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Friday, September 25, 2009


 

How tight can you cinch your belt?


Faced with thousands of students and supporters walking out of class to protest budget cuts and tuition hikes at the University of California, Gov. Schwartzenegger had his usual arrogant advice to offer:
Asked about his cuts to education during a Commonwealth Club appearance in San Francisco, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dismissed the protesters as a screaming interest group.

"They're all screaming," he said. "Everyone has to tighten their belts."
And just how much does the Governor think those belts should be tightened? The tuition increase for UC proposed for next year is an almost unbelievable 45%. I don't know about you, but if I tightened my belt by 45%, I'd be dead. And so will quality higher education for those of modest or lesser means be, if the Governor and legislature and Board of Regents have their way.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


 

Funny what they choose to cover and what not


The corporate media are filled with coverage of the appearances of Mohamar Khaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the U.N. But Evo Morales? He's at the U.N. as well, but this Spanish-language AP coverage is the only thing I can find; there's not a peep in the English-language corporate press. Why? I'm going to give you the money quote, and I'm not even going to bother to translate it, because I'm guessing that every one of you, even those who don't speak Spanish, can do so for yourself:
"El primer enemigo del medio ambiente y de la humanidad es el capitalismo."
Okay, maybe if you don't speak Spanish you don't recognize "medio ambiente" as "the environment" but the rest I'll leave to you.

Morales' prescription for the future:

El presidente boliviano dijo que es necesario construir un socialismo comunitario que defienda la vida y respete el medio ambiente.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


 

About those drone attacks


Murder by drone has been going on for quite some time now, and U.S. politicians, faced with reality of declining support for the occupation of Afghanistan and the increasing death of American troops, are braying for more like spectators in the Colosseum crying for more Christians to be fed to the lions. Nice, clean death, no muss, no fuss, no one on "our side" even comes close to getting hurt (except the poor Afghan translator for the New York Times when he and his reporter went to investigate the latest civilian deaths resulting from those drones).

We all know that, as often as not, it's non-combatants who are killed by drone attacks (whenever possible, I try to avoid the term "innocent civilians", since it implies that people trying to rid their country of foreign occupiers are "guilty" of something, which they are not). But here's something else to remember: there were hundreds of people imprisoned in Guantanamo who we were told were "the worst of the worst." People who surely, had they been in the right place at the right time (or, more accurately, the wrong place at the wrong time), could easily have been the victim of a drone attack. But of those hundreds of people, a vast number have been set free, declared innocent of anything even by the standards employed by the U.S. government (basically, "guilty until proven innocent"). So the next time you read about a drone attack taking out some "top Al Qaeda leader" in Afghanistan or Pakistan, remember those people at Guantanamo, the "worst of the worst" who, in actual fact, were nothing of the sort.

Of all the immoral forms of warfare engaged in by the United States, murder by drone surely ranks right near the top.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


 

Headline of the Day


It's not online, but this from today's San Jose Mercury News:
Israel builds up missile defenses

Backed by U.S., new system could tip balance of power
I'll bet you had no idea that the current balance of power in the Middle East had Israel on the short side.

Of course, no article on the subject could pass without reminding us of who we're supposed to think is the real threat to world peace in the region:

Iran...now cannot be assured of a successful first strike against Israel.
That Iran hasn't launched a "first strike" against another country in hundreds of years, and has no conceivable motive to do so against Israel, seems to bother these "analysts" and the media which push their opinions not a whit.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


 

Rebuilding after devastation


Four years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still devastated. Three years after the Israeli assault destroyed almost every village in southern Lebanon, it has been largely rebuilt, thanks to that "terrorist" group Hezbollah.

And the better part of one year after large parts of Gaza were devastated by another vicious Israeli assault, virtually no rebuilding has occurred, thanks to the blockade imposed on Gaza not just by Israel, but by Egypt, the U.S., and the E.U. as well.


 

With a defense like this...


When I was young, one of our favorite insults went like this:
"Hey, I stood up for you today."
"Really, what did you do?"
"Someone said you weren't fit to eat with the pigs, and I said 'oh, yes, you were'."
For some reason, that's what comes to mind when I watch Democratic politicians and liberal pundits like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow "defend" against Republican attacks on health insurance reform proposals. "Obama-care will pay for abortions," cry the right-wing. "Oh, noooooo, no it won't," cry the "defenders" of the bill, rather than noting that abortions are legal and supported by a majority of Americans. "Obama-care will pay for health care for illegal immigrants," cry the right-wing. "Oh, nooooo, no, the bill calls for no such thing" cry the "defenders" of the bill, rather than noting that health care is a human right and should be available to every human being, regardless of citizenship, even aside from the public health advantages of providing care to everyone.

By the way, I don't recall the Democrats, so eager not to offend a minority of the population by having the government pay for something the minority doesn't approve of, ever opposing spending for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan that a majority doesn't approve of. When I get a check box on my income tax form letting me not pay taxes for the military portion of the budget, I'll happily agree to another check box allowing people to say that their taxes shouldn't pay for abortions or health care for illegal immigrants.

Then today I read an article in The Nation by Naomi Klein, a progressive journalist by anyone's definition. She writes about the Toronto International Film Festival, which this year is featuring a "spotlight" on Tel Aviv as a centerpiece of the festival. Klein and other activists have started a petition opposing the spotlight, but when it comes to defending against (unfortunately false) charges that she and the other signers are calling for a boycott of the Israeli films at the festival, in line with the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, again it's "Oh nooooo, not at all." And, her actual words: "We don't feel like partying with Israel this year." Really, Naomi? That's the best you've got? Last year would have been ok? The year before? Or maybe it would be ok to hang out with Israeli artists, as long as you're not "partying"?

I think it's time for a chorus of Love Me, I'm a Liberal.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


 

Even the picture drips contempt


Hillary Clinton, with the contempt not to mention irony that only U.S. politicians can muster, warns Venezuela that their arms purchases are excessive and might start an "arms race" in the region. Venezuela, who hasn't fought a war against a foreign country in who knows how long (actually forever as far as I can tell), received $2.2 billion in credit from Russia to purchase weapons. Meanwhile Israel gets $3 billion in weapons given to it by the U.S. every year, which it actually uses to slaughter people, the vast majority civilians (thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians just in the last few years, and in the former case, with actual replenishment of those weapons during the shooting war).

And what are the weapons Venezuela will be buying? Surface-to-air missiles and armored vehicles. The latter presumably have multiple uses, but the former are 100% defensive weapons. And who might they be defending against? Planes ordered to attack by the Administration in which Hillary Clinton plays a vital part.


Monday, September 14, 2009


 

Here's what happens with government regulation


In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene. (Source)
Imagine how bad things would be if there were no government regulation, and we relied on corporations to "do the right thing." Of course, the second paragraph shows that government regulation by a government of the bought-off politicians, by the corporations, and for the corporations isn't much better.


Friday, September 11, 2009


 

Health Insurance Quote of the Day


"I'm not for a government run health plan. I just don't think the government is capable of running it efficiently," Catherine Shaw, a Medicare user in Audubon, N.J. said. (Source)
Hey Cathy, do me a favor. Please write the government and tell them you're giving back your Medicare coverage and that they should transfer it to me. I'm a little more concerned about going broke paying for medical care than I am about whether it's perfectly efficient. Or better yet, transfer it to one of the 46 million people who have no medical insurance at all.

By the way, as part of his quest to distance himself from the "left" and to create false equivalence between the left and the right in this debate, the President insists that a single payer system would represent "a radical shift that would disrupt the health care [sic - he means "insurance", not "care"; he still doesn't get the difference] most people currently have." As the article linked above notes, there are now 87.4 million Americans (29 percent of the population) covered by single-payer systems - Medicare, Medicaid, and military insurance. Since another 46 million (15 percent of the population) have no insurance at all, that means only 56% of the population is currently covered by private insurance. So while he's correct that "most people" have such insurance, it's hardly a huge majority.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


 

About those deaths in Darfur...


...they were greatly exaggerated. As I have written on more than one occasion, the media have routinely reported the highest possible figures for Darfur, with virtually no evidence behind them, while simultaneously reporting the lowest possible figures for the far more well-established death toll in Iraq:
A group of former Sudanese activists says some of the figures of those reported dead and displaced in the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region were exaggerated.

The former Darfur rebel activists told Al Jazeera that they increased tolls and gave false evidence during investigations conducted by delegates from foreign organisations into the conflict.

"We used to exaggerate the numbers of murders and rapes," Salah al Din Mansour, a former translator with World NGOs in Darfur, said.

"If the figure was 10, for example, we asked people to say two or three hundred."

"In case of an attack on a certain village, from the Janjawid, we used to ask them to mention the government forces with their Land Cruiser cars, in order to involve the government in the tribal clashes."

The group said they had decided to admit to their fabrications in an attempt to put an end to the crisis.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009


 

More stuff you can't make up


Straight from the news, except I added the ellipsis:
Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, shooting in the air and smashing windows, witnesses said.

Residents said about 30 people from the Yitzhar settlement, a bastion of hardliners, entered the village, firing guns in the air and hurling rocks at windows.

Israeli troops intervened and fired teargas...

...at young Palestinians who were retaliating by throwing rocks at the settlers.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009


 

You just can't make this stuff up


From Ha'aretz:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday called a freeze in West Bank settlements a 'national necessity,' a day after he approved building permits for nearly 500 new housing units in six separate blocs.
In other news from Israel, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has released the results of its investigations showing that the dIsraeli offensive on the Gaza Strip killed at least 773 Palestinians who had not taken part in any military activities. They then noted:
"The extremely heavy civilian casualties and the massive damage to civilian property require serious introspection on the part of Israeli society."
No, we don't need "introspection" on the part of Israelis; what we need is "extrospection" on the part of the world community, and the resolve to break the blockade of Gaza and substitute for it a blockade of Israel, until the latter comes to its senses. War crimes trials for its leaders would also be appropriate and, to put it mildly, well justified.


Monday, September 07, 2009


 

An unmentioned single-payer advantage?


I've been thinking about something I haven't seen written anywhere else; maybe I'm completely wrong. It comes about because I was just paying my car insurance bill. One of the items on that bill is "bodily injury", which is, I believe, the major item on the bill which is mandatory. If I hurt or kill someone with my car, their health care is paid for by my insurance. Which means, unless I'm missing something, that if we had a single-payer system, my car insurance should be a lot less expensive, since everyone's health care costs will simply be paid for by the single-payer system, no questions asked.

The same is true for home and business insurance (including workers compensation insurance in the case of the latter). If someone slips and breaks their leg on the steps of your home or business, insurance pays their medical bills. Again, with a single-payer system, such insurance would be unnecessary, because the medical care of the injured person would be paid for as a matter of course.

Both of these things mean that, if I'm correct, a single-payer system would save every driver, every home owner, and every business owner in the country significant money. Money which now goes to the insurance companies and, in the usual way of the insurance business, only comes back in part as payouts (since the insurance companies make a profit on auto, home, and business insurance, just as they do on health insurance). So the savings from a single-payer system go far beyond the savings in health insurance alone. If I'm right. And, if I'm also right, none of these things happen under the "public option" plan.


Friday, September 04, 2009


 

Freedom of the press


Dare (for the first time in who knows how long, possibly years) to show a picture of a wounded U.S. soldier (one who later died), and have the U.S. government come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Even at that, AP has to explain itself in the most "patriotic" of terms: "We thought that the image told a story of sacrifice; it told a story of bravery." Actually it tells the story of one more meaningless death in a long string of such deaths, one more young American whose life has been cut short in the service of American imperialism, one more American family whose lives have been permanently altered by the premature death of one of their members. Don't look for AP to say that, though.


 

"Protecting" Afghans


70 (or 90, depending on what you read) Afghans are dead as a result of the latest US/NATO bombing. The head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says "The Afghan people should know that we are clearly committed to protecting them."

Here's the aspect of the story you have to read carefully to note (and only if you're reading; you won't hear this on CNN etc.): the bombing occurred at 2:30 a.m. That's right, in the middle of the night. And, under those circumstances, the military claims that "no civilians were believed in the area at the time." Really? I know night-vision systems can actually see people in the pitch-black. But are they really able to determine who exactly is "Taliban" and who is a "civilian"? Obviously not. And it didn't take an actual experiment involving 500-pound bombs to figure out the answer, either.

"Protecting" Afghans indeed.


 

The latest oxymoron: "Iraqi sovereignty"


I've actually written many times on the subject (search for "Sovereignty Watch"), but here's the latest example of this oxymoron - an Iraqi journalist cleared by the Iraqi courts, but the U.S. military, who holds him, refuses to set him free.


Thursday, September 03, 2009


 

The death of euphemism...but not of Afghans


Well, at least something died:
U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," Defense officials say.

"It makes sense to get rid of the clerks and replace them with trigger-pullers," said one Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans have not been announced.
Nothing like an honest description what U.S. troops are actually doing in Afghanistan (and Iraq), instead of the usual "bringing democracy" nonsense.

Update: Looking at this a day later, I realize the headline is totally misworded. It should say "and the continued death of Afghans." I guess my brain was thinking "but not the death of the death of Afghans" or something like that. Oh well.


 

Separate and definitely unequal


Al Jazeera reports today on the state of education in occupied East Jerusalem. It borders on the unbelievable. 30,000 Arab students in East Jerusalem are forced to attend private schools because the state (that's Israel, the occupying power) doesn't provide sufficient public classrooms for them. 5,000 more won't be attending school at all, because they can't afford private school.

The article doesn't say, but I'm willing to wager that the number of Jewish students in Jerusalem for whom there are insufficient places in public school is...zero. Any takers?

One thing that won't surprise you is that Israeli officials "reject" the charges.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009


 

How badly are employers ripping off their workers?


Very badly:
Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are often paid less than the minimum wage, according to a new study based on a survey of workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.
Note carefully that 68% were ripped off in the previous week. How many were ripped off in the previous year the article doesn't say, but it's safe to say it's even closer to 100%.


 

How badly are the drug companies ripping us off?


In the last decade, the drug companies have paid $11 billion in fines for illegal practices (like wining and dining doctors to push their drugs). That's not how much profit they've raked off from us. That's just the fines they've paid. It's pocket change, money they could just shrug off out of their immense profits ($80 billion in 2007). No doubt they consider these fines just part of the cost of marketing (2.5 times what they spend on research).

As I've written before, just one more demonstration of why even single-payer health care is not the solution.


 

Word of the Day: "Infauxmation"


I saw this word in an article about a video showing Michael Jackson alive (after his death), designed as a "false news" story to see what people's reaction would be. But it's really a great word, isn't it? It describes so much of what passes for "news." Judith Miller's New York Times articles on Iraqi WMD? Infauxmation. Ritual claims by the U.S. or Israeli military, dutifully reported in the corporate media, that they are "investigating" the latest war crimes charges against them? Infauxmation. The U.S. State Department is still "studying" whether to declare what happened in Honduras a coup? Infauxmation.

Supply your own long, long list.


 

Song of the Day


Let me tell you the story of a soldier named Dan,
Went out to fight the good fight in South Vietnam Afghanistan,
Went to fight for peace, liberty, and all,
Went out to fight for equality, hope, let's go

And the war drags on....
...
They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,

And the war drags on...
Coincidence that "South Vietnam" and "Afghanistan" have the same number of syllables? You be the judge.

Complete lyrics here


Tuesday, September 01, 2009


 

George Will and his call for a "pullout" from Afghanistan


The pages and airwaves of the media are filled today with the "news" that conservative columnist George Will has called for a "pullout" from Afghanistan. Let's see what Will actually called for, shall we?
America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
Gosh, how progressive. How noble. Let's keep killing the natives, but let's do so in a way that makes sure that none of our boys (and girls) get killed. That war conducted with "drones, cruise missiles and airstrikes" is absolutely guaranteed to kill far more innocent civilians than ground war troubles Will, as it troubles Obama and the American ruling class in general, not a whit. They aren't our innocent civilians, after all. (Please note: I am not condoning the killing of any Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Somalis, or anyone else by making this statement about "innocent civilians," merely noting the standard by which things are widely judged.)

The media are making out like the "right" and the "left" are joining forces against the war in Afghanistan, as if they have the same position. But Will isn't calling for an end to the war, he's calling for an end to the ground war. As just noted, that's potentially worse for the Afghan people. If you want to see an end to the war, period, here's a first step.


 

Subliminal advertising


Back in the 60's and 70's, there was a big to-do over the concept of "subliminal advertising" - flashing hidden message in movies or TV which would cause the viewer to do something (usually buy something). The practice was banned in many places, even though it turns out the entire concept was a fraud - the research claiming to prove it worked was faked.

But there's "subliminal," which "below the level of consciousness", and "subconscious," which are often things of which we are perfectly conscious in a sensory way (i.e., we actually see or hear it), yet only penetrate into the actual brain in a subconscious way, that is, we don't really think about what we saw or heard, yet it influences us anyway.

So what has me blathering on about this subject? It was a picture in an article today. The article itself basically lays the groundwork for another increase in troops in Afghanistan. And what picture did the San Jose Mercury News chose to accompany this article? A picture of dead Afghan civilians? A picture of the grieving family of the 49th dead American soldier to die in Afghanistan in August? Of course not. It was a picture of a smiling Colonel, shaking the hands of airmen (that's how the picture caption reads, I don't know if there were any women) bound for Afghanistan. The New York Times, whose story it is, gives us pictures of two individual soldiers in Afghanistan. Each of these pictures carefully chosen, a conscious decision to subconsciously increase the identification of the reader with the war effort, and to increase support for the war.

There are other conscious decisions too on the part of the media. As was the case all through the Iraq war (and still, of course, but numerically smaller), the numbers are deliberately deceptive. The article says the latest death brought the "total killed last month to 49," and offers as its source icasualties.org. But if you go to icasualties.org, the table you'll see shows that the total killed last month was 77, not 49, because of course that's the total of coalition troops (and, just as in Iraq, not including troops aligned with the currently installed government, meaning the real death toll of "our side" - excuse the expression - is even higher). Indeed, as far as I can tell, the number "49 U.S. troops dead in August" appears nowhere on icasualties.org; you actually have to go to the list of individual names and count them yourself. The Times story doesn't lie about this, of course, it does refer earlier in the same sentence to "U.S. soldiers," so grammatically, the claim that "the total killed last month" was 49 is correct, but there is no doubt it is meant to be intentionally misleading. And meant to influence us, subconsciously.

As for me and I hope for readers as well, the attempts to influence me subconsciously aren't working, as they aren't for a majority of Americans. Join me in the streets in October to let our opinions be known, very non-subliminally.

There is one more interesting omission from the Times article, whether intentional or not it's hard to say, but I'd like to note it in passing. The article notes that yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs used the phrase "under-resourced" when talking about Afghanistan seven times in his press conference. What it doesn't note was that in one of those references, Gibbs reversed Administration policy by using the supposedly banned phrase "war on terror," when he said "You can't under-resource the most important part of our war on terror." Just noting that for the record.


Why stop here? There's more...

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