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Tuesday, August 31, 2004


The liberal media

After months of telling us about the (sometimes real, sometimes not) "flip-flops" of John Kerry, today the media was faced with a very real flip-flop - George Bush announcing one day that the war on terrorism cannot be won, and then the very next day changing his mind and saying that "we will win." And here are the descriptions they used to describe this rather sudden change of mind [emphasis added]:
Anything but "flip-flops."

The ironic part of the story was the Democrats responded during the one day when Bush was claiming this "war" could not be won. They were quick to go on the offensive, claiming that not only could the "war" be won, but they were just the people to lead the fight. And the irony is that, for once in his life, George Bush was actually correct. That doesn't mean that he, any more than Kerry and Edwards, have a clue as to what to do about it. "Terrorism" has been a tactic employed by people of widely varying political beliefs since time immemorial, and it seems likely it will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. But the "war on terror," which really means the "war on militant Muslims," will never end as long as the U.S. continues to dominate the Middle East, and in particular as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestine and oppress the Palestinian people. And neither Bush nor Kerry have any plans to change that situation.


Convention news you didn't see

I try to avoid actually watching convention speeches, so, searching for an alternative, I found myself watching E! News Live tonight. On came the convention news anyway, in the form of an interview with Stephen Baldwin, the "Republican Baldwin." It was scary. Stephen says he supports Bush because his criterion for picking a President is the candidate with the most faith. Faith in what he didn't say. Then he talked about how he's a believer in "faith-based reality." Otherwise known as fantasy.

He forgot to mention that his "faith-based reality" has brought an end to the lives of more than a thousand Americans, more than ten thousand Iraqis, and hundreds of others. So I guess "fantasy" doesn't really describe it either. Harsh reality is more like it. And the harsh reality is also that there are millions of Americans who are just like Baldwin (except they're probably better actors).


Political humor of the day

"As I think about his [George Bush's] leadership, I think of the courage it took for our Commander in Chief to land on an airstrip in the dark of night, a world away, to be with our troops on Thanksgiving."

- Bernard Kerick, ex-Police Commissioner of New York City
Well, if he likes that kind of courage, he must really like Congress, since by two months after that visit, the DoD reports that nearly 200 members of Congress had visited Iraq, virtually all of them actually making it into the city of Baghdad and some of them even staying there for days at a time.

Even if Bush was in danger when he visited the Baghdad airport, which I doubt since there were probably 10,000 soldiers guarding the mess hall and the airport surroundings when he arrived, is it really courageous to slink into Baghdad Airport in the dead of night for a photo-op with a plastic turkey and a small group of hand-picked soldiers? Personally I'd call it irresponsible, or just plain foolish. Not to mention the danger he probably put thousands of soldiers in as they pulled extra duty protecting his visit.

There is, by the way, a word for a creature who in the dead of night slinks into places where food is served, and then disappears when the sun comes up. It's "cockroach." Why, it even shares four letters with the word "courage." Perhaps that's what confused Mr. Kerick.


Freedom of choice

Atrios takes note of the rather curious "poll" question up on MSNBC right now. The poll asks about your reaction to Rudy Giuliani's speech, and you have exactly two choices: It "reassured you" or it "moved you to support the Bush-Cheney ticket." "Turn your stomach" wasn't an option. Nor was "I wouldn't waste my time on that drivel if you paid me."


The "independent" media

Why do the corporate media fawn over John McCain, invite him on all their talk shows, and rarely if ever try to pin him down with hard questions, while never doing the same with, say, the far more eloquent Medea Benjamin from Global Exchange/Code Pink, or any of the numerous well-spoken representatives of other antiwar groups like ANSWER or United for Peace and Justice? This may help explain it:
"Sen. John McCain tended to his political base Sunday night: the entire national media. The maverick Arizona Republican, once (and future?) presidential aspirant and press secretary's dream hosted a hyper-exclusive 68th birthday party for himself at La Goulue on Madison Avenue, leaving no media icon behind. Guests included NBC's Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert, ABC's Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Ted Koppel and George Stephanopoulos, CBS's Mike Wallace, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, ABC News chief David Westin, Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, CNN's Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, CNBC's Gloria Borger, PBS's Charlie Rose -- pause here to exhale -- and U.S. News & World Report publisher Mort Zuckerman, Washington Post Chairman Don Graham, New York Times columnists William Safire and David Brooks, author Michael Lewis and USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro. They and others dined on lobster salad, loin of lamb, assorted wines, creme brulee, lemon souffle and French tarts.

"One guest, who asked not to be identified, described invitees as 'the Journalistic Committee for a Government of National Unity.' After singing 'Happy Birthday' to McCain, many of the guests -- Russert, Borger and Shapiro, among others -- cabbed to Elaine's, where Zuckerman hosted a mob scene that included Fox's Bill O'Reilly, PBS's John McLaughlin and New York Gov. George Pataki."
There's a word for people who sell their bodies (at least their hands and mouths) for a handful of coins (or a mouthful of lobster).


Unconventional wisdom about Republican convention speakers

Amadou Diallo, appraoched by four men dressed in plain clothes driving an unmarked car, reached for his wallet. He was gunned down in a hail of 41 bullets by the men, who were New York City policemen. Two of the four cops had been involved in previous shootings of unarmed people. All four were acquitted of second-degree murder in a trial that, incidentally, was held in Albany (upstate New York) rather than in New York City where the crime occured. Here's what Rudy Giuliani, then Mayor of New York City, who had ordered his police to engage in random stop and frisk measures against young black men, in clear violation of the Constitution of the United States and numerous Supreme Court decisions, had to say about the verdict:
"It fills me with profound respect for being an American."
Diallo may have felt differently. He was not American. Also he's dead.

And, in other Republican convention speaker analysis, we note that "war hero" John McCain became a prisoner of war when he was shot down over North Vietnam, bombing a lightbulb factory.

One war criminal, and one of the foremost defenders of killer cops in the country. Both universally portrayed in the corporate media as "moderates," "reasonable" men.

Followup: Just a further note on Rudy Giuliani's "honesty." Here's a line from his speech last night, referring to John Kerry: "He even, at one point, declared himself an anti-war candidate." Don't I wish (not that I would have believed it, but at least it would have been some concession on his part to the power of the antiwar movement). The last time John Kerry was "anti-war," my hair was a lot darker and there was a lot more of it (his doesn't seem to have changed).

Sunday, August 29, 2004


Followup NYC march coverage

The New York Times, criticized below for its coverage, finally gets it right, not in its main piece, but in a companion piece:
Vast Anti-Bush Rally Greets Republicans in New York

"A roaring two-mile river of demonstrators surged through the canyons of Manhattan yesterday in the city's largest political protest in decades, a raucous but peaceful spectacle that pilloried George W. Bush and demanded regime change in Washington.

"On a sweltering August Sunday, the huge throng of protesters marched past Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention opening today, and denounced President Bush as a misfit who had plunged America into war and runaway debt, undermined civil and constitutional rights, lied to the people, despoiled the environment and used the presidency to benefit corporations and millionaires.

"The protest organizer, United for Peace and Justice, estimated the crowd at 500,000, rivaling a 1982 antinuclear rally in Central Park, and double the number it had predicted. It was, at best, a rough estimate. The Police Department, as is customary, offered no official estimate, but one officer in touch with the police command center at Madison Square Garden agreed that the crowd appeared to be close to a half-million."
An additional good sidebar article in the Times here.

Followup: "Liberal" PBS (the News Hour) iis running a feature today (Monday) describing a "mammoth" march that was "two miles long," but still goes with the ludicrous "tens of thousands" of demonstrators, even while (later in the report) citing the figures of the organizers and the police.

One more note from yesterday that hadn't caught my eye - the "unofficial police estimate" is actually described in several articles this way: "one law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the crowd at 120,000." What on earth is the credibility of such a statement that a newspaper would even print it? Who was this guy, a cop standing on a corner? What was his basis for making this statement? At least I watched the whole march on C-SPAN, and I say a half million, so why don't the papers quote me as "one observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the crowd at 500,000"?


Olympics-related Quote of the Day

"It is funny that we boycotted the 1980 Games [in Moscow] in support of Afghanistan, and now we're bombing Afghanistan."

- Carl Lewis, winner of nine Olympic gold medals, accusing George Bush of exploiting the Athens Games for his own political advantage
Credit to the Angry Arab for spotting the story.


Crowd estimates

It's an old story, but one that doesn't change. The New York Times, Washington Post, and other major news sources all report that "tens of thousands" of protesters marched in New York City today. Financial news source Bloomberg.com, owned by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, goes them one better, reporting that "thousands of protesters marched past New York's Madison Square Garden." Yeah, and "hundreds" too. Maybe even "dozens."

Bloomberg is, as I write this, the one news source which actually reports UfPJ's estimate of 400,000 people marching. The Times does admit this was "the largest demonstration ever at a political convention." All I know is that C-SPAN broadcast the march from in front of Madison Square Garden, and there was a solid mass of densely packed people marching past the Garden from 9 a.m. (Pacific time) until 1:30 p.m., a full four-and-a-half hours. There were one heck of a lot of people; I would have thought a half-million or more easily. Definitely enough to qualify as "hundreds of thousands," and definitely enough to suggest that articles describing "tens of thousands" of protesters are not just making conservative estimates, but are doing so very deliberately to minimize the importance of the event, recent "mea-not-so-culpas" from the Times and Post about their misreporting of the news leading up to the invasion of Iraq notwithstanding.

The highlight of the C-SPAN coverage was the fact that one of its cameras was apparently situated in front of a large Fox News billboard, leading to "Fox News sucks" being the most commonly heard chant all day. A highlight, but unfortunate on two counts - first, Fox News may be bad, but it's only marginally worse than CNN, MSNBC, the Times, the Post, and the rest of the corporate media, and second, because it somewhat masked the overwhelming antiwar character of the march. But it was still fun to hear. :-)

Followup: Much later, the Times changes its headline, and one word in the story, from "tens of thousands" to "hundreds of thousands," still with no actual estimate. I conclude this was in response to massive call-ins to the Times about their absurd number, since no new information was available to the Times in the interim. The story, scummy in the extreme, has paragraphs three through seven devoted to arrests and similar mishaps, with additional coverage devoted to comments by Republican delegates. As is typical, not one word or quote from an actual protest organizer, someone who managed to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.

If anything, the Post is worse. They too have updated their story, so that it now reads "Over 200,000 Turn Out to Protest Bush in New York," but after covering that topic for all of one sentence (!), the entire remainder of the article is devoted to coverage of a speech by Dick Cheney, with a grand total of one more sentence about the protests which are the subject of the headline.

I saw only NBC Nightly News of the various networks. They had pretty decent footage and coverage from two different reporters of the march itself, and emphasized the antiwar nature of the event. But on numbers, they first reported the 400,000 estimate of the organizers, then noted the police estimate of 120,000 (a completely absurd estimate for anyone with two eyes), and then reverted back to referring to "tens of thousands" in the rest of their report.

Here are those "tens of thousands" (there are probably that many in this one picture; according to NBC the march stretched for 45 (!) blocks):


More mass graves vanish, this time in Kosovo

Left I on the News has touched on the bogus nature of claims of "300,000 Iraqis in mass graves" many times, most extensively here. And more than a year ago, we noted: "Time after time, as in Kosovo, claims of genocide or hundreds of thousands killed have turned out to be wildly exxagerated."

And today, a little more of the truth about the mass graves of Kosovo has emerged (full story only available to subscribers):

"The war crimes tribunal in The Hague is 'beginning to panic' over its case against former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic according to a Vancouver detective sent to unearth mass graves in Kosovo and a Canadian filmmaker who documented the exhumations.

"'I would think they'll have a tough time with the charge of genocide with only 5,000 bodies,' said retired Vancouver detective sergeant Brian Honeybourn. 'It seems as though The Hague is beginning to panic.'

"Mr. Milosevic's trial is to resume next week with the former Serbian dictator defending himself against charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Former Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour made history when she laid the charges -- the first against a head of state -- as the tribunal's special prosecutor.

"Calgary filmmaker Garth Pritchard and Sgt. Honeybourn are critical of Ms. Arbour, now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and her claims that the Serbs, directed by Mr. Milosevic, murdered as many as 200,000 civilians during its ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

"The alleged massacres were used by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Western leaders as justification for their bombing campaign and intervention in Kosovo, and were regularly and routinely reported as fact on television networks such as the CBC and CNN, as the West backed the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against the Serbs.

"'This was a massacre that never happened,' Mr. Pritchard maintains.

"Sgt. Honeybourn and forensic team leader Brian Strongman echoed Mr. Pritchard's doubts that the genocidal massacre by the Serbs ever took place.

"'I can't say that there weren't 200,000 bodies because I wasn't covering the entire country,' said Sgt. Honeybourn.

"'But I never saw any sign of anything like 200,000. If there were that many, then why did they have us exhuming single graves? The biggest mass grave we examined contained about 20 and there was another one of 11. But mostly our nine-member team worked on single graves.'

"In the six weeks Sgt. Honeybourn spent digging up fetid graves in Kosovo during the sweltering summer of 1999, the Canadian team exhumed 86 bodies."
Just one more object lesson in not believing anything that you hear from the U.S. government or the corporate media. Their modus operandi is to demonize people and countries (Castro/Cuba, Kim/North Korea, Hussein/Iraq, Milosevic/Serbia, etc.) and then count on the American public to believe whatever swill they are fed about the demonized. Will people (like, just for a recent example, the Washington Post film reviewer mentioned in the post just below this one) who realize they were lied to and manipulated about Iraq ever learn this lesson, and stop believing everything else they are fed? I hope so, although my confidence is low, because people who fundamentally buy into "the system" ("democracy", capitalism, imperialism) have a hard time seeing through even obvious lies because they have so much of an investment (psychological if not financial) in that system.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Had enough yet?

Washington Post film reviewer Michael O'Sullivan apparently has. Reviewing Robert Greenwald's other movie Uncovered (Greenwald also recently released Outfoxed), O'Sullivan writes:
"And after listening to this steady anti-Bush drumbeat for the past several months, even the most devout progressives (among whom I place myself) may start to feel as if they've heard much of this sermon a hundred times before. Where are Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? All right already. We were lied to and manipulated by government scare tactics. You keep picking at that scab and it'll never get well. In fact, it can start to get a little annoying."
Yeah, I'm sure the Iraqis are starting to get a little "annoyed" too, what with the presence of more than a hundred thousand foreign soldiers on their soil, who have a nasty habit of continuing to kill them. If O'Sullivan were really a "devout progressive" he would recognize that the invasion and occupation of Iraq aren't a scab, they're an open wound, which will continue to bleed as long as U.S. troops remain in Iraq. And he would recognize that the only way for things to "get well" would be them them to get the hell out of that country.

And, on the domestic front, it is only the constant repetition of "this sermon" which has caused papers like the Post and the New York Times to finally admit the tiniest extent of their own culpability in being "lied to and manipulated," and only a continuing repetition of that sermon has any chance of seeing such behavior change in the future, as well as any chance of having the American public see through it the next time it occurs (which, basically, is daily, whether the subject is Iraq, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, or a host of other subjects).


New York Times undercuts its own credibility

As many people have noted, the New York Times reports today that " President Bush said on Thursday that he did not believe Senator John Kerry lied about his war record." I found the followup sentence even more interesting: "Mr. Bush's comments, in a half-hour interview with The New York Times, undercut a central accusation leveled by the veterans group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose unproven attacks on Mr. Kerry have dominated the political debate for more than two weeks."

How does anything Bush says "undercut" the accusations of the Not-Too-Swift Boaters? George Bush doesn't know any more or less than I do about what happened to John Kerry in Vietnam (ok, actually it's probably less, since I read the papers and he doesn't). His opinion about whether those accusations are true or false has not the slightest relevance, and certainly doesn't "undercut" the accusations, which have already collapsed entirely on the weight of the facts piled on top of them.


Destroying the city in order to...destroy it

The Washington Post offers us a view of Najaf today, along with an almost accurate description of U.S. military doctrine:
"The core of the city around [the shrine], a destination of longing for millions of Shiite Muslims, is so mauled that American commanders debate which famously ruined wartime cityscape Najaf now resembles most.

"The damage to Najaf is the consequence of an urban setting for battle, a woefully overmatched enemy and an American military doctrine that unites terrifying firepower with almost zero tolerance for casualties in its own ranks.

"'If we take fire from it, we destroy the whole building,' an Army commander said Thursday."
The part of American military doctrine left unmentioned is the corollary of "almost zero tolerance for casualties in its own ranks," which is the "almost total tolerance for casualties among civilians of any other nationality." Some people might say this is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in wartime, but there's a loophole: the Geneva Convention prohibits "willfully launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects." The U.S. military simply closes its eyes. "Willfully" affecting the civilian population? Oh no, it was an accident, we didn't see any civilians. And maybe they didn't. Because they don't bother to look, since they really don't care, one way or the other.


American deaths in Iraq pass 1000

What? You say you haven't seen this reported in the media, which is only reporting 960-some deaths? That's because some people just don't know how to count. There are, as I write this, "only" 971 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, although even that doesn't count soldiers who have died or committed suicide upon returning to the United States as a result of their service in Iraq. But there are also 48 American contractors who have been killed in Iraq, men (and they happen to have been all men) who were performing jobs which in any previous war would have been done by members of the Armed Forces, jobs without which this war would not have been fought (e.g., driving a truck to deliver oil or food to the troops). There are one or two "voluntary" workers (including the ill-fated Nick Berg) included in that number, people who were not employed by the U.S. government, but virtually all of those 48 were employed by the U.S. government, either directly or indirectly (depending on whether you count Halliburton as part of the U.S. government or not). So the total count of confirmed American dead in Iraq is, in fact, well over 1000 already, whether the media chooses to acknowledge that fact or not.

The total amount of all people killed by this war and occupation is, of course, much higher, and is overwhelmingly composed of innocent Iraqis slaughtered by the invaders.

Followup: Incidentally, how sick is it that a lot of people are sitting around waiting for the "1000th death" to occur so they can write about it? Very sick. "How do you ask someone to be the 1000th person member of the U.S. armed forces to die for a mistake?" Troops out NOW!

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Looking for terrorists? Try Miami.

In April, Left I on the News wrote about "A Small Victory for Justice," when five Cuban exiles who had been accused of plotting to kill Fidel Castro were sentenced to seven to eight years in prison. Even at that it was just a small victory; the men weren't charged with attempted homicide because, although they were found with 20 pounds of C-4 explosive, no detonating fuse was found! Instead they were sentenced for "endangering public safety."

Well, today, that small victory became even smaller as four of the men were pardoned by the outgoing Panamanian President, and three of them immediately boarded a plane for Miami, terrorist central. The Washington Post sheds some light on the story:

"Bush administration officials denied any role yesterday in the politically fortuitous pardon of four Cuban exiles by the outgoing Panamanian government. Three of the exiles -- who were convicted in connection with a plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro at a summit of Latin American leaders in 2000 -- were immediately flown to Miami.

"In Panama, speculation was rampant that the Bush administration, indirectly or not, had pressured Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso to pardon the exiles in her waning days in office. Panama's next president, Martin Torrijos, a social democrat who will take office on Sept. 1, said he disagrees with the pardons. Cuba severed diplomatic relations with Panama in response."
And just who are these men who served a grand total of four months in prison for attempted murder, men whose actions were never condemned by that great opponent of terrorism, the United States? Just some of the biggest terrorists in the world, that's who [note the curious use of the word "activists" by the Post]:
"Venezuela had sought one of the activists -- Luis Posada Carriles -- because he had escaped from a Venezuelan jail where he had faced charges of planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people. Posada, 74, is not a U.S. citizen, and it is not clear whether he left Panama. Posada has also claimed credit for having planned and directed six Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 other people.

"The other three men -- Gaspar Jimenez, Pedro Remon and Guillermo Novo Sampol -- have U.S. passports and arrived in Miami yesterday.

"New Times, a Miami newspaper, said U.S. law enforcement records say that Jimenez, 69, helped kidnap Cuba's consul to Mexico in 1977 and killed a consular official, and that Remon, 60, was identified as the triggerman in the slaying of a pro-Castro activist and a Cuban diplomat. Novo, 65, was convicted in the United States in the late 1970s of taking part in the 1976 assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier. He was acquitted on appeal but served four years in prison for lying to a grand jury."


Iraq - more deadly for Americans in 2004 than in 2003

Courtesy of Tom Schaller at Daily KOS, we learn that there have now been 488 American troops killed thus far in 2004 (in just 239 days), as compared to 482 killed in 2003 (in 287 days).


Free speech inanities

Arguing in court against the UfPJ permit to use Central Park, "City attorney Jonathan Pines told the state court Tuesday that the city could not prepare for such a large event in the park on short notice. 'They're asking for too much, too late,' Pines said. The city opposes the rally because of 'logistics and timing,' he said." Left unsaid by Pines, and the USA Today article reporting the story, is that UfPJ (as well as ANSWER) have been asking for this permit, and made their desires known, for months.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that the city and UfPJ have agreed on a new rally site at Union Square Park. In the course of that article, we are told that "in her decision Wednesday, Justice Jacqueline Silbermann ruled that for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) could not use Central Park because the city did not have enough time to ensure public safety and protect the park from damage." I dealt with the "not enough time" issue in the previous paragraph, but now we have to ask a second question - if there wasn't "enough time" to "ensure public safety" in the middle of Central Park, how is it that there apparently is enough time to ensure public safety in the much more exposed location of Union Square?

The denial, or restriction, of free speech based on such trivial and ludicrous assertions should be cause for outrage on every editorial page, and from every public figure, in the United States. It should be the subject of discussion on every talk show that pretends to be discussing political issues. Suffice to say, it isn't (although there are exceptions).


Poverty in the U.S.

According to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, 24.4% of Blacks in the United States are below the poverty line. With 36 million Blacks in the U.S., that's 8.8 million living in poverty, more than the entire population of Haiti (6.9 million) or the Dominican Republic (8.6 million). That's not to suggest that a poor Black person in the U.S. is as bad off as one in Haiti, but it certainly helps put into perspective the magnitude of the problem, considering that Haiti is typically referred to as "an economic basket case." So it would appear one wouldn't be far off in applying that term to the Black community in the United States, the richest country in the world.


Bush ads as dumb as Bush

An ad playing in heavy rotation here in Northern California (it still amazes me that the Bush campaign spends any money in Northern California, but there you have it) shows Bush, sitting next to his silent wife, talking about how his most important job is fighting terror. Towards the end of the ad, he says, "I can't imagine a parent having to decide which child to pick up first on Sept. 11." Um, excuse me, but weren't the targets on Sept. 11 office buildings and the Pentagon? I wasn't aware that terrorists were targeting private homes now. Well, except for the terrorists who are bombing Najaf and Fallujah.


Spending priorities in NYC

Protestors can't get a permit to rally in Central Park because they might damage the grass on the Great Lawn, which was recently refurbished. I can't find a specific figure, but the Central Park Conservancy says that they spent $70 million since their founding in 1980 to restore "most of the major Park landscapes"; we have to assume that the reseeding of the Great Lawn was just a fraction of that amount, a few million at most.

In contrast, New York City will be spending $78 million to have its police force "protect" the RNC delegates from the people, of which a whopping $28 million will be borne directly by the people of New York City (the rest comes courtesy of the rest of us generous taxpayers). And that figure, by the way, is just the figure for New York City police; we can assume that plenty more is being spent by other armed representatives of the government.


Political humor of the day

"Some people are surprised that Kerry is here and not on Meet the Press. I've met the press, and he's not missing anything."

- Jon Stewart, prior to interviewing John Kerry two nights ago
Stewart did his best Larry King impression, lobbing softballs at Kerry (but with humor, of course). I kept waiting for the one question I'd like to ask Kerry, but it never came - "How do you ask someone to be the last person to die for a mistake?" Someday, somewhere, someone is going to get to ask Kerry that question.


Unclear on the concept

An Israeli windsurfer won his nation's first ever gold medal in the Olympics. I'm happy for him, as I am for all athletes whose hard work and training pays off. I can't say the same for Israeli sportswriter Oded David Kramer, who writes:
"Israel only knows how to suffer. We don't know how to be happy. Every time we have a happy day like this, it is a victory over terrorism and the suffering that dominates our lives."
Hey, pal. You want to learn about suffering? Renounce your Israeli citizenship and take up residence in Palestine. Then you'll really know a life dominated by suffering. Or, since that's unlikely, if you want to do something to make your future happier, try pressuring your own government to take their boot off the neck of the Palestinians and stop occupying their homelands (and indeed their very houses). Your suffering, such as it is, is entirely of your own making, and the power to end it is in your hands, not in the hands of some windsurfer.


The U.S. follows the Israeli example

U.S. politicians and the media are fond of lecturing the Palestinians about how they should just turn to peaceful protest to achieve their aims and renounce violence. Of course, when Palestinians do conduct non-violent peaceful demonstrations, on more than one occasion they have been shot and killed in the process.

Now it appears the U.S. (and its flunkies in the "Iraqi National Guard") are applying the same strategy in Iraq, as we learn courtesy once again of Knight-Ridder's reporter on the spot, Hannah Allam:

"In what could be a grim foreshadowing of the massive demonstration, violence at a smaller gathering Wednesday killed two Sistani supporters and wounded five outside a U.S. base in the southern holy city. Observers at the scene, including an Iraqi man working for Knight Ridder, said Iraqi police fired on the unarmed demonstrators as they approached the base chanting for an end to the bloodshed."
And this was not the first time:
"The day before, gunfire from the same base killed eight people and wounded 56 others who were taking part in what appeared to be a peaceful demonstration supporting al-Sadr."
And then of course the largest deadly event of the day, for which the responsibility isn't certain, but which the marchers themselves are blaming on the Americans:
"A mortar barrage hit a mosque filled with Iraqis preparing to join his march, killing 27 people and wounding 63."
Peaceful demonstrations? Fuhgeddaboudit. As Condoleezza Rice would say, "Submit or die."

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Putting that $50,000 in perspective

The U.S. government offered $50,000 to Cuba to help with recovery from Hurricane Charley. Putting that sum in perspective is today's report from Granma describing the full extent of that natural disaster:
"During yesterday's Informative Roundtable Pedro Saez Montejo, first secretary of the Party in City of Havana, quantified the damage inflicted on Cuba by Hurricane Charley at more than one billion dollars, a figure that could grow even larger.

"Saez noted that Charley's significant impact on the economy of the western part of the island can principally be summed up by its damage to more than 70,000 homes and thousands of hectares of cultivated land, plus grave effects on the electricity (1,400 poles, 28 high-tension towers and 291 transformers brought down), water and telephone services. In the two Havana provinces the damage includes 798 educational centers, 312 health centers, 60 sports installations and 63 cultural ones.

"More than 31,000 homes in the capital were affected, 469 of them being totally destroyed. Juan Contino, president of the city government, stated that 852 people are still in temporary accommodation. He estimated that more than 8,000 trees were brought down and more than 500,000 cubic meters of rubble collected, but the volume is enormous and the task is not as yet over. There will be another popular mobilization next weekend to continue with this labor.

"Ivan Ordaz, first secretary of the Party in Habana province, said that there are still 12,690 evacuees, and an estimated 3,127 economic installations and 41,236 homes damaged. Communications have been restored in 6,000 of the approximately 8,150 services affected, while 48% of consumers in the province have power."
As you can tell, not much happened in Cuba, so the American media were certainly justified in almost totally ignoring it.


Who is fighting in Najaf?

Headline after headline in the press tells us that "Iraqi forces are advancing on shrine" or "U.S. and Iraqi forces close in on Mahdi Army," etc. But virtually every story written about the fighting in Najaf is being written from afar, no doubt on the basis of press conferences from U.S. Army spokespersons.

There is, however, at least one American reporter who has recently been in the shrine and who courageously remains in Najaf, reporting from the front lines (the "other side" of the front lines, that is) - Knight-Ridder's Hannah Allam. Read her latest report from Najaf, and you'll find not a single word about the alleged "Iraqi" forces who are closing in on the Imam Ali shrine. The real battle, as we all know (well, all of us but most of the mainstream media), and as Allam describes in detail from the front lines, is being fought by U.S. AC-130 gunships, U.S. tanks, and American snipers.

And in a report just filed, Allam reports on the detention this morning of all foreign journalists (including herself) by the Najaf police (they have since been released):

"At the station, Najaf Police Chief Ghaleb Hashem al Jazairi told journalists they were detained because the Dubai-based satellite television channel al Arabiya had reported that Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the most prominent Shiite Muslim cleric in Iraq, would arrive in Najaf Thursday to lead a demonstration.

"The chief said his forces were unprepared for the news to go out Wednesday night and that as a result at least two Iraqis who arrived early for Sistani's march were killed during clashes with police. [Ed. note - no explanation by the police chief why two Iraqis who came to town to "march" needed to be killed]

"Some officers also blamed reporters for inciting violence against government institutions such as the police and armed services.

"'We were attacked by 14 mortar shells tonight and we expect more, so you're going to stay with us in this room to see what we go through,' one officer told the journalists crowded in the chief's office."
Talk about embedding!

Incidentally, there is also a massive assault in Fallujah occuring right now, involving planes and tanks, and resulting in the usual death and destruction. Not that you'd know it from the U.S. media, after all, there aren't any Swift Boats taking part in the attack.


Iran rocks!

In today's news that good taste in music is universal (except at the Grammy Awards), Queen, fronted by gay icon (and AIDS casualty) Freddie Mercury, who was of Iranian ancestry, has become the first rock band to be given the official seal of approval in Iran with the release of an album of their greatest hits (and in this case, the term "greatest hits" doesn't just mean the most tolerable group of 12 songs ever released by the group in question, but literally some of the greatest hits of all time by any group) . Right on, Iran!


Fakin' it

Every once in a while ads get a little too close to the truth. A little while ago I heard an ad for Sequoia Hospital. The tagline of the ad was, "Sequoia Hospital - where we treat you as if we care about you." They don't really care about you, understand, but they fake it really well. Was "where we care about our patients" too unbelievable for them to put in their ad? Evidently so.


Debating the undebatable

It's been obvious since day one that the Not-Too-Swift Boat Liars for Bush, as well as the Bush campaign (to the extent that they're distinguishable), have been angered not so much by John Kerry's alleged lying about his military record in Vietnam, as they have about John Kerry's truth-telling before Congress when he returned from that war to help lead the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. And now that fact has come out in the open. In today's development, former Senator (and triple amputee) Max Cleland went to Crawford, Texas, to hand-deliver a letter to George Bush, calling on him (on behalf of seven Democrat Senators and veterans), to repudiate the lies of the Not-Too-Swift Boaters. Bush, moral midget that he is, would neither accept the letter nor have one of his staff do so, but instead sent someone else out of his Fortress of Solitude to deliver a "counter-letter" to John Kerry, which contains the following:
"You accused your fellow veterans of terrible atrocities and, to this day, you have never apologized. We served honorably in Vietnam and we were deeply hurt and offended by your comments."
Many readers will remember that when Kerry testified before Congress he was not making "accusations," but was instead relaying the content of the "Winter Soldier" hearings, at which Vietnam veterans testified about atrocities they had personally seen or committed. Those were facts, not "accusations." Readers even vaguely familiar with the Vietnam War, evidently not including the Not-Too-Swift Boat Liars (and not just because they aren't readers of this blog), will remember a little place called My Lai, and that Lt. William Calley was convicted in court of committing atrocities there. And if all that is too much to remember, perhaps today's Democracy Now! show will help refresh the memory, as Michael Sallah, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Buried Secrets, Buried Truths" for the Toledo Blade, talks about what he learned, and Dennis Stout, a former Vietnam Army journalist, describes atrocities he personally witnessed being committed by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, including raping and killing a Vietnamese girl, skinning an unarmed Vietnamese man, and shooting a crippled old woman at point-blank range. These are also facts, not accusations. And the people to whom an apology (and lots more) is still owed "to this day" are the Vietnamese people, not the veterans who committed such atrocities nor even the veterans who didn't (since no one ever accused all Vietnam vets of committing atrocities).


Preaching "democracy"

In an article today, Sen. Robert Byrd tells us a little about George Bush:
"'I'm the commander,' he told journalist Bob Woodward for the book, Bush at War. 'See, I don't need to explain -- I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.'"
Which in turn reminds me of another remark that Bush has made, which, in searching for it for this post, I learn he has said not once but three different times in different variants:
"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier." (Governing Magazine 7/98, from Paul Begala's Is Our Children Learning?

"'I told all four that there are going to be some times where we don't agree with each other, but that's OK. If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator,' Bush joked." CNN.com, December 18, 2000

"'A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it,' [Bush] said." Business Week, July 30, 2001
Is it any wonder this is a guy who thinks that what exists now in Iraq and Afghanistan is "democracy"?


Quote of the Day

"Underneath the shrill exchange of insults, there is almost absolute consensus. It looks as though even if Americans vote for Kerry, they'll still get Bush. President John Kerbush or President George Berry.

"It's not a real choice. It's an apparent choice. Like choosing a brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, they're both owned by Proctor & Gamble.

"This doesn't mean that one takes a position that is without nuance, that the Congress and the BJP, New Labor and the Tories, the Democrats and Republicans are the same. Of course, they're not. Neither are Tide and Ivory Snow. Tide has oxy-boosting and Ivory Snow is a gentle cleanser."

- Arundhati Roy, in a speech given in California two weeks ago and broadcast yesterday on Democracy Now!
There's lots more in the speech, which is well worth reading in its entirety, or better yet listening to, since Roy has a marvelous way with words (as well as with ideas). Here are two more excerpts from the speech:
"Ordinary Americans have been manipulated into imagining they are a people under siege whose sole refuge and protector is their government. If it isn't the Communists, it's al-Qaeda. If it isn't Cuba. it's Nicaragua. As a result, this, the most powerful nation in the world - with its unmatchable arsenal of weapons, its history of having waged and sponsored endless wars, and the only nation in history to have actually used nuclear bombs - is peopled by a terrified citizenry, jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear."
"Each of the Iraqi children killed by the United States was our child. Each of the prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib was our comrade. Each of their screams was ours. When they were humiliated, we were humiliated. The U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq - mostly volunteers in a poverty draft from small towns and poor urban neighborhoods - are victims just as much as the Iraqis of the same horrendous process, which asks them to die for a victory that will never be theirs.

"The mandarins of the corporate world, the CEOs, the bankers, the politicians, the judges and generals look down on us from on high and shake their heads sternly. 'There's no Alternative,' they say. And let slip the dogs of war."

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Mathematically challenged CNN

I'm listening to the Lou Dobbs show on CNN, and naturally they're talking about the "Swift Boat Liars" ads and the subject of "527 groups." At one point, a reporter covering the Bush campaign told viewers that "the Bush campaign says that the Democrats are spending 25 times as much on 527 ads as the Republicans," and then literally one minute later, Bill Schneider was on talking about the subject, providing actual figures ($40 million spent on pro-Kerry ads, $2.7 million spent on pro-Bush ads - actually he would have been more accurate to say $40 million spent on anti-Bush ads, and $2.7 million spent on anti-Kerry ads), and noting that that meant that Democrats were spending 15 times as much on such ads as Republicans. Then why do they allow their reporter to parrot the false claim that the ratio is 25:1? Why do they knowingly broadcast false information? I'll leave the answer to the reader, but for a clue, see the item below entitled "Political humor of the day."


Justice delayed?

One of the soldiers charged with abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib has agreed to plead guilty. He will be sentenced on...October 20. Wouldn't want to rush these things.

The intriguing part of the story is this:

"The U.S. military judge hearing the Abu Ghraib abuse said Tuesday that prosecutors have until Sept. 17 to convince him that top military intelligence commanders should not be forced to testify under a grant of immunity.

"Prosecutors argued against a defense request for such testimony on the grounds that the commanders might be charged themselves and a grant of immunity would complicate any case against them."
Well, I'll believe that when I see it.


Israel contemplates acknowledging that up is up

You may have thought that it was obvious that the West Bank and Gaza were occupied territories. Well, if you were referring to the opinion of anyone in the world outside of the United States and Israel, you would probably be right. But not in Israel:
"The Justice Ministry on Tuesday confirmed a report by Haaretz that the attorney general has recommended to the government that it should 'thoroughly examine' the possibility of formally applying the Fourth Geneva Convention - which governs the treatment of civilians in occupied territory - to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"The team was appointed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to examine the implications of the International Court of Justice's July 9 ruling on the separation fence.

"Mazuz believes that the ruling requires Israel to apply the convention in the territories.

"If the team's recommendation is accepted, it would represent a U-turn in the consistent policy of all previous Israeli governments, which has been not to apply the Geneva Convention to the territories. Israel's position is that there was no recognized sovereign in these areas before 1967, so they are not 'occupied territory' as defined in the convention."
Of course this is just a recommendation, and most likely it won't be adopted. And, even if it is, the United States has demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq just how important those Geneva Conventions are in restraining the behavior of governments determined to ignore them, at least governments which are named "United States" or other governments for which the U.S. is willing to run interference in the international arena.


Slandering Che

The city in Bolivia where Che Guevara was captured and executed, La Higuera, has apparently become a bit of a tourist destination for those interested in Che. In an article about La Higuera and Che, Knight-Ridder reporter Kevin Hall manages an incredible feat within the space of two sentences. In the first, he refers to Che as "Fidel Castro's revolutionary sidekick," you know, just like Tonto to Fidel's Lone Ranger, and then, one sentence later, Che is elevated from "sidekick" to "the Osama bin Laden of his day." Are you kidding me? Che Guevara never committed a terrorist act and never harmed a civilian in his entire life.

Of course the article, despite being about the city where Che was captured and executed, never mentions the role of the CIA in that execution. While we're slandering Che, we certainly wouldn't want to tell the truth about the CIA.

More about Che with lots of links here.

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality."

- Che Guevara, Man and Socialism in Cuba


Political humor of the day

"I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other."

- Rob Corddry on the Daily Show, making precisely the point Left I on the News did yesterday in the post below this one.
The complete bit is posted on Echaton. Corddry has definitely improved since his beginning on the show, although I still find him hard to take. This bit, though, was priceless.

Monday, August 23, 2004


Where are the Swift Boats taking us?

Like a lot of people, I admit to being a channel flipper. The fact that my cable company puts CNN, CNN-Headline, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC contiguously at 56-60 on the dial makes it even easier. And for the last week or more, I literally haven't been able to flip the channels without hearing something or other about the Swift Boat Liars for Bush (or whatever the name of that "organization" is). On average it's two of the five, sometimes three. And it's the news and the talk shows. It's everywhere.

Now there are several interesting stories here, although of course they're not the ones that are being told, for the most part. One is about the Bush campaign and its allies, and how they will stop at absolutely nothing in their quest for power, with no lie too big to be told. The second is about John Kerry, and about how a man who once evidently exhibited tremendous personal courage in saving another man's life, is now running a campaign for President absolutely bereft of the slightest sign of courage of any sort. And the third is about the media, which didn't hesitate to jump start this controversy by repeatedly broadcasting for free the slanderous ad which started the controversy, and which now that the charges and the accusers have been proven beyond the slightest doubt to be scurrilous in the extreme, still insists on presenting the story as a "he said, she said" story, when in reality it should be presented as a "he lied, she told the truth with lots of evidence to back her up" story.

But all that being said, the worst part of this episode is something else entirely. There are very real, very important things going on in the world. Israel, with full approval from the U.S., is busy ripping up the so-called "road map" (and further stomping on the remains of international law in the process) by enlarging its settlements in the West Bank. The U.S. is bombing Najaf, Fallujah, and many other places on a daily bais, killing Iraqis by the score. In Afghanistan, similar things are happening, and we barely know about it. A new law just went into place revamping the overtime laws in the U.S. The economy continues its downward slide, and oil prices continue to climb. All of these things could and should be covered more extensively on the news, and discussed at length on the talk shows. Instead, day after day, hour after hour, we get saturation coverage of the Swift Boats. And everytime you hear someone talking about the subject, just ask yourself the simple question - what aren't they talking about because they're spending time on this crap?


Don't spend it all in one place

The U.S. media managed to totally avoid mentioning that Hurricane Charley struck Cuba as well as the United States, but the cynical U.S. government didn't. They have now offered Cuba the magnificent sum of $50,000 to "attend to the humanitarian needs of the Cuban people." Of course they'll only deliver it "to various 'independent' non-governmental Cuban organizations." Nice try. The Cuban government, noting that the U.S. government has had a 40-year effort of "trying to economically strangle the entire Cuban people via its criminal blockade," has rejected the offer.


The latest excuse for denying free speech

Today's breaking news:
"An Arab-American organization and an anti-war group lost a bid on Monday to hold a joint civil rights rally in New York's Central Park two days before the Republican convention.

"A federal judge refused to order New York City to grant a rally permit because he said the two groups failed to provide property damage control plans for a gathering expected to draw about 75,000 people on the park's Great Lawn on Saturday."
What's next? Requiring Environmental Impact Reports for demonstrations? They do generate a lot of trash, and, who knows, maybe contribute to global warming. One thing for sure - they do turn up the heat on the ruling class, which is why they're so anxious to deny this permit. Furthermore they want people running wild in the streets, as some will do, as opposed to attending an organized demonstration, because they think it will diminish the message of the protest (and, sadly, they're probably right).

Followup: A second article on the denial notes that the judge "noted that the case highlights the intersection of the public interest to peacefully assemble and the preservation of a "unique pastoral oasis amid a towering urban setting." Or, put a different way, the interesection of the right of members of the public to peacefully assemble and protest government policies, vs. the all-important and ultimately decisive right of a handful of other members of the public to play frisbee (or whatever else people do on the Great Lawn on Saturday).


U.S. out of Afghanistan - NOW!

The other day I wrote about the imperative need for the U.S. to leave Iraq immediately. Today's news reminds us that the same imperative applies to Afghanistan as well:
"U.S. soldiers sprayed a pickup with bullets after it failed to stop at a roadblock in central Afghanistan, killing two women and a man and critically wounding two more people, the latest in a string of civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. forces."
As long as U.S. forces occupy other countries, setting up roadblocks, conducting search-and-destroy missions, this kind of senseless killing of foreign civilians (and of American soldiers) will continue.

Will there be no violence or no killing in Iraq or Afghanistan if U.S. troops are withdrawn? Probably not, but violence and killing continues in almost every country in the world at some level, U.S. troops or not. But this is a good time to remind readers of something I have written about here and here - "every year 17 million children under the age of 5 will die, not as victims of terrorism but as victims of undernourishment and preventable diseases" (actually that's a quote from a speech given at the U.N. by Felipe Perez Roque, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs). And as I wrote then:

"Imagine a world in which several hundred billion dollars were spent on public health or nutrition instead of war. Instead of killing thousands of innocent people, millions of lives could be saved (and, quite probably, the threat from terrorism reduced at the same time). If only Halliburton were in the health-care business."
And as long as hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are occupying other countries, flying planes, dropping bombs, shooting bullets, driving tanks, money will never be available to solve the very real problems that exist in this world. Even if terrorists were to manage to get a nuclear bomb of significant size, and manage to explode it in the center of a major city (all extremely unlikely events), the deaths from that event would pale in comparison to the deaths of innocent people which occur in one month, month after month, year after year, because the world (led by the U.S.) pursues its insane preoccupation with "terrorism" and war instead of spending money on human needs.


Quote of the Day

"A vote for me is a vote for Ralph Nader...and vice-versa."

- Patti Smith, responding to a fan at last night's concert who said "I'm voting for you" after Smith asked the audience who they were voting for.
And personally, I'd be happy to cast my vote for either one. Particularly if the voting was for great live performers. Smith is touring again after a long absence (she did do a free benefit concert in Berkeley last year for ANSWER), so if you get a chance to see her (and her great band), don't pass it up. Incidentally reading a review of the concert she did Saturday night in Santa Cruz, and comparing it to the one I saw last night in Carmel, they were quite different, so if she plays multiple times in your area, heck, see 'em all if you can.

I've seen criticism of Smith because, unlike the 2000 election, she's not supporting Ralph Nader, and has become a tacit "ABB'er," although she mostly just encourages people to vote. Are her politics 100% identical to mine? No. Does that stop me from thinking that she is both a great musician, a great artist, and the kind of person I wish there were a lot more of? Certainly not. Patti Smith rocks!

Added: I do want to add a comment on one thing Smith said last night, because it points to a general lesson. Noting that she (and probably most of her audience) didn't really support either Bush or Kerry, she said "Well, they're all corrupt anyway." This is a very common thought among people who either aren't very political, or who are but whose politics aren't really well thought out, "Being corrupt" isn't the problem with John Kerry (or George Bush). Both of them, especially Bush, certainly have lots of friends (and even Vice-Presidents!) who are corrupt, but the fundamental problem with Kerry (and Bush) is that he is a firm believer in imperialism, a warmonger who won't hesitate to use the military power of the United States to crush the aspirations of people around the world, and to bend the world to the needs of the U.S. ruling class.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Misreading the news

I first saw this story:
Civilians killed in Falluja air strike

A US bombing raid on the Iraqi town of Falluja has left five people dead and wounded six, while two US soldiers have been killed near Samarra city.

A journalist from Falluja, Abu Bakr al-Dulaimi, told Aljazeera on Friday that four Iraqi women were among the wounded when US warplanes bombed a milk factory in the town west of Baghdad in an overnight raid.
I next came across this headline - "Kerry Urges Bush to Demand Attacks Stop." For an oh-so-brief second, I actually thought Kerry was urging Bush to stop the insane, daily bombing of civilians in Iraq. Silly me. Of course Kerry is concerned with the attacks on his personal reputation, not the attacks which are killing dozens of Iraqis every day.

Friday, August 20, 2004


Venezuelan opposition can't stand the heat

...and says they're leaving the kitchen:
"Venezuela's opposition threatened on Friday to boycott regional elections following President Hugo Chavez's referendum win, which they say was fraudulent but which international observers say appeared legitimate.

"Opponents of the left-wing, populist leader said electoral authorities rigged Sunday's vote so Chavez would triumph, making it pointless for them to compete in a September 26 poll to elect state governors and local mayors.

The opposition controls the governorships of seven of Venezuela's 23 states and many of the 337 mayor's posts, including metropolitan Caracas. An opposition boycott of the regional elections could concede these posts to pro-Chavez candidates."
I titled this post with an old standby saying, but actually I like the one that the opposition uses even better:
Jesus Torrealba, spokesman for the opposition Democratic Coordinator coalition said the opposition faced "committing suicide or being killed" in next month's polls.
Well, I won't lose any sleep either way.


The Olympics as microcosm

When I wrote "In Defense of the Olympics" the other day, I certainly didn't mean to imply that there were no problems with the Olympics. Of course there are. The BBC highlights one such problem, which in the end, of course, is not really a problem with the Olympics per se, but with the global economic situation:
"For sprinters Lamin Tucker and Hawanatu Bangura, the fastest man and woman in Sierra Leone, just getting to the Olympic Games is a major achievement.

"They have scrounged running spikes from retiring athletes, trained by themselves without stop-watches, and have not had the money to compete outside their war-torn country this year.

"As the only two athletes in their team, they have no chance of a medal, but will run for pride against some of the biggest stars from the richest sporting nations.

"Despite countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia coming to the fore on the track, most African athletes' experiences mirror those of Tucker and Bangura.

"Africa's performance at the Olympics often appears a microcosm of the continent's problems, with a lack of investment and infrastructure holding back great potential.

"Of the first 200 medals won in Athens, just three went to the continent, and two of those went to a Zimbabwean swimmer who lives and trains in the United States.

"Most African nations have never won a medal in their Olympic history."
And the problem is hardly limited to Africa; identical statements could be made about Latin America, where countries the size of Argentina or Brazil, many times the size of Cuba, have won just a fraction of the medals of the latter. The simple fact of the matter is that the millions of people throughout the world, in Africa, Latin America, and Asia in particular, but also in the United States, Britain, and the "rich" countries of the world, never come close to reaching their full potential, because of poverty and, underneath it all, capitalism and the unequal distribution of resources which are part and parcel of that system.


What's up (or down) with gasoline?

The price of oil is skyrocketing to all-time highs. Yet in early June I paid $2.25/gallon for gasoline, and since then the price has been going steadily down, until today I just paid $1.95/gallon. I know there is allegedly a "lag" in these prices, but it sure seems to me that in the past, when anything happened in the world to make oil prices go up, the prices at the pump went up immediately. Is it possible that the oil companies are holding down gasoline prices intentionally, so that the American public doesn't turn even more strongly against both George Bush and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is at least partially responsible for the increase in oil prices? Just asking. Of course, if they are, it's fine by me! Well, maybe not, if they are they'll just raise prices even higher after the election to compensate.


U.S. out of Iraq - NOW!

A lot of people, even some politicians, now think that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but only a minority think that the U.S. should withdraw now. The rest either think that the U.S. has to "finish the job" (whatever the "job" is, and regardless of the fact that this "job" was a mistake to begin with), and/or, even if they don't take that atttitude, that the U.S. can't just "cut and run" but has to take a slow, phased-out approach to withdrawal, turning things over to the U.N., etc. Every single U.S. politician, even including "antiwar" candidate Ralph Nader, takes this view. All of them seem to think that if the U.S. forces leave, that there will be a bloodbath in Iraq.

And my question is - how can anyone with two eyes to read the paper, or two ears to listen to the news, possibly think that whatever happens after U.S. troops are withdrawn, it would be worse than what is happening right now? Every single day brings news of Iraqis killed by Americans - 77 killed in Najaf by U.S. bombs today, a few days ago 165 killed in five different cities, and so on. While the count of U.S. dead creeps up at two or three per day toward a thousand dead, the Iraqi bodies continue to pile higher and higher at a far faster rate, probably moving toward 20,000 if the truth were known. Does this killing have anything to do with "weapons of mass destruction," alleged terrorist threats to the U.S., getting rid of that "evil-doer" Saddam Hussein, "freeing the Iraqi people," or any of the myriad of excuses given for the invasion of Iraq? Of course not. It has to do with just one thing - the U.S. wanting to ensure that it's own choice of "leader" takes control in Iraq (and, of course, the reasons why they want to do so).

Stop the slaughter! U.S. out of Iraq now!


Quote of the Day

"I can't be the only person put off by the tag line we're now seeing on John Kerry bumper stickers and lawn signs. It reads: 'Kerry/Edwards. A stronger America.' A stronger America? A stronger America? The last thing this country or this world needs is a stronger America. I can think of a lot of other things I'd like to see first. How about a smarter America? Or a wiser America? Heck, I'd settle for a saner America. One with more moral courage. A fairer America. More equitable. Less arrogant. Less obsessed with materialism. More just, more committed to democracy and peace, less prone to violence. I'd even settle for an America that doesn't embarrass me when I travel elsewhere in the world.

"America doesn't need more strength. It's got too much already. We're too muscle-bound for our own good. All our guns and material goods are making us stupid and lazy when it comes to solving our problems. We use only hammers, and therefore see all problems as nails. But there's a lot of things hammers can't do. A strong dose of humility, and a wider selection of tools, would do us a lot of good.

"So would a president that doesn't see our problems as stemming from a lack of strength."

- Geov Parrish, writing at Working for Change

Thursday, August 19, 2004


Political humor of the day

There are actually Iraqis being trained to assault the Mahdi Army inside the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. Unfortunately, they're training to fight an enemy who isn't there:
"They practiced marksmanship by firing AK-47s at targets of Osama bin Laden and Barney, the purple dinosaur."
Unfortunately for them, Osama isn't there, and Barney has few, if any, people willing to give up their life to defend him.

On a more serious note, it is interesting to note who these Iraqis are who are being trained to assault the shrine (allegedly, anyway; I'm highly skeptical that such a thing will happen):

"The battalion is a deliberately motley collection that is eight months old. U.S. trainers drew its members from the five exile opposition groups that joined with the U.S.-led military forces that toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. [Ed. note - a rather misleading statement, as if these groups had the slightest thing to do with the actual invasion. "Supported" would be far more accurate than "joined with."]

"Each of the groups was asked to contribute 120 men: the two Kurdish parties, the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Accord headed by current Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group then based in Iran.

"Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress provided the core, a pickup team of fighters hastily assembled in the Kurdish-held north of Iraq and flown south during the war, when Chalabi's star still burned brightly in the Pentagon. Today, about half the battalion is Kurdish, a disproportionate share, in part because volunteers from the Shiite party chose to step down rather than fight Iraqis in Fallujah, according to one adviser. Others dropped out as the battle for Najaf loomed."
And these 600 (or fewer, thanks to desertions) men of questionable allegiance (as the whole article makes clear) are going to take on the several thousand dedicated fighters inside the shrine? I wouldn't count on it if I were their commander.


Under the radar

I wouldn't have taken Paul Wolfowitz for a pilot, but this story, which I heard yesterday on the radio (I think on Flashpoints), has flown completely under the radar - not a single U.S. reference to the story appears if you search for "Wolfowitz militia":
"The Pentagon has urged Congress to authorize $500 million for building a network of friendly militias around the world to purge terrorists from 'ungoverned areas' - and warned Muslim clerics against providing 'ideological sanctuary' to radicals.

"Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq war, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday the money would be used 'for training and equipping local security forces - not just armies - to counter terrorism and insurgencies.'

"The strategy has already been tried in Afghanistan, where US special forces managed to forge alliances with some tribal warlords, who became instrumental in bringing down the Taleban government in 2001 and keeping its remnants at bay, said US military experts."
Yes, and it was tried once before in Afghanistan too, when the CIA helped fund Osama bin Laden and the Mujahedin to help overthrow the Soviet-backed government. Blowback, anyone?

Of course, U.S.-backed "militias" (hardly a new idea, and I doubt Wolfowitz thinks so) never engage in terrorism themselves, right? Sure, tell that to the Colombians, the Salvadorans, the Nicaraguans, and a host of other people around the world.

I've got a better idea for using $500 million to fight terrorism. Let's take every Israeli occupier of the West Bank and Gaza and build them a new house in Israel. Or fly them back to Russia or Brooklyn or France or whereever they came from. As an added benefit, that will just be a one-time expense, unlike Wolfowitz's plan.


Iraqi Olympians against the invasion

We're frequently reminded about how Uday Hussein used to direct the beating and torture of members of the Iraqi Olympic team. Frankly, although I don't doubt this happened, I'm a bit skeptical about the extent that it did. I mean, how successful a coaching technique is that, anyway? Is a soccer goalie (for example) really more likely to stop the next shot on goal when he's trembling thinking about how he'll be beaten if he doesn't?

In any case, courtesy of Sports Illustrated, we now have the voices of actual Iraqi Olympians telling us how they feel about the invasion of their country, in response to a recent Bush for President ad in which the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as the narrator intones "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations - and two fewer terrorist regimes." The fact that both Iraq and Afghanistan are now occupied by American troops, and that Iraq - and arguably Afghanistan - have governments that were appointed by a foreign government and hence can hardly be described as "free" will, of course, be obvious to most readers, but let's listen to the Iraqi soccer players (who have so far played to a record of 2-1 and advanced to the quarterfinals, although their goalie looked mighty ragged in their last game):
"'Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,' Sadir told SI.com through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. 'He can find another way to advertise himself.'

"Ahmed Manajid , who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. 'How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?' Manajid told me. 'He has committed so many crimes.'

"To a man, members of the Iraqi Olympic delegation say they are glad that former Olympic committee head Uday Hussein, who was responsible for the serial torture of Iraqi athletes and was killed four months after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, is no longer in power.

"But they also find it offensive that Bush is using their team for his own gain when they do not support his administration's actions in Iraq. 'My problems are not with the American people,' says Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad . 'They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?'

"Sadir, Wednesday's goal-scorer, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. 'I want the violence and the war to go away from the city,' says Sadir, 21. 'We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away.'

"Manajid, 22, hails from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed Manajid's cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz , who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would 'for sure' be fighting as part of the resistance.

"'I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?' Manajid says. 'Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq.'"
To which Left I can only add: "Gooooaaaalll!"

Credit to KOS for the tip, and kudos to SI for pursuing the story.

Followup: In a shocker nearly as big as the Iraqi soccer team reaching the quarterfinals, this story has now reached the rotation on CNN Headline News. Well, Sports Illustrated is part of Time-Warner, but this still is quite a surprising development.


Sadr vs...who?

TV news (local NBC outlet) just reported that a showdown is looming between "Sadr and Iraqi forces." They then segued to a piece from Iraq, and described how the mosque was surrounded by tanks and the nearby area being bombed by planes and pounded by tanks. Funny, I don't remember "Iraqi forces" being in possession of tanks and planes.

Silly question of the day: news articles continually refer to Sadr and his militia in their "hideout" in the Imam Ali Shrine. Is it really a "hideout" when everyone knows where you are?


Economy doing well

"LONG BEACH - The number of postcards mailed by the public last week to register interest in 3,000 part-time longshore positions at local ports will dwarf initial projections, officials say.

"A spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union estimates that at least 300,000 cards were turned in between Aug. 11 and Friday, the three-day window given by the union to potential applicants.

"The part-time longshore jobs are coveted because they pay a high starting wage ($20.66 an hour) and because the jobs can lead to entry into the strong longshore union."
To be fair, it is claimed that some unknown percentage of the 300,000 cards received were multiple entries sent in by desperate people (who are supposed to be disqualified for doing so). Whatever the case there, $20/hour times 20 hours per week (just a guess at what "part-time" means) is $400/week or $20K or so per year. A long, long way from the level at which you're in the "tax cuts 'r' us" bracket.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


He has...he hasn't

The headlines of the hour are that "Al-Sadr Reportedly Accepts Peace Plan." Well, it's possible of course. But here's the article which backs up that headline:
"Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr accepted a peace plan Wednesday to end fighting in Najaf that would disarm his militiamen and remove them from a holy shrine where they are hiding out, according to an al-Sadr spokesman. However, al-Sadr wanted to negotiate how the deal would be implemented."
Pardon the cynicism, but isn't "how the deal would be implemented" the very essence of any "peace plan"? Which means, of course, that he hasn't accepted any peace plan, except in some vague "in principle" way.


Peaceful protest in America

That "Bill of Privileges" discussed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg evidently doesn't extend very far:
"Minutes before the city announcement on Tuesday [that various commercial establishments were offering discounts to people wearing a "Peaceful Political Activist" button] , four women were arrested while [peacefully!] protesting Bloomberg's refusal to give peace groups the permit to rally in Central Park.

"The women, from a group called Code Pink, were trying to unfurl a banner from a hotel window across the street from the mayor's press conference. They were never able to display their message, but police said the banner read: 'You say welcome, we say where? Central Park."'

"Two of the women, Danielle Ferris, of Manhattan, and Andrea Buffa, of Oakdale, Calif., were awaiting arraignment on Wednesday on misdemeanor charges including reckless endangerment. The two other women were released without being charged."
Another article sheds more light on the charges against them for their egregious behavior:
"They were charged with reckless endangerment, unlawful posting of advertising and disorderly conduct."
A political banner is now classified as advertising?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


In defense of the Olympics

I've noticed a lot of snide comments on various blogs I visit regarding the Olympics. It's an attitude I don't share. If you want to find things we could do without on TV and in the news, there are plenty to choose from - the Scot Peterson trial, the repetitious, the content-free blatherings of Bush and Kerry, the obnoxious bloviating of O'Reilly, Matthews, and their ilk, or even professional sports, where legions of fans are encouraged to worship highly paid athletes while sitting on their own rear ends, spouting micro-jingoistic slogans ("my city is better than your city"). If there's one thing there's not enough of on TV, it's amateur athletics, the kind of sports that for the most part (I'll leave out a few things like javelin throwing) actually encourage and inspire fans to become participants.

Sports, like culture (movies, theater, literature, and yes, even TV), are one of the treasures of humanity. In some future socialist world, where productivity increases are actually used to decrease the length of the work week instead of just putting more and more people out of work, people will be able to use their leisure time to participate even more in sports, along with other cultural activities. Indeed, part of that vision can be seen today - it's no accident that socialist Cuba is always near the very top of the list of Olympic medals won per capita.

Sure, there are problems with the Olympics, and there has definitely been over-commercialization of them (although the current games seem remarkably free of that problem), and there are problems of jingoism ("U-S-A, U-S-A"), but all that notwithstanding, the Olympics, and amateur sport in general, is something to be celebrated, not denigrated. And that goes for all the sports, not just running and swimming and other "hard-core" sports. A lot of people like to snicker at events like rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming or beach volleyball or a host of other things. All I can say is, no matter what event you think is "silly," you try it. You think that sport X doesn't embody your particular definition of athleticism? Try it once and think again.

And if you're a political activist, as many of us are, there are even direct lessons to be learned. Results rarely come quickly. They come after years of dedication, hard work, frustration, disappointment. The athletes with the gold medals around their neck? The activists who achieve something? Those are the ones who stuck with it, and didn't give up, even though success wasn't immediate.


Capitalism is absurd

In the news today, the state of Illinois plans to defy the Federal government and make it possible for residents to buy prescription drugs from Canada, England, and Ireland. Sure, put another bandaid on a gushing wound. But this doesn't address the fundamental issue - why does (for example) a 30-day supply of Lipitor cost about $214 in the United States, but only $144 when imported from Ireland, $158 from England and $162 from Canada? Of course the answer is capitalism, and the profit "needs" (wants) of American drug companies. And health care (and necessary drugs) will never be available to the extent it is needed until that fundamental problem is addressed.

Followup: Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect elaborates at much greater length and detail on this subject.


Unclear on the concept

Privileged New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems to think the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the "Bill of Privileges":
"Mayor Michael Bloomberg, already under fire for his tough stance against anti-GOP protest groups, Monday suggested that First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are 'privileges' that could be lost if abused.

"'People who avail themselves of the opportunity to express themselves ... they will not abuse that privilege,' he said at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 'Because if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that.'"
Actually, there are people who want to see us lose our rights - they're called "fascists." Also those who voted for the PATRIOT Act. That group is called "Republicans and Democrats."

Monday, August 16, 2004


Headline evolution

I can't provide evidence for this (unless someone wants to dig it up from the Memory Hole), but the New York Times online story on the Venezuelan election results evolved during the course of the day from "Chavez Claims Victory" to "Chavez Is Declared the Winner in Venezuela Referendum" and finally to "Venezuela Votes by Large Margin to Retain Chavez." Of course they still haven't approached the proper headline which would really recognize the significance of the event. For that you have to turn to Granma: "Momentous electoral victory for Hugo Chavez."

Followup: Knight-Ridder surprises me with a headline and lead almost as good as the one in Granma. The headline: "Venezuela defeats recall." The subhead: "Effort to challenge president's term ends in failure by a wide margin." The lead: "Bolstered by a stunning victory in a hotly fought recall referendum, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Monday vowed that he would carry on with his leftist 'revolution' and urged Washington to 'respect' his government."

More followup: Nothing to do with headlines, but an interesting eyewitness account of election day in Caracas here.


Tariq Ali interviews Hugo Chavez

Tariq Ali is a well-known leftist who has joined the "ABB" camp. Readers of Left I on the News know that I don't share that opinion. I make reference to this fact, however, because readers may wish to think about comments that Hugo Chavez made to Ali in a recent interview which appears on today's CounterPunch:
"I don't believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don't accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day. Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property or a classless society? I don't think so. But if I'm told that because of that reality you can't do anything to help the poor, the people who have made this country rich through their labour and never forget that some of it was slave labour, then I say 'We part company'. I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth in society. Our upper classes don't even like paying taxes. That's one reason they hate me. We said 'You must pay your taxes'. I believe it's better to die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very pure banner, and do nothing ... That position often strikes me as very convenient, a good excuse ... Try and make your revolution, go into combat, advance a little, even if it's only a millimetre, in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias."
As for myself, in the U.S. elections, I think that those who think that a vote for Kerry is not just as much a vote for the policy of U.S. imperialism as is a vote for Bush are the ones who are "dreaming" (although not about utopias). Certainly his position on Venezuela is every bit as reprehensible as that of Bush.

By the way, in case this isn't clear, I am not implying that agreement with Chavez's analysis leads one to vote for Kerry. I doubt Chavez thinks so, although I don't believe he's made any explicit comment on the U.S. election. I do think one could interpret his remarks that way, and regardless of the U.S. election, it's still an analysis that's well worth thinking about.

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