely subjective term, and there's little point in arguing over to whom it applies and to whom it doesn't. But one thing we know for sure about the 200 Cuban prisoners is that every one of them had a trial, every one of them was convicted and sentenced, and that not a single one of them has been tortured.

Now contrast that to a group that Jeremy Scahill reminds of about today - the 15,058 people being held prisoner in Iraq by the "Multi-National Forces" (multinational only in the sense that the American military is Caucasian, Black, and Latino, not to mention consisting of both U.S. citizens and mercenaries from other countries, not in the sense that any other actual nation is a significant part of that force), along with the 26,213 more being held by U.S. "ally" (a.k.a. "puppet") Iraq. Not only have few if any of these 41,271 had trials or been convicted of any crime, but, as a new U.N. report (about which Scahill writes) reveals, brutal torture of those prisoners is absolutely routine. And not only routine, but so "acceptable" that a senior Iraqi police official even openly complained that the Iraqi government's pending ratification of the Convention against Torture would "not be helpful," stating, "How are we going to get confessions? We have to force the criminals to confess and how are we going to do that now?"

So the next time the U.S. government or media start talking about how Cuba should release 200 prisoners to show its commitment to human rights, someone should ask the speaker when the U.S. and Iraq are going to stop torturing and even try 200, or 2000, or 20000, of the 41,271 prisoners they are holding in Iraq, most of whom could easily qualify as "political prisoners" by someone's definition of the term. After all, what else is fighting to resist the occupation of your country other than a political act?


 

The long and winding road


There's an article in the latest issue of Liberation newspaper (actually not yet online as I wrote this) with the headline "Same-sex marriage victories in Iowa and Vermont!", but it was the subhead that really caught my eye and had an impact on me: "Rulings are products of decades of struggle." Because that's a lesson activists in any cause must never forget.

I've written about this before, but let me summarize. In 1974 I personally testified in a Massachusetts State House of Representatives hearing, on behalf of the National Organization for [note: "for"] Women, of which I was an active member, for a bill which would have banned discrimination (e.g., in housing, employment) based on sexual orientation. The bill didn't pass.

That was 35 years ago. Now I can't claim to have been continually active on behalf of LGBT rights for that 35 years. I've been active on that, and other issues - the ERA (remember that?), abortion rights, nuclear power, war (too numerous to list), Cuba and the Cuban Five, Palestinian rights, and others, and I've gone through periods of relative political inactivity as well. But someone, and actually many ones, have been struggling for LGBT rights for those entire 35 years. The payoff has come in fits and starts, and the struggle is far from finished, but the lesson remains. As steep and high as is the mountain before us on any particular issue, be it stopping a war, or single-payer health care, or ending a decades-long occupation, we must never think we're "doing something wrong" just because it's been a year or two, or even a decade or two, and we haven't achieved our objective yet. Sometimes, the only answer is we just have to keep on struggling.


 

Recommended listening on Palestine


Flashpoints is a news program produced at Pacifica's KPFA in Berkeley, which frequently features coverage of and from Palestine. Nora Barrows-Friedman, one of the two main co-producers of the program, has been in Palestine for a month, and yesterday's program featured a one-hour interview conducted in person in the occupied West Bank with Hazem Jamjoum, the communications director of Badil, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. It's really an exceptional, informative hour, covering a wide-range of historical and current topics, and I can't recommend it more highly. You can listen to and/or download the show by clicking the first link above; it's the show of Wednesday, April 29 (for which, at the moment, there is no description).

Two thumbs up.


 

Obama's 2nd "Huh?" Moment


Barack Obama today, talking about Chrysler's filing for bankruptcy:
"This is not a sign of weakness."
Really? You're sure about that?


 

"Huh?" moment of the day


Barack Obama, in last night's news conference:
"I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day, talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, we don't torture -- when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And the reason was that Churchill understood you start taking shortcuts, and over time that corrodes what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country."
Um, no, but the British and their American allies did bomb and firebomb the smithereens out of German cities, killing 370,000 civilians. What on earth does Churchill's alleged decision not to torture 200 German POWs have to do with the bombing of London?

And, by the way, what can we say about the "character of the country" that was willing to drop an atomic bomb on two civilian cities?


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


 

A big lie: the "embargo" (blockade) of Cuba is ineffective


One of many "big lies" told in this world is repeated every time the subject of the blockade of Cuba (called by the U.S. government an "embargo") comes up. It goes something like this: "The embargo is meaningless anyway, it's totally ineffective, after all, when I went to Cuba, I could buy Coca-Cola." No doubt the speaker could, since someone in Mexico or elsewhere could easily afford to export it in violation of U.S. law at an inflated price to Cuba, who could sell it to tourists at a higher price anyway without losing a penny. But the recent flu epidemic, which has already put a huge dent in the Mexican tourist industry, reminds us of one of the many very real effects of the blockade, and I do mean blockade, not "embargo."

One of the many U.S. laws affecting tourism, of which Travel Agent Central (!) reminds us, is that no ship can dock in the United States if it has docked in Cuba within the past six months. U.S. ships, of course, can't dock there at all (which would constitute "doing business with Cuba"), but this applies to all ships, of whatever registry (which makes this action a blockade, albeit one enforced with laws and fines, not physical enforcement).

I can't find it now, but I recall seeing some time ago a feature (I think on TV news, probably BBC) about a Cuban cruise ship port, which I guess had been built before that law went into effect, and which was, essentially, a ghost town. Because, naturally, most cruise ships plying the Caribbean waters are going to want to dock someplace in Florida, either on that voyage or perhaps the next or the next, certainly within the next six months. Which means that the U.S. is effectively able to completely squelch cruise ship tourism to Cuba, costing Cuba, by that one act alone, many millions of dollars through the years.

Through actions like this the blockade has in fact, cost Cuba more than 80 billion dollars over the years, and it continues to do so, whether Coca-Cola is available in Cuba or not.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


 

Remembering old war crimes: the bombing of Radio Television Serbia


Updated: 2nd link fixed

Barack Obama wants to keep looking forward, but some people actually insist on remembering the past:

An international human rights group demanded Thursday that NATO be held accountable for civilian casualties in the bombing of Serbia's state television headquarters a decade ago, calling the attack a "war crime."

Sixteen civilians were killed and 16 others injured during the attack on April 23, 1999, on the headquarters and studios of Radio Television Serbia in central Belgrade.

Amnesty International called on NATO and its member states to ensure independent investigations, full accountability and redress for victims and their families.

Amnesty International said in the statement that NATO officials confirmed that no specific warning of the attack was given, even though they knew many civilians would be in the RTS building.
I wrote about a very interesting aspect of this attack several years ago, which I won't reproduce here but please read it if you want to know more. Does the U.S. government deliberately target journalists? Unquestionably, yes.


 

Socialists love the earth


A few days ago it was Bolivia's Evo Morales calling for a "right to life" of the Earth itself. The latest gesture from Latin American socialists comes from Venezuela and Hugo Chavez:
Venezuela has transferred the ownership of one of its islands in the Delaware River to the US as a good will gesture, as the two sides move to resolve differences.

Petty Island's ownership will be passed to the state on New Jersey to be turned into "an ecological, cultural and historical preserve," Caracas' embassy in Washington said in a statement.

"This highlights the commitment of the Venezuelan people to environmental protection and stronger bonds of friendship between the peoples of Venezuela and the United States," it added.


 

Corporate media, handmaiden of the ruling class


A week ago, ABC News Nightline broadcast a truly shocking segment, in which the brother of the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates savagely tortures a man:
The victim was beaten with wooden planks with nails protruding from them and then the prince poured salt on his bleeding wounds.

The video also shows the prince setting fire to parts of the victim's body, giving him electric shocks with a cattle prod, ramming desert sand into his mouth, and firing bullets around him with an automatic rifle.

The gruesome footage released by ABC News also shows Sheikh Issa driving over the victim repeatedly with his luxury Mercedes SUV. The sound of breaking bones is clearly audible in this scene.

On the video, the victim identified as Afghan grain dealer Mohammed Shah Poor, screams and asks for mercy but the UAE prince sadistically orders the cameraman to come closer to get a better record of the man's suffering.

A UAE police officer in uniform can also be seen helping Issa and his men torturing the Afghan man.
I'm guessing even Dick Cheney wouldn't deny this was torture. Iran's Press TV (linked above) and British sources like BBC and The Guardian have covered the story, but not a single American source outside of ABC News. Press TV explains why:
UAE is one of the closest allies of the US in the Middle East and the US Navy operates out of a major base near Dubai. It is also one of the biggest customers for US weapons, having signed a $6.9 billion arms deal with Washington in 2008. The UAE is seen by the US as a critical ally in its self-styled "war on terror."
It also won't surprise you that the U.S. State Department, and Secretary Clinton, have thus far had no comment.

As I say so often, can you imagine if this story involved the brother of Hugo Chavez, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or any other official bogeyman of the U.S. government and its handmaiden media? But it didn't, and the corporate media, with the singular exception of ABC News in this instance, is doing its part to keep the story out of the public eye.


 

Pat Buchanan, racist


Have Pat Buchanan's frequent TV appearances on such "progressive-friendly" shows as Rachel Maddow made you forget he's actually a racist? TPM Muckraker, via FAIR blog, finds this in a recent Buchanan article about the Summit of the Americas:
America "does not comprehend how the president could sit in Trinidad and listen to the scrub stock of the hemisphere trash our country--and say nothing."
Wondering what on earth "scrub stock" means?
There's no record of it appearing in the New York Times since 1943. (Hey, no one ever called Buchanan hip!) Until then, it was almost exclusively used to refer to an inferior breed of farm animal, usually cattle or horses, as when the paper reported in 1907: "Financial Disturbance Forces Cattlemen to Sell 'Scrub' Stock to Hold Prime Grades."...

In other words, "scrub stock" essentially means an inferior breed.

It's worse than that, though. There's evidence that theorists of racial and genetic superiority--an area of pseudo-scientific "scholarship" that was in vogue even among mainstream intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th century--explicitly extended the use of the phrase beyond animals and into humans. In short, the phrase has been used by both eugenicists and racial segregationists to argue for the superiority of the white race.


 

The other swine flu and "defensive" warfare


With swine flu in the news, someone emailed me a reminder of the episode in 1971 when a different swine disease, African swine fever virus, became one of the many forms of terrorism direct against Cuba by the U.S./CIA/anti-Cuban gang cabal:
With at least the tacit backing of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials, operatives linked to anti-Castro terrorists introduced African swine fever virus into Cuba in 1971.

Six weeks later an outbreak of the disease forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic.

A U.S. intelligence source told Newsday last week he was given the virus in a sealed, unmarked container at a U.S. Army base and CIA training ground in the Panama Canal Zone, with instructions to turn it over to the anti-Castro group.

The 1971 outbreak, the first and only time the disease has hit the Western Hemisphere, was labeled the "most alarming event" of 1971 by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. African swine fever is a highly contagious and usually lethal viral disease that infects only pigs and, unlike swine flu, cannot be transmitted to humans.
The U.S. government always claims that its development of biological and chemical warfare agents is just "defense," that they're just figuring out ways to defend against them. But somehow (it's a mystery), those supposed "defenses" always end up being used for offense (think anthrax for a different kind of example).

Strangely enough, there's a related story in today's news, about cyberwarfare. The New York Times, where the story originates, has a carefully circumspect headline: "U.S. Steps Up Effort on Digital Defenses." "Defenses." But the San Jose Mercury News carries the same article with a different, more honest, headline: "U.S. Plans Attack and Defense in Web Warfare." The article itself is guarded:

But the broader question — one the administration so far declines to discuss — is whether the best defense against cyberattack is the development of a robust capability to wage cyberwar.
The Times article elaborates:
But Mr. Obama is expected to say little or nothing about the nation’s offensive capabilities, on which the military and the nation’s intelligence agencies have been spending billions. In interviews over the past several months, a range of military and intelligence officials, as well as outside experts, have described a huge increase in the sophistication of American cyberwarfare capabilities.
Outside of an either-or situation like football (either one team has the ball or the other does), the proposition that "the best defense is a good offense" is simply nonsense. Should I prevent someone from robbing my house by robbing theirs? No, I should lock my doors and windows. Yes, it's true that thinking about how I might rob someone's house might lead me to better understand how to protect my own from robbery, and that is the justification the U.S. uses for these investigations. But history proves that such investigations time after time lead not to better defense, but simply to more offense. And in the cyberwarfare case, note how the Times, despite its headline which talks only about "defense," makes very clear that the U.S. is spending millions on cyberwarfare, not just on cyberdefense.


Monday, April 27, 2009


 

U.S. out...of Poland?


Yes, Poland. Here's the news which, in the United States, only made the local paper (in this case, the Los Angeles Times):
Poland's Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation's military policies overseas.

“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But what did he mean? Readers of the L.A. Times would have no idea. The U.S. isn't occupying Poland, is it? Readers of The Guardian, however, got the full explanation:
Zimerman appears to have been upset by Barack Obama's decision, announced this month, to maintain the Bush-era policy of installing a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama insisted the shield was part of a defensive posture against Iran, not Russia, and that he intended to remove it as soon as the threat from Iran subsided. But many Poles have accused the US of wanting to mount a military occupation of their country, and fear the shield could make them a target of Russian aggression.
I'm sure this issue registers about 1 on a scale of 100 to Americans, just like so many other things the American government does in our name. But to the people of the countries affected by U.S. policies, Poles in this case, it's no minor matter. And no minor matter that their own government is prepared to sell them out, the overwhelming opposition of the Polish people notwithstanding.


Thursday, April 23, 2009


 

Delusional quote of the day


"There is a sizable population in Venezuela, probably the very, very vast majority of Venezuelans who have a more favourable attitude to President Obama than they have to [Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez]."

- Jeffrey Davidow, senior advisor to Obama on Latin-American affairs and director for the Summit of the Americas
Not just a majority, a "very, very vast majority"! Pretty remarkable claim considering Chavez won his last election with 63% of the vote! And please re-read the description of the speaker. Not Sean Hannity. Not Bill O'Reilly. No, a senior advisor to Obama.


 

Death in Iraq - once more into the breach


Didn't I just go over this? Yes, but it looks like I'm not done, thanks to the Associated Press, and their headline which will likely make all the TV news:
AP IMPACT: Secret tally has 87,215 Iraqis dead
But the very first sentence of the article makes clear the headline is false, because that number is the number since 2005 (which is to say it excludes the first three years of the war!) and only applies to those who died by "violent means." And when we get to the third paragraph, we find yet another lie in the headline, since even the authors of the study make very clear their number is "a minimum count of violent deaths." So "Study shows at least 87,215 Iraqis dead from violence since 2005" would be accurate, at least as far as reporting the results of this survey.

AP's article isn't bad as these things go. The authors take pains to note that the results do not include "indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress that caused thousands more to die." They make the magnitude of even their underestimate very clear: "In a nation of 29 million people, the deaths represent 0.38 percent of the population. Proportionally, that would be like the United States losing 1.2 million people to violence in the four-year period." They note that the Iraq Body Count numbers are "even more incomplete" than their study, and they quote one expert as saying that their estimate is likely to be a "gross underestimate." But there are still numerous problems with the article.

The authors actually apologize for the fact that "some slain insurgents could be included in the count," but claim that isn't much of a distortion because "that number was low because few insurgents went to hospitals for treatment out of fear of detection, and many insurgent groups buried their own fighters without getting death certificates." Of course that's precisely the wrong way to look at things. The "insurgents" were, in their vast majority, Iraqis, defending their country from an illegal foreign invasion and occupation; their deaths are the direct result of the invasion and occupation, and not counting them therefore grossly underestimates the number of "Iraqis" who have died.

Then there's the math itself. The authors claim that by adding up the numbers of Iraq Body Count for the war through 2005, the results of this study, and the numbers killed since this study ended in February, they arrive at a total number of Iraqis killed of 110,600 Iraqis. But that's absurd. I can't find IBC's numbers for 2003-2005, but this press release from IBC shows 24,865 civilians killed through March, 2005. Adding in an equal level of deaths through the end of 2005 gives a number 34,189 through the end of 2005. Adding that to the 87,215 gives 121,000, not 110,600.

And finally, we come to the methodology. The authors understand that death certificates are an inadequate method of determining the total number of deaths, and finally, in the final paragraphs of the article (paragraphs unlikely to make it into print when the article is reprinted in most papers, or unlikely to make the headlines on the nightly TV news), the authors get around to mentioning cluster surveys. They refer to the two major ones that have been done, one by the World Health Organization, and the other by researchers at Johns Hopkins University (often referred to as the "Lancet" study). Dealing with the second first, the authors dismiss it as "more controversial." The only thing "controversial" about that study was the result, and the fact that the "establishment" didn't like what it said. Scientifically, it was no more or less "controversial" than the WHO study.

Then there is the WHO study, a subject I dealt with at great length when it was published. The study reported 151,000 Iraqis dead from violence through June, 2006, and also reported a 60 percent increase in nonviolent deaths -- everything from childhood infections to kidney failure -- during the period, an aspect of that study which has been almost universally ignored (except by me). Of course there is no reason whatsoever to exclude those deaths any more than there is a reason to exclude the deaths of insurgents - both were the direct result of the invasion and occupation. AP doesn't bother to extrapolate from that study. I did, in January 2008, and arrived at a figure of 610,000 deaths through that date, 15 months ago.

But "87,000" is the only figure you'll be hearing on the news tonight. Count on it.


 

Single-payer, anyone?


Capitalist health "care":
Diabetics are increasingly risking life and limb by cutting back on — or even going without — doctor visits, insulin, medicines and blood-sugar testing as they lose income and health insurance in the recession, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Doctors have seen a drop in regular appointments with diabetic patients, if they come back at all. Patients more often seek tax-subsidized or charity care. And they end up in emergency rooms more often, patients and physicians said in interviews.

Patients' frugality comes at a tremendous cost to the already-strained health care system. The typical monthly bill to treat diabetes runs $350 to $900 for those without insurance, a price tag that's risen as newer, more expensive medicines have hit the market. Emergency care and a short hospitalization can easily top $10,000, and long-term complications can cost far more.
As I've written before, though, "single-payer" per se, while desirable, is not the ultimate answer, because there is no rational solution for the overall problem while there are multiple competing financial interests. Drug companies, hospitals, insurance companies, government, and don't forget the medical schools that are training the doctors and the universities that are training the people who will go on to either develop new drugs or just manufacture them. How much money should society invest in drug research, drug manufacture, hospital construction, doctor training, etc.? Unless all those factors are on one balance sheet, an optimal solution cannot be achieved. The "one balance sheet" solution is called "socialism."

As an aside, one of the many absurdities of the current system is found in this sentence it that final quoted paragraph: "The typical monthly bill to treat diabetes runs $350 to $900 for those without insurance." The fact that people without insurance can pay many times as much for exactly the same thing as people with insurance just indicates how divorced the price of things are from their actual cost to manufacture, which is to say, how much the profit system distorts things.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


 

Support the right to life!


Now this is the kind of "right to life" I can definitely support:
Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for a set of principles that would protect the planet's resources and "right to life."

On Wednesday, Morales, the first indigenous president in Bolivia's history, told the UN General Assembly that people cannot put their interests above those of the Earth.

"Not just human beings have rights, but the planet has rights," he said. "What's happening with climate change is that the rights of Mother Earth are not being respected."

He told the UN delegates that "We have the challenge to agree on a universal declaration for the rights of Mother Earth."

Morales outlined four principles that he asked the world to observe:

The right to life: "The right for no ecosystem to be eliminated by the irresponsible acts of human beings."

The right of biosystems to regenerate themselves: "Development cannot be infinite. There's a limit on everything."

The right to a clean life: "The right for Mother Earth to live without contamination, pollution. Fish and animals and trees have rights."

The right to harmony and balance between everyone and everything: "We are all interdependent."


"We now must begin to realize that the Earth does not belong to us," he said. "It's the other way around. We belong to the Earth."


 

Blackmailing Iran


I've been pointing out for years how Iran would be foolish to fall for the West's claim that they would be happy to see Iran with nuclear power, if only they would agree to import all their nuclear fuel from, e.g., Russia. Such a move would put Iran in the position of being blackmailed anytime the West decided they didn't like anything that Iran was doing (or wasn't doing)

And proving my point yet again, the latest news:

American lawmakers have introduced legislation that would redirect US sanctions against Iran to the country's gasoline imports.

The "Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act" aims to choke off gasoline imports to intensify measures against the Iranian nation for its continued pursuit of nuclear technology.

Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday introduced the act, which has a bipartisan group of more than 20 co-sponsors and targets entities that supply, broker, insure or deliver gasoline to Iran or help the country build refineries domestically.

"Iran's need to import a significant portion of its gasoline is among the best levers we have at our disposal," AFP quoted co-author of the legislation, congressman Sherman as saying.
"The best levers we have at our disposal." What a quaint term for blackmail. Here the blackmail is aimed at Iran's nuclear program, but if Iran were to develop a nuclear program based on foreign fuel, as the West claims it wants, no doubt that too would be the subject of blackmail, with yet another justification (support for Hezbollah or Hamas, etc.).

And of course you have to love the euphemistically-named "Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act." Trying to destroy a country's economy is now "diplomacy." Only in America.


 

Quote of the Day


The news is carrying the story that Fidel Castro says that Barack Obama misinterpreted Raul Castro's recent remarks about his willingness to discuss "everything" with the U.S. As usual, you're far better off reading what Fidel actually wrote then trying to make sense of what AP says he wrote; you can do so here.

The quote of the day, contained in Fidel's "Reflection," comes not from Fidel himself, however, but from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. It's application to Cuba is self-evident:

"I had the opportunity to meet with President Carter, and when he told me that now, after the Somozas' tyranny had been ousted, and the Nicaraguan people had defeated the Somozas' tyranny, it was high time 'for Nicaragua to change', I said: 'No, Nicaragua does not need to change; you are the ones that need to change. Nicaragua has never invaded the United States. Nicaragua has never mined the US ports. Nicaragua has never launched a single stone against the American nation. Nicaragua has not imposed any government on the United States. You are the ones that need to change, not the Nicaraguans.'"
Couldn't have said it better myself.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


 

The uncounted Iraqi dead


I've written many times about the underreporting of the deaths in Iraq caused by the U.S. invasion. The media will report the number "300,000 dead" in Darfur without blinking an eye, even though that number has far less scientific basis than the figure of one million dead in Iraq; the latter is, for all intents and purposes, never reported, and on the rare occasions (none recent) when it was reported, it was always with qualifiers like "contested" or "controversial."

Instead, the media reports as gospel the 99,000 figure from Iraq Body Count, a number which even IBC admits is an absolute minimum, not a "best estimate." But there are, again as I and others have written, numerous reasons why that number is far from accurate. To begin with, IBC counts only civilians. But every Iraqi soldier killed defending his country from an illegal foreign occupation, and every Iraqi resistance fighter killed resisting an illegal foreign occupation were killed with no more justification, legal or moral, than any "civilian."

And then we have the very definition of "civilian." To the U.S. military, as countless incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere) have demonstrated, every dead person is assumed to be an "insurgent" or a "terrorist" until proven otherwise. And that's important, because in the first years of the war, when reporters were under self-imposed house arrest in their Baghdad offices, the U.S. military was the primary and in most cases the only source of information. So if the military reported killing 50 insurgents in an air strike, who was going to prove otherwise?

And then, of course, there is the IBC methodology. They've changed now, as the situation has changed, but during the intense period of the fighting and dying, their standard was two corroborating reports in the English-language press. This "methodology" not only falls victim to the inability to report just mentioned, but also to the "multiple victim" problem. When 20 people are killed in one attack, and 15 in another, is it news that in another town, one or two people were killed?

Or consider this: in the U.S., in a typical year, more than 10,000 people are killed by guns, knives, etc. How many of those deaths were reported anywhere other than the local paper, if that? How many were carried on the AP wires, for example? Industrious journalism student with access to Lexis/Nexis, get cracking and answer that question for us, will you? Because I'm guessing the number is a small fraction of that 10,000.

And finally, there's yet another group (and probably more) which is deliberately excluded - people dying from inadequate health care in a system both destroyed by a decade of sanctions and by the "shock and awe" of the invasion and occupation. Which is, as it turns out, what prompts me to revisit this subject. The San Jose Mercury News carried an article about the handful of Iraqi refugees who have been allowed to resettle in the U.S. In typical "brain drain" fashion, most of those with enough money, smarts, and/or pull to get into the U.S. are the doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc.; in not-so-typical fashion, they unfortunately arrived at a time when jobs are few and far between, even for the well-educated. But what caught my eye wasn't that subject at all, but the story of one of the profiled refugees:

Gholam can't stop thinking and dreaming of the life she once had. "I was completely spoiled as a child and had the best mother in the world," she said. "Then I got married and worked as a math and science teacher. I loved my husband. We had a beautiful house and a beautiful daughter named Iraq. No one had a happier life than me."

Then came shock and awe.

As American bombs began raining on her town near Al-Kut in eastern Iraq after the war began, her family tried to get away by moving to the house of some friends. But the bombs seemed to follow them.

Gholam was too afraid to take her mom to the hospital when she had an appendicitis attack. The appendix burst and she died.

Then, on the afternoon of March 31, 2003, she saw a U.S. plane buzzing the neighborhood. Terrified, she prayed for it to go away. Moments later, a bomb dropped on the house.

Gholam was in a coma for four months, waking up in a hospital in Vienna. She was mostly paralyzed on her left side and was deaf in one ear.

It took several weeks before her husband had the heart to tell her that their daughter had been killed in the air assault.
There are two deaths in that story. The mother died from a burst appendix because she couldn't get to a hospital. Is her blood on the hands of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Congress who authorized the invasion of Iraq? You bet it is. Is her name on the Iraq Body Count list? You bet it isn't. Then there's the death of the daughter. The article doesn't say what town Gholam was living in, although we can assume it was either Al-Kut or a town close by. But Iraq Body Count lists just four "incidents" for March 31. In and of itself, that should be a tipoff as to the inaccuracy of their database. The invasion began just 11 days before that; is it really credible that the U.S. only carried out four attacks that day which took civilian lives? The four listed were "21 killed by air strikes in Bartalha, NE of Mosul, 15 by air strike in Haidariya, 6 by air strikes in Al-Amin, Baghdad, and 11 by machine-gun fire at a passenger car at an Army checkpoint near Najaf." None of those are anywhere near Al-Kut, or in eastern Iraq at all, so it appears that Gholam's daughter, and anyone else killed in that same attack, are also absent from the database.

Barack Obama, talking about prosecuting torturers and torture-enablers, says he "doesn't want to look back." I'm guessing that the families of a million dead Iraqis very much want to look back, and not only at the Bushes and Cheneys and Rumsfelds who were the principal instigators of the war that resulted in those deaths, but at the Pelosis and Obamas who voted year after year to keep the killing going (and are still doing so as we speak).


Monday, April 20, 2009


 

Quote of the Day


"Why is it that the so-called advocates of freedom of information fear hearing other people's opinions?"

- Iranian President Ahmadinejad referring to the Western nations who walked out of a speech where he branded Israel as a racist country
And just what were they objecting to? This:
"In compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they [the West] helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."
As you might expect, this was characterized (by, for example, the British ambassador) as "anti-Semitism," once again removing the serious meaning of that phrase, and implicitly tarring Jews everywhere with responsibility for the actions of Israel. Note that again. It wasn't Ahmadinejad characterizing Jews as "repressive" and "racist," but, implicitly, the British Ambassador (and others) who did so, by suggesting that Ahmadinejad was talking about them, and not just about Israel and Zionism.


 

Capitalism is organized crime


There was a conference this weekend in Los Angeles with the title "Capitalism is organized crime." Actually, it's a gross insult to organized crime, which has killed one innocent bystander for every hundred thousand innocent civilians killed by capitalism, and whose total loot pales in comparison to that stolen by capitalists in just the past few months, much less its entire history.

One aspect of that crime is reflected in a story in today's San Jose Mercury News, about a bright local student accepted at Notre Dame, who will probably have to choose another college because of the price tag...$51,300/year. Does it really take $51,300 to educate a student? I'd say no.

But when that's the going rate, that's when the real organized crime kicks in - loan-sharking credit-card loans. On CNN today, we learn that the average credit card balance for graduating college seniors is $4,100. I emphasize that word "average" because of course some students owe nothing on their cards, which means that of the ones that do, the number is even higher...at 15, 18, 20 percent (or even higher) interest rates! It's true that organized crime (at least according to the movies and TV shows) charges even higher interest, but they have to employ debt collectors with baseball bats; the credit card companies operate a perfectly legal business. Organized crime...with a license to steal, and enforcement courtesy of the government itself.

"Pearls Before Swine" is a comic that stated appearing in our local paper recently. Most days it's kind of like a car wreck, so bad I try to look away but usually can't avoid it. Yesterday was on point on this same subject:

Pearls Before Swine

If you have trouble reading it, here's the text:

Rat's Fairy Tale O' Fairness and Justice

Once upon a time, there was a bank C.E.O. who decided to make a lot of home loans to peole he knew could not pay them back.
As a result, Mr. Bank C.E.O. made $50,000,000 in bonuses and stock options.
But the loans went bad.
And as a result, the bank's employees lost their jobs.
And the bank's shareholders lost their money.
And the homeowners lost their homes.
And taxpayers with no connection to the bank had to pay all the money to fix it.
And Mr. Bank C.E.O. got to keep all of his $50,000,000 and live happily every after in his Connecticut mansion.
"Where's the fairness and justice in THAT?!" "Whoa. Perhaps I should re-title this." "Oh. I just LOVE happy endings."
There could be a happy ending, but it will take a lot of work to make it happen.


Friday, April 17, 2009


 

Cuba's "political prisoners"


There's talk of a prisoner exchange of Cuban "political prisoners" with the Cuban Five, the five Cubans who have been in U.S. prisons for more than ten years for acting to stop terrorism by infiltrating and informing on the right-wing terrorist groups in Miami. I make note of this from AP:
The U.S. could balk at Castro's offer to free about 200 political prisoners held on the island, along with their relatives, and send them all to the United States in exchange for five Cubans serving long sentences on espionage charges. On the list are several people convicted of violent acts, including two Salvadorans sentenced to death for Havana hotel bombings that killed an Italian tourist. Cuba currently has a moratorium on the death penalty.
Is it not amazing how AP can write with a straight face about Cuban "political prisoners" and note in the very same paragraph that some of the people on the list have been convicted of such violent acts as hotel bombings and murder?

As I wrote back in February:

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.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


 

Obama on Cuba


President Obama was interviewed on CNN today. I liked the way the discussion of Cuba started:
Q You're going to Trinidad and Tobago. Most of these countries...want to bring Cuba up as an issue...How is this issue going to play out?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I have no problem with them bringing up Cuba as an issue. I think I've been very clear about my position on Cuba.
In other words, they can say whatever the hell they want. I'll pretend to be listening but nothing they say will change my mind.

But for sheer ignorance, it's hard to top this response:

Q Fidel Castro reacted to your lifting of sanctions, saying it was a positive move, but that he expected the lifting of the embargo. And he said that Cuba won't beg, but that's what eventually they expect from the U.S.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't expect Cuba to beg. Nobody is asking for anybody to beg. What we're looking for is some signal that there are going to be changes in how Cuba operates that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church, and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted. And if there's some sense of movement on those fronts in Cuba, then I think that we can see a further thawing of relations and further changes.

But we took an important first step.
Some of those require a long explanation. But that we have a President who doesn't know that Cubans have the right (a right they exercise) to attend church is an appalling demonstration of ignorance, and of the power of stigmatization (in that it can effect even otherwise intelligent and well-educated people like Obama).

As far as the right to travel, Obama really has a good deal of nerve to bring that up. This (the U.S.) is the country which refused to allow 77-year-old Ibrahim Ferrer to travel to the U.S. to attend the Grammys in 2004. This is the country which refused to allow eminent Cuban scientist Dr. Vicente Verez Bencomo to come to a scientific awards ceremony in the U.S. (and, by the way, refused to allow him to accept his $50,000 award).

And this is the country which was recently condemned by Amnesty International for refusing permission for the wives of two of the Cuban Five to travel to the U.S. to visit their husbands, permission which has denied for many years in gross contravention of international law and basic humanitarian standards.

Obama closes by saying that the U.S. took an "important step." Perhaps so. But the restriction that he removed was a restriction on U.S. citizens (and only some of them, of course). He has done nothing to remove the U.S. actions against Cuba, most notably the internationally (and universally) condemned blockade and the ten-year imprisonment of the Cuban Five anti-terrorists.


 

Ask Hillary Clinton a question!


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is going to the Summit of the Americas, and on her way, she's holding an "online townhall" press conference. Questions from the public are being accepted here through today.

Any question is fine (e.g., Gaza, Iran, North Korea, torture, you name it), but since this is in conjunction with the Summit of the Americas, questions about Cuba (and Venezuela and Bolivia etc.) are the most appropriate. When will the U.S. obey international law and either try or extradite Luis Posada Carriles for the mid-air bombing murder of 73 people? When will they the gross injustice of imprisoning five men fighting terrorism for more than ten years, and free the Cuban Five? How can they justify the criminal blockade of Cuba, designed to inflict collective punishment on the Cuban people in violation of the Geneva Conventions? Etc.

To submit a question, go to the website today. There's a very simple form; you only have to enter your name, your country, and your question. Of course you can submit as many questions as you like! Maybe she'll even have to answer them! Or, maybe not. Haven't seen any pigs in the air lately, although the wind was pretty strong recently. Maybe I just missed them.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


 

"Closing" Guantanamo


It's amazing how often I hear on the news or read that Obama has "closed Guantanamo." Of course he's done no such thing, he's announced his intention to close it, and even that has little or nothing to do with the Guantanamo prisoners, most of whom will simply be transferred to other prisons. In others words "closing Guantanamo" is a PR exercise, not any kind of actual change. Indeed, since some of the prisoners may be transferred to Bagram, and since the Administration is busy arguing in court that prisoners there have even fewer rights (if that were possible) than those at Guantanamo, "closing Guantanamo" may even prove to be a step backwards for many of the prisoners.

But amidst all that, what is forgotten are the prisoners right here in the U.S. who are subjected to Kafkaesque conditions under the cover of the so-called "war on terror." Some of those we know, like Jose Padilla or Sami al-Arian, others we don't know. The latest issue of The Nation has an excellent article on this situation which I highly recommend, especially to anyone who thinks that "closing Guantanamo" (should it actually happen) will close the book on a sordid chapter in American legal history. Hardly.


 

The American "dream", part II


There's an ad running on TV now, featuring a smiling, clearly very happy young woman. She recounts the story of how she had a medical problem and ran up bills of $17,000 that she couldn't pay. So why on earth does she look so happy? Because, she tells us, she called up her credit card company and they worked out a payment plan so she could pay off her debt over a longer period of time.

Woo-hoo! What a happy ending!

Just imagine how much happier she'd be if she lived in Canada or France or England or Cuba or any of dozens of other countries where she never would have seen that $17,000 bill in the first place! Unfortunately, there's no credit card company that's going to make money by making and running that ad.


Monday, April 13, 2009


 

Misnamed organization of the month


The "National Organization for Marriage"...is against marriage for 10% of the population.


 

The American "dream"


President Obama, speaking today about the effects of the stimulus package, had this to say about some of the workers who had been rehired to build roads etc.:
And some of the crews are here today, and we want to thank them, and we're proud of them, because they're making the roads safer and some of your commutes a little bit better, and at the same time they're doing what they've always done, working really hard to support their families and living out the American Dream.
What on earth does that mean? Do people in other countries dream about loafing around all day, having someone feed them grapes? Only Americans actually want to have jobs and support their families?

If Obama were being honest, he might have noted that, until they were rehired (and actually, even then), the workers were actually living the American nightmare, without work, with a shrinking and hole-filled "safety net," fearful of losing not only their jobs but also their homes, fearful they or their families would get sick and go bankrupt trying to pay the costs, seeing their kids' schools abandon arts and even sports programs because we "can't afford" them, seeing their friends and relatives forced by economic circumstances into the military and then dying in Iraq or Afghanistan for a "cause" that isn't theirs, and so on.

I have a dream too. You can guess what it involves.


 

The murder of innocents


The news is filled with the rescue of an American ship captain and the murder of three Somali pirates who were allegedly threatening him (but hadn't actually harmed anyone at that point). The murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, allegedly at the hand of the mother of a friend, is also receiving wall-to-wall coverage. Meanwhile, quite a number of perfectly innocent people were killed whose deaths will receive less than one percent of the attention of either story, even though the murderer was our own government, using our tax dollars. In part, I can't fault the media, because, after all, this kind of thing happens practically every day, so it's hardly "news":
An overnight NATO-led airstrike on a remote Afghan village killed six civilians, including two children, Afghan officials said on Monday, but Western forces said they had targeted armed militants.

District police chief Mirza Mohammad said six people had been killed, all civilians, including a 3-year-old girl, a 10 year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman.

Another 16 people, including nine children, were wounded, the youngest a year-old infant. Three houses were destroyed, he said.

Last week five people including a seven-day old baby died during a U.S.-led operation in southeastern Khost province. U.S. forces initially said they had killed four insurgents but later acknowledged the dead were civilians defending their home.
The military always claims to be targeting (and initially always claims to have killed) "militants", but the truth lies elsewhere, as these just-released figures from Pakistan indicate:
Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
By the way, we shouldn't confuse the fact that 14 of the dead were "wanted al-Qaeda leaders" with the idea that they deserved to die, or that the U.S. government had any right to kill them. Had they been convicted of any criminal acts, or even accused of committing any? Certainly none that compare to the criminal acts being committed by the U.S. government every single day, I'd wager.


 

The unseen blockade of Gaza


To a small extent, the world sees and knows about the Israeli (and Egyptian and U.S. and British) blockades of Gaza at the Rafah crossing into Egypt and the various crossings into Israel. But the blockade at sea, the Israeli attempts to crush the Gazan fishing industry go largely unseen, except on the rare occasions they are witnessed by foreign solidarity activists.

After hearing from two of those activists, I wrote this:

A 1993 accord between Israel and the PLO gave Gaza a "fishing zone" extending 20 miles out to sea from the borders of Gaza. In 2002, Israel unilaterally abrogated that treaty, but signed an agreement with the U.N. committing themselves to allowing Gaza fishing rights out to 12 miles. Since then, subsequent unilateral declarations by Israel have moved that limit in to six miles and then to three miles.
Well, scratch that. It appears the new limit is...600 meters, less than four-tenths of a mile. A distance a fast runner can cover in less than two minutes. A distance a fast swimmer can cover in just six minutes. A distance which, when combined with the sewage problem which is also a direct result of the Israeli blockade combined with the Israeli destruction of Gaza, renders the very idea of fishing almost useless.

And when Palestinians dare to stick their toe across that unilaterally-drawn line?

Israeli forces have blown up a Palestinian fishing boat floating several hundred meters off the coast of Gaza City, Israeli media reported.

The boat was struck by Israeli artillery after it left the allowed area for fishing -- within 600 meters off the Gaza shore -- on Monday, Yediot Ahronot reported.

Israeli officials later claimed that the boat was heading towards north while carrying hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi claimed later that the fishing boat was attempting to attack Israeli naval forces.
Think for a second about that excuse. If Israel really knew that this boat was carrying "hundreds of kilograms of explosives," would they have waited until it "left the allowed area for fishing" before blowing it up? Hardly. They routinely blow up cars carrying alleged "militants" in the middle of crowded intersections in Gaza City; they would hardly be waiting for a boat known to be carrying explosives to head towards them. No, this is just the latest in a long line of easily-made, impossible to disprove allegations (the boat, after all, is at the bottom of the sea, and the alleged "explosives" presumably destroyed).

What it really is, of course, is the latest tightening of the screws on the Palestinian economy, the latest war crime, the latest collective punishment of the Palestinian people. And, no doubt, the latest war crime which will go unrebuked, if not indeed unreported, by the "West."

Update: Ha'aretz has a very different story:

A booby-trapped fishing boat exploded on Monday near an Israel Navy vessel off the coast of the northern Gaza Strip.

No one was wounded in the blast, which occurred about 300 meters from the Gaza coast, near the border with Israel.

The Palestinian vessel was laden with explosives, but was unmanned.
First of all, notice we're now down to 300 meters off the coast. And we're supposed to believe militants just pushed a boat filled with explosives off shore, hoping it would just happen to drift into an Israeli Navy boat and explode. Or that the Israeli Navy, noticing a boat drifting just 300 meters (!) off the Gaza coast, would decide to come board it and rescue it, since they always have the best interests of Palestinian fishermen at heart. Yet another likely story.


Sunday, April 12, 2009


 

The one-state solution


I wrote below (and included in the video) about George Galloway's discussion of the one-state solution for Palestine and Israel, the democratic, secular Palestine (or Israel-Palestine or Palestine-Israel or whatever it might be called). Today I came across this wonderful graphic on the subject (graphic credit), which dramatically illustrates how the one-state solution is being reborn out of the death of the two-state (or, "two-state") solution:

The One-State Solution

The article on CommonDreams is an interesting one. For example I did not know this:

That goal was advocated most eloquently in the 1930s and early 1940s by Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and other intellectuals at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Curiously, however, the article makes no mention of someone else I mentioned recently, Ali Abunimah, the founder of the website Electronic Intifada, and the author of what I expect is the newest and most important book on the subject of the one-state solution, One Country, a book I'm in the middle of reading.


Saturday, April 11, 2009


 

Move over, person who murdered their parents and then pled for mercy on the grounds of being an orphan


...there's a new picture on the "chutzpah" page in the dictionary:
Israel has filed a lawsuit against North Korea accusing Pyongyang of providing Lebanon's Hezbollah with military aid during the 33-day war.
Does that mean that the people of Lebanon, the people of Gaza, the people of Iraq, the people of Afghanistan, the people of Somalia, the people of Haiti, and the people of Pakistan (I'll stop there but you can add more if you like) will be given standing to sue the United States? Gosh I hope so!


Friday, April 10, 2009


 

Laugh of the day


Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama says 17 members of the Congress are socialists
Poor Rep. Bachus. I hope he hasn't seen the survey (which admittedly I take with the largest grain of salt imaginable) which says that 20% of Americans say socialism is superior to capitalism, and another 27% say they aren't sure which is superior. His head might explode.

As for me, I'd be happy if there were 17 members of Congress who didn't consider it an insult to be called a socialist, much less were actually socialists.


 

Be sure you're sitting down. And hold onto your hat.


The activities of al-Qaeda in two of Iraq’s most troubled cities could keep US combat troops engaged beyond the June 30 deadline for their withdrawal, the top US commander in the country has warned.

US troop numbers in Mosul and Baqubah, in the north of the country, could rise rather than fall over the next year if necessary, General Ray Odierno told The Times.
Shocked? Yeah, I knew you would be.


Thursday, April 09, 2009


 

Terrorist indicted...for lying


In the latest strange twist in the case of anti-Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, covered here on many occasions, the U.S. government has now indicted Posada for lying about his role (i.e., for claiming he had no role) in a series of Havana hotel and tourist site bombings in 1997 which took the life of Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo, and injured many more. It's a strange twist because, while claiming he is lying when he said he wasn't part of the plot, the government has not (yet, anyway) charged him with murder (or being an accomplice to murder), which logic says they must believe. After all, if they can prove he was lying when he says he wasn't involved, they can prove he was involved. Ipso facto and all that.

Imagine how the families of the 9/11 victims would feel if Osama bin Laden was arrested and charged...with perjury! Really it's too bizarre to contemplate.

At the same time, the government continues to stonewall the Venezuelan government, which continues to press its demand to extradite Posada to Venezuela where he is wanted not on one count of murder, but on 73 counts, for his role in the mid-air bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455. At a press conference today (a conference well worth listening to or reading the transcript of to acquaint yourself with the various issues involved), Venezuela's lawyer in the matter made clear that Venezuela will very definitely be making an issue of this case at the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Under international treaties, the United States is obligated to either try Posada for those 73 murders, or to extradite him to Venezuela to stand trial. For four years, since Posada's illegal entry into the U.S., the U.S. government has stonewalled that demand while Posada gets closer and closer to the grave. Now they have at least acknowledged, with their latest indictment, that he is in fact a terrorist. It's time for them to take the next step, and see that he is actually tried for terrorism. Justice for the families of the victims demands it.


 

Threat? Or no threat?


The U.S. can't seem to make up its mind. Iran, you know, is a "huge threat" to our national security with their nuclear program. But then today there's this:
The US State Department Spokesman Robert Wood has declared that Washington is 'skeptical' about Iran's major nuclear achievements.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated Iran's first Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) in the central city of Isfahan on Thursday.

Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization also announced that some 7,000 centrifuges are now operating in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran.

"I think we certainly could view it with skepticism," AFP quoted Wood as saying.

"Iran has in the past, you know, announced that it is -- it was running a certain number of centrifuges that didn't really pan out with regard to the IAEA's (International Atomic Energy Agency's) own estimate...so it's not clear," he added.
So they're lying about how much they're actually doing...but what they're doing is too much. Bizarre.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009


 

Vermont legalizes gay marriage


In somewhat of a surprise (not the original vote, but the veto override), the Vermont legislature has legalized gay marriage in that state. I doubt this comes as news to my readers. I comment mainly because I got a laugh out of this:
Craig Bensen, a gay marriage opponent who had lobbied unsuccessfully for a nonbinding referendum on the question, said he was disappointed but believed gay marriage opponents were outspent by supporters by a 20-1 margin.

"The other side had a highly funded, extremely well-oiled machine with all the political leadership except the governor pushing to make this happen," he said. "The fact that it came down to this tight a vote is really astounding."
Yes, it was really a "tight vote" - 100-49 vote in the House and 23-5 in the Senate. Most people would call this a landslide. But here in the land of the undemocratic filibuster and veto, they call it a "tight vote."


 

Tell Congress: End the Travel Ban to Cuba!


Please join in the campaign.


 

George Galloway in California


George Galloway in Santa Clara

On Sunday I had the rare privilege (for an American) of hearing George Galloway speak in person. Held at a local Muslim Community Association, it was quite the scene. The crowd exceeded a thousand people (see picture), certainly the largest crowd for any indoor political event I've attended in many years (if not ever). When Galloway arrived, he was mobbed - surrounded by people getting their picture taken, autographs, shaking hands, etc. His recent Viva Palestina convoy of 100 trucks to Gaza no doubt played a major part. I was surprised to hear that, if I remember correctly, this was the 19th city Galloway had spoken in on his current tour. Aside from his being refused entry to Canada, I was unaware he was on such an extensive tour. I'm guessing many of these engagements were organized through mosques and other Muslim organizations, without extensive public publicity.

Galloway spoke movingly about his visit to Gaza, and what he found there. He spoke for over an hour, but I've excerpted ten minutes of highlights here:


One of the things Galloway was doing was challenging his American audiences to produce their own convoy, by flying to Egypt, renting trucks, buying supplies, and driving into Gaza with American flags flying on the front (presumably as some kind of magic talisman to prevent their being stopped at the border). Here's a section of the talk where he discusses the subject:


Galloway is a great speaker, one of the best, but I need to say a few things about the content. He boasted about being "the first Obama supporter in England," and seems to harbor (make that "harbour") illusions about Obama with respect to Palestine. How he could maintain such illusions not only through the campaign, but even moreso on the basis of everything that has happened since, all through the assault on Gaza and beyond, is beyond me.

And then there is his misconception of the "Israel lobby." Galloway asserts that the reason they have been so successful is that "no one has taken them on," and that if the Muslim/Palestinian solidarity community simply writes enough letters to Congress, threatens to withhold their votes, contributes enough to candidates, things can change. I beg to differ. As I think I've written before, the Israel lobby is successful precisely because the position it argues for is the position of the American ruling class, and the role that Israel plays on behalf of the United States in the Middle East. The Israel lobby could be just as wealthy, contribute just as much to candidates, have just as many votes, but if they were lobbying not for U.S. aid to Israel (and related issues) but for, say, U.S. aid to North Korea, they would be just as powerless as the Palestinian lobby (such as it is). I'm not opposed to writing letters to Congress and such, but it will take a lot more than that to change the position of the U.S. on Israel/Palestine. Fortunately, one of the things it will take are "facts on the ground," specifically, the increasing impossibility of a so-called "two-state" solution (something touched on by Galloway and discussed at even greater length by Ali Abunimah, who I also had the pleasure of hearing recently), combined with the increasing pressure on the U.S. as Israel stands more and more naked before the world in its aggressive behavior and its utter contempt for international law and world opinion.


Monday, April 06, 2009


 

Defense budget cuts?


So read the headlines:
Gates to present big cuts for US defense budget
Not just cuts. "Big" cuts.

Really?

Obama has requested 533.7 billion dollars for the main defense budget for fiscal 2010, excluding most of the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That request marks an increase of four percent compared to fiscal 2009.
That last part, the part that reveals those "big cuts" are actually a four percent increase? That's paragraph 16 of the article. Before the reader gets to that, here are some of the words encountered: "cuts...scale back spending...cutting or scaling back...slash...cutbacks...slashed." It is of course true that some particular programs are being cut, while others are being increased. But the defense budget itself? Not on your life. Well, unless you're in the military. Then it may well be your life.


 

North Korea's satellite launch


Following up on the post below, here's the first paragraph of an article in today's Washington Post with emphasis added:
President Obama arrived in Turkey on Sunday night as global condemnation of North Korea gave way to intense diplomatic debate about how to punish the rogue nation for the brazen weekend launch of a rocket over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
Do you think they could pack any more loaded words into one paragraph, in order to make sure the American people know how they're supposed to think about this subject? Notwithstanding that that "global" condemnation wasn't so global (the very next paragraph reports that "China and Russia said they were not yet convinced that Pyongyang had violated any U.N. rules"), notwithstanding that the biggest "rogue nation" in the world is the U.S., which has invaded countless countries since the last time more than 50 years ago that North Korea was even involved in a war, notwithstanding that there's nothing "brazen" about launching (or attempting to launch, depending on who you believe) a communications satellite, and notwithstanding that, while North Korea did in fact "launch a rocket," I assure you that a news article about the launching of a U.S. communications satellite would not describe the event as "launching a rocket," although a rocket is certainly involved.

Then there's the fact that the U.S. Security Council met in "emergency session." "Emergency"! The day Israel invaded Gaza (and for weeks thereafter), did the Security Council meet to act on that very real emergency? When the U.S. began its "shock and awe" attack on Iraq, was there an "emergency session" of the Security Council then? No, but on a day when North Korea simply launched a communications satellite, which may have helped them develop rocket technology, which may be used under some unspecified circumstances in the future to launch a nuclear weapon (it's always "nuclear", the biggest scare tactic of them all) that they don't even have yet (they have a nuclear weapon, but are years away from having one that will fit in a warhead, or so we're told by this very article), that is an "emergency"!

By the way, note that the circumstances of such a hypothetical attack are always omitted. Other than as a defensive reaction to an attack on them, under what possible circumstances is North Korea going to launch a nuclear missile, or any missile, at the United States, Japan, or even South Korea? Oh, I forgot, they're led by a "madman." Well, Kim Jung Il may have some goofy idiosyncrasies, but there's no evidence whatsoever that he, or the rest of the leadership of the country, is "mad" and bent on suicide; if they were, they could have accomplished that task long ago. No, what this is about is trying to prevent North Korea from having defensive capabilities, not offensive capabilities which would pale in comparison to any of its potential targets.

And where does the Security Council come off having anything to say about this anyway? Security Council Resolution 1718 from 2006 agreement bans Pyongyang from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles. On what grounds does this resolution single out North Korea and omit the United States, Britain, or any other country? Again, has North Korea started a war in the last 50 years (and a reminder that the start of the Korean War itself isn't a simple matter)? The Security Council does indeed make "international law," but just as a change of a few votes could have made the invasion of Iraq "legal," it wouldn't make it right. So too here.

Unfortunately, the full-court press from the Administration and the media does have an effect. A new poll asserts that 57 percent of American voters "support a military approach to eliminate North Korea's nuclear capabilities" and just 15 percent oppose it. I'd have to see the actual poll and the question asked, but however biased it was, those numbers are still scary, a thousand times scarier than any "threat" from North Korea. Start another war? Sure, go ahead. Let's kill a few hundred thousand more "bad guys" while spending a few more hundred billion dollars we don't have.

As an aside, I have to note how that kind of response makes a mockery of the whole "9/11 truth" movement. The "9/11 truthers" would have us believe that a U.S. government conspiracy felt it necessary to knock down not only both main towers of the World Trade Center, but also the obscure "Building 7" that 99% of the public has never even heard of as well as ram something into the Pentagon (a plane? a missile? why a missile for the Pentagon when planes were fine for the Twin Towers?), all to whip the American people into a war fever. Sadly, as this poll on North Korea indicates, it doesn't even take any concrete actions for that fever to be whipped up, only the Administration and the media telling us there's a threat (e.g., that Iraq has WMD and they might - under conditions again unspecified because they're so implausible - attack us with them or might - more implausible hypotheticals - give them to terrorists). The threat doesn't even have to be imminent, as in the case of North Korea. They simply have to associate the words "threat" with North Korea (or Iran or Venezuela etc.) by repeating the words in conjunction with each other often enough, and the American people are ready for war. That's the "9/11 truth."


Sunday, April 05, 2009


 

We are the world


[Updated; see below]

And they are not. In language echoed throughout the Western media, the New York Times reports today:

North Korea defied the United States, its allies and a series of U.N. resolutions by launching a rocket on Sunday that it said propelled a satellite into space but that much of the world viewed as an unsuccessful effort to prove it is edging toward the capability to shoot a nuclear warhead on a longer-range missile.
No, "much of the world" did no such thing. Much of that small fraction of the world whose opinions are reflected in the pages of the New York Times, as well as in Congress, the White House, and the govdernments of their key allies in Western Europe and Japan may well have done so. But even "much of the world" in those countries are a thousand times more concerned about being thrown out of their job, losing their home, or a bad health incident which will drive them into bankruptcy than they are about a North Korean missile launch, and "much of the rest of the world" is firmly behind the right of countries to be free of interference by imperialism.

North Korea did incur the wrath of the U.N. Security Council. But "much of the world" is represented in the U.N. General Assembly. The same U.N. General Assembly which has voted for 17 consecutive years to condemn the U.S. blockade of Cuba, a condemnation which has been met with the upraised middle finger of the United States.

Definitions of, and concern for the opinions of, "much of the world," is very selective indeed in the United States government and media.

Update: Further evidence of the U.S. concern for the opinion of "much of the world" - in Prague today, Obama continued to lie about the supposed Iranian threat:

He also reiterated his pledge to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe as long as Iran poses a possible nuclear threat to the region.

A crucial component of the missile shield -- a radar tracking system -- would be based outside Prague under terms of a treaty signed by the Czech government and the Bush administration last July. But polls show that about 70 percent of Czechs are against the shield.
Ah, but "much of the world" is for it, I'm sure.

This Czech has Obama's number:

After the speech, several hundred people marched through central Prague denouncing the shield project. They carried balloons and placards reading, "Yes We Can -- Say No To Missile Shield" and "We Want Democracy -- 70 Percent of Czechs Opposed to U.S. Military Base."

Sabri Djerbi, a 24-year-old university student from Prague, said he was disappointed but not surprised that Obama endorsed the missile shield, after questioning the merits of the project during his presidential campaign.

"The people who tell him what to do are the same people who told George Bush what to do," Djerbi said. "They are just puppets. When Obama won, the American people cried and cried, saying, 'This is the best day of my life.' But no, I knew he wouldn't be any different, really."


Saturday, April 04, 2009


 

Nuclear proliferation


In Strasbourg yesterday, President Obama talked about nuclear weapons. While he talked about "a world without nuclear weapons," when it came to his own, it was only "serious steps to actually reduce our stockpiles"; the "elimination" had become "reduction" kind of like the "complete" withdrawal of troops from Iraq which will leave 50,000 U.S. troops there (if it gets that far - so far it's all talk and no action, and even the talk refers to how "plans may change").

But if you listen to what he had to say, while he did refer to reducing the U.S. stockpile (or at least to having discussions with Russia on that subject), most of what he had to say on the subject was about proliferation. Which, I suspect, is where this is all going. He'll be talking about reducing U.S. stockpiles, but using that as a lever to ratchet up international pressure against countries like Iran (who don't even have a nuclear weapons program) and North Korea.

Which brings me to the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus earlier this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Here's what Petraeus had to say:

"The [Iranian] regime’s obstinacy and obfuscation have forced Iran’s neighbors and the international community to conclude the worst about the regime’s intentions. As a result, other regional powers have announced their intentions to develop nuclear programs."
I, for one, know of no "other regional power" which has announced its intentions "to develop nuclear programs" as a result of anything, much less as a result of anything Iran is doing or suspected of doing. Now this may be a situation where the famous Donald Rumsfeld dictum ("Donsense") applies: "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence," so if any reader knows what Petraeus was referring to, please chime in. However, the lack of specificity in his statement (i.e., no naming of names) leads me to believe he was just talking through has hat, building up the Iranian "threat" by throwing out imaginary consequences of Iran's imaginary actions.

Here's the funny thing. Petraeus in this statement, and many others before him, talk about how an Iranian nuclear weapon would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But the biggest enemy of all of the countries in the Middle East is Israel, not Iran. Israel, a country which has on multiple occasions invaded its neighbors and routinely threatens others (like Iran) with attacks. And we know (we don't "suspect," as some absurd news articles have it) that Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons. Surely if anything was going to trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, it was Israel acquiring nuclear weapons, not the possibility that Iran might acquire them some time in the future. Strangely, however, that never comes up when U.S. politicians and pundits are speaking; it's only Iran which is going to trigger that arms race. What utter nonsense, but, as I noted above, nonsense with a purpose - the purpose of keeping the American public aroused about the non-existent Iranian "threat," ready at the drop of a hat to support war against Iran.


Friday, April 03, 2009


 

Quote of the Day


"Capitalism needs to go down. It has to end. And we must take a transitional road to a new model that we call socialism."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, speaking in Tehran, where he was joined by Iranian President Ahmadinejad who added "some decisions by the world leaders cannot restore dead imperialism."


Thursday, April 02, 2009


 

Cuba's Energy Revolution


Two years ago I wrote about an important film entitled "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil." It tells the story of how a planned, organized economy was able to respond to an economic catastrophe (the loss of the Soviet bloc as a trading partner) by making massive changes in the way it "did business." The film focuses on the huge change in agriculture, in which Cuba shifted a remarkable 80% of its production to organic farming, reducing its pesticide usage from 21,000 tons in the 80's to less than 1,000 tons. Furthermore 50% of Havana's vegetable needs, and 80-100% of smaller cities, were able to be fulfilled with urban agriculture, thus reducing transportation costs (and fuel usage). "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" also deals with Cuban efforts in other areas (e.g., solar power), but agriculture is its focus.

In the last few years, Cuba has extended its efforts in energy conservation to other areas - widespread distribution of CFLs, replacement of old appliances with energy efficient ones, etc. As a result of these changes, Cuba is the only country in the world which is ranked by the U.N. "sustainable" in its ecological footprint while simultaneously being ranked "high" on the "human development index." Obviously it's easy to have a "sustainable" - in the ecological sense - economy if people are living in more primitive conditions; doing so while providing education, health care, jobs, housing, electricity, and so on to the population isn't nearly as easy, as evidenced by the fact that only Cuba, with its planned, socialist economy, has been able to accomplish it.

This accomplishment is the subject of an extremely valuable, fact-filled article in, of all places, "Renewable Energy World." Here are some "bottom line" facts from the article:

[Cuba] is currently consuming 34% of the kerosene, 40% of the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and 80% of the gasoline it used to consume before the implementation of the Energy Revolution a mere two years earlier. Cuba’s per capita energy consumption is now at a level one-eighth of that in the US, while access to health services, education levels, and life expectancy are still some of the top ranking in the world, as Table 1, below shows.

One of the motivators, as you might expect, was Fidel Castro:
As President Fidel Castro explained in a May 2006 address to the Cuban Electric Utility company (UNE): "We are not waiting for fuel to fall from the sky, because we have discovered, fortunately, something much more important – energy conservation, which is like finding a great oil deposit."
Of course there are a lot of people in other countries who have said precisely the same thing. The difference is that they don't hold state power, or, if they do, they still wield that power on behalf of corporate profits rather than people's needs. Because if they did the latter, they could do this:
Their programme to allow people to switch their incandescent bulbs to more efficient compact fluorescents, free of charge, was met with complete success. In six months over nine million incandescent light bulbs, close to 100% of the bulbs used in the whole country, were changed to compact fluorescents – making Cuba the first country in the world to completely eliminate inefficient tungsten filament lighting.
What else can you do with state power? Here are some examples:
In order to get the word out to even more of the population, the mass media was employed. For instance, you never see advertising for commercial products on Cuban highways, instead scattered across the country are dozens of billboards promoting energy conservation. There is also a weekly television show dedicated to energy issues, and articles appear weekly in national newspapers espousing renewable energy, efficiency, and conservation. In 2007 alone there were over 8000 articles and TV spots dedicated to energy efficiency issues.
There's so much more in this article, information about improvements in distributed energy generation, energy transmission, wind energy, and on and on, I can only say please read it. I'll close with the article's close, however:
The rest of the world should follow Cuba’s lead, for only a true global energy revolution will allow us to seriously confront the dire environmental problems that the world now faces.
A government of the bought and paid for, by the lobbyists, and for the corporations, will unfortunately not be able to accomplish that revolution. Only a government of the people, by the people, and for the people will be able to do so. Which is why Cuba is the only country in the world that has been able to do what it has done.


 

All you need to know about the U.S. position on Israel


On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called [fascist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman to congratulate him on taking office. (Source)
Meanwhile, even leading Israelis are now acknowledging the obvious – that it is they who are the obstacles to peace:
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni says that her successor's recent remarks mean that from now on, Israel will be an obstacle to the peace process.

Livni, who was the country's top negotiator in peace talks with Palestinians, said Thursday that new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's position on the 2007 Annapolis deal "showed the world that we are not a partner [for peace]."

She said Israel was always complaining that there was no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, but Lieberman's remarks would in fact make the international community perceive Israel as the main obstacle.

Livni's remarks came a day after ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, said that Tel Aviv was not bound by the 2007 US-backed Annapolis deal, under which Israel agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

"What happened yesterday is that the Israeli government announced that Israel isn't relevant, isn't a partner," Livni told Army Radio.

She said far-right parties with hawkish policies have in the past avoided peace efforts with the "pathetic excuse" that there was no partner on the other side. "From today, Israel has announced that it is not a partner," she said.
Livni speaks as if she were some kind of "partner for peace" when she was Foreign Minister. Which is some kind of sick joke. Except the Palestinians aren't laughing.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009


 

Class struggle vs. class envy


I haven't written much about the AIG et al. bonus scandals, or the Bernie Madoff scandal, etc. etc. The outrage and faux outrage coming from the politicians and the pundits would have drowned out anything I had to say anyway. Gary Younge writing in The Nation (subscription only) writes what I would have written, only much better:
The problem isn't just that the sums involved in the AIG bonus crisis are less than one-thousandth of the amount of bailout money being paid out. It is that by concentrating on them so completely the focus shifted from the institutional to the individual, power to people, and in the process, from class struggle to class envy. The former targets the system that makes some people rich by making others poor; the latter is rooted in the popular resentment of the rich for their wealth.
What Younge doesn't say, although I have little doubt he would agree, is that the brouhaha in the media and from the politicians was precisely because of what Younge writes. The ruling class and its flunkies in the media know quite well how to keep Americans distracted from the underlying problems by waving around a shiny disk to attract (or would that be distract?) their attention.


Why stop here? There's more...

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