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Saturday, July 31, 2004


This terrorism thing has gone way too far

Headline in Sunday's New York Times:
"Bush Planning August Attack Against Kerry"
Jesus. It's come to this.

On a more serious, media criticism note, is that supposed to be as opposed to the July attack against Kerry, or the June attack against Kerry, etc.? Are we supposed to conclude that the campaign to this point has been a love-fest, where never was heard, a discouraging word? I guess all those negative ads the Bush campaign has been running for the last three months at least (and showing here in the Bay Area, of all places, where Bush doesn't have a prayer; God only knows what's happening in other parts of the country where there's actually a close contest) were all in my imagination.


Political humor of the day

Readers know I don't agree with the sentiment, but that doesn't prevent me from loving this line:
"I think it's time we had a Skipper in charge, instead of a Gilligan."

- Random person in the crowd at a Kerry rally, interviewed on ABC News
I know there are those who think that George Bush really isn't "Gilligan," that he's really just some shrewd character playing dumb, but as I've said before, no one and nothing will convince me that he isn't a complete frickin' moron (of course he has plenty of "smart" and shrewd people around him doing the actual work).

On the subject of Bush not doing actual work (but not admitting that publicly, of course), what is wrong with this picture? Right now there are "urgent" warnings about an imminent Al Qaeda strike in New York City. We've been told before that a strike in the next few months is practically inevitable. There are recommendations of the 9/11 Commission which the commission is urging be acted on "urgently" before it's too late. George Bush (and the media, of course) tells us repeatedly that fighting terrorism is the most important thing we can be doing. So, in the midst of all this, how is George Bush spending the month of August? We're told he'll be on the road virtually every day, campaigning. Well, I'm glad to see he's taking this terrorism thing seriously, kind of like the way he took it back in August, 2001. As I said, I know he doesn't actually do any of the real work, but shouldn't he at least be pretending to be on the job? Apparently not.


Electoral success for the antiwar movement

Believe it or not, it is possible to challenge the war, and win, at the ballot box. Just not in the United States:
"The Anti-War Respect Coalition was yesterday celebrating an electoral breakthrough in the East End of London after winning its first council seat.

"Respect, founded by the former Labour MP George Galloway six months ago, is now planning a concerted effort to pick up parliamentary seats in the East End in the election.

"It won its first councillor when Oliur Rahman, 23, captured a seat on Tower Hamlets council in a by-election on Thursday night, with Labour falling from first to third place."


Marines go to "extraordinary lengths" to avoid hurting civilians

I'd sure hate to see what would happen if they only went to "ordinary lengths," since when they go to "extraordinary lengths," this is what happens:
"Fighting between insurgents and American-led forces in the volatile city of Fallujah has killed 20 militants, the military said Saturday.

"A Fallujah hospital official, Dr. Salim Ibrahim, had said Friday that clashes, which had been reported on earlier, killed 13 Iraqis and wounded 14 others.

"Many of those wounded, including at least one child, appeared to be civilians injured in U.S. airstrikes, he said, adding that he could not give an exact count of the dead, because many bodies had been torn apart in the bombings.

"'Our forces go to extraordinary lengths to minimize the impact of military action upon civilians,' Marines spokesman Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson told The Associated Press."
And here's what those "extraordinary lengths" consist of:
"Iraqi insurgents started the fighting Thursday by ambushing a patrol with gunfire, mortars and rocket propelled grenades before fleeing into buildings in the city, the military said.

"The Marines responded with tank and artillery fire at the mortar positions, several hundred yards away, the military said. Iraqi insurgents fled into buildings, which the Marines targeted with airstrikes and artillery, the military said."
Trying to determine if their were innocent people in those buildings? Evidently that would be really extraordinary lengths, or something like that. The fact is, there isn't any evidence that the U.S. military went to any lengths at all to avoid killing civilians, since no one outside of the Iraqi people and a handful of those of us on the left seem to care at all. For sure John Kerry, who has first-hand knowledge of this kind of "free-fire" war, won't be speaking out against it.


Open government in California

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put forth a series of government reorganization proposals today, designed to produce "a sea change in the way the state conducts business." An indication of that "sea change" is that the team of 275 people who produced these proposals "operated for seven months in secret." Whatever happened to "Sunshine laws"?

As further evidence of that "sea change" that is coming, the Los Angeles Times reports about the process which produced these proposals:

"Some of California's most influential business interests — including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and EDS — were given easy access to a state commission as it met privately to recommend sweeping government changes, according to disclosure reports and interviews.

"Public interest groups, in contrast, complained Friday that they were largely excluded from the five-month study, ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger."
Gambling in the (Republican-managed, big business-owned) casino! I'm shocked!


All Kerry all the time

Sorry, I don't mean to focus on John Kerry, but I go where the news takes me, and for obvious reasons he's the man of the hour. I noted a few days ago that, despite all the talk about "terrorism" at the Democratic convention, the word "Palestine" was not heard once, certainly not by the major speakers. John Edwards called for "a safe and secure Israel"; Kerry didn't mention the subject at all.

But who was one of the first people Kerry spoke to after getting the nomination? None other than Ariel Sharon:

"Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry on Friday assured Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of his commitment to Israel's security, aides to Kerry said.

"During their conversation, Kerry informed Sharon that he has no argument with President George W. Bush's support for Sharon's rejection of a Palestinian right of return to Israeli territory."
OK, just to provide a little "equal time," I'll offer this comment about George Bush. Results matter? Are this guy and his handlers on drugs? Results matter? Americans and Iraqis still dying every day in Iraq, a record deficit, 2.1 million jobs lost in the U.S. since he's been President, cutbacks everywhere in health care, education, and other human needs, Osama bin Laden still on the loose, and George Bush wants to campaign on a slogan that "results matter"? And, even scarier, he can still find people to come to his campaign events and cheer wildly at such inanities. Truly amazing, and truly scary.

Well, since this has evolved into an election piece, I might as well add some media criticism. The San Jose Mercury News today has two companion pieces, one about the Bush campaign appearance, the other about the Kerry campaign. Above the two is a joint headline: "Candidates hit the trail, come out swinging." The implication is that both candidates were attacking each other. But the articles say nothing of the sort. The Bush article talks about his attack on Kerry (claims that he has "few signature achievements" and "cannot be trusted"). But the Kerry article is all about his plan to (not) withdraw from Iraq, and has nothing whatsoever to do with Bush. So the impression left by the headline that both candidates were using "negative campaigning" yesterday is simply unsupported by the articles.


Kerry hoist with his own petard

A majority of Americans now describe the invasion of Iraq as a "mistake," even if they think that the U.S. shouldn't immediately pull its troops out of Iraq. But John Kerry can't even admit the war was a mistake:
"As a returning Vietnam War veteran who became a prominent peace activist, Kerry posed a rhetorical question before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971: 'How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?'

"Asked Friday if he would face that question about the Iraq war as president, Kerry said: 'I never said it was a mistake now. What I said is the way the president chose to go to war was a mistake.'

"Seated aboard his campaign bus in a captain's chair, Kerry said he didn't consider the war in Iraq a mistake, but that President Bush had misled Americans and the world by waging the war hastily and not 'as a last resort.'"
So if Kerry were to concede that the majority of Americans are correct in describing the war as a mistake, he would have to call for an immediate withdrawal, rather than claiming that he "expects" that that troop levels will be reduced "very significantly" four years from now.

Hoist with his own petard. Although in this case, while he's the one figuratively being hoist with his own petard ("blown up with his own bomb"), four years from now there will most likely be several thousand more Americans, Iraqis, and others who have been literally hoist, if not with their own petard, by someone else's petard. And while that expression might sound quaint or humorous, I doubt their families will find anything quaint or humorous in their deaths.

Friday, July 30, 2004


Ridiculous headline of the day

From CBS:
"Analysis: Kerry got a bounce, but it's a fleeting one"
OK, let's just start with a little logic. Is this even possible? Well, technically, I suppose yes. Since we're talking about the "post-convention bounce," and this is the day after the convention, this headline might be true if a poll had been taken this morning that showed Kerry's support had increased beyond the statistical error (typically 4-5%), followed by another poll late this afternoon which showed in a statistically significant manner that the support had dropped back down to where it had been. So - possible? Yes, technically. Likely. Not bloody.

But in fact, it's worse than that. Because the actual story doesn't say anything of the kind; indeed, it has no poll results at all! Instead, we have on the one hand "Independent analysts largely predicted some bounce" (that's the support for the first half of the headline, presumably) and on the other hand "Republicans are hoping that any bounce Kerry does receive will evaporate in coming weeks" which is presumably the justification for the second part of the headline. So "analysts' predictions" of a bounce are turned into "a bounce" and "Republican hopes" of a short-lived bounce are turned into "a fleeting bounce." Truly amazing.


Howard Kurtz, inventing history

Media analyst Howard Kurtz on CNN's Inside Politics today, reviewing some "key highlights" of the Democratic convention, included in them "Al Sharpton refusing to leave the stage." It is true that Sharpton spoke for 20 minutes when he had been allocated 8 (or something like that), but I know of absolutely no evidence that Sharpton was being given signals to leave the stage, was in danger of having his microphone cutoff or hearing the orchestra play him off, or anything of that nature. The fact that he spent the rest of the day at the side of DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe in the Chairman's box would hardly suggest that Sharpton had "refused to leave the stage" during his talk. Yet there was Kurtz, inventing a bit of history.

Of course, since he was supposed to be doing "media analysis," which is his specialty, and not critiquing the convention itself, he might have noted that, other than C-SPAN, no one was showing Sharpton's speech anyway. CNN apparently did show a bit of it, but, as featured on last night's Daily Show, cut away from the speech to feature an all-important interview with...actor Steve Buscemi? (echoing their cutting away from Dennis Kucinich's speech to interview Lewis Black).

Watching television was actually very interesting last night. Within a few minutes I listened to Jay Leno having a substantive conversation with Michael Moore, heard actress Natalie Portman talk about how she's sure George Bush would appreciate a permanent vacation since he takes so many anyway, and then heard Joan Rivers tell Graham Norton that choosing between Bush and Kerry is like trying to decide who is your favorite Menendez brother. 'Tis the season!



And while we're on the subject of faith (see "Quote of the Day" post below), Francis Crick died yesterday, and The New York Times writes:
"The desire to replace religious with rational explanations of life was a principal motivation of Dr. Crick's career."
Sounds like a good idea to me, whether we're talking about biology, weapons of mass destruction, or anything else.

If you read an abbreviated version of this article, as I did in the San Jose Mercury News, be sure to click the link above and read the full story in the Times. The abbreviated version I read was horribly butchered, leaving the reader with the impression that the DNA structure has bases pointing outwards, with the helix held together by metal ions in the middle (an early theory). Well, I guess if any of this made any sense to you anyway, you would already know the right answer. But you should still read the full story if you're interested in the subject at all.


Bush-bashing Quote of the Day

"We have an adversary powerful in technology and armaments, but a total orphan in terms of ideas."

- Fidel Castro, speaking in the Cuban National Assembly


Quote of the Day

"I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side."

- John Kerry, speaking at the Democratic convention
Even if he stole the line from Abraham Lincoln, and notwithstanding the fact that I don't believe in God, even so it's a good line. It's just too bad that I have to think it was just that, a "line,", since it was delivered by someone who, as Greg Palast discusses in his latest broadside "Johnnie Been Good," is all too capable of talking out of both sides of his mouth:
"He told us tonight about some poor bastard in Ohio whose job evaporated when his company unbolted the equipment and sent it south. Hey, Johnnie, didn't you vote for NAFTA?

"We applauded when he said the White House should stop treating teachers and school kids like fugitives from justice and help them out. But, Johnnie, didn't you vote for George Bush's 'No Child's Behind Left' assault on public education?

"Then there was that little story meant to show us all he is a Man for All Seasons, above party politics. 'I broke with many in my own party,' he said, 'to vote for a balanced budget, because I thought it was the right thing to do.' No, John, it wasn't. It was craven political cowardice, going with the anti-government hysteria that put a knife into the heart of the programs you cried over tonight.

"He told us the sad story of the poor homeless guy huddled in front of the White House. Is this the same John Kerry that voted for Clinton's welfare 'reform'? That put a five-year limit on food stamps, making child starvation the law of the USA. At least Ronald Reagan offered ketchup as a vegetable.

"Kerry made good use of the cash he saved on feeding the poor. 'I fought to put a 100,000 cops on the street.' Hey, thanks, John.

"But my absolute favorite of the night was when Kerry told us, 'Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence.'

"But, as Senator, you didn't. No questions asked: you just closed your eyes and voted for the lie. I know it, and you sure as hell know it."
(Actually, it's even worse than Palast says, as Scott Ritter discusses below; he didn't just "close his eyes," he willfully disregarded evidence given to him by Ritter.)

And, of course, the final irony of all. The last line of Kerry's speech? The obligatory "God bless America."

Followup: BIllmon highlights one of the other moments of double-talk in the Kerry speech:

Kerry: "As president, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."

Billmon: If you know anything about American history, you know it's more a made-up tradition than a time-honored one (the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and the Vietnam War were all wars of choice, as was Gulf War I, for that matter.)
To which Billmon could certainly add Yugoslavia, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan (some will argue with that, of course), and a long list of others. William Blum's Rogue State remains perhaps the definitive book for debunking the idea of the United States as the world's "good guy."

Thursday, July 29, 2004


The Daily Show rocks

One of the most brilliant episodes of The Daily Show ever; if you missed it, try your best to catch it when it repeats tomorrow, or look for clips on the web. The two highlights were a long Daily Show substitute version of the "Kerry bio video," on the theme that Kerry is not Bush, and ending with the conclusion that Kerry was the "least objectionable Democrat who was not George Bush" available. My summary sounds crude, but it was hysterically funny.

But even better was the following segment, in which Stewart absolutely ripped apart various members of the media for their treatment (or mistreatment) of Al Sharpton's speech, featuring offensive comments by Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and many others. Cutting from clips of Brian Williams trivializing Sharpton's speech, to Sharpton remembering Schwerner, Chaney, Goodman, and other martyrs of the civil rights movement, or from Howard Fineman talking about how Sharpton had probably hurt Kerry with the Black community, to Black delegates responding to Sharpton with tremendous enthusiasm, Stewart was able to depict with devastating clarity the media for the fools that they are. Huzzahs and kudos to Stewart.


Freudian slip?

"We will double our special forces, to conduct terrorist operations...anti-terrorist operations."

- John Kerry, speaking to the Democratic Convention
Somehow, I doubt this will make it into the transcript. :-)


What war is all about

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair have an article on CounterPunch today exploring certain "controversial" aspects of John Kerry's military service - questions that are being raised by Republicans about whether he really "deserved" his medals, which of various versions of the events surrounding some of Kerry's actions are the "right" ones, etc. Personally I don't give a toss about any of that. But what is interesting about this article are the undisputed facts, the stories about what the Vietnam war entailed. And, although American soldiers are now patrolling alleyways in Baghdad instead of canals in Vietnam, without doubt the differences between then and now are only superficial.

One story from the article:

"Christmas Eve, 1968, finds Kerry leading a patrol up a canal along the Cambodian border. The Christmas ceasefire has just come into effect. So what the boat was doing there is a question in and of itself. They spot two sampans and chase them to a small fishing village. The boat takes some sniper fire, (or at least Kerry says it did). Kerry orders his machine-gunner, James Wasser, to open up a barrage. At last a note of contrition, but not from Kerry. Wasser describes to Brinkley how he saw that he'd killed an old man leading a water buffalo. 'I'm haunted by that old man's face. He was just doing his daily farming, hurting nobody. He got hit in the chest with an M-60 machinegun round. It may have been Christmas Eve, but I was real somber after that... to see the old man blown away sticks with you.' It turned out that Kerry's boat had shot up one of the few 'friendly' villages, with a garrison of South Vietnamese ARV soldiers, two of whom were wounded."
And another:
"A few weeks after the incident on the Cambodian border Kerry's boat was heading up the Cua Lon river toward Square bay, when one of the crew yelled 'sampan off port bow'. Kerry ordered the machineguns to fire on the fishing boat. The sampan stopped and Kerry and his crew boarded it. They found a woman holding an infant, and near her the body of her young child riddled with machine gun bullets, lying face down among bags of rice. Kerry tells Brinkley he refused to look at the dead child, saying, 'the face would stay with me for the rest of my life and it was better not to know whether it was a smile or grimace or whether it was a girl or boy'. Kerry's preferred mode is the usual one. 'Our orders', he tells Brinkley a few pages later, 'were to destroy all the hooches and sampans we could find.' "


Good, non-"pack" journalism does exist

...it's just hard to find. In today's San Jose Mercury News, Hannah Allam reports from Baghdad on the role that women fighters are playing in the Mahdi Army militia. Here's a taste; the entire article is quite interesting:
"Umm Muhammad's green eyes flashed one day last week as she listened to the imam at a rundown Baghdad mosque preach about how women should be silent and unseen, traveling only 'from the home to the grave.'

"She knew the edict didn't apply to her; the same imam had blessed her before battle when she became one of the first female commanders in rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia."
Other than calling it a "troubling" sign that Muqtada al-Sadr is building his military capability, the article is refreshingly free of judgments, simply presenting the actual news and letting each reader decide for themself what its significance is. What a concept. Incidentallly, this isn't the first time that Allam has done exceptional reporting from Iraq. From her name, I assume she is an Arab woman, giving her an advantage over 99% of the reporters stationed in Iraq, certainly the ones reporting for the American media.


The media joins the Democrats in stifling even mainstream "dissent"

What else to think of this strange news item from Knight-Ridder?
"The convention delegates proceeded through the traditional roll call of states to nominate Kerry. In the end, Kerry won the votes of 4,254 delegates, with 43 dissents."
That's funny, the way I saw it, there was 43 votes for Dennis Kucinich, not 43 "dissents" against John Kerry. Is that the way we discuss people's voting choices here in "democratic" (small "d") America?


John Edwards on Palestine

Oops, looks like he forgot something in his speech, in which this was the only reference to the issue:
"A new president will bring the world to our side, and with it—a stable Iraq and a real chance for peace and freedom in the Middle East, including a safe and secure Israel."
A "safe and secure" future for the Palestinian people? Not from a Kerry-Edwards administration.


Through the looking glass headline of the day

"Israel's Sharon Ties Disarming WMDs to Mideast Peace"
What? Israel giving up its WMDs? Not quite:
"Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday Israel would only reconsider the need for its 'deterrent capability' when there is peace across the Middle East and its neighbors abandon weapons of mass destruction."
You know, all those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that they inherited when they were smuggled out of Iraq just before the U.S. invasion.

There is no evidence (and no likelihood) that any other Middle Eastern country has a single nuclear weapon (the only real weapon of "mass" destruction), while Israel has more than a hundred by most estimates.


Quote of the Day

"We have found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I was mayor of Cleveland, and I tell you I have seen weapons of mass destruction—in our cities. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction, homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction, racism is a weapon of mass destruction, fear is a weapon of mass destruction. We must disarm these weapons—and re-arm ourselves with quality public schools and dedicated teachers, good housing and quality health care, decent jobs and stronger neighborhoods."

- Dennis Kucinich, speaking at the Democratic convention
Proving himself one of the "delusional Democrats" I referred to below, Kucinich then followed those fine words with:
"So let us blaze a new path with John Kerry and John Edwards. This convention will lead us toward the victory not just of a party, but the victory of the American people over fear, a victory of hope over despair, of faith over cynicism. A victory for health care, for civil liberties, for workers’ rights, for human rights, for the environment, for peace."
Once again, projecting his own desires on someone who doesn't share his opinions.

Not that it matters what Kucinich had to say. C-SPAN did broadcast his talk, but CNN thought it was more important for us to listen to Anderson Cooper interviewing comedian Lewis Black, a view shared by all the other cable channels, all of whom felt that the viewers would rather listen to their pontificating talking heads instead of to the speaker (not that this was a particular slight on Kucinich - Al Sharpton, Gen. Shalikashvili, and essentially every other speaker other than John Edwards was equally ignored). Actually, it was very reminiscent of the TV coverage of demonstrations, where invariably, instead of letting viewers hear what the speakers have to say (people who were actually chosen both for their knowledge and eloquence), instead they think we are more interested in the views of a random participant in the march or, even worse, in one of their reporter's typically misleading explanations of what the demonstration was all about.

Back to Kucinich's speech, I wonder if he realizes how close he came to a speech that Fidel Castro has been delivering since 1979:

"Enough of the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick, and the ignorant, but they cannot kill hunger, disease, and ignorance. Nor can they kill the righteous rebellion of the peoples.

"Let us say farewell to arms, and let us in a civilized manner dedicate ourselves to the most pressing problems of our times. This is the responsibility and the most sacred duty all the world's statesmen. This, moreover, is the basic premise for human survival."
Or, as Fidel said more recently in closing another speech with a similar train of throught: "A better world is possible!"


The Voice of America

One day ahead of its debut in Cuba, Fahrenheit 9/11 debuted in Crawford, Texas. AP reports that "more than 3,000 people" were in attendance. Voice of America? "Hundreds of people." Like their boss in the White House, they don't just tell half-truths. They tell "tenth-truths." Something designed to mislead, without being an "out-and-out lie."

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Kerry - gullible or culpable?

Was John Kerry really "fooled" into voting for the invasion of Iraq because, as Michael Moore puts it, he "believed" George Bush just like "70-80% of our fellow Americans did"? I am reminded by a reader of this article, written by Scott Ritter, which sheds a little light on that subject:
"During a visit to Washington in April 2000, when I lobbied senators and representatives for a full review of American policy regarding Iraq, I spoke with John Kerry about what I held to be the hyped-up intelligence regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMD. 'Put it in writing,' Kerry told me, 'and send it to me so I can review what you're saying in detail.'

"I did just that, penning a comprehensive article for Arms Control Today, the journal of the Arms Control Association, on the 'Case for the Qualitative Disarmament of Iraq.' This article, published in June 2000, provided a detailed breakdown of Iraq's WMD capability and made a comprehensive case that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat. I asked the Arms Control Association to send several copies to Sen. Kerry's office but, just to make sure, I sent him one myself. I never heard back from the senator.

"Two years later, in the buildup toward war that took place in the summer of 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Kerry sits, convened a hearing on Iraq. At that hearing a parade of witnesses appeared, testifying to the existence of WMD in Iraq. Featured prominently was Khidir Hamza, the self-proclaimed 'bombmaker to Saddam,' who gave stirring first-hand testimony to the existence of not only nuclear weapons capability, but also chemical and biological weapons as well. Every word of Hamza's testimony has since been proved false. Despite receiving thousands of phone calls, letters and e-mails demanding that dissenting expert opinion, including my own, be aired at the hearing, Sen. Kerry apparently did nothing, allowing a sham hearing to conclude with the finding that there was 'no doubt' Saddam Hussein had WMD."


"Competent but clever"

Man, how insulting can you get?
"'The accused [Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ] ... has elected to represent himself, but has done so competently but cleverly, in that he has attempted to 'hijack' the trial to his agenda while stopping just short of obstructionism,' prosecutors said in the submission to judges on Wednesday.

"The prosecutors accused Milosevic, who is defending himself, of making political rather than legal points." (Source)
Could the fact that the entire trial is a political trial rather than a purely "legal" one have anything to do with that? Could the fact that the court is trying to impose a defense lawyer on Milosevic using the flimsy pretext described above have anything to do with the fact that "Milosevic intended to call U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other NATO leaders as witnesses so he could charge them for the war crimes NATO committed against Yugoslavia"? You bet it could.


Fahrenheit fever spreads south

"Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, in which the US moviemaker delivers a critical image of President George W. Bush, will open in Cuba on Thursday.

"Many Cubans are tingling with anticipation at the screening of the film, having heard much about it since its US release, and the refusal by movie moguls at Disney to distribute it nationwide.

"The film will open simultaneously at Havana's Cuba Cinematheque, to be followed tomorrow by shows in 120 movie theaters throughout the country." (Source)
As a reminder, totally non-political aspects of Cuban culture, such as members of the Buena Vista Social Club, have been denied entry into the United States as "detrimental to the interests of the United States." Lucky thing Michael Moore wasn't a Cuban, or the same thing would have happened to Fahrenheit 9/11.


Free speech at the Democratic convention

On Flashpoints tonight, ubiquitous activist Medea Benjamin recounts the story of how she pulled out an antiwar banner while Teresa Heinz Kerry was on the podium saying:
"And that is why as president my husband will not fear disagreement or dissent. He believes that our voices -- yours and mine -- must be the voices of freedom. And if we do not speak, neither does she.

"In America the true patriots are those who dare speak truth through power."
To which Benjamin called out, "When will he bring the troops home?" and was then immediately surrounded by police (police! not security guards employed by the Democrats, police!), pulled off the floor of the convention (for which she had a valid pass), and was interrogated by police and Secret Service agents for a half an hour.

To the best of my knowledge, this Teresa Heinz Kerry-related event, just slightly more important than her telling a reporter to "shove it!", has not been covered by a single media outlet other than Pacifica radio (the "shove it!" remark, by contrast, gets 6300+ hits on Google).


Did your pay go up 22% last year?

If so, chances are you're a CEO:
"The CEO's at the nation's largest companies saw their raises more than doubled in 2003 as the median raise handed out by S&P 500 companies to their top executives was 22.18 percent, according to a study by The Corporate Library."
Well, c'mon. All that money saved by outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries, and lowering wages of workers in this country, has to go somewhere!


The right of return

"He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year
Coming home to a place he'd never been before."

- John Denver, Rocky Mountain High
The Israeli government and its supporters around the world, including the Bush administration and 97.5% of the Congress, do their best to convince the world that the "right of return," the right of Palestinians to return to their own, or their parents, homes within the current boundaries of Israel, is an outrageous, unreasonable demand, not even worth discussing. But when it comes to people who have never lived in Israel at all, there's no problem with them "returning" to "a place they'd never been before," just so long as those people are Jewish.
"A plane carrying 200 French Jewish immigrants has landed at Tel Aviv airport in Israel, amid diplomatic tensions between Israel and France. There to greet them was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Around 2,000 French Jews make this journey every year."
And the Israelis (and their supporters) squawk whenever some international gathering condemns Zionism as racism. Gee, I just can't imagine why anyone would think so.


The New York Times spins for Cheney and the war

The New York Times asserts that "Vice President Dick Cheney [invoked the 9-11 Commission report] to bolster the administration's case that the invasion of Iraq was an essential part of the fight against terrorists" in a speech yestereday. But did he? Here's what the Times reports that he actually said:
"This is an enemy, as the 9/11 commission reported last week, whose purpose 'is to rid the world of religious and political pluralism'. This is not a foe we can reason with, or negotiate with, or appease. This is, to put it simply, an enemy that we must vanquish. And we will vanquish this enemy."
I haven't read the entire report, and don't intend to. But I have looked at the Executive Summary, which one would presume summarizes the salient points of the report, and the phrase "rid the world of religious and political pluralism," nor the word "Iraq," do not appear there, even once. So even if the preposterous assertion that Osama bin Laden and cohorts are out to "rid the world of religious and political pluralism" were true, and even if one agrees with the point of view that terrorists are an "enemy to be vanquished," there doesn't seem to be the slightest evidence that Cheney was using, or even could use, the 9-11 Commission report to "bolster the case" for the invasion of Iraq. But the Times seems to be happy to put words into Cheney's mouth (and unjustified thoughts into the minds of their readers).


Delusional Democrats

C-SPAN has carried a number of sessions over the past couple days from a gathering of something called "Progressives in the Democratic Party." I just finished watching a long speech by Michael Moore; yesterday there was a panel featuring Al Franken, Arianna Huffington, and many more. Almost without exception, one thing stands out - these people, all good people whose hearts are in the right place, are completely delusional. Just as was the case with Bill Clinton, they all seem convinced that John Kerry is really a peace-loving liberal. Asked what Kerry should do in his first 100 days, they enumerated a variety of admirable goals, not one of which corresponded to any actual position Kerry has taken in his campaign.

Moore, speaking today, talked about a conversation he had with Ralph Nader before Nader decided to run. He recounted how he had told Nader that there was no reason for him to run because "he [Nader] had done his job in 2000" and pushed the Democrats in the right (meaning left) direction and that "the Democrats of 2004 aren't the Democrats of 2000." As proof he offered the presence in the Democratic race of Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. He seems to have failed to note that Howard Dean was crushed early by the party establishment, and Dennis Kucinich made such a difference in the party that he couldn't even get a debate in the platform committee about the war, much less an actual plank in the platform denouncing the war.

I understand the "lesser evil" argument, even though I don't agree with it. But if you take that stance toward the election, please - don't delude yourself into thinking you'll be getting something that exists only in your own imagination.

As a side note, let me say this about Al Franken - what a blowhard. At yesterday's panel discussion, there were 8 or 10 panelists, and there was an hour and a half of time. Responding to the very first question, about how the legacy of Paul Wellstone could be carried forth in the Democratic Party, Franken proceeded to talk for at least five full minutes, if not more, rambling on with anecdotes about Wellstone, etc. While the other panelists gave straightforward answers to the questions that were posed, Franken repeatedly gave long-winded, off-topic answers, as if the world was hanging on his every word. Hey Al! They're not. And they accuse Ralph Nader of being "ego-driven."

Followup: Here is the text of that speech by Michael Moore, in which you can read, among other things, how Moore excuses Kerry's vote on the invasion of Iraq because Kerry "believed" George Bush just like "70-80% of our fellow Americans did." Vote for Kerry! He's as gullible as the next guy! (Unless the next guy is Ted Kennedy, or Dennis Kucinich, or a host of others in Congress, not to mention millions of Americans and people around the world.) The fact that Kerry believed, and still believes, that the United States had the right to invade Iraq even if the allegations against it were true doesn't seem to bother Moore, which presumably means that when Kerry decides to invade Iran, or North Korea, both of whom may well have nuclear weapons (or be on the way to having them), Moore will have no objections.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


If a tree falls in the forest...

In a post below on the Boston free speech zones concentration camp, I used the throw-away line: "So there are 'free speech rights' (but not 'freedom to be heard or seen by anyone except your fellow protester rights')." The more I thought about this tonight, the more I thought this was even more profound than I thought when I wrote it.

First of all, to put everyone on the same page, here's the text of the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
So, to begin with, it's not just "free speech" that's at issue, but the "right of the people peaceably to assemble," a right which is as much in danger as free speech. But let's concentrate on "free speech." It's a simple phrase, but does it really mean what it says? Of course not, as the events in Boston illustrate. Let's employ a little reductio ad absurdum. What if the "free speech zone" were a sound-proof room with no windows? Would you still have "freedom of speech" because you could speak, even though no one could hear you? Of course not. "Freedom of speech" means the freedom to be heard, not just the freedom to speak. In just the same way, would there be "freedom of the press" if you had the right to publish a newspaper, but didn't have the right to sell it or give it away? Of course not, no more so than this blog would represent freedom of speech or the press (however you'd like to classify a blog) if the government were able to block access to it, but I was still free to write it.

Don't be thrown off by the phrase "free speech." It's the freedom to be heard we must fight to preserve.


Quote of the day

"We shouldn't apologize because great countries don't have to do that."

- Madeleine Albright, speaking to Al Franken on his radio show, referring (this time) not the death of half a million Iraqi children from the U.S.-enforced sanctions but rather about the "mistakes" that were made in invading Iraq, not treating our "allies" with more respect, etc.
Nancy Pelosi was on TV yesterday, speaking to the California delegation at the Democratic Party convention, also referring to the "mistake" of invading Iraq. Oh yeah, oops! Sorry about killing all you Iraqis, and for the death of more than a thousand Americans and other coalition soldiers too. Our bad.

War criminal Albright, by the way, is the lead-off speaker on the final night of the convention, starting the introduction process for Kerry.

Monday, July 26, 2004


Israel? Palestine? Never heard of them.

There are many examples of the abysmal ignorance of Americans. Here's the latest, from an article by Tom Fenton for CBS News:
"In a new study of media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a group of American college students was asked, 'Who is occupying the occupied territories, and what nationality are the settlers?' Fairly simple questions, but only 29 percent knew the correct answers. The Israelis are both the occupiers and the settlers.

"The study points out that the Americans questioned were journalism and media students and some had even done projects on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. So their answers clearly overstated the public’s level of knowledge about the Middle East."
Fenton also discusses another study, this one in Britain, which discusses the central role of the media in this lack of knowledge, and makes many of the same observations that have been made here at Left I on the News (and many other places, of course):
"The [study] point[s] to the way Israeli and Palestinian combatants are labelled in television reports. Palestinians are 'activists,' 'militants,' 'extremists,' 'assailants,' 'gunmen,' 'bombers,' 'terrorists,' 'killers,' 'assassins,' 'fundamentalist groups,' 'attackers,' 'self-styled Palestinian martyrs' and 'fanatics.'

"Israelis are 'soldiers' or 'troops,' and even when an Israeli group tried to bomb a Palestinian school, they were not 'terrorists' but 'vigilantes.'

"The report also found that there is significantly more coverage of Israelis casualties than Palestinian, even though Palestinians consistently have two or three times as many casualties.

"Also, in the spiral of Palestinian-Israeli violence, Palestinians are frequently described as 'starting' the trouble, while the Israelis 'retaliate.'

"The researchers say television has largely denied its audience an explanation of the background and origins of the conflict. 'It is clear,' they say, 'that the fact of military occupation and its consequences are crucial to an understanding of the rationale of Palestinian action.' Many in the audience sample did not understand that there is a military occupation and that it is widely seen as illegal."
Sometimes activists can be frustrated by the lack of short-term results from their activities (demonstrations, petitions, etc.) and can belittle the value of such elementary forms of activism as holding educational forums, showing documentary movies, and so on. Studies like the ones cited above demonstrate all too clearly how basic educational activities are never out of place. Until and unless people understand the problems, there is little chance of them supporting change.


Tell the truth, go to jail...and stay there

Left I on the News has turned on several occasions (as early as last August, in fact) to the sad tale of Iraqi Gen. Amer al-Saadi, imprisoned for daring to tell Hans Blix the truth about the non-existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (or, looked at another way, for calling George Bush and John Kerry "liars"). The Guardian had the story in May, and the Washington Post in June; another month goes by, 30 more days of solitary confinement for Gen. Al-Saadi without even pen and paper (we're told he does crossword puzzles in his head!), and NPR finally covers the story. Actually it's an interesting piece, and worth listening to (it's a seven-minute segment which can be downloaded from the previous link). We hear directly from Al-Saadi's wife, learn that it's against the Geneva Convention for a prisoner of war (which Al-Saadi is classified as) to be held after the cessation of hostilities without being formally charged by the Iraqi government (which Saddam and 12 others were, but Al-Saadi was not), learn that even Paul Bremer recommended his release, and hear his brother-in-law predict that there's no way he'll be released before November because he's a political embarassment to the Bush administration. In this he echoes what Left I on the News wrote back in May:
"Is there any doubt that al-Saadi is not a "prisoner of war" but actually a political prisoner, being held for political reasons, specifically the threat his speaking in public would pose for the re-election of George Bush?
Al-Saadi surrendered last April 12, the first prominent Iraqi to do so. He has now been in jail, in solitary confinement, for more than one year.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


Another day, another anti-Cuba slander

This one in the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article written by two right-wingers, but whose general thrust (the headline is "Let's bomb Havana with Big Macs" and the article is basically about overthrowing the Cuban government by economic subversion from within rather than economic warfare from without) would receive complete agreement from liberals like John Kerry. In the course of the article, the authors make this statement:
"In power, Castro's huge ego and Flintstone-quality economic thought have created a mere survival economy on a rich island."
I'm not quite sure what "Flintstone-quality economic thought" is. I do know that Cuban infant mortality rates and life expectancy at birth are both almost exactly identical to those found in the United States, and are way ahead of the vast majority of third-world countries, most of whose residents (and many residents of the United States inner cities) would be happy to "survive" on what is available in Cuba. And the notion that Cuba is a "rich island" is simply bizarre. Before the Cuban revolution, the Cuban economy survived on tourism (including plenty of sex tourism; see The Godfather (Part II?) for evidence. Sugar was and is the agricultural staple of the economy, with small amounts of nickel. The survival of the Cuban economy, in the face of a 40-year economic war against it by the most powerful country in the world, and in the face of severe restriction of tourism (now essentially total) from its largest and richest neighboring country, is testimony to the success of the Cuban model, not to its failure.

As additional proof of that claim, I refer readers to the just-released United Nations Human Development Report, which for the first time this year ranks Cuba in the "High human development group" that includes the G-8 nations, etc. The "Human Development Indicators" section of the report ranks Cuba 52nd out of 177 countries (the United States, by the way, ranks 8th). Hardly proof of "a mere survival economy."


This is what "democracy" looks like


Protesters in a cage, well-armed riot police on the outside.

TalkLeft has had some very good coverage of the various goings on, including:

There has been lots of protest (to no avail so far) about the out-of-sight "cage" for protesters, with the authorities claiming that restricting people to a certain area still guarantees their free speech rights. But that can't be squared with this development:
"Authorities said they were lowering the maximum number of protesters to 1,000, from a previous 4,000, because of concerns of overcrowding."
So there are "free speech rights" (but not "freedom to be heard or seen by anyone except your fellow protester rights"), but only for 1,000 people. If there are already 1,000 people protesting, and you're the 1,001st, too bad, because you now have no free speech rights.

This is what "democracy" looks like.

Friday, July 23, 2004


George Bush projecting calm - some questions

The report of the 9/11 Commission repeats something we have heard before with respect to the famous seven-minute paralysis, My Pet Goat incident: "The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis." But neither the Commission, nor a single commentator I have seen, asks the obvious questions. First of all, to whom was he "projecting calm"? A group of second-graders? A handful of reporters? It's not like his appearance was being broadcast live on national TV, or even on local TV for that matter. There are 293+ million people in the United States. Does it really make any sense whatsoever to try to "project calm" to 30 of them while the other 292,999,970 of them are in a panic from having heard the news on TV? (OK, all of them hadn't heard yet, but many certainly had). Don't those people represent "the country" just a little bit more than a handful of kids and reporters in a Florida classroom?

The other question, which has also not been explicitly asked, is "what is the value of projecting calm?" If a ship hits an iceberg, should the Captain "project calm" or should he or she do his or her best to get the crew working on a solution before the ship sinks? If Bush had smelled smoke while sitting in the classroom, would it make sense to do nothing so as to "project calm," or would it make sense to try to figure out where the smoke was coming from (or at least make sure someone else was trying to figure it out) before the building burned down?

As usual, just asking.


Scott Ritter on the Iraqi resistance

A very interesting new piece by Scott Ritter appears today at CommonDreams. I have no idea if what Ritter says is true, but his track record on Iraq is certainly one heck of a lot better than 99% of the talking heads who get to dominate the airwaves and the print media. Ritter basically says that what is going on in Iraq is the result of a well-planned resistance by the previous (Hussein) Iraqi government. Ritter names names, and analyzes the situation in a detail that hasn't appeared elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if his analysis becomes common currency, or if it even hits the mainstream at all.

One interesting aspect of Ritter's analysis is his conclusion:

"The calculus is quite simple: the sooner we bring our forces home, the weaker this movement will be. And, of course, the obverse is true: the longer we stay, the stronger and more enduring this byproduct of Bush's elective war on Iraq will be.

"There is no elegant solution to our Iraqi debacle. It is no longer a question of winning but rather of mitigating defeat."
And with that Left I heartily agrees, whether Ritter's analysis turns out to be correct or not. Troops out now!


Another "precision" attack in Fallujah

This is what the U.S. military calls a "precision attack" - dropping a bomb in the courtyard of a house. Here's the story as reported by AP, which, unlike the U.S. military, was actually on the scene as evidenced from the photo above:

"U.S. forces launched a 'precision attack' Friday against a suspected gathering of insurgents outside a house in the volatile city of Fallujah, the U.S. military said.

"The attack did not kill anyone but wounded five civilians, including three children, said Dr. Kamal Al-Ani, a hospital official. The U.S. military did not indicate if there were any casualties. Witnesses denied the house was harboring militants."
So clearly, the U.S. military, who were the perpetrators of this "fly-by bombing" (so much more civilized than a "drive-by shooting"), haven't a clue what they really did. They have neither the manpower nor the courage (nor the desire) to actually send troops into Fallujah and arrest these "suspected insurgents," so instead they just shoot missiles from the air. Here's what actually happened, from further down in the AP story:
"Al-Ani said a U.S. warplane fired a missile that landed in the garden of a house in the Jubail neighborhood in southern Fallujah. Associated Press Television News video showed a huge crater beside the house.

"'We were sleeping in the morning when a U.S. missile hit our house,' Saddam Jassim said as he and his brother cleared debris. 'We have nothing to do with the resistance or Zarqawi. These are pretexts used by the U.S. military to terrorize the people in Fallujah because U.S. soldiers are unable to face the insurgents.'"
The Reuters report of the incident sheds some interesting light on the story:
"'Based on multiple sources of intelligence, the attack targeted 10 to 12 terrorists with known ties to the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi network of foreign terrorists,' U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Erv Lessel said in a statement."
Now, you have to think about that one. The "target" was allegedly a "group of 10-12 terrorists" gathered in a garden. How exactly do "multiple sources of intelligence" take note of such a gathering, pass that information on to the U.S. military, who then calls in an airstrike while the men are still gathered in the garden? What really happened? Most likely, a U.S. plane flew overhead, saw a group of people, figured that in any group of people there must be some "bad guys," and fired a missile at the group. And so the war of the U.S. military against the people of the world goes on. And while the U.S. government is busy trying to figure out how to put a stop to terrorism, day after day the U.S. military takes actions which have exactly the opposite effect.

And meanwhile, the New York Times reports the straight U.S. government line: "The American military conducted a strike in Falluja today on a group of Iraqis it said were known allies of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has claimed credit for some of the deadliest attacks and kidnappings in Iraq." Not only do they report the government line, they reinforce it by emphasizing the evil nature of the alleged targets of the raid. Only in the fourth paragraph of the article do they get around to the minor caveat: "Residents in the town said at least five people were wounded, two of them children." The telling details of the incident, as reported by AP, are nowhere to be found. TV reports, needless to say, aren't long enough to get to that "fourth paragraph." CNN, for example, simply parrots the U.S. military, even using their absurd euphemism for themselves: "U.S.-led forces in Iraq conducted a strike in Fallujah on about a dozen terrorists with ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to a statement from the Multi-National Forces (MNF)." "U.S.-led forces" indeed. How many "non-U.S. forces" were involved in this strike? My guess: zero.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Fahrenheit 9/11 continues to astound

It was far from a perfect movie, but I did recommend it. Regardless, E! News Live tonight reports that Fahrenheit 9/11 has now passed the astounding (for a documentary) total of $100 million (and counting, as they say), five times more than the previous record for a documentary. And, in other Michael Moore news, the new owner of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, the hotel that "threw out" Linda Ronstadt for recommending Moore's film, says he will be inviting Ronstadt back once he takes over in September from the current owner. Michael Moore says he will accompany Ronstadt and has promised to sing a duet of "America, the Beautiful" with her on stage. Amazingly, he sang a few bars during the interview, and wasn't bad!


The 9-11 Commission report

The report is out, and of course all the media attention is on "what we are going to do" - form a new intelligence agency, reorganizations, more spending, blah blah blah. The Executive Summary (link is a pdf file) asks the question "Who is the enemy?" In discussing the answer to that question, the Commission says:
"In the 1980s, young Muslims from around the world went to Afghanistan to join as volunteers in a jihad (or holy struggle) against the Soviet Union. A wealthy Saudi, Usama Bin Ladin, was one of them. Following the defeat of the Soviets in the late 1980s, Bin Ladin and others formed al Qaeda to mobilize jihads elsewhere."
Curiously, they don't mention the role the United States played in this process. Can't imagine why.

The report doesn't explicitly ask the forbidden question "Why is the enemy?", but here's what it says on the subject:

"Bin Ladin also stresses grievances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which is the home of Islam’s holiest sites, and against other U.S. policies in the Middle East."
Other U.S. policies, eh? Gee, I wonder what those might be? Here's a hint - the word "Israel" does not appear anywhere in the executive summary.

When it comes to recommendations, most of those are of the "mechanical" variety, things which will definitely shift terrorist attacks from one target to another, or from one country to another, but which will never stop such attacks because they don't address the root causes, those "U.S. policies in the Middle East." But I was surprised to see that the Commission does have some recommendation on the subject of "policy changes" designed, in their words, to "Prevent the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism." Here are the top few:

And that's pretty much it. No actual changes in real policies, like calling for the removal of the Israeli apartheid wall, or withdrawing troops from the Middle East, or anything of actual substance. Evidently, the Commission figures that the people of the Middle East are as gullible as Americans aching to believe that the Commission recommendations will have the slightest effect whatsoever on terrorism.


Armed forces recruitment

One of the more effective pieces in Fahrenheit 9/11 is a segment showing U.S. Marine (I think) recruiters literally trolling for recruits in depressed urban areas, using lures of jobs (money) and adventure as bait. But evidently there's another form of bait that Moore doesn't show:
"The U.S. Army has long lured recruits with the slogan 'Be All You Can Be,' but now soldiers and their families can receive plastic surgery, including breast enlargements, on the taxpayers' dime.

"Between 2000 and 2003, military doctors performed 496 breast enlargements and 1,361 liposuction surgeries on soldiers and their dependents."
The question, of course, is whether this is being used as a recruitment tool for female soldiers or male ones? Or, more seriously, one might ask why on earth the Army thinks that larger breasts are an aid to combat or any other military activity? Or is it that they think sexism isn't rampant enough in the military and they need to do their part to promote it?


"Thin, ambiguous, and incomplete"

The latest assessment of the pre-invasion "intelligence" [sic] comes from Australia, where a new government report says "Australia used 'thin, ambiguous and incomplete' intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify waging war on Iraq." In response, Australian PM John Howard "said his government's decision to join the invasion of Iraq was correct and he had no regrets." So apparently he thinks that invading a country which hasn't threatened you, on the basis of "thin, ambiguous, and incomplete" evidence, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Fortunately for Howard, as far as I can tell there hasn't been a single Australian killed in Iraq, even including contractors, so as a result I don't think he's quite as vulnerable as George Bush and Tony Blair.


Lies of the Times

I don't generally read "campaign analysis" articles, so I'm indebted to Atrios for noticing this line in such an article in today's New York Times:
"In Iraq, the transfer of sovereignty has led to some reduction in American casualties."
The facts are, however, ahem, contrary. In the first three weeks of July, there have been 43 American military fatalaties, vs. 42 in all of June, for a rate of 2.09 per day in July vs. 1.67 in June. That's a 25% increase in the fatality rate. Note that I switched from "casualties" to "fatalities," because, as was discussed here last October, most of the press uses the "official U.S. CentCom definition" of the word "casualties" which defines casualties as "fatalities," in lieu of the actual dictionary definition which includes those "injured, killed, captured, or missing in action." But if the Times were inexplicably using the correct definition of the word, it would actually make the assertion even less true (kind of like "more pregnant"), since the U.S. military reported 177 seriously wounded (not returning to action in 72 hours) soldiers in the month of June, and 200 thus far in July, an approximately 50% increase.

It was bad enough when Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Secretary of Defense, underestimated American deaths in Iraq by 40%. I'm not sure if it's better or worse when a "newspaper of record" does the same thing.

A "reduction in American casualties"? Not on your life. And certainly not on the lives of those who continue to die in Iraq, day after day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Helicopter down?

Reuters, 17:54 (not sure what time zone that is):
"Guerrillas have shot down a U.S. helicopter during fierce clashes in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and three on board have been killed, says an Iraqi police officer in the city.

"Several witnesses also said a helicopter was shot down.

"The police officer said the aircraft came down near the eastern entrance of the city and burst into flames. He said the area had been sealed off by U.S. troops."
Reuters, 18:34:
"The U.S. military says a report from Iraqi police that an American helicopter has been shot down near the city of Ramadi is false.

"'We have not had any casualties in the past 24 hours and no downed helicopters,' a spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps in western Iraq said on Wednesday."
Interesting to see what the future brings as far as who's telling the truth. My money's on the Iraqi police report. What's typical is that the U.S. military simply chooses (in my guesstimation) to flat out lie about the situation. The spokesperson could have hedged and simply said, "We haven't had any reports of such a thing; as far as we know it isn't true." Instead, they state with absolute certainty that it isn't true, thereby putting their (already non-existent) credibility on the line yet again. So again, time will tell (unless it did happen but the military manages to hush it up, which is always possible).


How many dead in Iraq?

News reports in the last day have mentioned, although with little emphasis or repetition (i.e., if you blink you'll miss the news), that American troop deaths in Iraq have just passed the 900 figure, and it wasn't that long ago that "coalition" deaths passed 1000. I've just found that the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website is now also attempting to tally up the deaths of "contractors" - the incomplete total is now 112, many of them Americans as well. Neither the U.S. media nor the U.S. government could be bothered to keep track.

As for Iraqis, Iraq Body Count is now reporting a minimum of 11,252 and a maximum of 13,213 Iraqi civilian deaths, which appears to include Iraqi policemen. Even that "maximum" is really a "minimum maximum" however, because Iraq Body Count only tallies deaths which have been reported by multiple news sources, and doesn't include deaths they don't feel they can "confirm," and certainly doesn't include deaths which haven't been reported in the news at all. There still appears to be no even vaguely reliable count of Iraqi military deaths. Once again, neither the U.S. media nor the U.S. government can be bothered to keep track.


The Sandy Berger story - some questions

Former national security adviser Sandy Berger is under investigation for "mishandling" documents which are reportedly the most top-secret documents that exist (i.e., the highest classification). Berger says he made an "honest mistake." My first question is - how exactly could you make an "honest mistake" by walking out of a presumably guarded room containing ultra-top-secret documents with something that you didn't walk in with? The second question, the more serious one, is this: this "theft" was reportedly discovered not because some papers were later found missing, but because guards saw him putting papers in his jacket, pants, and, supposedly, his "sock" (!). Is this the way that top-secret documents are guarded in the U.S.? By having guards who don't stop people from taking them, but just reporting that they have been taken? I certainly hope that the bank where I keep my money guards its assets more carefully!

Something is very strange about both of these claims.

And the third question pertains to the investigation itself. Supposedly this investigation has been going on since October, 2003! What is this, the O.J. Simpson murder trail? For cryin' out loud, we have a guy who supposedly took some papers out of a room, was seen doing it, and doesn't deny it. How much evidence is there to gather in this complicated case, exactly? How many witnesses are there to call? This can't be serious.

Followup: Newsday, in reporting the story, lets us know that there are other materials which have "gone missing" from the National Archives:

"Among significant documents missing from their expected places is the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment communications journal for July 1950, during the Korean War. That month, a battalion from the cavalry killed many South Korean refugees at the village of No Gun Ri.

"The journal would have recorded any orders to shoot the civilians, but after a 1999-2001 inquiry, Army investigators said they didn't find the document and didn't know what happened to it."


Sex, lies, and videotape

The Los Angeles Times, which just yesterday distinguished itself with the best reporting on the "Linda Ronstadt incident," today breaks the story behind George Bush's recent claim that Fidel Castro promotes "sex tourism" in Cuba. The Times reveals today that the White House's source for this charge was an unsourced paraphrased quote in a paper written by a Dartmouth College undergraduate in 2001, which the White House turned up with "a quick search of the Internet" (i.e., Googling). My favorite sentence from the article: "The speech 'was vetted the same way all the president's speeches are vetted,' [White House spokeswoman Claire] Buchan said, declining to provide details." You know, like the careful vetting of the famous 16 words: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Back to the substance of the article, here's what the student in question has to say:

"But regardless of the exact wording, [Charles] Trumbull says the president's speech misconstrued the meaning, which he says should have been clear from his paper.

"'It shows that they didn't read much of the article,' Trumbull said in a telephone interview. [Ed. note: I lied about the "videotape" in the title; it was a phone interview]

"According to Trumbull, who conducted field research in Cuba, prostitution boomed in the Caribbean nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, providing an important source of currency for the Cuban economy. Castro, who outlawed prostitution when he took power in 1959, initially had few resources to combat it. But beginning around 1996, Cuban authorities began to crack down on the practice.

"Although prostitution still exists, Trumbull said, it is far less visible, and it would be inaccurate to say the government promotes it.

"Even when Castro made the remarks, Trumbull said, he was not boasting about Cuba's prostitutes as sex workers.

"'Castro was merely trying to emphasize some of the successes of the revolution by saying 'even our prostitutes our educated,' ' Trumbull said. 'Castro was trying to defend his revolution against negative publicity. He was in no way bragging about the opportunities for sex tourism on the island.'"
"Facts? We don't need no steeenkin' facts!" - the motto of the Bush White House (and most of the media, who are happy to disseminate any allegations put forth against America's "enemies" without the slightest proof).

Followup: More insight on the real situation.


Political humor of the day

"President Bush said today he's looking into whether Iran had anything to do with 9/11, but he's not declaring war yet. He said first he wants to know all the facts. So apparently, he's trying a new strategy." - Jay Leno

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


World to Israel: "Mr. Sharon, tear down that wall!"

Today, the world community spoke:
"The General Assembly approved a resolution overwhelmingly on Tuesday evening demanding that Israel obey a World Court ruling that it abandon and dismantle its separation barrier on the West Bank and pay compensation to Palestinians affected by its construction.

The vote was 150 in favor and 6 against - including the United States - with 10 abstentions."
Those opposed and abstaining? "Voting against the resolution with the United States and Israel were Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. Abstaining were Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu." Or, as George Bush would call it, "the coalition." Sadly, although George Bush and members of his administration talk almost daily about "bringing democracy to Iraq," bringing democracy to the United Nations isn't on their agenda (nor is bringing democracy to Iraq, for that matter). The United Nations does function on a "one country, one vote" principle; unfortunately, there's only one country, and only one vote, that counts. And that country, no matter who is President now or after the next election, will continue to veto resolutions like this one should they reach a vote in the Security Council.

The United States is almost completely isolated in the world in its support for Israel. The world is overwhelmingly opposed to what Israel is doing. So there must be significant opposition to Israeli policies in the United States, right? Certainly not in the Congress, where last month the Senate "voted 95-3 in favor of a resolution endorsing US President George W. Bush's April declarations that Israel should not have to fully withdraw from the West Bank as part of a final peace deal, and that Palestinian refugees would return to a future state of Palestine, rather than to Israel," and the House voted 407-9 supporting the same position; essentially giving Sharon carte blanche to continue doing what he's doing, and giving an official (rather than the decades-long unofficial) U.S. seal of approval on Israel's continued violation of international law.


Quote of the Year (1984)

"Sometimes we extend the peace by using war."

- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (Source)
Credit to KOS for the story.


Listen to Flashpoints!

Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints! show is essential listening for people who want to learn about what's going on in the world from people who are actually on the scene (instead of learning about it from the usual Washington talking heads that appear on all the network and cable talk shows). The show is on from 5-6 p.m. Pacific time on Pacifica's Bay Area stations, is available as streaming audio at the same time, and is also available for download on the website, usually within an hour of the show's end. As an example of the work Flashpoints! does, Friday's show carried the first (and, so far, only!) American interview with Australian journalist Paul McGeough, who broke the story about Iyad Allawi allegedly executing six prisoners.

For the last two nights there have been exceptionally valuable updates on the situation in Palestine. Last night's show (July 19) featured an interview with Jeff Halper, a Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University in Israel and the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House demolitions (ICAHD). Halper talks about how Israeli soldiers "hunt" Palestinians, the role of the young second-generation Israeli "settlers" in provoking violence, the role of the U.S. government in maintaining the imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians, and much, much more. Well worth listening to. Tonight's show (July 20) featured Amer Abdel Hadi, the director of Radio Tariq el-Mahabbeh in Nablus, talking about the cold-blooded murders being committed by Israeli troops in Balata after deliberately provoking Palestinian youth into throwing stones, again the role of the U.S. government, and more. Again well worth listening to.

Flashpoints! also starts out with a few minutes of news summary from Robert Knight, who has a wonderful way of putting things. The show does suffer from two flaws. One is web-related - the different shows have direct links for the download, but not for the summary, making it hard to easily link to specific broadcasts (and even harder, or impossible, to link to specific sections of the broadcast, since generally there are two or three major sections of the show). The second flaw is more important, and quite unfortunate. Because the show wants to bring its listeners authentic voices from around the world who really know what they're talking about, you frequently find yourself struggling to listen to someone with a thick accent (Haitian, Middle Eastern, etc.) speaking in a deep voice over an imperfect telephone connection, and it can be hard work to follow the conversation. But it's always worth trying, to get information on a daily basis you simply won't hear elsewhere. If you're not a regular listener, start by checking out the July 19 interview with Halper, and move on from there. You won't regret it.


Linda Ronstadt and the media

So "the man" came down on Linda Ronstadt and booted her out of his casino because she had the audacity to recommend a movie to her audience. Yet another demonstration of "freedom of the press belongs to those who own the press" (in this case, "freedom of speech belongs to those who own the stage" - or - in the case of New York City - "those who give out - or don't give out - the permits").

In this case, though, it's the press coverage of the event I want to spotlight. Here's the most complete coverage of the event I could find online, from the San Diego Union-Tribune pop music critic:

"Like a musical Moses staging a song-fueled parting of the Red Sea, the veteran star instantly split her sold-out audience of 1,360 in two.

"Half the crowd heartily applauded her praise for Moore, the other half booed. In an instant, the intimate outdoor venue on Shelter Island filled with a roar of cheers and jeers that grew to a near-fever pitch.

"As Ronstadt started to perform her encore, an impassioned version of the Eagles' "Desperado," dozens of concertgoers angrily streamed toward the exits, while others gave her an ovation."
Now compare this to other coverage of the event, and see if you can spot what's missing. Here's the AP take on the story:
"Linda Ronstadt not only got booed, she also got the boot after lauding filmmaker Michael Moore and his new movie, 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'

Ronstadt's comments drew loud boos, and some of the 4,500 people in attendance stormed out of the theater. People also tore down concert posters and tossed cocktails into the air."
And here's how CNN reports the story:
"'That dedication angered some Aladdin guests who spilled drinks, tore down posters and demanded their money back', said casino spokeswoman Sara Gorgon. About a quarter of the 4,500 people in the audience got up and left before the performance had finished, Gorgon said." [Ed. note: it just might put that number into context if the article had noted that the dedication preceded the encore, i.e., the last song of the night]
So what was missing? I'm sure you all noted that the "mainstream" sources (i.e., the ones like AP and Reuters that get widely circulated and reprinted in hundreds of papers) leave the impression that there was only a negative reaction from the audience, while the San Diego Union-Tribune article, written by a critic who was actually at the concert (!), makes clear that the situation was quite different.

Unlike AP and Reuters, the Los Angeles Times actually thought it might be appropriate to find out what Ronstadt had to say, and their story sheds further light on the subject:

"Ronstadt, a longtime liberal activist, has often shared her political and social views, whether she was singing at the No Nukes concert series or jabbing at Enron executives by giving them a pointed dedication of 'Straighten Up and Fly Right.'

"Through the years, though, Ronstadt has never heard a hall so powerfully divided each night between hisses and hurrahs. She heard it from the first night she offered the comments about Moore's film.

"'At first there's just silence, then there's 'Yeah!' and then there's 'Boo!' and then the audience starts fighting with each other,' she recalled. 'You know how they say we are just polarized down the middle? I've done this all across the country and I'm telling you, it's like my independent poll. I have never seen a reaction like this, in all my years of touring.'"
Ronstadt also recognizes that she is in a position to be able to do this:
"Ronstadt said her career zenith in the 1970s is long gone and that in a quasi-retirement mode she has the success and boldness to say what she thinks. 'Clear Channel can't threaten to not play my records because they are not going to play them anyway.'"
And I'll give her the final word too:
"We have to stick together. I just think we can't take this lying down. It's like the Weimar Republic… these [neo-conservative] people are taking over the government. People are sound asleep and I don't think this is the time to back down."

Monday, July 19, 2004


One hidden cost of the Israeli occupation of Palestine

We learn today (not from the U.S. press, needless to say):
"Suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Israeli armed forces. In 2003, a total of 43 Israeli soldiers took their own lives last year compared to 30 killed in Intifada-related hostilities, said the report.

"The Israeli army denies any connection between army excesses in the occupied territories and the phenomenon of suicides among soldiers. Army sources routinely cite more mundane reasons such as emotional crises, bullying and persecution by superiors, and psychological depression. [Ed. note: how reassuring!]

"It is widely believed, however, that a significant number of suicide cases are connected to the soldiers' traumatic experiences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Aljazeera.net quoted an Israeli peace activist who spoke on condition of anonymity as saying that she believed many of the soldiers who went on to take their own lives simply couldn"t cope with the moral burden of causing avoidable and unjustified deaths in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"'Israeli soldiers are ordered to do things that go against their moral values...and they are left with this terrible burden which evolves into depression and eventually lead to suicide', she said.

"Last month, a number of former conscripts who had just finished their army service in the southern West Bank town of Hebron, described vividly the manner in which they mistreated and humiliated Palestinian civilians. The group set up a photo exhibition opposite the Defence Ministry complex in Tel Aviv, featuring graphic pictures of ordinary Palestinians being tormented, often in a sadistic manner, by occupation soldiers."


In election news...

Illinois Democrats, like Democrats in other states, are working overtime (and illegally, it appears) to see that Ralph Nader doesn't get on the ballot, not to mention even trying to disqualify parties like the Socialist Equality Party who are likely to get just a handful of votes. No news there, right? Happens all the time. Except for one little detail. The Illinois Democrats, who control the state legislature by a significant majority in both houses, have just combined with their Republican "brethren" to pass a special law allowing someone else on the ballot - someone named George Bush, who, because of the late date of his nominating convention, was otherwise ineligible to appear on the Illinois ballot.

And they dare to criticize Nader for accepting money from Republicans, or the signatures of Republicans on his petitions!


The Sandinista legacy

In a rather bizarre article today, the BBC examines the legacy of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Why bizarre? Because 14 years after the U.S. helped buy an election which forced the Sandinistas from power, the article centers around the charge by Adolfo Calero (former head of the Contras) that the Nicaraguan economy is "in tatters" as a result of the "socialist experiment" of the Sandinistas (gee Adolfo, your side has had 14 years to set things right, not to mention a supposedly friendly U.S. government - what happened?). And despite being told by the article's author that "revolutionary fervour still burns within the current leaders of the Sandinista movement," the only other person quoted in the entire article is former Sandinista Vice-President Sergio Ramirez, who left the party 15 years ago!

Not a word in the article about the actual accomplishments of the Sandinistas during their eleven years in power nor, other than a picture caption and a brief reference to Calero's activities, is there any indication that the Sandinistas had to spend enormous amounts of financial and emotional capital during their years in power fighting the U.S.-backed Contras, rather than devoting their full energies (and finances) to carrying out their revolution. Nor is there the slightest reference to the nature of the country, or its economy, under Somoza, before the Sandinista revolution, back when Somocistas like Adolfo Calero were fat and happy and the rest of the Nicaraguan people...weren't.

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