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Tuesday, June 30, 2009


 

Demonizing North Korea


The New York Times does its typical job of demonizing North Korea at every turn, in an article about the latest manufactured “confrontation” with “the West” with the ship “suspected” of carrying weapons being shadowed by U.S. warships. Some aspects of the demonization are subtle (some might call them simply racist) - the scattering through the article of words like “inscrutable” and “wily”, or the claim that the North Korean ship currently being tracked by the U.S. has a “rap sheet.”

Other aspects are more substantial. The claim, asserted as fact but which is in fact an unproven allegation, that North Korea supplied Syria with “reactor parts” for Syria’s alleged “secret” nuclear program. Some claims are true, but reveal quite a bit. We’re told that the ship might be carrying small arms which are “banned by the United Nations resolution.” Isn’t that interesting? The U.S. is the biggest arms dealer in the world, and it and its clients have been involved in dozens of wars over the years. North Korea has not been involved in a war in 60 years, it’s hardly a major arms dealer on the world scale, yet it is banned from shipping even “small arms” by the United Nations? Could anything reveal more clearly the nature of the United Nations and its resolutions?

The most serious demonization concerns not the ship, however, but the upcoming North Korean missile test. The author, David Sanger, writes:

Many expect the next missile test — one the North has suggested might be aimed at Hawaii — could come on Saturday. But if your holiday plans call for spending the day on Diamond Head, it is probably not worth cancelling your plans: There is no evidence yet the North’s missiles can reach that far, and their aim is singularly unimpressive.
Imagine. The reason you’re not supposed to be worried if you’re on Diamond Head isn’t because the idea that North Korea is about to fire a missile intended to land (and presumably explode) on Hawaii is utterly preposterous, but simply that their missiles aren’t that good. Of course the reality is that the liklihood of a first-strike on North Korea (or on Iran or pretty much any other designated enemy of the U.S.) is orders of magnitude greater than a first-strike on the U.S. or its allies by one of those "enemies." Many orders of magnitude. Readers of The New York Times, however, will be left, subconsciously if not consciously, with precisely the opposite impression.


 

The coup in Honduras succeeds


Why do I say that? It isn't over yet, events are still unfolding. The U.N. General Assembly voted by acclamation today, in a resolution sponsored by Bolivia, Venezuela, Mexico and the United States (!), among others, that it would not recognize any government other than Zelaya's. But even if Zelaya returns to power, he has now given in on the key issue:
"I'm not going to hold a constitutional assembly," he said. "And if I'm offered the chance to stay in power, I won't. I'm going to serve my four years."
What was the U.S. role in the coup? Given the outward opposition, you'd think the answer was "none." But it's not so simple, because the U.S. (in the person of Hillary Clinton and no doubt many others) has been personally involved in "negotiations" between the coup-makers and President Zelaya before the coup (and was still promoting further "negotiations" after the coup). If the coup is reversed but manages to "tame" Zelaya, did it achieve the end that the U.S. (and the Honduran oligarchy) was after?


 

Supporter of Iraq invasion joins Senate


That would be Al Franken.


Monday, June 29, 2009


 

Coup in Honduras


There was a coup in Honduras yesterday. I've been away from a TV all weekend, so I don't know how TV has been covering it. At Huffington Post, which was "all Iran, all the time" for weeks after the Iranian election, the coup isn't even "above the fold," just one small story way down the page.

For many interesting details of what happened, read Fidel Castro's latest column, which is more of a news summary than an "op-ed." Of course we all know how in Iran, authorities allegedly tried to eliminate access to Twitter and Facebook (I say "allegedly" because if they did, it certainly didn't have any effect). In Honduras, the coup-makers used a much simpler approach to prevent news from getting out. They first closed the official TV station and then, because other stations like Telesur and Cubavision could still be seen, simply cut the electricity to the entire country.

Then there was the experience of the foreign minister, another target of the coup. She was meeting with the ambassadors of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba after the kidnapping of the President, trying to get diplomatic protection. I'll let Fidel take it from there:

When the diplomats were already in her house, the putschist command sent Major Oceguera to put her under arrest. The diplomats stood between the woman and the officer and claimed she was under diplomatic protection and could only be moved accompanied by them. Oceguera discussed with them in a respectful fashion. A few minutes later, 12 or 15 men in uniform and covering their faces with ski masks rushed into the house. The three ambassadors embraced Patricia but the masked men using force managed to separate the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan ambassadors; Hernandez held her so strongly by one arm that the masked men dragged them both to a van and drove to an air base where they finally separated him and took her away.
The U.S. has denounced the coup. They've also denounced "continuing Israeli settlements" in Palestine. It remains to be seen if they put as much "force" (e.g., cutting off military aid) behind the former as they do they latter.


Friday, June 26, 2009


 

Michael Jackson and Cuba


The death of Michael Jackson, one of the truly great talents the music world has known, is a tragedy. But it might be even a bigger tragedy than most people realize. Because, were it not for the U.S. blockade of Cuba, his life might have been quite different.


 

Inhuman Iranians


AP has some strange ideas about what defines a person:
"In all, at least 17 people have been killed in postelection protests, in addition to eight members of the Basij"


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


 

Blogging break


Off until Monday. Look for me on the Appalachian Trail. Or Argentina. Although I won't actually be either place. Try to keep the world in one piece while I'm away. Better yet, overthrow the capitalist system.


 

U.S. military admits it routinely lies...again!


In August, 2008, an American airstrike killed 95 civilians in Afghanistan. The U.S. military issued its boilerplate statement: "Coalition forces make every effort to prevent the injury or loss of innocent lives." That was an obvious lie, since the repeated "loss of innocent lives" rather belied the claim of making "every effort." Some effort, maybe, but not every effort.

And sure enough, the military agreed with what I just wrote, because in October, 2008, new orders were issued which said that "commanders are now under orders to consider a 'tactical withdrawal' when faced with the choice of calling in air support during clashes in areas where civilians are believed to be present."

But civilian casualties have continued at essentially the same rate, and the headline of this post does say "again." Why? Because today, the better part of a year after those last "new orders," CNN is reporting that "The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan plans to issue a directive that will restrict the use of U.S. airstrikes in areas where civilian casualties might be a risk." As plain an admission as possible that all previous statements about "making every effort" were just a bald-faced lie.

And won't Gen. McChrystal be surprised when he learns his new "directive" isn't even necessary, since the same directive was issued last October, with the same effect that the new one will no doubt have.

By the way, I wonder if he'll be issuing that directive to the people who sit in Omaha, Nebraska (or wherever they are) and operate the drones that killed as many as 80 people in Pakistan yesterday.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


 

Imprisoning demonstrators


President Obama today denounced the imprisonment of demonstrators in Iran, demonstrators he referred to as participating in "peaceful protest" and being "innocent civilians." It is of course true that the overwhelming majority of protesters in Iran have been engaging in innocent protest, but there have also been many throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, and setting not just trash on fire, but also motorcycles and buses. All of these things have been well-documented in the videos that are circulating.

As an outcome of these demonstrations, several hundred people have been arrested. We have no way to know the individual status of each of those, although it's safe to say there were at least that many protesters (and probably many more) engaging in acts of violence which would bring an arrest in any city in the world.

Now for the history lesson. In 2004, 1806 people were arrested in New York City at the Republican Convention. Not a single Molotov cocktail was thrown, not a single bus burned, no one was throwing rocks at the police, basically it was completely non-violent (on the part of the protesters). In 2008, more than 280 were arrested at the next Republican Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, including several reporters. Even before that, armed police had staged preemptive raids on activists, detaining activists at a half-dozen locations. Again, in the absence of any violence.

Outrage from prominent politicians like Obama at those arrests? Absent to the best of my knowledge.


 

Violent deaths around the world


In Iran, in 11 days since the election, 17 people have been killed, although by whom is not at all clear. President Obama says the entire world is "appalled and outraged."

In Pakistan today, 40 or more 50 people were murdered in the "approved, civilized, democratic" way - by missiles fired by a U.S. drone on a funeral gathering. We'll anxiously await the statement about the world being "appalled and outraged" at this brutal murder.


 

A tasteless poll


Which was more tasteless, David Letterman making a joke about a young woman getting "knocked up," a young woman who it so happens was in fact "knocked up" and went through a very public pregnancy (complete with official Gubernatorial press releases) as a result, or the President of the United States making not one but two jokes about Uighurs, men who were deprived of seven years of their lives under, let's be charitable, less than favorable conditions, despite the fact that virtually from the very start the U.S. government knew they were innocent men?

Incidentally, you all know the coverage the David Letterman joke has had (and continues to have). When I went to search for a link to Obama's speech and jokes, I had to eventually find the link to the original speech, because virtually all the press coverage of his appearance did not even mention his jokes at the expense of the Uighurs.


 

Western "respect" for democracy


When Hamas won elections in Palestine it led to the brutal blockade of Gaza, a totally undisguised collective punishment in violation of international law and common morality which continues to this day, enforced by Israel and Egypt but with the solid backing of countries like the U.S. and U.K. which are so vocal about their alleged support for democracy in Iran (support which was strangely lacking during the rule of the Shah, just as it is lacking today when it comes to Saudi Arabia).

But there's another aspect of the Palestine election which receives less attention - the imprisonment by Israel of 64 Palestinian Cabinet ministers, legislators, and other officials, charged with belonging to a "banned organization" (Hamas). This event comes to mind because today Israel decided to release, because he had reached the end of his sentence, the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Abdul Aziz Dweik. The release is bizarre in that Dweik is, of course, still a member of Hamas, and thus is presumably (by Israeli "law") subject to immediate re-arrest, trial (if he's lucky), and sentencing for precisely the same "crime" he was in prison for in the first place. This may account for the fact that a military court was apparently allowed to extend the sentence (but declined to do so in this case), a practice only one step removed from giving them an indeterminate sentence in the first place (which I would have said was the U.S. practice except the U.S. practice of indeterminate sentences doesn't include the pesky formality of trials).

Curious how that Western respect for "democracy" varies from place to place, isn't it?


 

Two Three must-read articles about Iran (plus $0.02 more)


Via the Huffington Post, this interview with a cleric from Qom will give you insight into the Iranian election (and much, much more) that you won't get anywhere else.

A second, more analytical piece, written by an Iranian friend of mine who went to Iran shortly before the elections and is still there, is here, and also well worth reading.

Finally, just one observation from me. You will have heard and read everywhere by now (for example, this news article and this editorial in today's San Jose Mercury News) about how "Iran's most powerful oversight council announced Monday that the number of votes recorded in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by 3 million." The truth? Yes. The whole truth? Not quite. Because if you read the complete article in The New York Times, and manage to get down to the next to the last paragraph, you'll read this:

To vote, all citizens must show their shenasnameh, a wallet-sized folder holding all important documents, including birth certificates and proofs of marriage and divorce. Iranians can visit any polling site they choose to with their shenasnameh, which is why some districts end up with more ballots cast than eligible voters. People with summer or weekend houses, for example, often do not go home to vote.
Does that mean that "ballot stuffing" didn't occur? No. But it does mean that "shading the truth" most definitely did occur - in the pages and the airwaves of Western media, who failed to inform their readers and viewers that a vote total greater than the number of registered voters was not prima facie evidence of fraud.

Update: A third important article entitled "Has the U.S. Played a Role in Fomenting Unrest During Iran’s Election?" Actually the "Has" would have been better replaced with the word "How."


Monday, June 22, 2009


 

Oh, to be "bought off"


As much as I hate to quote the odious Tom Friedman, and most of the time I avoid actually reading his column at all, this caught my eye in his latest effort:
"The Islamic Revolution...has used its oil wealth...to buy off huge swaths of the population with cheap housing, government jobs and subsidized food and gasoline."
Oh, to have a government which would "buy me off" in such a way.

By the way, Friedman might have added health care to his list of the ways the government "buys off" its people as well.


 

Videos of people being killed


In high rotation on TV news is a video of a young Iranian woman, Neda, being shot and killed. I wasn't even home most of the weekend, and I've still seen it a half dozen times. It's still being talked about and shown on CNN today.

There are many videos of non-violent Palestinian and international demonstrators being shot and killed, or very seriously wounded, by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank. Here's one (scroll to the bottom, after the photos) showing the murder of Bassem Abu Rahme on April 17, 2009. Here'a another showing American (repeat that for emphasis: American, as in, presumably of higher interest to American television audiences) Tristan Anderson being critically wounded on March 13.

Not once, to my knowledge, has any such video been shown on American television, despite the fact that the murders were committed by people carrying out an occupation backed by American money, weapons, and political support. OK, "despite the fact" may be a misstatement. "Because of the fact" might be more accurate.

A close friend wrote a letter to the local paper based on this post, which talked about cutbacks in education and compared it to U.S. military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. aid to Israel and Pakistan. Guess what got cut out of the letter? That's right, the part about Israel.


 

Left I's "Believe It or Not!"


From the "stuff you wouldn't believe unless you saw it with your own eyes" dept: This morning on CNN (and presumably elsewhere), the former Crown Prince of Iran, named, like his father, Reza Pahlavi, talking about "thugs and tyrants" in Iran, and the need for "democracy." All without a trace of self-awareness.


Saturday, June 20, 2009


 

Vets say NO to war and occupation



Friday, June 19, 2009


 

Priorities


San Jose is increasing class size from 20 to 30 students to save $6 million. The state legislature, recognizing that such "savings", along with other "savings" like firing teachers and shortening the school year, is actually (imagine that) going to affect the quality of education, is proposing to eliminate the high school exit exam. No sense testing students if you know in advance you've done a poor job educating them. Just graduate 'em and get 'em the heck out of there. I'm sure they'll be qualified for the military, if nothing else.

$6 million is the cost of 13 minutes of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan (the "supplemental" just passed allocates $80 billion for war through Sept. 30 - that's $20 billion/month, $667 million/day and $28 million/hour). $6 million is the amount we spend on our total "defense" budget in less than one minute. $6 million is less than one percent of what Barack Obama spent to be elected President of the United States. $6 million is two-tenths of one percent of the $3 billion we will be sending to Israel this year to help them maintain their brutal oppression of the Palestinian people, less than four-tenths of one percent of the $1.5 billion we're about to send to Pakistan, much of which has been spent to arm themselves for a war against India.

Is there any wonder we can't find $6 million to educate our children?


 

Pop quiz


What is wrong with this lead sentence from AP today?
Suspected U.S. missiles pounded militant hideouts Thursday in the tribal belt near Afghanistan.
The answer, obviously, is that the word "suspected" is in the wrong place. There's only one country operating drones firing missiles over Pakistan, and that's the U.S. On the other hand, we know from experience that the targets of those missiles, invariably claimed to be "militants" (or "militant hideouts"), as often as not prove to be plain old "civilians."

But the more the media can do to make Americans forget the inconvenient fact, the better. "Suspected militant hideouts"? Why, if they said that, it might make clear that the "rules of engagement" the U.S. operates under are one part "rules" and nine parts "engagement."


Thursday, June 18, 2009


 

Free the Cuban Five!


Apologies for the lack of posting; I've been really busy this week due to the despicable Supreme Court decision refusing to hear the appeal of the Cuban Five. Here's a video from Monday's protest in San Francisco:


Sunday, June 14, 2009


 

The big lie on Iran gets even bigger


In his coverage today of the Iranian election, the New York Times' Bill Keller writes (with emphasis added by me):
Outside Iran, the result was comforting to hawks in Israel and some Western capitals who had feared that a more congenial Iranian president would cause the world to let down its guard against a country galloping toward nuclear weapons capability.
Not just with a "nuclear weapons program," which would be a sufficiently big lie. Not just "making steady progress towards a nuclear weapons capability." No, "galloping" towards it. The truth, of course, is that not only is there no evidence whatsoever of an Iranian "nuclear weapons program," but that Iran has actively disavowed any intention ever to have one, with Ayatollah Khamenei going so far as to issue a fatwa against nuclear weapons.

Now I could be charitable to Keller, and admit that a possible reading of that sentence is that the "galloping towards nuclear weapons capability" is a claim Keller is attributing to "hawks in Israel and some Western capitals." However I'm not in so charitable a mood, because a simple "allegedly" or similar word could have made it clear Keller isn't endorsing that preposterous claim. No such word appears.

Not to mention I hardly should feel charitable to a journalist whose writing includes such carefully sourced "information" as this:

One version (from somebody’s brother who supposedly knew someone inside) had it that vote counters simply were ordered to doctor the numbers: "Make that 1,000 for Ahmadinejad a 3,000."
Once again, I could be charitable to Keller because he says this is just the "speculation on the street." But sorry, my charity doesn't extend that far.

And they say the Internet is an unreliable source of information.


 

PBS and BBC


I was riding in the car today, listening successively to news on PBS and then BBC. PBS reported Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech today as offering to begin negotiations with the Palestinians with "no preconditions." BBC's report centered on the actual speech (as opposed to the one in the alternative universe that PBS heard), in which the entire speech was about preconditions, specifically the conditions insisted upon by Netanyahu - recognition of the "Jewish nature" of the Israeli state, and a completely disarmed Palestinian state (and of course no freeze on settlements).


Saturday, June 13, 2009


 

CNN and Al Jazeera


Could there be a better contrast? This morning over breakfast I turned on CNN. They were talking about "Obama date night." I opened up my computer and brought up Al Jazeera. There, David Frost was interviewing Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt about the election in Lebanon (it was actually a repeat from a couple days earlier). Shortly thereafter, Al Jazeera had extensive features on the Iranian election, the upcoming election in Afghanistan, and the continuing appalling state of affairs in Gaza. CNN did go with a brief segment of Christiane Amanpour in Tehran, featuring a view of the election entirely from the point of view of the opposition, before quickly getting back to the important news - Sarah Palin's criticism of David Letterman.

Incidentally, the interview with Jumblatt was rather telling as well. Every other sentence out of his mouth was about the Israeli settlements, about how they had to be brought to a halt immediately, and ultimately dismantled, before there would be any real change in the Middle East situation. He decried the view of the elections there as a victory for a "Western-backed alliance" (of which he is part), and said the Israelis should "go to hell" if they thought this election meant anything positive for them.

Later, when they turned to Iran, Al Jazeera's interviewee was an Iranian professor from the University of Tehran (most of the Iranians seen on CNN and other Western channels have been expatriate Iranians). He was actually a supporter of Moussavi, but explained how the election result wasn't that huge a surprise, and how the view of the Iranian electorate in the Western media is totally distorted by their focus on the upper middle class, and how they never actually even visit, much less talk to, the working people of the country.

Just like here.


Friday, June 12, 2009


 

A riddle


What does Hezbollah have in common with Al Gore?




Answer: They both won the popular vote in their elections. Yes, despite the Western triumphalism about the defeat of Hezbollah and its allies in the recent Lebanese election, it turns out the popular vote was: opposition 50.4%, ruling coalition 46%, and other 3.6%.

Update: More analysis along similar lines, calling attention to the fact that the "huge defeat of Hezbollah" caused by the alleged "Obama effect" caused Hezbollah and its allies to go from 58 seats in the former Parliament to 57 in this one.


Thursday, June 11, 2009


 

Terrorists in the news...and not in the news


One week a right-wing anti-abortion terrorist murders a doctor in Kansas, the next a right-wing "white power" anti-Semite murders a security guard at the Holocaust Museum. But there's one very large group of right-wing terrorists whose names and activities are virtually absent from the news, despite their presenting a very real threat. Of course I'm talking about right-wing anti-Cuban terrorists in Miami, who have recently been involved with (fortunately unsuccessful) assassination plots against both Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. There might (or might not, depending on what paper you read) have been the briefest of mentions of these plots, but nothing you have read will come close to the detail you'll find in this article from Granma Internacional. If the only name you know is "Luis Posada Carriles," or perhaps also "Orlando Bosch," you need to think again, because the terrorist gangs are much more extensive than that. And, as the author points out, actively protected by the U.S. government.

And speaking of Luis Posada Carriles and protection by the U.S. government, this almost unbelievable (but of course totally believable) news just in: Posada's U.S. trial (for immigration fraud and perjury, not for terrorism) has just been postponed...until next February! For sure the U.S. government would like nothing better than to keep stalling and stalling until the 81-year-old Posada dies of natural causes. Anything other than actually extraditing him to Venezuela to stand trial for the murder of 73 people in the mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455.


 

The Holocaust


The Holocaust is in the news, and just coincidentally, last night IFC was broadcasting The Pianist. When it came out in 2002, despite its great reviews, for me it was just "one Holocaust movie too far," and I passed on seeing it, but last night I decided to watch it, and I'm glad I did, if for nothing else than to see the virtuoso (and Oscar-winning) performance of Adrien Brody in the title role of Wladyslaw Szpilman. There's much more to like about the movie, for sure; it's certainly well worth watching if you haven't seen it.

The movie tells the tragic story of the near-extermination of the Polish Jewish population and their existence in the Warsaw Ghetto, through the very real (though no doubt "artistically licensed" - he always seems to have a remarkable eyewitness view of key events) experiences of Szpilman. And it is an almost unbelievably tragic story, make no mistake about that. But as I was watching the film, watching its scenes of the Germans building walls around the Jewish population, and watching the Jews forced to funnel through checkpoints to get from one part of their ghetto to another and being routinely humiliated by the Germans, and watching them starve as their access to food was reduced and reduced again, of course I couldn't help but think of the Palestinians, particularly the Palestinians in Gaza, where all those scenes are repeated regularly (as photographically documented by Norman Finkelstein). As unbelievable as was the experience of the Jews of Warsaw (and elsewhere in Europe), it's just as unbelievable that their descendants, and perhaps even some of the very same people, now treat the Palestinians in much the same way.

No, it's not quantitatively the same. Palestinians are being slaughtered by the thousands, not the millions, and the Israelis don't shoot them point-blank in the head with pistols, instead they kill them from 100 yards with "tear-gas" canisters which for all intents and purposes are just huge bullets. But although I'd like to be charitable to the Israelis, and say they're just "nicer" than the bestial Germans portrayed in the movie, for all we know if the world wasn't watching, and if they wouldn't risk losing U.S. support, Israeli barbarism towards the Palestinians could rise to higher, even much higher, levels.

There are Holocaust museums all over the world. Will there ever be museums to the horrors being committed right in front of our faces, not 65 years ago, but today?


Monday, June 08, 2009


 

Self-control I can't imagine


No doubt you've read about the two Cuban "spies" just arrested by the U.S. Government. I put the word "spies" in quotes, because, although they were at least allegedly engaged in real espionage (passing classified information to another government), they weren't in any way professional "spies," but honest people whose only motivation was a repulsion for U.S. policy towards Cuba and an admiration for the achievements of the Cuban revolution, and who allegedly received no pay whatsoever for what they did.

But here's the part I just can't fathom:

In the succeeding years, as the couple were allegedly passing information to the Cubans, they never indicated any interest in the island, according to friends and colleagues -- even at long dinner parties in which guests discussed world affairs.

"I never heard him say anything about Latin America at all -- ever, ever," said a retired Foreign Service officer who worked with Myers and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Now the Cuban Five are a different story. They were infiltrating right-wing terrorist groups in Miami, and expressing any kind of support for Cuba would have not only blown their cover, but possibly gotten them killed as well. But Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers were in a completely different situation. How they could have spent 30 years without expressing the slightest interest in, much less support for, Cuba, is self-control I just can't imagine. I guess I've proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm not a Cuban agent, and blown my chances of ever becoming one, since I can't stop talking about my support and admiration.

Truly amazing.


Saturday, June 06, 2009


 

Wiesel words at Buchenwald


Speaking with President Obama at Buchenwald yesterday was Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, survivor of the Holocaust. Here was some of the hypocrisy he treated the audience to (and the media subsequently treated us to):
"Mr. President, we have such high hopes for you because you, with your moral vision of history, will be able and compelled to change this world into a better place, where people will stop waging war — every war is absurd and meaningless."
That's funny. Because I remember Elie Wiesel as a supporter of the completely unjustified, illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq.

Then we heard:

"When I was liberated in 1945, April 11, by the American army, somehow many of us were convinced that at least one lesson will have been learned — that never again will there be war; that hatred is not an option, that racism is stupid; and the will to conquer other people’s minds or territories or aspirations.
Could that be the same Elie Wiesel speaking about not conquering other people's territories who was a member of the terrorist Irgun which helped drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land and conquer it for Israel?

President Obama spoke in Cairo about how "for more than 60 years they [the Palestinians] have endured the pain of dislocation." I was almost expecting him (silly me) to follow that sentence with one about the "right of return," but, needless to say, no such follow-up followed. What's worth remembering, since it's the kind of thing that Elie Wiesel has played a big part in over the years (though perhaps not this particular incident), is that to this very day, property looted by the Nazis from Jews is being returned to their owners (or their descendants). Yet the idea of returning the property looted from Palestinians by Jews is, for people like Wiesel and Obama, not only off the table, but completely out of sight.

I learned from Wiesel's speech that his father was not killed in a gas chamber, like so many Jews, but died of starvation and disease at Buchenwald (as did many others, of course). It caused me to wonder if Wiesel has given a second's thought to the fact that hundreds of people in Gaza, many of them very young children, have died in the last few years of starvation and disease, and are dying to this very day, inflicted by the descendants of the people who died at Buchenwald.

By the way, that figure of 337 I quoted the other day does not include old people like Wiesel's father, it only includes people who clearly died from lack of medical care for specific, treatable conditions. The number of "excess deaths" which have occurred in Gaza or the West Bank simply due to the deplorable conditions, combined with the insufficient diet, is unknown. Just recently the U.N. reported that an unbelievable 30 per cent of children below 36 months of age and 50 per cent of pregnant women in Gaza are anemic due to the "diet" imposed on them by Israel.

Today is not just the 65th anniversary of D-Day. It's the 42nd anniversary of the Israeli takeover of Gaza, which led to those 337 deaths, the deaths of 1400 Gazans in the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, and so many, many more. While we're busy remembering the Holocaust and D-Day and the victims of 65 years ago, let's spare a thought for today's victims, shall we?


Friday, June 05, 2009


 

Our thoughtful President


Headline:
Obama Weighs Plan Allowing 9/11 Suspects to Plead Guilty
Man, how thoughtful can you get? How about a plan to allow them to plead not guilty? I guess that's too thoughtful.


 

Sotomayor: are the Republicans crazy?


Or crazy like a fox?

To say that Republican attacks on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, like calling her a "racist," have been off the deep end is to understate the depth of the deep end. They've largely succeeded in making fools of themselves, in a process in which their chance of "winning" (stopping the nomination) is zero. So what are they up to?

Some say it's just Republicans trying to appeal to their "base," at the expense of their appeal to the "middle." But I think it's more than that, specifically, a case of "the best defense is a good offense." And what do I mean by that? By all accounts, Sotomayor is a moderate, a "centrist." See SCOTUSblog for the legal analysis, or just read the words of Sotomayor herself:

"I was dealt with on the basis of stereotypes . . . and it was painful . . . and not based on my record," she told the lawyers in New York in 1998. "I got a label because I was Hispanic and a woman and [therefore] I had to be liberal."
I read that statement as a denial that she is a liberal (which just reinforces the facts based on her judicial record).

So back to the Republicans. What are they up to? By putting up such a huge stink over a centrist judge like Sotomayor, they are making a preventive strike, issuing advance warning of the level of opposition they would put up if Obama dared to nominate an actual liberal, and, in so doing, trying to make sure that Obama keeps nominating people like Sotomayor, or even judges even further to the right. Based on Obama's own record, which is also that of a centrist, I frankly don't think the Republicans had that much to worry about, but they have no reason to take chances.

Crazy? Yes, but also crazy like a fox. A little of both.


Thursday, June 04, 2009


 

Dangerous countries of the world


An article in Ha'aretz informs us about a study which claims "Israel is the world's fourth most dangerous country." And the top (or bottom) three? Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Gee, let's see if we can divine the connection between these four. Two of them invaded by the United States, one of them invaded by Ethiopia as a proxy for the United States, and one of them engaged in continuous wars with its neighbors (Gaza, Lebanon, the West Bank) with U.S. weapons and economic and political support (and also in some respects as a proxy for the United States).

The U.S. itself is ranked 83 out of 144 (the higher numbers are the "most dangerous"). Evidently being the cause of danger in the other countries isn't taken account in this study. Actually taking a look at the study reveals its rather bizarre nature. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 the most "peaceful", here are the first two categories for the United States:

1) Number of external and internal conflicts fought, 2002-2007: 1.5

Huh? The U.S. is fighting two major wars and also involved with bombing Pakistan. That's only worth a 1.5? Are you kidding me?

2) Estimated number of deaths from organised conflict (external): 3

What on earth would get you a "5" in this category? Dropping an atomic bomb on your enemies? 1 million+ Iraqis only rates a 3?

And I got a kick out of comparing the rating of the U.S. and Cuba in some of the categories. "Importance of religion in national life?" Cuba 5, U.S. 3? Excuse me? "Willingness to fight? (under "Culture") Cuba 5, U.S. 2? Whaaa? What is this based on, the Cuban boxing team? (By the way, Iraq got a "1" on the "willingness to fight" scale). "Corruption perception? (with 10="highly clean" and 0="corrupt") Cuba 4.3, U.S. 7.3? Balderdash. People have a variety of criticisms of Cuba, but "corruption" isn't even remotely one of them.

So the "study" is pretty much nonsense as far as I can tell. Still, the result of the "four most dangerous" is still rather telling.


 

A "war of choice"


President Obama in Cairo today openly acknowledged that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a "war of choice." What a lovely euphemism. I chose to wear a yellow shirt today and not a red shirt. I chose to eat chocolate ice cream and not strawberry. Those are "choices." A "war of choice" is better described with just a single word: "aggression."

"Wars of aggression" were described by Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials in these famous words:

"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Will the international community act to bring the perpetrators of this "supreme international crime" to justice, now that the President of the United States has admitted that the invasion of Iraq was just such a war?


 

Obama in Cairo


Transcript.

"We [the United States] were born out of revolution against an empire," says Obama. Much later in the speech, we see the lesson he learned from that fact, which he hopes the Palestinians will learn:

"Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed."
Hmmmm. Of course he also claims that's the lesson of the fight against slavery in this country:
"For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding."
I seem to remember there was a war in there somewhere. It's true that Blacks did not come out of the Civil War with "full and equal rights," but without that war, a great many of them would have had no rights at all.

Then we come to Palestine, with so much to say.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
Actually, it was time for them to stop in 1967, since they were illegal on that day and have been illegal every day since. Not accepting the "legitimacy" of "continued" settlements (by which he means continued building of new settlements, not the "continued" existence of existing ones) is a not-so-clever way to accept the legitimacy of the existing settlements.

And the seige of Gaza?

"Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build."
But the ones in Gaza quite literally can't "build" anything since Israel and Egypt are preventing the importation of all building materials - steel, concrete, glass.
"They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation."
They do. But starvation, or dying because of the denial of access to medical care, is not just a "humiliation," even a "large" humiliation. It's genocide.
"And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank."
Again, 1-year-old Palestinians are dying in Gaza because of lack of medical care, and Obama's reaction to this is that it "does not serve Israel's security." Really, it would be hard to find a more offensive formulation than that.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Obama's talk about how he's going to "pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires" is patent nonsense, particularly when it comes to the siege of Gaza. Obama could break the siege of Gaza tomorrow if he chose to do so, and it wouldn't even have to involve giving an ultimatum to Israel or Egypt:

Imagine, instead of the puny "Free Gaza" boats sailing into Gaza with a day or two's worth of supplies, if a U.S. warship (or peaceship if you prefer, but they'll need to be armed to make sure the Israelis take no action) filled with hundreds of tons of supplies were to sail up to Gaza.
No, instead he'll keep talking about how "now is the time" to do something about it, instead of acknowledging that that time was long ago.

9/11 and the invasion of Iraq?

"Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year."
That's what you've got? The actions "contrary to our traditions and our ideals" consisted of torturing people and imprisoning people at Guantanamo? How about invading other countries which didn't attack us? How about the indefinite imprisonment of tens of thousands of people without charges, trials, or any rights at all? How about indiscriminate bombing of civilians?

On Iran:

"For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country."
Yeah, yeah, it's all about you. Iran's concern has nothing to do with the continued threats against it from Israel and the United States. And, by the way, thanks for acknowledging that the United States "played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government." Quite true. The leading role.
"But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point...And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
If it complies? Iran is in complete compliance with the NPT, so why we have "reached a decisive point" about nuclear weapons is completely unclear.

I'll end on a hopeful (with tongue in cheek) note. Obama did explicitly endorse a "two-state" solution. But doesn't this sound like he should have been endorsing a one-state solution?

"Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)"
Of course (you knew I really couldn't end on a hopeful note, didn't you?), what "God intended" is precisely one of the major sources of the problem; just ask the settlers (and their supporters in the Knesset) who believe God ordained them to possess "Judea and Samaria." Putting your weight behind what "God intended" is precisely the wrong way to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I'm sure there's lots more to say; it's a long speech. But for now I've got to move on.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009


 

The "existential threat" to Israel


If you listen to Israeli leaders, or American politicians, Iran is an "existential threat" to Israel. Even Hamas rockets are so described. Israeli peace activist and writer Gideon Levy sets the record straight:
Israel's only real existential danger is losing U.S. support. Yes, there is no Israel without America - not only the $30 billion annual defense aid (without which the IDF would be a shadow of itself), or the market for one-third of Israeli exports, but also international support. Israel, which has become a leper in many circles, is lost without Washington's sponsorship. There is no alternative superpower - having Micronesia alone on our side at the UN will not get us very far.


 

LeftI's Law


Most readers probably have heard of "Godwin's Law,", which has various forms, basically saying that if you mention Hitler in any discussion, the discussion is over and you lose. Of course this has never prevented U.S. politicians and pundits from talking about "Ahmadinejad as the 'next Hitler'," "Saddam as the 'next Hitler'," "Khaddafi as the 'next Hitler'," "Milosevic as the 'next Hitler'," etc., etc.

Maybe there's already another law, but if there isn't I'm hereby calling it "LeftI's Law," that says any accusations of "anti-Semitism" based solely on criticism of Israel (as opposed to actual anti-Semitism - defacing synagogues, and so on) automatically ends any discussion, and the person who raised that charge loses the argument.

Case in point:

Knesset (parliament) member Yaakov Katz, head of the National Union party, said Wednesday that US President Barack Obama's repeated calls for halting the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is "nothing less than anti-Semitism," Israel's Arutz Sheva reported.
I wonder how MP Katz would characterize the existence of "Jewish settlements"? Do you think it possible he might recognize, if he actually thought about it, the racist (and, to be technical, "anti-Semitic") nature of that very concept? Somehow, I doubt it. Because, after all, people like Barack Obama don't even refer to the existing Jewish settlements as "illegal." Much less "racist."

Update: Here's the delightful poster that this group is putting up all over Israel:


 

The voice of California voters


I wrote after the last statewide election in May about the intentional misinterpretation of the "voters' message" as "no new taxes." In the strange way of elections in this country, yesterday was yet another election day (god only knows why) in four cities and counties. In each of those votes, there was a landslide in favor of higher taxes - 60%, 78%, 73%, and 62% in the four elections. Now with the undemocratic form of such elections, in which a 2/3 vote is required for passage, only two of those four tax measures actually passed. Nevertheless, the "voice of the voters" was as clear as can be, as it was on May 19 - higher taxes used to pay for desired services (like education) are favored by a huge majority of people.


 

Obama mingles with the masses


Nothing like meeting with one dictator (excuse me, "king") while on your way to the country of another dictator to deliver a speech about democracy:
Obama and Abdullah then sat together in gilded chairs, sipped cardamom-flavored Arabic coffee from small cups.

The president was to stay overnight at the king's farm outside Riyadh. Abdullah... keeps some 260 Arabian horses on its sprawling grounds in air-conditioned comfort.
Yes, that's a touch that will endear Obama to the Arab masses.

We're told that "the president was talking to Abdullah about a host of thorny problems, from Arab-Israeli peace efforts to Iran's nuclear program." I'd say a thorny and rather pressing topic would be the ongoing seige of Gaza, in which the U.S. is complicit in the ongoing starvation and murder of the Palestinian people. No doubt they too would love to live in "air-conditioned comfort" like the King's horses, but the Israeli-Egyptian-U.S. blockade which has prevented all rebuilding materials from entering Gaza since its recent destruction by Israel with U.S. weapons is rather an obstacle to that. Let's have a discussion on that "thorny topic," shall we?


 

Dick Cheney has a new job - AP ghostwriter


How else to explain this claim:
Bin Laden cited anger at U.S. support for Israel as the guiding philosophy of the terrorist organization that drew American forces into wars in Afghanistan, where he was believed to be hiding, and Iraq, which was flooded by al-Qaida fighters after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Needless to say, Al Qaeda did not "draw American forces into Iraq." George Bush and Dick Cheney and a compliant Congress sent them there, allegedly to "rid Iraq of (non-existent) WMD." And even though Cheney was alleging at time time a "connection" between Iraq and 9/11 (which he is now admitting there was never any evidence to support), even he didn't claim that there were Al Qaeda "forces" in Iraq in March, 2003, "drawing" American forces to them.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009


 

Suicide Murder at Guantanamo


The news informs us that a fifth person imprisoned at Guantanamo has died. They call it "suicide." It's no such thing, whether the actual instrument of death was his own hand or not. No, these five deaths were murder, pure and simple. People imprisoned without charges, without trial, for an indefinite period of time. Force fed when they choose to go on hunger strikes, frequently tortured or otherwise treated harshly, these men were driven to despair, and driven to their deaths just as surely as if they had been pushed off a cliff.

"Suicide"? Hardly. These were murders. Murders committed by the same war criminals whose victims include more than a million Iraqis and thousands upon thousands of Afghans, Pakistanis, Somalis, and others.


 

Saint Ronnie


About that "bullet-proof" majority the Democrats enjoy in Congress? Here's how much it's worth - today President Obama "proudly" signed the "Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission" act, establishing a commission which "will plan and carry out activities to honor Ronald Reagan on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, and will also provide assistance to federal, state, and local governmental agencies and civic groups to carry out such activities."

The vote on the bill in that Democratic-dominated Congress? 371-19 in the House, and "unanimous consent" in the Senate. Exactly 19 members of Congress could be mustered to protest the outrage of honoring one of the worst Presidents ever, a man who, among his many other sins, described both the Contras fighting the progressive Sandinista government in Nicaragua as well as the mujahedin (including Osama bin Laden) fighting a progressive government in Afghanistan as "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers."

Obama's praise of Reagan today came as no surprise to me, as he had explicitly praised Reagan during his campaign for President.


Monday, June 01, 2009


 

Human Rights Watch and their "higher collective standard"


Human Rights Watch (HRW) today urged the OAS not to readmit Cuba because "OAS members have made an explicit commitment to promote human rights and the rule of law in the region." They go on to say that "Instead of lowering the region's bar to accommodate Cuba, the OAS should press Cuba to raise its respect for human rights to meet a higher collective standard."

Yes, we all know about that "higher standard" that permeates the OAS. Like that of its leading member, the United States, which has demonstrated its commitment to the "rule of law" by illegally invading other countries and causing the death of more than a million people; the United States, which has demonstrated its commitment to human rights by using its unwanted possession of a portion of Cuban territory to imprison literally hundreds of people without charges, trial, or pretty much any rights at all (and what rights they do have tenaciously won by lawyers, not through any concession by the U.S. government), and which has acknowledged 28 confirmed or suspected homicides of detainees in their custody, people literally tortured to death, with many more unacknowledged. That's the "higher collective standard" that HRW aspires to.

Meanwhile HRW slanders Cuba with the charge that "for nearly five decades, the Cuban government has enforced political conformity with criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, physical abuse, and surveillance." This is an out-and-out lie. There is no one in Cuba who has been criminally prosecuted for "political nonconformity"; unlike the U.S. prison in Cuba (Guantanamo), everyone in prison in Cuba has been charged, tried, and convicted for violating existing laws.

Not, by the way, that the U.S. is the only offender in the OAS. On its front page today, HRW features an article describing "an epidemic of violence against transgender people" in Honduras. Meanwhile in Cuba just two weeks ago there was a celebration and march for the International Day against Homophobia, as well as an announcement that government-paid sex-change operations will soon be underway.

Want to improve the average human rights level of the members of the OAS? Try expelling the U.S. And to really improve the level, readmit Cuba, the country where respect for the right to education, housing, health care, and a job are placed before the "right" to make a profit.

Addendum: One of the leading criticisms that one hears of Cuban human rights is their imprisonment of 75 "journalists." Now the definition of a "journalist" is open to debate, I'm pretty sure I've written more words publicly about news events than any of those 75 ever did. But that's beside the point, because the 75 were not put in prison for being journalists (or even "journalists") or for anything they wrote; if that were the case, the West's favorite Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez would have been in jail long ago.

The reality is that the 75 were imprisoned for meeting with, and taking money from, agents of a foreign government whose stated policy towards Cuba is "regime change" - the United States. And, not coincidentally, the arrests of those 75 occurred just days before the U.S. demonstrated to the world the lengths it was willing to go to implement "regime change" by invading Iraq. And, unlike the people imprisoned in Guantanamo, the 75 were charged with actual, existing crimes, and were tried, convicted, and given defined sentences.

For more about that incident, you can read a short explanation in an interview of Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcón by Saul Landau, or an exhaustively detailed, day-by-day account from Fidel Castro himself.


 

Will Justice Sotomayor represent "all" of us?


Republican Senators don't like the idea that Sonia Sotomayor has a different background than they do:
Fanning out across network television talk shows, the senators in essence pledged to ask a fundamental question: Can a woman who says her views are shaped by her Puerto Rican heritage and humble beginnings make fair decisions when it comes to all races and social classes?

"We need to know, for example, whether she's going to be a justice for all of us or just a justice for a few of us," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Cornyn should talk to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been jailed and facing a death sentence for 28 years after a trial presided over by a judge who was heard to say before the trial, "I'm going to help them fry the nigger," a fact which has had absolutely zero impact on the "fair" decisions of subsequent appeals court judges. The question isn't whether someone of ethnic and "humble" beginnings can make fair decisions when it comes to rich white people like Sen. Cornyn. The question is whether someone who doesn't come from ethnic or "humble" beginnings can make fair decisions about someone who does. And, as the case of Abu-Jamal and literally tens of thousands of other victims of U.S. "justice" testify, the answer is, unfortunately, "no."

If a Justice Soyomayor could only help ensure fair decisions when it comes to the 14.4% of the population that is Hispanic or Latino, that would be a step forward, not a step backward.

Unfortunately, even that isn't guaranteed; in 96 race-related cases, Sotomayor rejected claims of discrimination roughly 78 times. Like many people from underprivileged backgrounds who "make it," Judge Sotomayor may well identify more and more with the people she associates with, rather than those from her background [Note that I say "may well"; I certainly don't know. It's certainly possible all 78 of those cases were completely bogus claims. Possible, but probably not likely.]

In a related matter, Judge Soyomayor is under attack from the right (a.k.a. the "wrong") for her decision in the Ricci case (New Haven firefighters). Predictions are that that decision will be overturned by the Supreme Court, striking a blow against affirmative action. How did Sotomayor's chief advocate in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Schumer, deal with this? Like this:

You know, we hear all these claims we don't want judicial activists, and that is true. We don't. Here, she was being modest, following the precedent of her court, not overruling what (inaudible) had been done. It would be quite different if New Haven -- if she was overruling what New Haven had done. So I think she was doing what a judge should do.
Like most elected Democrats, Schumer does his best to avoid actually defending any principle, whether it be affirmative action, as in this case, or "opposition to the war in Iraq," followed by continual votes to fund that very same war, or the right to abortion, as was the case with President Obama's speech at Notre Dame. For an actual defense of affirmative action, you have to look to socialists.


 

Unclear on the concept...of "debate"


From the morning anchor on TV news today: "The debate over abortion turned violent yesterday." No, what happened yesterday had nothing to do with "debate," any more than the events of 9/11 had anything to do with debate over the presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East and U.S. support for Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people. Both were acts of terrorism.


Why stop here? There's more...

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