Thursday, July 30, 2009
Taking a shine to Scheiner
Thank God for Dr. David Scheiner. Thanks to the fact that he was Barack Obama's personal physician for 22 years, a discussion (ok, an expanded mention, maybe not yet an actual discussion) of the single-payer system has finally reached the corporate media. "Celebrity journalism" finally pays off.
Here's a statement released by Scheiner today, and the quotes I'll pick out from it are representative of the kinds of things he's been heard saying on, e.g., CNN :
Yes, there are parties who stand to lose out under a single-payer program – the private, for-profit health insurance companies and their multimillionaire CEOs in the first place. The head of Aetna, for example, received $18.6 million in compensation last year. That's obscene.Well said, Dr. S.
Investor-owned, for-profit hospitals won’t benefit from single-payer either. Neither will the big pharmaceutical companies, who will no longer be able to sell their drugs at such outrageous prices. A single-payer system will be able to buy drugs in bulk and negotiate prices.
Some critics attack single-payer, arguing that under such a program, government bureaucrats will be between the patient and the physician. In the 40 years I have been practicing under Medicare, I have never encountered an instance where Medicare has prevented proper medical care. On the other hand, insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care.
There are multiple problems with the present congressional health reform proposals, but allowing private insurance to continue being involved is the most egregious.
Single payer will offer secure, comprehensive and quality care to all.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The arrest of Henry Louis Bates
Wait, isn't that Henry Louis Gates? No, that's the Black professor in Cambridge. This is a hypothetical "regular" Black man in San Jose, CA. His experience with the police, under circumstances identical to that of Gates, is imagined (based on very real experience and statistics, no real "imagination" necessary) by Raj Jayadev, a local activist.
Jayadev notes how Gates got off easy, only being charged with disturbing the peace. The average Black man in the same circumstances would have been charged with resisting arrest as well, and, based on his verbal threat to the policeman ("You don’t know who you are messing with"), might well have been charged with a felony - making a criminal threat to a policeman.
With those charges hanging over his head, after three days or so in jail he would have met with his public defender minutes before heading into court. Quite likely he would have been pressured into a plea bargain, being told that it was his word against the cop's and, if he fought the charge, it might go badly for him at sentencing.
That's a brief summary of Jayadev's article, but read it for yourself for a perspective on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates that the media has been careful to avoid.
Capitalism ad absurdam
I'm sure I've written about this before, although I can't find it, but anyway a little repetition couldn't hurt. It's my explanation of the irrationality and, ultimately, the complete unworkability of capitalism, using the technique of reductio ad (not so) absurdam.
I started the day reading about how Bank of America may close 10% of its branches because of the increase in online banking. Then, while out running errands, I passed an empty building where a bank used to be. And finally, as one of the errands, I stopped at an ATM machine to get some cash, an operation which in years past would have required an actual bank employee. Now online banking and ATM machines (and having less of the earth's surface required for buildings) would be good things...under socialism. Under capitalism, however, every such use of technology to enhance productivity means fewer jobs, more unemployment, more misery. And, of course, the banking sector which formed these three examples today is only one small part of the same phenomenon which is hitting pretty much every industry across the board, be it automobiles or newspapers or a thousand other things.
Here comes the reductio ad absurdam part, which is getting less and less absurdam every year: imagine a world in which everything is totally automated. Automobiles are produced entirely by machines, machines which themselves are built by machines, fed with products like steel which are themselves produced by machines fed with raw materials like coal which are harvested by machines. Oh, maybe there's one person somewhere pushing a "start" button, but that could be automated too.
So how does this world work? There are all sorts of products being produced, and the owners of the factories would be making a fantastic profit, except for the one factor mentioned in the post below this one - there's no one to buy the products! That's how this scenario plays out under capitalism, for a very simple reason - products are produced not for need, but for profit.
And under socialism? Since products are produced for need, we can just set the dials on the factory to produce how much is "needed" (decided in some democratic way, and factoring in and indeed prioritizing the need for a sustainable planet) and distribute it equitably among the people. People who now have more leisure time (and, in the reductio ad absurdam scenario, all leisure time) to write blog posts, go for a hike, write a book, take in a movie, or whatever else one takes a fancy to.
Reductio ad absurdam is, as its name implies, absurd. But doesn't the trend in today's world clearly indicate that precisely this scenario, albeit less extreme, is what we are confronting today? And isn't the solution precisely the same? No unemployment, just a continually reduced workweek to compensate for increases in productivity? And a workforce which shares (more or less, but one heck of a lot "more" than now) equally in the output they can produce, with profit taken out of the picture, so that an investment in training teachers or doctors, or building schools, all "non-profitable" investments, get an equal consideration for society's resources as investing in building a video-game factory?
Monday, July 27, 2009
AP analyzes the current "recovery," the "end of the recession":
Corporate America is turning a profit again, but only by spending less, not making more.The only thing missing from this article is the last stroke in completing the circle. The economy can only grow when people start spending. But, since "companies are slashing everything from jobs to officer perks," there's no way that can happen. It's the fundamental contradiction of capitalism - if companies are to make a profit, then they can't possibly pay their workers the full value of what they have produced. And if the workers (collectively, not at any one factory) aren't paid the full value of what they have produced, they can't buy all the output. Which means there will be more output than can be sold - the crisis of overproduction.
While recent bullish profit reports have fueled the stock market, a true economic revival will depend on consumers opening their wallets. So far, there's little evidence of that.
Big names such as Caterpillar, IBM, Whirlpool, Pfizer, 3M and Lowe's boosted profit forecasts for 2009 following a slew of second-quarter earning reports that blew past lackluster expectations. Yet the gains aren't coming from sales.
Rather, companies are slashing everything from jobs to officer perks to boost the bottom line and please investors who have responded by pushing the major stock indexes to their highest levels in months.
None of this is surprising coming out of a recession. But the increase in the major stock indexes is raising questions about whether investors are getting ahead of themselves. Companies can only cut costs so much, and the profits and the stock surge aren't likely to last without a sustained economic recovery that puts people in the mood to spend again.
"Cost saving is not going to be the source of future earnings," said Fred Fraenkel, vice chairman of the Beacon Trust Company, an investment management firm. "The source is going to be revenue, and that can't happen until the economy starts growing."
And where better to see that these days than in the housing market? There are an absolutely astonishing, mind-boggling, 18.7 million homes vacant in the United States right now. Enough to easily house every homeless person in the United States (estimated at 3.5 million) with enough left over to house one heck of a lot of the people in the country living in substandard housing units.
If housing were produced for human need, and not profit, of course. The big "if".
Sunday, July 26, 2009
War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
So says (or said) the last surviving fighter in World War I, Harry Patch, who just died at age 111:
Patch did not speak about his war experiences until he was 100. Once he did, he was adamant that the slaughter he witnessed had not been justified.The Prime Minister and the Queen and Prince Charles were all full of praise for Patch and the war in which he fought. None mentioned how Patch felt about being cannon-fodder for the ruling class they represent.
"I met someone from the German side and we both shared the same opinion: we fought, we finished and we were friends," he said in 2007.
"It wasn't worth it."
And how's this for working class solidarity in an inter-imperialist war:
The five-man Lewis gun team had a pact to try not to kill any enemy soldiers but to aim at their legs unless it came down to killing or being killed, he said.
Friday, July 24, 2009
General strike in Honduras
Did you know that a general strike in Honduras is now in its second day? Probably not if you read U.S. corporate media. The Washington Post has a long article about Zelaya's possible return to Honduras today; not a word about the general strike. They're one up on the New York Times, though, which managed 108 words on Zelaya's return, while making room for a 590-word article about the Honduras-U.S. soccer match.
Update: Live on Al Jazeera (and Telesur as well), President Zelaya is at the border (and very briefly entered Honduras before retreating). Continuing to expose the U.S.' true stance (and role) in the coup in Honduras, Hillary Clinton says Zelaya is "reckless" because his action (trying to cross the border) "risks provoking violence." But Zelaya came to the border unarmed, and was met with a huge contingent of the Honduran Armed Forces (emphasis on "armed"). Why didn't Clinton renounce them for provoking violence? By what right do they prevent a citizen of Honduras (much less the elected President) from re-entering the country? Not a word from Clinton against the golpistas and their arms, the real source of potential violence in the situation.
One of the "Iraqi disappeared" reappears, telling of his captivity - and torture
Long-time readers of the site will remember many posts about Iraqi Gen. Amer al-Saadi, the truth-teller to Colin Powell's lies who surrendered voluntarily to the U.S. in 2003 and, as far as I can determine, is still imprisoned somewhere in Iraq, never charged, never tried.
It turns out Gen. al-Saadi had a co-worker, Major General Hussam Mohammed Amin, who was also responsible for informing the world about the state of Iraq's non-existent WMDs. Michael Bronner at Huffington Post has now written the tale of Amin, who surrendered to the Amerians shortly after al-Saadi, prompted by the same misguided faith that, once the U.S. and the world realized that he and al-Saadi had been telling the truth all along, they would be set free and treated as the honest men that they are.
No such luck. For his pains, Amin was brutally tortured, repeatedly beaten, starved (losing 50 pounds), and more. Eventually, in December 2005, after two and a half years in captivity, Amin became one of the "lucky ones" and was released along with two dozen other people, including the more well-known Dr. Rihab Taha and Dr. Huda Ammash. I wrote then about the most egregious aspect of that release:
"'The release was an American-Iraqi decision and in line with an Iraqi government ruling made in December 2004, but hasn't been enforced until after the elections in an attempt to ease the political pressure in Iraq,' said lawyer Badee Izzat Aref."That is to say, those 24 people were kept imprisoned for more than a year "to ease political pressure." I'm sure they were all delighted.
It turns out there was another interesting aspect of that release - in order to be released, Amin (and, presumably, the others) had to sign a document in which they prommised to refrain from making political statements "inside or outside Iraq" for 18 months after their release. Wouldn't want them talking about the lack of WMD, or the torture they experienced in prison; I'm only shocked the term wasn't five or ten years. But now, four years later on and in exile like millions of other Iraqis, Amin has finally found the courage to talk, and his tale is well worth reading.
Incidentally, one of the things Bronner writes about is the case of some American POWs, held by Iraq during the first Gulf War for a grand total of 47 days, who received treatment similar to that that Amin (and presumably many, many others) received at the hands of Americans. The difference? In a U.S. court in July, 2003, 17 American ex-POWs were awarded a whopping $959 million for their pains. One can only shudder at the cost to American taxpayers if we had to pay off at a similar rate for all those Iraqis (and others) tortured by U.S. forces.
Update: A reminder from another one of my old posts that the torture that Amin suffered didn't always end with a live prisoner:
Al-Saadi, Taha, and Ammash were fortunate to escape the fate of Mohammad Munim al-Izmerly, another Iraqi scientist who was, it appears, beaten to death by American forces in February, 2004. The coverup of his death (there's an "investigation" still in progress, don't ya' know) continues.Unlike Amin, al Saadi, and the others al-Izmerly appears to have been a fairly despicable fellow, allegedly responsible for many deaths. However that doesn't justify his being tortured to death.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Clinton on Iran - the lie continues
Hillary Clinton is in trouble (with the Israelis and their supporters) for suggesting that the U.S. would offer a "defense umbrella" to Iran's neighbors if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. In trouble because, heretofore, both she and Obama have been adamant that they would never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon in the first place.
But the real problem with her remarks is that, continuing a long string of remarks by both herself and President Obama, she repeated the big lie on Iran:
"They won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon."Actually there are two distinct lies in that statement. One is the "once they have" part, which repeats the lie that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and will have one unless "we" stop them. The other is the more subtle, but equally insidious, claim that Iran "believes" that they can "intimidate and dominate" their neighbors by having a nuclear weapon. There isn't a single statement by any Iranian leader that Clinton or anyone else can point to to substantiate that claim. The "as they apparently believe" statement is simply a fabrication. And, no doubt, a projection as well. Because, to point out the obvious, it is the U.S. and Israel which routinely attempt to "intimidate and dominate" the nations of the region using their nuclear capability, so naturally they assume that Iran wishes to follow the same path.
Obama: "U.S. should give Guantanamo back to Cuba"
Yes, you know I made up that quote. I'm just an expert at extrapolation. Yesterday, President Obama had a "press availability" with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. Did you know that Iraq is still under U.N. sanction? When a reporter asked about "Chapter 7," I thought it must be some international form of bankruptcy, but no, he was referring to U.N. sanctions.
And what did Obama have to say? He first equivocated, which is his specialty: "we have made a strong commitment to work with Iraq to get out of the Chapter 7 constraints." But then he said this:
"As I stated before, it, I think, would be a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened by the sins of a deposed dictator."Of course the "sins of a deposed dictator" is precisely how the U.S. got Guantanamo in the first place, although not quite what you think, because the President of Cuba at the time wasn't the dictator, it was the U.S. and its military occupation of Cuba "dictating" to Cuba that they had to sign the Platt Amendment in order to get U.S. troops out of Cuba (although they returned only three years later to set up their own occupation government).
Yes, Barack, burdening countries with the sins of the past is a mistake. So get the hell out of Guantanamo!
Quote of the Day: Hillary Clinton vs. North Korea
In response to Hillary Clinton's arrogant and condescending remarks about North Korea ("And maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don't give it to them, they don't deserve it, they are acting out."), North Korean officials had this to say:
"We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."We'll see your breach of elementary etiquette and raise you one!
On a serious note, as I've written before, the notion that North Korea tests missiles "to get attention" is the standard Western description. The notion that they might be doing it to actually test their missiles and prepare to defend their country from an always-possible U.S. attack seems never to cross the minds of the "statesmen" and "pundits" who make their "learned" observations.
It shouldn't escape anyone's attention that the U.S. still refuses to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, and that Clinton says that "a permanent peace regime" is only possible if North Korea agrees to "full and verifiable denuclearization." I wonder what she'd think if other countries would only sign peace treaties with the U.S. if the U.S. agreed to "full and verifiable denuclearization"? Oh sorry, I forgot about American exceptionalism.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The Honduran "coup"? The world says "yes", the U.S. says "no"
In a hardly unsurprising move, the U.S. State Department has now categorically stated that what happened in Honduras was not a "coup," although strangely enough they are willing to call it "the extra-constitutional way in which President Zelaya was removed from power," which certainly sounds like a "coup" to me (as it does to the rest of the world, including the EU, which today suspended aid to Honduras).
For those who are confused about this, by the way, with all the talk of "Zelaya violating the Constitution" etc., and the faux claims of the "legality" of what happened, there is actually only one very simple fact you need to know. The Honduran military forged a letter of resignation from Zelaya as part of the coup. If the action was legal (and how on earth could kidnapping someone in their pajamas and deporting them from the country be "legal" anyway?), why would a letter of resignation be necessary?
Wiping Palestine off the map
One more attempt by Zionists to literally (not figuratively) "wipe Palestine off the map," by demanding that Facebook list residents of the Zionist colonies in occupied Palestine as being in "Israel."
If you're on Facebook, you can join the groups Protest Facebook's categorisation of Israeli settlements as "Israel" and It's not "Israel," it's "Palestine" to indicate your disgust with Facebook's capitulation to this demand.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
$1 trillion for health care? The horror. Oh wait...
There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the $1 trillion cost of a proposed health care bill. How are we going to pay for it? What about the increase in the deficit it will cause?
But don't forget to read the fine print. That $1 trillion? It's over a ten-year period. You know what costs $1 trillion every year? The "defense" budget that not only is doing nothing to "keep us safe" but in fact is doing precisely the opposite, not just for Americans but even more so (much more so) for people in targeted countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and more.
Was there a discussion of "how are we going to pay for it" when the U.S. government decided to invade Afghanistan or Iraq? Was there a discussion of "how are we going to pay for it" when President Obama decided to escalate the war in Afghanistan or start a new war in Pakistan? Not a peep. Not once was the subject of money raised in advance of those actions. But health care, something where $1 trillion dollars will save the lives of far more people than would likely be lost in any hypothetical attack on the U.S., and would do so every single year? There, suddenly, the "how are we going to pay for it" question is first and foremost.
Funny thing about that.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Americans (and, no doubt, others) are certainly guilty of overconsumption. Food...electricity...water...gasoline...it's a long list. But health care?
Costs [of the proposed health care legislaton in Congress] over the long run would keep rising at an unsustainable pace. Part of the reason is that Obama and most Democrats have refused to accept a tax on high-cost health insurance plans as part of the overhaul. There's wide agreement among economists that such a tax would give businesses and individuals an incentive to become thriftier consumers of health care.Yes, I know I run to the doctor every time I cough or cut my finger. Don't you?
Of course being a "thriftier consumer" of health care doesn't mean "shopping around for a less expensive doctor" or any of the other normal definitions of the word "thriftier." It means just one thing - doing without actual needed health care. Diagnose yourself using Wikipedia or "onlinedoctor.com" instead of visiting an actual medical professional. Taking aspirin instead of some prescription medicine which might actually solve your problem. Doing without a transplant because, heck, you're old and are going to die soon anyway. Nothing important.
While we're on the subject of language, why do we have to read headlines like "Bank of America earns $2.4B"? Did they really "earn" it? What hard work or brilliant innovation entitled them to "earn" that kind of money? Why not "stole"? And why does every discussion about firing workers or cutting wages refer to the "savings" that will be achieved? Somehow I don't think the workers involved will be "saving" anything. Quite the opposite.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
168 victims of U.S. foreign policy?
As with the relationship between global warming and intense hurricanes, one event does not "prove" anything. But it is at least reasonably likely that today's air crash in Iran, which killed 168 people, was a direct product of the sanctions placed on Iran by the U.S. and its allies, sanctions ostensibly aimed at stopping Iran's alleged (and completely unproven) nuclear weapons program, but in reality aimed at weakening a country which insists on maintaining its independence from imperialism (and, ultimately, regaining effective control over that country's resources).
Iranian airlines, including state-run ones, are chronically strapped for cash, and maintenance has suffered, experts say. U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from updating its 30-year-old American aircraft and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes as well. The country has come to rely on Russian aircraft, many of them Soviet-era planes that are harder to get parts for since the Soviet Union's fall.
Monday, July 13, 2009
American "intelligence" on Iran
WMD in Iraq? Nuclear weapons program in Iran? Cyber-hackers in North Korea? Why wonder about U.S. "intelligence" about complicated things like that when the U.S. government can't even determine the existence of buildings?
"The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned in May. "And you can only imagine what that's for."The truth?
"Iran recently established a huge embassy in Managua," Nancy Menges of the Center for Security Policy told a House committee last year. "Iran's embassy in Managua is now the largest diplomatic mission in the city," wrote Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.
Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce chief Ernesto Porta laughed and said: "It doesn't exist." Bayardo Arce, a senior economic adviser to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, likened the elusive "mega-embassy" to the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "It doesn't exist. They deceived the secretary of state," Arce said. "We don't have an Iranian mega-embassy. We have an ambassador in a rented house with his wife."The truth? There isn't a single word that comes out of the collective mouths of the U.S. government that you can or should believe.
The right to rebel
Stephen Zunes takes note of a very interesting section (Article 3) of the Honduran Constitution:
No one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order.
A visit with Israel's victims
Michael Prysner, activist with the ANSWER Coalition and March Forward (a veterans antiwar group), is part of the Viva Palestina group hoping to shortly enter Gaza with humanitarian aid. While waiting in Egypt, he met with hospitalized victims of Israel's assault on Gaza. Some long excerpts from this powerful article, but please read the whole thing:
The first victim I met was Abdel Halim Jaber, 31, from the Jabalia refugee camp. Jabalia dates back to when the Zionists project was first established. Abdel’s parents were expelled from their homes and forced into this camp in 1948.
We told Abdel that we were from the United States, coming to bring over 50 cars and trucks filled with medical aid to break the siege of Gaza. He immediately broke down and started crying. We could only cry with him.
Abdel wiped tears from around the tube protruding from his nose with one hand, and with the other cradled the equipment coming out of his arms and his stomach. And he told his story.
He was walking with eight other family members to his sister’s house. There was no fighting in the area. There were no government or military buildings around; it was just ordinary city street.
A missile hit nearby. Shrapnel entered through his groin, destroyed his genitalia, his bladder, his colon, and his rectum, leaving pieces of metal throughout his body. He cannot eat anything, and can only take intravenous fluids. He relies on a catheter, artificial bladder, and a colostomy bag to function.
Abdel is still confined to a chair in the hospital. So far, he’s had six surgeries to try to rebuild him—or at least six that he remembers. The first few days were so traumatic, he has blanked them out.
He described the first week in the hospital in Gaza. The entire time, bombs were still being dropped. The hospital building was shaking nonstop, and he was sure he would be killed.
Abdel could not contain his tears talking about the trauma of thinking he was going to die every second—knowing that others were dying with every explosion, and that another explosion would surely follow somewhere.
I asked him what he wanted the people of the United States to know about the siege. "You have to expose what this has done to the children," he said. "They have suffered the most because of this."
He talked about his two sons. One of them was not physically uninjured in the attacks, but he had always received high grades in school. Since the massacre, he can’t function in the classroom and hasn’t passed a single test. "It has destroyed him," he said.
His other son, only 12 years old, developed malaria in his eyes because the blockade does not allow the necessary medication to cross into Gaza. Now he desperately needs eye surgery, but the necessary medical equipment can’t cross into Gaza either. He wept into his hand, telling us that soon his son would lose his sight permanently. Over and over, the Israeli government has denied his son permission to leave Gaza for treatment.
We have all seen the images of the attack on Gaza: the demolished buildings, the Israeli tanks, the explosions, the smoke rising from mounds of rubble. Those of us with the stomach for it have seen the images of the human toll, too. Parents lifting their dead children from the ash, people buried under concrete, screaming women with severed limbs.
But actually seeing the victims—sitting next to them, putting your hand on their shoulder, watching them shake and choke as they tell their stories, telling them that you’re sorry for what has happened—is the most indescribable, painful and paralyzing way to witness the suffering that Israel has unleashed on innocent human beings. I challenge any skeptic to see what I have seen today and not conclude that the Israeli and U.S. governments are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
To all of the victims I met today, I could only offer them one thing: that I would tell their stories. That their testimonies, their wounds, and their tears would help build the movement for justice in the United States.
They wished us luck on our trek to Gaza. We leave tomorrow for Al-Arish, then to Gaza on Sunday, to meet countless more like those whom I have met today, to hear countless more tragic stories and to see countless more destroyed lives. Today was only a few among many thousands.
I only hope that people in the United States begin to hear these stories and understand that we are bound by conscience and humanity to fight for what is right: ending this criminal siege and punishing those responsible.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Facts? Don't bother us with facts when it comes to North Korea (or any "enemy")
All over the news are claims of web attacks in which North Korea is "suspected." Why are they suspected? Becaause "the South's spy agency has said the hacking may be linked to North Korea." Ah, well, that clinches it.
The level of disinformation is almost beyond belief. If we make it as far as the tenth paragraph of the article, we read this:
One online expert was quoted as telling a South Korean daily that tracking the spread of the malicious software showed it had originated from an IP address based in United States.Long before we've gotten to that paragraph, however, we've read such things as: "the attacks...served as a reminder that Pyongyang has been planning for cyber warfare." Really? Only if they had anything to do with North Korea, about which the evidence is not only non-existent, but, based on the previous quoted statement, positively contra-indicated.
Elsewhere we read:
The attacks will likely be regarded by the North's leadership as a victory for Kim Jong-il -- even if Pyongyang was not behind them -- because they hurt the country's traditional foes, adding a new dimension to the threat level posed by the reclusive state.which is not only speculative but also bizarrely convoluted, since the "threat...posed by the reclusive state" is only relevant if this was an "attack" by North Korea. And, by the way, that threat is described elsewhere in the article as having had "negligible" impact. Talk about having it both ways!
And what about that bit about how North Korea has been "planning for cyber warfare"? It's linked to yet another bit of speculation/possible disinformation:
An expert on North Korea at the Heritage Foundation, Bruce Klingner, said the North had in operation a military unit with up to 1,000 skilled computer hackers created 10 years ago.Ah, the Heritage Foundation, that well-known source of independent, unbiased information. And, based as they are in Washington, D.C., sure to be the world's best source of information on the inner workings of North Korea.
The Iranian hostage crisis
The one in which 53 American diplomats were held hostage by Iranian students for 444 days? No, the one in which five Iranian diplomats were held hostage by the American government in Iraq for 900 days. They've just been released, having been accused but never actually charged (and certainly never tried or convicted) of "arming and funding Shia groups," for all intents and purposes simply held as hostages for two and a half years (during the better part of which, by the way, the U.S. hasn't even been fighting "armed Shia groups" at all as far as one can tell).
I did a search at the State Department press site to see what they had to say about the "Irbil Five." There have been two questions about possible "prisoner swaps" involving them (a misnomer since they were hostages, not prisoners), at one of which the State Dept. spokesperson admitted that "I have no idea where the Irbil Five are at this point." Well, really, considering that the U.S. holds thousands of people in similar circumstances (without charges, trial, or conviction), how could he be expected to know the status of every one, even the more "significant" ones like Iranian diplomats?
Is health care a "right"?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.However, that's not the complete story. Because here's some related history:
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, the Soviet Union—a socialist country where health care was treated as a right—fought for the primacy of the right to health and health care, along with other social, economic and cultural rights, among human rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt, head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1948, led the drafting discussions of the UDHR. She did so representing the United States and summed up its position: "… my government has made it clear in the course of the development of the Declaration that it does not consider that the economic and social and cultural rights stated in the Declaration imply an obligation on governments to assure the enjoyment of these rights by direct governmental action." She added, "This in no way affects our wholehearted support for the basic principles of economic, social and cultural rights set forth in these articles."
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Robert McNamara - the Fog of War Criminals
A reminder of Robert McNamara's lesser-known war crimes, as the media does its best to paint him as a born-again anti-war advocate.
Update: More from Alexander Cockburn.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Spinning the news from Honduras
Very reliable reports have the Honduran military murdering two people at Tegucigalpa Airport yesterday. An Al Aljazeera reporter on air personally witnessed the dead people, even filming one young child shot in the head whose brains were spilling out on the ground. But when you turn to AP today, the main source of news for this event for most U.S. news consumers, what do you find? Only one death is reported, and it in the 13th paragraph of the story. But how the death is reported was even more interesting than the fact that only one was reported [emphasis added]:
Clashes broke out Sunday afternoon between police and soldiers and the huge crowd of Zelaya supporters surrounding Tegucigalpa's international airport. At least one man was killed — shot in the head from inside the airport as people tried to break through a security fence, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene."Clashes broke out." Yes, soldiers firing live ammunition and a handful of protesters among tens of thousands throwing stones. "Clashes." Then the murder itself. "A shot...from inside the airport." AP fails to point out to its readers that the only ones "inside the airport" were the military.
But worst of all was what comes next in the article:
Critics feared Zelaya might try to extend his rule and cement presidential power in ways similar to what his ally Chavez has done in Venezuela.Excuse me? How exactly did Chavez "cement presidential power" in Venezuela? By holding vote after vote of the entire population of the country. The idea!
Update: CNN's crawl today: Honduran army fires shots, tear gas, activists say. "Activists say"? I watched the live footage on Al Jazeera and TeleSur, and heard live reports from their reporters on the scene! "Activists say" indeed.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Mousavi admits Ahmadinejad won the election
What, you didn't read that? Well, that's because the headlines read the opposite: "Iranian Details Alleged Fraud." But if you remember, the last we heard from Mousavi, he was claiming he actually won the election (a claim he made even before the polls had closed), and that millions, perhaps more than ten million, votes had been stolen from him and/or fraudulently cast for his opponent. But the exact nature of the fraud was always a bit nebulous. Mostly we just heard that Mousavi "should have" won, we know it, look at the support he had (and has), etc.
And now, at long last, Mousavi has released his 24 pages of "evidence" that fraud was committed during the election. And what is that evidence? Testimony from people who stuffed ballot boxes? Proof that the announced count was at wild variance with the actual count? No, this:
In a 24-page document posted on his Web site, Mousavi's special committee studying election fraud accused influential Ahmadinejad supporters of handing out cash bonuses and food, increasing wages, printing millions of extra ballots and other acts in the run-up to the vote.That's it. Not a word about actual election fraud. Did Ahmadinejad use the power of his office to help get himself reelected, like every other incumbent in the world? I have little doubt. He may even have broken some campaign laws, again like an awful lot of other politicians. But when your best charges against someone include "increasing wages," that's pretty solid evidence that what you've got is no evidence at all. Mousavi has shown his cards and he was bluffing all along, he doesn't even have a pair of deuces. Queen high at best.
The committee, whose members were appointed by Mousavi, said the state did everything in its power to get Ahmadinejad reelected, including using military forces and government planes to support his campaign.
The big lie on Iran
Is AP's Ben Feller a propagator of the big lie on Iran, or has he just heard the big lie so many times he doesn't even think twice about its truth or falseness? Hard to say, but to the public, it doesn't really matter, because when they read this, not in any kind of special article but just casually thrown into the middle of an article on Obama's upcoming foreign trip, they too will internalize it just a little bit more strongly:
Iran and North Korea are defiantly pursuing nuclear weapons programs despite international penalties.Needless to say, as mentioned here just yesterday, the head of the IAEA admits there is "no evidence" that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, much less is "defiantly pursuing" one. And the "international penalties" being imposed on Iran are being imposed because of its nuclear power program (specifically, Iran's enrichment of its own fuel), not any hypothetical nuclear weapons program.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
It's all about
North Korea tested some missiles today. Reuters says that this was "an act of defiance toward the United States," which is rather bizarre since it is a U.N. resolution that North Korea was violating. AP goes one step further, calling this "an apparent message of defiance to the United States on its Independence Day." Yes, I know my enjoyment of hot dogs and potato salad is going to be totally ruined knowing that another country has "defied" the U.S.' self-proclaimed ruler of the world status.
But what a minute. Isn't shooting exploding things into the sky the very essence of July 4? Maybe North Korea is just honoring Independence Day.
You have to admit it's just as plausible as the explanation offered by Reuters and AP.
Incidentally, also on the 4th of July, Israel continues to imprison a former U.S. Congressperson and Presidential Candidate, Cynthia McKinney. A fact which has barely been reported in the U.S. media, much less described as an "act of defiance to the United States."
Friday, July 03, 2009
Iranian nukes and "gut feelings"
The incoming head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday he did not see any hard evidence Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear arms.Except that's not what he said:
"I don't see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this," Yukiya Amano told Reuters.Not "no hard evidence." "No evidence."
And why is that significant? Because it's a step up from the previous occupant of the office, who relied on the same source of "evidence" as did George Bush - his "gut":
Current International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said last month it was his "gut feeling" Iran was seeking the ability to produce nuclear arms, if it desired, as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats.And of such "gut feelings" are sanctions justified (and more than a million Iraqis killed).
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Justifying the invasion of Iraq
A major story in the Washington Post today begins with the following claim:
Saddam Hussein told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews released yesterday.This (not the FBI interview, obviously, but the claim itself) was one of the major pieces of "evidence" used to justify the invasion of Iraq at the time, so its repetition now, from the mouth of Saddam Hussein no less, would be an important post-facto justification for the invasion. But the claim itself was bullshit at the time. The truth, as I wrote at the time, was that while Gen. Colin Powell was at the U.N. lying through his teeth (or spouting lies put in his mouth by others, if you prefer to be generous to Powell) about the "evidence" the U.S. had, Iraqi Gen. Amer Al-Saadi (still imprisoned as far as we know) was saying clearly and quite publicly that Iraq had no WMD whatsoever. That's one funny way to "allow the world to believe that you have WMD."
And, guess what? No such statement from Saddam Hussein appears in the interviews, which are all online at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The interviews aren't even transcripts, they are all simply summaries of the conversations made by an FBI agent, with only a tiny amount of direct quotations embedded within them. But even in those summaries, no such claim appears. Glenn Kessler, the author of the Post article, writes: "The formal interviews covered Hussein's rise to power, the Kuwait invasion, and Hussein's crackdown on the Shiite uprising in extensive detail, while the subject of the weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda were raised in the casual conversations, after the formal interviews." As a result, I read every word of the five "casual conversations" that are posted online, twice. I repeat - no such claim by Saddam Hussein appears (nor does it appear in the summary of the documents prepared by the NSA) - that is entirely a fiction created by the Post.
The Post also omits some rather interesting material, like this:
The former Iraqi leader, when asked about his accomplishments, listed social progress for the people of Iraq, a temporary truce with the Kurds in the early 1970s, the nationalization of Iraq’s oil in 1972, support for the Arab side during the 1973 Middle East war with Israel, and after that, for the remaining 30 years of his rule, simple survival – through a devastating eight year war with Iran that he had launched, and a 12-year sanctions regime imposed on his people after another war that he began.But it wasn't just the Post omitting things. The FBI either neglected to ask Hussein about some rather interesting subjects (or has simply not released the notes of those interviews, even redacted), like this:
Not included in these FBI reports are issues of particular interest to students of Iraq’s complicated relationship with the U.S. – the reported role of the CIA in facilitating the Ba’ath party’s rise to power, the uneasy alliance forged between Iraq and the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war, and the precise nature of U.S. views regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons policy during that conflict, given its contemporaneous knowledge of their repeated use against Iranians and the Kurds.Update: Just to be clear, some will say that these sentences from the June 11 conversation is what the Post was referring to:
"Even though Hussein claimed Iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allows the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq."But what “weaknesses and vulnerabilities” was Hussein referring to? The lack of WMD? Hardly, as the very next sentences make quite clear:
"In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq. Hussein demonstrated this by pointing at his arm and stated striking someone on the forearm would not have the same effect as striking someone at the elbow or wrist, which would significantly disable the ability to use the arm."Second Update: Some additional context. Hussein says "In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq." Where would he get that idea? From history. Because the U.S./British bombing campaign which began when the inspectors withdrew (in anticipation of the bombing) in 1998 was conducted using targeting based on information provided by those inspectors. That a future Iranian attack might also be based on information provided by the inspectors was hardly a farfetched idea, and certainly a reasonable basis for not readmitting the inspectors. And again, having nothing whatsoever to do with WMD.
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