Saturday, October 31, 2009
What's up at the State Department?
Yesterday, we had a State Department spokesperson unable to identify Israel as one of the two countries (using the word "country" loosely in the case of Palau) to vote with the U.S. in support of the U.S. blockade of Cuba. And today, we have the Secretary herself, Hilary Clinton, with not one but two almost unbelievable statements.
First, her observations on the likelihood of one of the two candidates in the upcoming Afghanistan runoff election withdrawing:
""I don't think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election."Really, Hilary? Nothing? Not even given the fact that the candidate who may be withdrawing is doing so because the other guy stole at least 30% of the votes in the first round, and the identical election mechanisms are still in place? Clinton also claims "We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward." Really? Exactly how many times can you recall that that happened?
And then, she moves on to Israel, where it gets even more preposterous:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday that Israel is making "unprecedented" concessions on West Bank settlement construction.And just what did the prime minister offer in terms of "specifics on restraints" (restraints on the Israeli policy of flaunting international law)? As near as I can tell, not a damn thing. It was Clinton who told the Palestinians that they should accept Israel's building of 3,000 more units on the West Bank along with the construction of public buildings residentes in east Jerusalem.
"What the prime minister has offered in specifics on restraints on a policy of settlements ... is unprecedented."
Unprecedented? All too precedented, unfortunately.
The U.S. blockade of Cuba
If you're one of those people who dismiss the "effectiveness" of the U.S. blockade of Cuba because, after all, you can buy Coca-Cola in Cuba, the speech by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla will disabuse you of that mistaken notion. A must-read (even if you aren't in the category described above).
Misleading (but typical) Headline of the Day
In very large type at the top of Huffington Post right now:
"Wow," I thought. "Hard to believe he'd really do that, but maybe he's just putting out a trial balloon to ease pressure from those opposed to the war, to make them think he's listening to them."
Obama Looking To Lower Troop Levels In Afghanistan
President Obama has asked the Pentagon's top generals to provide him with more options for troop levels in Afghanistan, two U.S. officials said late Friday, with one adding that some of the alternatives would allow Obama to send fewer new troops than the roughly 40,000 requested by his top commander.As with "decreases" in the military budget, we're supposed to believe that a smaller increase is actually a decrease. As if.
Out now! All out!
Friday, October 30, 2009
Delusional Quote of the Day
"This yearly exercise at the UN obscures the fact that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba. In 2008, the United States exported $717 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine, wood, and humanitarian items to Cuba."Mr. Kelly is apparently laboring under the misconception that items sold to Cuba, all paid for in advance in cash by Cuba, constitute "humanitarian aid." Or, more likely, he'd like to mislead the American people (and uninformed American reporters) about the nature of U.S. "aid" to Cuba.
- Ian Kelly, State Department press spokesperson
On second thought, he's just an idiot. As indicated by this exchange:
QUESTION: Speaking of the UN, the General Assembly had its annual vote today on the Cuba embargo. You got two people to join you, two countries. Can you remind – (a) remind of what those two countries are, and (b) tell us what you think of the vote?Well, it's also possible he knew very well that it was Israel, but didn't want to help publicly expose Israel as the U.S. lackey it is.
MR. KELLY: I think one was Palau, Matt. Who was the other one?
QUESTION: I don’t know. I think it – it’s usually, generally, the Solomon Islands.
QUESTION: I thought it was Micronesia.
QUESTION: Or Micronesia.
Update: By the way, maybe the transcript just doesn't reflect what happened, but was there really not a single reporter in the room capable (and willing) of shouting out, "It's Israel, you moron!"?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Orwellian Quote of the Day
"Today I'm pleased to say that we have proved that change is possible."I'd like to get some "change" from that bill. $680 billion worth.
- President Barack Obama, signing a $680 billion "defense" budget including $170 billion for war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. and its anti-Cuban bedfellows
It might have seemed impossible last year, when the U.N. already voted 185-3 with 2 abstentions to condemn the U.S. blockade of Cuba, but this year the vote edged up yet again, to a resounding 187-3.
The three opposed, as last year, were the U.S., its politically, militarily, and economically dependent lackey Israel, and its economically dependent former territory Palau. But it turns out there's even more to that Palau vote than you might think:
The only country that joined, once again, team USA-Israel against the overwhelming majority of countries that recently pushed back against the U.S. blockade against Cuba at the U.N., has as its ambassador in that institution Stuart Beck, an American with Israeli citizenship, Long Island lawyer, friend of John Bolton. [Translated online with some improvement by me]It's not even a big enough country to have its own actual ambassador!
And, irony alert! Rising to defend the U.S.' Cold War policy, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice calling the Cuban Ambassador's statements "hostile" and "straight out of the Cold War era." You might want to rethink that name-calling, Susan.
The U.S. continues its arrogant policy of saying Cuba must "change" before the U.S. removes the blockade. Really an almost unbelievable statement considering that the blockade (and the entire U.S.-Cuba relationship) is an entirely one-way street, Cuba never having done a single thing to the U.S. (other than existing) while the U.S. has waged an unrelenting 50-year war against the Cuban Revolution.
An interesting example of that arrived in my mail the other day. There are new postal regulations involving Cuba, which allow people to mail gifts to Cuba more frequently. Well, to some Cubans anyway. Excluded from receiving anything (other than simple letters) in the mail from the U.S. are "certain government officials and Cuban Communist Party members." Talk about interfering in the affairs of another country!
Monday, October 26, 2009
Now they tell us
Now that economists and the media are telling us that the recession is practically over (oh, except for that pesky unemployment statistic), have you noticed that all of a sudden we're seeing references to what happened (and, not that they admit it, is still happening) as the "Great Recession"?
I guess it sounds better than "Depression."
Truth in headlines
In San Jose, an unarmed student was beaten and tasered by cops in the latest incident of police brutality. The San Jose Mercury News runs the story under a (no doubt unintentionally) true headline: "4 cops put on leave over video" (online version similar but slightly different). Not over the beating itself, which was witnessed by the victim (obviously) and at least one other person, only over the fact that they were unlucky enough to have someone record it on video.
All praise to the inventor of the cell phone camera!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
This is capitalism: "Solving" the health care crisis
Over lunch today I turned on C-SPAN and watched some of a Senate hearing earlier this week on "Bankruptcy and Health Care." A professor testified that a whopping half of all bankruptcies declared by people over the age of 65 (people who are covered by Medicare!) are due to medical bills. And the "solution" to this problem being proposed in Congress? Provide a real, complete single-payer system that actually pays for all medical expenses? Oh no, it's "make it easier for people to declare bankruptcy." The fact that, as noted by several of those testifying, most of these cases involve chronic diseases, which means they will involve continuing payments which they still won't be able to pay even after declaring bankruptcy? We'll deal with that later. Or maybe we won't have to, if they're denied future care they can't pay for.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Corporate media coddles terrorists
An astonishing (if you were a visitor from outer space unaccustomed to reading the U.S. corporate media) headline from AP via The New York Times: "Florida: Militant's Benefactor Released." And who is this "militant" of which they speak? Only one of the world's most notorious terrorists, Luis Posada Carriles, organizer of a mid-air airplane bombing which killed 73 people, a string of hotel and tourist site bombings in Cuba which killed one person, and a convicted participant in the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro in Panama in a bombing which would have killed hundreds of students had it been successful, along with a host of other nefarious activities. And, as readers know, a man who is being successfully protected by the United States from being extradited to Venezuela to stand trial for those 73 murders.
And the "benefactor"? Why it's yet another terrorist, Santiago Alvarez, who acted as "benefactor" to mercenaries that he sent to Cuba to participate in bombing tourist facilities like the famous Tropicana nightclub, a man who served time (minimal, naturally) for being caught with one of the largest illegal stashes of weapons ever seized in the U.S. (dozens of machine guns, rifles, C-4 explosive, dynamite, detonators, a grenade launcher and ammunition), and a man who helped smuggle Posada into the U.S., which, as noted in that earlier post, would be a crime even if Posada were a normal illegal immigrant, and a major crime considering Posada is a convicted felon (not to mention a known terrorist).
Is it any wonder Americans are confused about the "war on terror"? A war the U.S. is supposedly fighting, at the same time both the government and the media do their best to protect and whitewash the existence of terrorists walking free right here in the streets of Miami?
Meanwhile, the Cuban Five, five heroic men who risked their lives to prevent such acts of terrorism, languish in U.S. prisons.
Polls and the media
The corporate media is bad enough when it comes to polls and politics. Precious space or time that could be used to inform people about the issues of the day is spent giving out the "horse race" details - who's ahead, who's coming from behind, etc. But if it's bad to waste space that could be used to inform, what's even worse is to waste space to misinform. In today's paper there are no less than two examples of that. Page one of the San Jose Mercury News features a story about how some people won't be getting the H1N1 vaccine. I concede that that, per se, is a newsworthy story. But what isn't newsworthy is "A CNN poll conducted last weekend [that] found that...43 percent of those polled believe the 'vaccine has side effects that can lead to death or serious health problems.'" Honestly, I do not give a damn what my neighbor or someone is Tuscaloosa thinks about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine, unless that person is a health professional or immunologist who is properly educated on the subject. X% of Americans don't believe in evolution, and Y% think the earth is 5000 years old (etc. with many other examples), but all that proves is that X or Y% of Americans are either idiots or simply poorly educated, but it doesn't prove that there's an X% chance that evolution isn't a valid theory or that there's a Y% chance the earth really is 5000 years old. Scientific facts are provided by scientific evidence, not by polls, and even the hint that polls have the slightest relevance in this area is part of the dumbing-down of America to which the media contributes.
Just three pages later, on the first news page of the paper (aside from the front page), another article informs us "Poll: U.S. belief in global warming is cooling." Again, I don't honestly give a damn what most people think about this subject; only the opinions of scientists working in the field are of any value whatsoever in determining the nature of the problem. Democracy (and hence people's opinions) becomes relevant in talking about the solutions to problems - how much money we should spend in dealing with it, what other things should be unprioritized in order to do so, etc. But not the science itself. Publishing the poll just tends to make people think it's a valid way to determine if the problem does exist, and is once again a disservice by the media, not a service.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The absurdity of the criticism of Iran
I have mentioned on many occasions (originally here) the fact that the Supreme (religious) Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons (in 2005, a few days after Hiroshima Day). Given that, how bizarre is it to read in The New Republic the following, from someone who is the director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, no less (you won't be surprised to learn he works at the Hoover Institute):
There has been much debate about where Iran’s democratic protesters stand on the country’s nuclear program. In the past weeks, there have been many new indications that the green movement rejects the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb. The following fatwa by the Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri is another significant piece of evidence suggesting the movement’s repudiation.So a 2009 fatwa by one Ayatollah is a "repudiation" of the 2005 fatwa of the Supreme Leader saying exactly the same thing? Nice try.
Why is it that under a variety of circumstances ranging from rigged elections (Afghanistan), military coups (Honduras), or even close elections (Zimbabwe), Western diplomats are always pressuring other countries to form "coalition governments" or come up with some "power-sharing" deal, but when the election between George Bush and John Kerry was mathematically too close to call (the election theft having occurred primarily is preventing people from voting, not in the counting), not for one second did anyone consider such a solution?
There is an answer, of course, and I'm sure most readers know it. In the U.S., there was no need for "power-sharing" since both parties represented the ruling class and stood foresquare behind capitalism and imperialism. When it comes to other countries, such suggestions are almost always (probably always if I thought about it) put forward as a way to advance the interests of imperialism. The fact that such suggestions make a mockery of "democracy" by suggesting that the laws of the country in question can simply be ignored is of little import.
Did the military really meet its recruitment goals?
It appears that I, along with the Washington Post, was a bit duped the other day when I passed along the information that the military had met its recruitment goals this year, and even admitted that their success had to do with the rotten state of the economy.
It turns out that that was only part of the story, because in their press release which the Post appears to have pretty much printed without further inquiry, the military omitted one rather salient fact - while the Army exceeded its recruitment goal of 65,000 by signing 70,045 new recruits, it turns out that they only met their goal by lowering it - for the preceding two years, their goal had been 80,000.
And actually, although the Salon article just linked doesn't take note of this, I think there's even more to this deception. According to the Pentagon report, the Navy, Marines, and Air Force were all at exactly 100% of their goal. The Navy recruited 35,527 with a goal of 35,500 (a variance of 0.9%); the Marines sucked in 31,413 out of a goal of 31,400 (a 0.04% variance!), and the Air Force 31,983 out of 31,980 (a remarkable 0.009% variance!!). Even if these organizations stopped recruiting the day they met their goal, considering they're recruiting on average 100 people/day, such a feat would be equivalent to quite literally stopping a speeding car on a dime. Bloody unlikely. Far more likely is that those goals were created after the fact, or at a minimum revised month-by-month so that the chance of missing the goal at the end of the year would be continually lessened.
I wrote in my original post that the attribution of their "success" to the economy was "a rare remarkably honest statement from the Pentagon." Perhaps it was. But real honesty, as we're reminded in court, requires not only telling the truth. It requires telling the whole truth.
Nuclear weapons kill...the earth
The Los Angeles Times sheds light on the other victim of nuclear weapons:
A $4.4-billion cleanup transformed Fernald [Ohio] from a dangerously contaminated factory complex into an environmental showcase. But it is "clean" only by the terms of a legal agreement. Its soils contain many times the natural amounts of radioactivity, and a plume of tainted water extends underground about a mile.In addition to making a portion of the earth uninhabitable to humans, there's the cost which, incidentally, is one of those many "hidden" costs which is really part of the cost of the military but isn't included in the "defense" budget. It's also, like all such "defense" costs, money which reduces the amount left for human needs, including saving lives (like providing health care to those who are going without):
Nobody can ever safely live here, federal scientists say, and the site will have to be closely monitored essentially forever.
Fernald is part of the toxic legacy of the Cold War, one component in a vast complex of research labs, raw material mills, weapons production plants and other facilities that once supplied the nation's nuclear arsenal.
Today, these sites pose a staggering political, environmental and economic challenge. They harbor wastes so toxic that the best cleanups, such as the eight-year effort at Fernald, can do no more than contain the danger. Cleaning the properties enough that people could live and work on them again is either unaffordable or impossible.
The radioactive byproducts entombed at places like Fernald will remain hazardous for thousands of years. So today's scientists and engineers must devise remediation measures that will not only protect people today but last longer than any empire has endured -- all at a price society is willing to pay.
Collectively, the former nuclear facilities represent a stunning loss of natural resources and economic opportunity. Millions of gallons of radioactive sludges linger in underground tanks. Dozens of radioactive or toxic groundwater plumes are migrating underground in Washington, Idaho, South Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee, as well as California.
The nationwide effort to clean up the Cold War nuclear weapons complex began two decades ago and so far has cost more than $100 billion. The cost is expected to total $330 billion over the next three to five decades.As with the costs of invading Iraq or Afghanistan, such costs are never considered in advance, and we only learn the full extent of them after the fact.
What the article doesn't say, and I don't really know, is how the problems caused by nuclear weapons production differ from the same problems caused by nuclear power generation. The main difference scientifically, as we all know from the situation in Iran, is the degree of enrichment - uranium for nuclear weapons must be more highly enriched. I assume that the problems caused by nuclear weapons production and nuclear power are identical qualitatively, but that they may differ quantitatively. Unfortunately, this article doesn't give us any feeling for what those quantitative differences might be; I welcome reader input on the subject.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Health "care" story of the day
Only in America:
An Aptos mom is seeking contributions to provide around-the-clock nursing care for her terminally ill [with ALS] son because the high cost is proving difficult for the family to meet.
Formally an IT manager for Mercedes Benz North America in Palo Alto, Eric had medical insurance, but it did not cover the 24-hour nursing care required as the disease progressed.
Valor called the experience emotionally and mentally draining for her and other relatives.
"I was a mortgage broker, but I had to retire to provide care for Erik," she said.
Valor said the cost for nursing, approximately $12,500 per month, or $144,000 per year, has been paid out of equity in the couple's home, her own pocket and that of Erik's biological father Norm Valor, his stepfather Floyd Butler, and his brother Scott.
After an article in the Sentinel appeared in August of 2008 about Erik's condition, a benefit and auction were held to generate funds and raised $38,000.
However, funding to provide continued care is running out.
"The money raised was fabulous," Joan Valor said. "The benefit took care of about three-and-a-half months of care. The rest was paid by Erik's father, his brother and myself. Because of the tough economy, and so many people needing help, a friend suggested that we take a campaign nationwide and distribute fliers asking for help. There is no donation too small."
We all live in a crowded theater
...and the snack bar is running out of food.
The European Union's executive body is calling for sharp cuts in the amount of cod fishermen can catch next year, pointing to estimates that the fish is close to extinction in some major fishing areas around Europe.And the problem doesn't solve itself:
Scientists estimated that in the 1970s there were more than 250,000 tons of cod in fishing grounds in the North Sea, eastern English Channel and Scandinavia's Skagerrak strait. In recent years, however, stocks have dropped to 50,000 tons.
In the Mediterranean, bluefin tuna has been overfished for years to satisfy increasing world demand for sushi and sashimi. The tuna population is now a fraction of what it was a few decades ago, but the EU's Mediterranean nations last month refused to impose even a temporary ban.
Bouncing back from a collapse is also no easier for some fish than it is for financial systems. When Newfoundland's cod fishery collapsed in 1992 and Canada closed it for rehabilitation, many expected a quick recovery since cod reproduce so prolifically. But something went wrong, and Newfoundland cod still haven't returned to their pre-collapse numbers, despite a decadelong moratorium on fishing that was upgraded to outright closure in 2003.
Friday, October 16, 2009
How many dead in Iraq?
Repeating a story from six months ago (only this time it's "official" as compared to an "unofficially obtained study), the headlines read (incorrectly and misleadingly) that "[Iraqi] Government says 85,000 Iraqis killed in 2004-08." But from the very first sentence, which informs us that the government actually said that at least 85,000 Iraqis were killed in that period, the article is both false and misleading. It does, to be fair, acknowledge that to a degree. For example, quite near the end of the article, at a point which didn't make it into the print copy I read, we learn that the official releasing the study estimates (or, rather, guesstimates) that the real number is "10 to 20 percent higher." And the article does note that the estimate doesn't include those killed in 2003 (and that includes members of the Iraqi military who died defending their sovereign country from an illegal invasion, making their deaths just as "innocent" as any other), insurgents, foreigners, and Iraqis who have died from nonviolent causes but very much as a result of the invasion (due to the severely deteriorated public health and health care situation). "Excess deaths," which would include all those categories, is apparently only a methodology which is used in the corporate media in connection with such places as Darfur, that is, places where the highest possible number serves the interest of the U.S. government (regardless, in the case of Darfur, of the almost complete lack of evidence for the numbers cited).
At the end of the article, again at a point at which print copies of the paper often don't (didn't in my case) continue, we are reminded of "cluster studies" including the WHO and Johns Hopkins studies which have shown substantially higher numbers of deaths (in part at least because they included some of the categories excluded by this study, and dated from the start of the invasion). But the entire thrust of the article is to convince the reader that the vast majority of deaths which have occurred in Iraq have been as a result of "sectarian violence." Deaths from U.S. bombs, tanks and other weapons aren't even mentioned, nor is the fact that it was the U.S. invasion which unleashed the sectarian violence in the first place.
The plain fact of the matter, obscured rather than revealed by this article, is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now dead (and millions more still displaced) as the result of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies. The blood of every single one is on the hands of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, and the Republicans and Democrats in Congress who both enabled the invasion and have kept it and the occupation going since then.
Republican health care "logic"
Thanks to CNN and MSNBC's obsession with "balloon boy," over lunch I watched a few minutes (no more, I assure you!) of Neil Cavuto interviewing Mike Huckabee. Harry Reid has apparently now said the Democratic health care plan will cost $2 trillion dollars (over 10 years I guess, they rarely include that detail), and of course Huckabee and Cavuto were apoplectic over the "waste" that entailed. Then they turned to the fact that it is claimed that the same plan will save $500 billion in Medicare costs, at which thought Huckabee sputtered about how much health care for seniors would be cut by such cuts. Does it not occur to these people that, if they claim that spending $500 billion less on health care for seniors will result in worse health care, that they also have to claim that spending $2 trillion more on health care for everyone else will result in better health care for them?
If a government health care plan will actually cost $2 trillion over some period of time, there are only three options: 1) The plan is going to pay doctors, hospitals, and drug companies even more money than they are making now. Possible, but highly unlikely. 2) The increased expense will come because the government is so much more inefficient than the "private sector." Conservatives may believe something like this a priori based strictly on "belief," but all data shows that the overhead expenses for government-run health plans like Medicare and the VA are far less than such expenses (which of course include profit) for insurance companies.
Which brings us to 3) There is currently an unmet need, namely, people are going without $2 trillion worth of health care which might actually, you know, save their lives. If I'm right about the 10 years, with the latest figures showing that 47,000 people die each year because of lack of health insurance (and no doubt others suffer but don't die), that would mean 470,000 lives saved for a cost of $2 trillion. $4.3 million/life is expensive, but it's a darn sight better return on investment than the lives being "saved" (minus, of course, the much greater number of lives being lost) by the even more expensive "war on terror."
Covering for coups
AP does its best to help out the illegal Micheletti "government" in Honduras:
Countries around the world have demanded Zelaya be allowed to return and serve out his term, which ends in January, in a coalition government.Uh, no. Only the U.S. and a handful of its allies have even talked about a coalition government and suggested that the unelected Micheletti (described by AP as the "interim President") has the slightest right to be part of any government. The entire rest of the world has demanded that Zelaya be returned to his rightfully elected office, full stop.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The truth hurts
Those poor thin-skinned Israelis:
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official rebuked Turkey's acting ambassador Thursday over a TV series Israel says depicts Israeli soldiers murdering children.Well, now we know why Israel did its best to prevent any reporters from getting into Gaza while Israel was attacking it. Because footage of actual Israeli soldiers murdering actual Palestinian children might have been "incitement." Not to mention documentation of war crimes. Which is, of course, precisely what Israel wants us to do. Not to mention it, that is.
Naor Gilon, deputy director for the Western Europe desk, said he told Turkish envoy Ceylan Ozen the series was "incitement" and could spark attacks against Jews visiting Turkey.
How bad is the economy?
For the first time in more than 35 years, the U.S. military has met all of its annual recruiting goals, as hundreds of thousands of young people have enlisted despite the near-certainty that they will go to war.Credit where credit is due; a rare remarkably honest statement from the Pentagon. Of course, they're unlikely ever to admit the corollary, which is that, without 10% (or 20% depending on how you measure it) unemployment and large bonuses, they could never motivate people to "fight for their country" when they can't even give an explanation (even from their point of view) of why "we" are now fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
The Pentagon, which made the announcement Tuesday, said the economic downturn and rising joblessness, as well as bonuses and other factors, had led more qualified youths to enlist.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Single payer, anyone?
Why on earth would anyone think that the insurance "industry" which is the source of the problems in the health care arena could possibly also be the source of the solutions?
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Newspapers and pundits frequently refer to how President Obama represents a "dramatic break" from the Bush Administration; the chairman of the Nobel Prize committee talked about the "deep changes that are taking place" under Obama.
These people must live in a different world than I do. Iraq? A few troops have been pulled out so far, fewer than Obama seemed to promise, and exactly what Bush claimed he was planning to do. Afghanistan? More troops have already been sent there under Obama, which again was already in the planning stage under Bush. Guantanamo? Obama says he wants to close it, but so did Bush. Actual steps towards closing it? Essentially identical under the two. Palestine? Bush did nothing to stop the Israeli assault on Gaza just before Obama took office, and Obama not only hasn't done anything since to remedy the crime (by, for example, breaking the blockade and allowing Gaza to rebuild), and has even gone so far as to protect Israel from the damning Goldstone report. Settlement building continues apace with the U.S. doing nothing to stop it. Dramatic change, or more of exactly the same? Wiretapping? Still going on. Torture? Obama says its been banned, but then again Bush said it never happened. There's certainly been no change for the thousands of prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and secret sites all over the world, who undergo the daily torture of indefinite imprisonment without charges, without rights, without hope.
I saw a claim somewhere that Obama has renounced the Bush doctrine of preemptive war. He's done no such thing, and we're still in a situation where "all options are on the table" with respect to Iran.
Some mild changes have been made in Cuba policy, all, by the way, made with an eye towards hopefully subverting Cuba and bringing down the revolution, none because they were the right thing to do or out of respect for the human rights of Cubans. A "dramatic break" on Cuba policy would involve freeing the Cuban Five, ending the blockade, ending the occupation of Cuban soil at Guantanamo, and ceasing the hostile rhetoric of the U.S. towards Cuba. I eagerly await such a "dramatic break," or indeed, any one of those things.
Friday, October 09, 2009
The long struggle for equality
This weekend, LGBT rights activists will converge on Washington, D.C. for the National Equality March. 30 years ago, I (and 75,000 others) had the privilege of attending the first such march, where I bought the button shown here (buttons seem to be going out of style at protest marches, by the way; not sure why). The struggle is long, and the struggle continues.
But as an indication of how the ground on which the struggle is being fought has shifted, see today's column by Ellen Goodman, in which she writes about a married gay couple in Texas (married in Massachusetts, but since moved because of a job transfer) who are now trying to get divorced. Texas, which of course thinks gay marriage is abhorrent (at least, the legislature does), is doing its best to make sure that this couple stays married by preventing them from getting divorced!
Remember when Bill Clinton signed the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA)? Not to mention instituted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military, which we also learn today is being used to disproportionately kick women out of the military, and is part and parcel of the sexual harassment that is endemic in that sexist institution. I haven't forgotten, and I'm sure readers haven't either.
So the Administration (and the media) are now acknowledging a fact which I first wrote about in 2003 and reiterated on other occasions: "Taliban" and "Al Qaeda" are not synonomous, despite eight years of attempts by the government and the media to make the American people believe it is so.
Update: Typically, I heard a reporter on CNN earlier referring to the fight in Afghanistan "against Al Qaeda and other extremist elements." The attempt to conflate the Taliban and Al Qaeda continues.
I swear I thought I was reading "The Onion"
I quite literally couldn't believe my eyes when I saw today's headline:
The article just made it more likely the Onion was at work:
In a surprise, Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize
President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.One hypocritical speech, backed by quite literally nothing in the way of action, and one equally hypocritical "attempt" accompanied by the refusal even to acknowledge the existence of the second biggest nuclear threat to the world (Israel, for the non-quick-witted), and he wins the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, the prize in Physics is awarded for actual work that was done forty years ago.
Way to devalue the Nobel Prize, prize voters. Not that there haven't been outrages before (cough - Henry Kissinger - cough), but this sets a new standard. You no longer need actual accomplishments, you just need to talk about what you're going to do. What's next? The physics prize for gedanken experiments?
Update: And of course I haven't even mentioned the very unpeaceful things he's actually done, including escalating the war in Afghanistan, escalating the U.S. policy of assassination (by drone), ignoring the Goldstone report which attempts to hold war criminals responsible for their crimes, issuing constant threats of hostile action against Iran, and I'm sure I've forgotten some others.
Update 2: Actually, thinking about it, I may have been too harsh to gedanken (thought) experiments, which can actually be useful in physics. This is more like awarding the physics prize for a grant proposal.
Update 3: Obama says he'll be donating the $1.4 million prize to charity. Think there's any chance he'll donate it to an actual peace (or antiwar) organization, like ANSWER? How about donating it to the victims of his wars in Afghanistan or Gaza? In the former case, it would be most welcome. In the latter, I'm afraid that $1.4 million wouldn't go very far. $1.4 billion would be more like it.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Stop the war - all of them!
Video of yesterday's demonstration in San Francisco on the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Considering that I just saw Gen. McChrystal on TV talking about the "progress" we're bringing to Afghanistan, citing, among other things, education of young girls, the money quote in this video is Richard Becker noting that U.S. intervention in Afghanistan didn't begin eight years ago yesterday, but under the Carter administration, when the U.S. funded the mujahedin (including Osama bin Laden) in their (ultimately successful) attempt to overthrow the progressive government in power in Afghanistan, a government which was notable for, among other things, expanding educational opportunities for young girls.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Get a clue, morans!
I can't find the quote online, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says "Until we have a strategy in Afghanistan, we aren't going to resource the mission." Really? What exactly have you been doing for the last eight years then, other than "resourcing the mission"? Just as in Iraq, watch what they do, not what they say.
In another corner of Washington, the Supreme Court is debating free speech [sic] issues involving dog fighting videos, and speculating about the legality of human snuff films. "Original constructionist" Justice Scalia claims "the First Amendment did not allow the government to limit speech and expression unless it involved sex or obscenity." Really? He must have a different copy of the Constitution than I do, because mine says "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." I looked in vain for the words "sex" and "obscenity," but couldn't find them.
Incidentally, I also couldn't find anything saying that giving money to politicians was "speech," nor that inanimate corporations were capable of "speech," nor that making snuff films constitutes "speech" either, for that matter. And, though I'm no "original constructionist," I have a hard time believing the founders of the nation contemplated any of those things as "speech" either (nor does the dictionary, for that matter).
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
What TV shows do readers of Left I on the News watch?
I don't know, but a fascinating article out today informs us that, based on data from TiVo, not a single Republican watched a single minute of Keith Olbermann's Countdown show, and not a single Prius owner watched Bill O'Reilly. I can definitely agree with that last one! By the way, the fact that TiVo is able to keep a record of everything you watch is one of the reasons I never even considered getting TiVo. Not that I'm watching anything subversive; I only wish there were something radical enough being broadcast on TV that could make the government suspicious of me!
By the way, while we're discussing TV, good news for us DWTS (Dancing with the Stars) fans! I had vowed not to watch one of my favorite shows this year until Tom DeLay was voted off. Today I read he's about to leave the show voluntarily thanks to two stress fractures in his feet. So I'll be able to start watching again, hooray! Don't let the door hit you in the rear on the way out, Tom.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Come out of the closet!
The left is never going to get anywhere hiding in the closet. The latest issue of The Nation features an interview of Michael Moore by Naomi Klein. Klein refers to Moore's new "Capitalism: A Love Story" as "an unapologetic call for a revolt against capitalist madness." Moore talks about the essence of capitalism when he says: "Well, people want to believe that it's not the economic system that's at the core of all this. You know, it's just a few bad eggs. But the fact of the matter is that, as I said to Jay [Leno], capitalism is the legalization of this greed." And both Moore and Klein do talk about "democratically run workplaces" as their alternative. But honestly, an entire article about what is wrong with capitalism and not a single use of the word "socialism"? I don't know how Moore thinks of himself (more on that in a second), but Klein certainly speaks at socialist conferences and I'm pretty sure she would call herself a socialist. And even if Moore would not, surely the subject is worthy of discussion in an article about the evils of capitalism. If not there, where?
Back to Moore. On a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, Moore was asked by Amy Goodman (at the very end of the interview): "In a word, would you describe yourself as a socialist?" His answer:
MICHAEL MOORE: Well—Come out of the closet!!
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
MICHAEL MOORE: I’m a heterosexual. I’m, you know—I’m—I’m—
AMY GOODMAN: Six—
MICHAEL MOORE: I’m overweight.
AMY GOODMAN: —five, four—
MICHAEL MOORE: I’m, uh—
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore, here on Democracy Now!
How did Tiger Woods "earn" $1 billion?
The report has come out that Tiger Woods has become the first professional athlete to "earn" $1 billion. But what does that tell us? How is that possible?
Sure, Woods "earned" that money by being a great golfer, the greatest of his generation and arguably the greatest ever. But their are lots of talented athletes in this world, in all sorts of sports, most of whom make the tiniest fraction of what Woods has made, some of them who make nothing at all. Golf is a spectator sport, but nowhere near on a par with the "major" sports like football, baseball, basketball, hockey (etc.?). The money that comes into golf tournaments, the money that pays Tiger Woods part of the billion dollars, comes from sponsorships from big companies - insurance companies, car companies, etc. Why do they sponsor golf instead of, say, cycling? Because their executives are golfers and like to hobnob with the golfers, maybe play in the "pro-am" tournament the day before the real tournament.
Do sports actually pay off as a marketing vehicle, returning more business than is paid out as the marketing expense? In rare specific cases, yes. Nike did come from nowhere in the golf business to become a major player, thanks to its sponsorship of Woods. But of course that came at the expense of other golf products companies; it had no value for society as a whole whatsoever.
As far as the "branding" kind of marketing being useful, the evidence for that is non-existent. Woods won the money that pushed him over the top at the "FedEx cup." Are the people watching on TV or on the course now more likely to send their business to FedEx instead of UPS? Is AT&T getting more business because baseball fans in San Francisco watch games at "AT&T Park"? Sports marketing is ego-tripping by executives and nothing more, and the billion dollars that Tiger Woods (and all the other overpaid professional athletes) has "earned" could have found much better use paying for the salaries of workers who were instead laid off, or lowering insurance rates so more people could afford insurance, or any number of other socially useful causes.
In a rational world. In a socialist world.
Health care: a modest proposal
A single-payer system is widely acknowledged, even by President Obama (in the past) as the most cost-efficient way to deliver quality health care to everyone, and the government even recognizes that fact when it comes to health care for veterans and seniors. But we're told that the Democrats can't/won't push for it because of conservative opposition. Hence my conservative-appeasing plan for health care:
In education, conservatives are always pushing for "vouchers." So how about a "voucher" system for health care? Start with a single-payer system. Now if you elect to "opt out" of the system, because you don't believe in "government-run" health care, the government will give you a voucher redeemable at the health insurance company of your choice with which you can buy your own health insurance.
What's the catch? Well, since that voucher will only be in the amount that the single-payer system is paying on average for each person, it won't be nearly enough to purchase a decent health care plan, leaving the "opt-outers" the option of buying a lousy plan that doesn't cover nearly as much as the government single-payer plan, or kicking in their own money so they have enough for a decent plan. And, either way, educating them that the cost of their allegedly beloved private insurance is just that - a cost.
Think I can sell it to the Democrats?
Why stop here? There's more...
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