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Friday, December 31, 2004


No child left behind

We're talking about Cuba, of course, not the United States. Workers World calls our attention to a UNESCO report released in November, which singles out Cuba, Canada, Finland and Korea as high-performance countries and role models to follow in quality of education. Cuba, the report notes, spends 10 to 11 percent of its GDP on education, by far the highest ratio of any country in the world. Finland, the next closest, spends 6 percent.

Here's an excerpt from the report itself, describing some of the reasons for this success:

"In [one particular] study, Cuba had the highest level of student achievement and the smallest variation in parents' educational attainment. Detailed analyses of the LLECE data revealed several factors in Cuba's success, including universal day care, more prevalence of home educational activities, smaller class sizes, higher levels of school and classroom material resources, better-trained teachers, greater parental involvement in school, a strong classroom disciplinary climate and relatively few multigrade or ability-grouped classes."
Sounds like the "gulag" the American corporate press is always telling you about, doesn't it?


If graffiti falls on a wall and no one sees it, does it make a sound?

While the natural disaster in the Indian Ocean rightfully occupies the world's attention, the man-made disaster in Fallujah continues unabated. Some Fallujans have managed to return. How many? How's this for a story you can't believe?
"Nearly 15,000 residents have reentered Fallouja during the last week, military figures show. The returnees have been given the option of staying permanently or leaving by the end of the day.

"Military officials said they were not keeping track of how many were opting to stay."
Please. The U.S. military is keeping total control over the city, they're fingerprinting and giving retina scans to people entering the city (actually it's unclear if those things have started yet or are just rumors) and giving ID cards to males between 15 and 55 entering the city, they're counting everyone going into the city, and we're supposed to believe that they're not counting the people leaving the city so they have no idea how many people are there? Right.

Like the lack of counting of dead Iraqi civilians by the American military, this lack of counting those leaving Fallujah (which is almost certainly a lack of publicly admitting something which they know very well) has to do with hiding bad news. Because the returnees to Fallujah are finding the situation grim, to say the least. The lack of water and electricity is well-known. But it's a lot worse than that. Here's one story about three returning brothers, who were among those (I'm guessing nearly 100%) who didn't stay after returning:

"A gaping hole in the two-story house appeared to have been caused by a tank, whose tracks were visible in the mud, he said. Most of the furniture was smashed. 'Half my house was demolished,' Atiya said. In the kitchen, cabinets had been ripped from the walls, he said. Others were emptied of their contents, which lay in heaps on the floor. 'Every dish was broken, every cup, every plate, as if someone had just stood there breaking one dish after another,' said Atiya's brother Raaid Abbas, 37. 'Why?'

"The brothers don't know who ransacked the house, but they blame American troops, who they say left muddy boot prints. Military officials expressed sympathy with the plight of returning residents but said the blame should rest with militants who took control of the city and continued to hide among the population. 'Our forces never intentionally damage structures or homes,' said Wilson, the deputy operations officer. 'After all, we, in partnership with the [interim Iraqi government], will be at the forefront of assisting in the restoration and cleanup of Fallouja.'"
But, and this will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, Lt. Col. Wilson is a goddamned liar. Here's another article about other Fallujah returnees:
"Omar Khalil, 38, moved his family of eight about 10 days ago to a nearby Red Crescent compound because he was told Iraqi and US troops wanted to sweep through homes to make sure no insurgents were hiding there. They came back a week ago and found their home -- a living room and one bedroom -- destroyed by fire, along with all their contents. 'We were heartbroken,' said Khalil's wife Thana, 30. 'This is worse than the shelling and bombing.'

"The family survived the worst moments of the fighting and did not join the few hundred thousand people that fled the city before the start of the assault and settled in makeshift camps or with relatives.

"Every single home, shop and shed in Khalil's neighbourhood has a big 'x' mark sprayed in red to indicate that US and Iraqi forces have searched it. Some are burnt or simply levelled to the ground.

"'I saw them burn homes with my own eyes on the 14th (of December), there was no fighting, why?' said an angry Ismail Ibrahim Shaalan, 50.

"A US Marine admitted that in some cases they were forced to use 'alternative means' like torching or bombing homes they believed were being used as sanctuaries for insurgents. 'If we could not get in there we had to use alternative means,' said Sergeant John Cross.

"But an Iraqi soldier nearby admitted that in some cases Iraqi troops burnt homes if they found pro-insurgency literature or material."
As for Khalil, don't worry about him; the U.S. has plans to take real good care of him:
"Hawkins told Khalil he can go to the mayor's office to file a claim or to Baghdad and receive $100 from reconstruction funds deposited at designated banks to tie him over until his application is processed."
Hey, Khalil - don't spend it all in one place.

But amidst all this, the U.S. authorities have their priorities straight - bringing "democracy" to Fallujah and Iraq. And what better way to do that than requiring every resident "to carry a small card outlining special new rules for the city," which ban cars...and graffiti. Well, that should certainly put an end to the insurgency.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Tariq Aziz...and his house

Catching up on an item from a few days ago, did anyone else notice this?
"A suicide bomber activated his car Monday at the entrance to the house of the leader of Iraq's biggest political party, killing at least 13 but leaving the cleric unharmed, his spokesman said.

"Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was in his residence in Baghdad's Jadiriyah district when the explosion took place.

"The residence, where Hakim has his home and offices, was previously the house of Tariq Aziz, the former foreign minister and close aide to Saddam Hussein."
Tariq Aziz has been imprisoned by the Americans for nearly two years (and what earthly right do the Americans in Iraq have to imprison anyone, since they ceded "sovereignty" to an interim (appointed) Iraqi government?), and he may have actually been formally charged with a crime by now (it's definitely not clear), but he certainly hasn't had a trial or been convicted, and even if he had, I wouldn't think that being convicted of war crimes (or whatever he'll be charged with) carries with it a penalty of confiscation of one's personal property. I suppose it's possible that this house had been the property of the Iraqi government, and not Aziz's personal property, or that it was his personal property and he arranged for his family to sell it, but frankly I doubt either of those things are true. Unfortunately, not a single reporter covering this story thought to ask this seemingly obvious question, so it's likely we'll never know how it was the Mr. al-Hakim came to be in possession of this house.


What a leader would do - and what a misleader does

I wrote that if George Bush were a real leader, he would not just have authorized U.S. government aid to help tsunami victims (which was pretty much a given; the only question being the amount) but announced that he was making a personal donation and urged Americans to do the same. Of course he's done nothing of the sort. Putting him to shame is rap-rock quartet Linkin Park who is giving $100,000, Jackie Chan who is giving $64,000, and Chow Yun-Fat and others giving $25,000+. Are these people out for self-glorification? I'm sure they have all the fame and glory they need; instead, Linkin Park and Chan are both quoted as saying they hope that their donation will have a "spearheading effect" among their fans. Bravo to them.

By contrast, the donation-less Bush is looking for personal glory by announcing that he's leading a "coalition" to help coordinate relief efforts. God forbid he should just work with the U.N., the Red Cross, and others and not play a leading role, or at least pretend that he is.


Another slam dunk...post

I wrote about it back in October, and it continues to bother me and apparently no one else. Last night I watched retired CIA "Anonymous" author Michael Scheuer being interviewed by Tucker Carlson (filling in for Aaron Brown), and heard all about how George Tenet described the case for Iraqi WMDs as a "slam-dunk." Then today I read Arianna Huffington's year-end review and she talks about the same thing.

I seem to be the only one to have noticed that this phrase, which is simply accepted as history, seems to be Bob Woodward's paraphrase of George Bush's paraphrase of whatever George Tenet allegedly told him. I'll just re-post a bit of what I posted back in October:

"How do we know [that Tenet called the case for WMD a 'slam-dunk']? Because Bob Woodward says so. And how does Bob Woodward know this? Does he have a tape? A transcript? Of course not. It's because George Bush, that paragon of veracity, says so. There is simply no reason to accept this 'history' as good coin. The fact that Tenet hasn't protested against the characterization proves nothing; he's demonstrated adequately that he's a loyal soldier, ready to take the fall, so even if he didn't say it, expecting him to say so publicly is probably more than one should expect.

"And even the phrase 'slam-dunk' is questionable. I haven't read the book, but here's how CNN (previous link) reported the story when the book was published:
"According to Woodward, Tenet reassured the president that 'it's a slam dunk case' that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

"In his CBS interview, Woodward said he 'asked the president about this, and he said it was very important to have the CIA director, 'slam-dunk' is as I interpreted it, a sure thing, guaranteed.'"
"So, as I read that sentence, the very strong phrase 'slam-dunk' is actually Woodward's phrase, not Bush's; Bush may have said (or even implied) something far weaker.

Don't believe everything you read. Except on Left I on the News, of course. ;-)


The economy is...improving?

A week ago I wrote about the excess of stories about how the economy is improving over stories about how it's not. Today's AP story, headlined "Jobless Claims Drop in Hopeful Sign",* is a classic case in point. About that hopeful sign? Here are the facts: "New applications filed for jobless benefits declined by a seasonally adjusted 5,000 to 326,000." Wow! a whole...1.5%. How significant is that small fluctuation? Why, "That left claims at their lowest level since the week ending Dec. 11." Wow again! The lowest jobless claims number in...two whole weeks!

But wait, there's more, because the article actually includes new data about actual employment: "Employers added 112,000 jobs in November, down from 303,000 in October." Good news? Hardly. Especially once you adjust those numbers for "job-inflation",* in which case you realize this November's number was actually a loss of 38,000 job-inflation-adjusted jobs. "Hopeful Signs"? Sure, if that's the conclusion you wanted to draw before you started writing the article. Otherwise, I think not.


* On Christmas I finally got around to reading two books that had been sitting around for a while, one of them being "Eats, Shoots & Leaves". In doing so I learned that it's an American custom to put commas and periods inside quotation marks, even when the material inside the quotation marks would not have had its own punctuation, as in the two examples above. The British, on the other hand, do what has always seemed more sensible to me - when you put quotes around a word or phrase like these, you put the punctuation outside the quotation marks. I've decided that I'm returning to my roots (at least the roots of my language, not my personal roots) and becoming British. From now on, punctuation outside! The third American revolution** starts now!

** Using Peter Camejo's (and no doubt others as well) description of the Civil War as the second American revolution.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Is Joe Scarborough an idiot?

Or does he just play one on TV? Flipping channels earlier this evening, I screeched to a halt on the Joe Scarborough show, because of the large subhead on the screen: "The Antiwar Media." Wow, I thought. Are they talking about Pacifica Radio and Democracy Now!? Workers World? Socialism & Liberation? CounterPunch? Surely they weren't talking about the corporate media, all of whom support the war and none of whom, as far as I know, have called for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Of course you know (and I knew) that it was none of that, they were in fact talking about the New York Times and how it just isn't covering enough of that good old "good news" from Iraq. One story they were talking about was some soldier (or Marine) who had died throwing himself on a grenade to save his men. Certainly a heroic act, although I don't know if it exactly qualifies as "good news."

The capper, however, Scarborough's piece de resistance as it were, was the fact that the Times apparently ran its article about bin Laden's recent statement, the one in which he called Zarqawi his deputy in Iraq, on page nine. This, according to Scarborough, from a paper which never tired of denying a link between Iraq and bin Laden, and here was the definitive proof of such a link and they were burying it.

Which returns us to the title question - is Joe Scarborough a complete idiot? Is he unaware that when people talk about a link between "Iraq" and bin Laden, which was one of the justifications for the invasion, that they weren't really referring to Iraq the country but to the then leadership of Iraq under Saddam Hussein? Is he aware that what people deny (because there is no evidence whatsoever) was a relationship between the Hussein regime and bin Laden before the invasion, not between bin Laden and anyone who might be in Iraq now, nearly two years later? And is he aware (as Colin Powell pretended not to be when he spoke to the U.N. urging support for the invasion) that Zarqawi, although he was in Iraq before the invasion, was in the part of Iraq controlled not by the central government but by America's allies?

As little respect as I have for Joe Scarborough, I really doubt he is unaware of any of these things. Instead, he's hoping that he has enough credibility with his audience that they will ignore all these inconvenient details, and simply absorb the simple message that the New York Times is "antiwar" based on this absurd analysis, and that those "liberal" media are undermining the "war effort" in Iraq.


U.S. aid to tsunami victims begins to flow...in the opposite direction

Faye Wachs and Eugene Kim were actually scuba diving off the coast of Thailand while the tsunami rolled right over their heads. Like thousands of vacationers, they lost their passports in the devastation. But of course the U.S. government was eager to help, right? Well, not exactly...
"At the airport in Bangkok, other governments had set up booths to greet nationals who had been affected and to help repatriate them, she said.

"That was not the case with the U.S. government, Wachs told her mother. It took the couple three hours, she said, to find the officials from the American consulate, who were in the VIP lounge.

"Because they had lost all their possessions, including their documentation, they had to have new passports issued.

"But the U.S. officials demanded payment to take the passport pictures, Helen Wachs said.

"The couple had managed to hold on to their ATM card, so they paid for the photos and helped other Americans who did not have any money get their pictures taken and buy food, Helen Wachs said."
Hat tip to WTF Is It Now??? for the link.


"Finishing the job"; "Cutting and running"

A letter writer to my local paper, echoing a common sentiment, says the U.S. has to "finish the job" in Iraq, as if the invasion of Iraq was a "job" that the U.S. was hired to do (certainly not by the U.N.!), instead of an entirely voluntary action they can abandon at any time. He also writes "Since we have claimed this war was to free the Iraqi people from tyranny and restore [?] democracy, we have to finish the mission until Iraq is truly democratic and can stand on its feet."

Having just watched Control Room, George Bush's speech of March 17, 2003 was fresh in my mind. Some representative excerpts:

"For more than a decade, the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war [sic]. That regime pledged to reveal and destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War in 1991...It has uniformly defied Security Council resolutions demanding full disarmament...Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again...Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised...Under [U.N.] Resolutions 678 and 687 -- both still in effect -- the United States and our allies are authorized [sic] to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction...Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed...The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours."
Of course we now know that not a word of that was true, and that Iraq had been complying with U.N. resolutions and had been disarmed since 1991. Even conceding that Bush didn't know that at the time (even though the evidence was reasonably clear), the U.N. was of course actively in the process of verifying that complete disarmament had in fact already occured. But all that notwithstanding, note that Bush utters not a word about "freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny and restoring democracy," neither as a justification for the invasion nor as a goal. Post-facto claims to that effect are simply an attempt to rewrite history, pure and simple.

Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman is back in the news, drumming up support for the war and claiming "There’s not a single credible voice saying that we will cut and run." The fact that he feels the need to assert that so strongly is pretty clear evidence that it isn't true. Apparently Joe chooses to ignore both Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader, both of whom have received a lot more votes for President than Joe, not to mention USA Today founder Al Neuharth. No, Joe, the voices that aren't credible are the voices like yours which claim that the U.S. should throw good money after bad, and good lives after bad. The voices calling for getting out now are getting louder, and more plentiful. And they have never lacked for credibility.


The tsunami in perspective

Numbers are changing rapidly, but it seems quite likely that the number of dead will easily hit 100,000. George Bush finally spoke out today, saying "These past few days have brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension." That might be one of the more accurate things that Bush has ever said.

But let's keep things in perspective. Between 1991 and 2003, the United States, operating under the cover of the United Nations, intentionally and knowingly caused the deaths (we'll avoid the word "murder," but that's just a quibble) of at least a half million Iraqi children, and probably another half million Iraqis. And far from ever expressing any "loss and grief" over those deaths, the United States, in the person of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, has announced that that was a price that was "worth it" and that "We shouldn't apologize because great countries don't have to do that." This, by the way, even after it is now known that the sanctions, which were put into place ostensibly to force Iraq to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, had accomplished that task in 1991.


Tsunami - what a leader would do

The U.S., taking flak for being "stingy," has gradually upped its donation to the disaster relief from $5 to $15 to $35 million (one report I heard on TV described the last $20 million as a "line of credit," but I don't think that's true). Meanwhile, from U.S. "leader" George Bush, not a public word has been heard. Not one. His aides say "Actions speak louder than words," as if giving away $35 million of our money (less than his supporters are spending on his inauguration, and about what the U.S. spends on killing people in Iraq in four hours) says anything at all (of course, Bush's actual "actions" were "clearing brush" and riding his mountain bike, a.k.a. fiddling while Rome burns). Colin Powell says we're "doing all we can do," which is complete nonsense; this is a country which, faced with a fake emergency like the "impending threat to our security from Iraq," is able to mount an invasion costing $250 billion; $35 million for a real emergency is far from "all we can do."

If George Bush were a real leader, he would give a public speech, announce that he was donating $10,000 of his own considerable personal wealth to the Red Cross, and urge every American to donate a dollar to the same or similar cause. His example and his words could raise a hundred million dollars overnight. Why, he could even appeal to his rich friends to do the standard "matching fund" thing that charities always do, and double that figure.

And pigs might fly. George and his friends have better things to do with their money.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


We're #1!

The U.S. leads the world in exporting one commodity. Unfortunately, it's spam, with 42% of the total produced in the world originating right here in the U.S. of A.

Just imagine what that percentage would be if the study included government/corporate media propaganda in the spam total, as it rightfully should be. Well, maybe not, spam isn't nearly as harmful. Or as deadly.


Health care under Capitalism

With a hat tip to Skippy, this remarkable illustration of the irrationality of Capitalism from the San Francisco Chronicle:
"How much does a Tylenol cost? In California, that depends on what hospital you're in.

"At some California hospitals, a tablet of Tylenol, or its generic version, acetaminophen, is billed at $5 or $5.50. Others charge $7, or even $9, for a single pill. One Los Angeles hospital charges just 12 cents a tablet, while at a few facilities it's free. The retail price of brand-name Tylenol is about eight or nine cents each. The generic goes for a nickel or less.

"Who will be asked to pay these list prices? Almost nobody except uninsured patients, says Mr. McGowan. 'These are the people who are handed a bill for these astronomical amounts,' he says."
And in the department of unintended irony, this note:
"Take that ancient treatment the leech. It has made a comeback in medicine, but with a newfangled price. UC Davis and Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla are among those that use the creatures for certain treatments. The leech sucks blood in the course of delicate surgical procedures."
How appropriate for a system which is dominated by leeches. Corporate leeches, sucking the lifeblood from the humans on which they prey.


Posthumous Quote of the Day

"Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?"

- Susan Sontag, writing about the 9/11 attacks
Source, with a hat tip to The Sideshow for the link.


Reality distortion field

With MacWorld approaching, I'm reminded of the famous Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. But Jobs has got nothing on the U.S. and Israeli governments, and the Reality Distortion Field they cast on the American corporate media.

Virtually every single attack by Iraqi insurgents these days is heralded in the media as "an attempt to derail the upcoming elections." Not once have I heard an attack described as "an attempt to expel the American occupiers" or, perhaps less provocatively, as "an attempt to weaken the American resolve to continue their occupation of Iraq." Even today, when there were a series of attacks not on elected officials or candidates but Iraqi police and National Guard, a Reuters article links the attacks to bin Laden's message about the elections yesterday, notwithstanding the fact that bin Laden simply called for a boycott of the elections, and did not call for a "holy war" on elections on Reuters claims.

Not surprisingly, one of the few reporters to resist this trend is Knight-Ridder's Hannah Allam, who, even in writing about the attempted assassination of a leading Shiite candidate, writes that it was an "apparent attempt to thwart the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections," which, in the absence of any statement from the attackers describing their motives, is at least a reasonably honest way to report the event (omitting presumed motives entirely would be even better).

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel released some Palestinian prisoners. Earlier this month, Egypt freed an Israeli businessman who had been jailed on spying charges, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows this was a prisoner swap. But Israel never likes to admit to swapping prisoners, so they always have some other story. That's fair enough, but it doesn't mean that the media have to report it as such. Today's Los Angeles Times describes this prisoner release first as "an apparent effort to bolster the standing of the moderate interim Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas", and second as being "intended to demonstrate goodwill toward Egypt" because of their freeing of the Israeli prisoner. Although reported in a news article, both of these claims are apparently a presumption on the part of the writer, since neither claim is attributed to anyone in the Israeli government. Indeed, Ha'aretz reports just the opposite: "Israel released 159 Palestinian prisoners yesterday in the framework of its deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that saw the release of jailed Israeli citizen Azzam Azzam."


A mathematical puzzle


That's what we're being told in the Ukranian election, where in a two-person runoff election, the announced results have one candidate with 52 percent and the other with...44 percent? Huh? No wonder Yanukovich is crying fraud; I would be too if 4 percent of the electorate vanished into thin air.

Meanwhile, although news reports tell us that there is only a "preliminary full count" and that "official confirmation could take several days," the "democrat" in the election is denouncing his opponent for refusing to concede, claims he has "no right to remain in office," and is calling upon his supporters to physically blockade government buildings to prevent a cabinet meeting from taking place. Imagine what would happen if the big D Democrats in this country called on their supporters to do the same. Well, don't spend too much time thinking about it, it's not going to happen.

But if you come upon those missing 4 percent of Ukranian votes, do let me know, will you?


Quote of the Day (belated)

"We know that Al Jazeerah has a pattern of playing propaganda over and over and over again. What they do is when there's a bomb goes down they grab some children and some women and pretend that the bomb hit the women and the children. And it seems to me that it's up to all of us to try to tell the truth, to say what we know, to say what we don't know, and recognize that we're dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case. And to the extent that people lie, ultimately they are caught lying, and they lose their credibility, and one would think that it wouldn't take very long to happen dealing with people like this."

- Donald Rumsfeld, April 2003
The quote above comes from Control Room, the documentary about Al Jazeerah which I finally watched last night. Rumsfeld's quote is preceded by a clip of a distraught woman, standing in front of her demolished house, crying out:
"Welcome to my house, Mr. Bush. Look at this. Do you have any humanity? How can you accept seeing a little girl crying for her mother and father? Where is your humanity? Where is your conscience? Where is your God?"
Either Rumsfeld is a liar (not much supposition in that statement) or this woman deserves an Academy Award for the best acting job of the year. Of course the clips which accompany Rumsfeld's quote, shots of severely injured and dead children, didn't require much acting.

I was frankly expecting more from the movie based on word-of-mouth when it was in the theatre. It's an interesting picture of Al Jazeerah and its people, but that's about it. The section on the bombing of Al Jazeerah offices in Baghdad and the resulting death of reporter Tarek Ayyoub leaves the American claim that they were "taking fire from the building" entirely unrebutted, despite the contradition between the American claim that they "weren't targetting the building," but were just responding to fire, with the fact that the building was attacked with a missile. The pulling down of the Saddam statue in Firdos Square is immediately spotted by the Al Jazeerah staff as a propaganda move, but the movie doesn't take even a few seconds to contrast that with the blind acceptance of the event in the Western media (or their "discovery" a year later that they were had; that might have happened too late for the movie). Comparing the coverage in the West to Rumsfeld's quote about playing propaganda "over and over and over again" would have been quite a powerful answer to his absurd charge against Al Jazeerah, but the movie doesn't do so.

Actually, I think the most interesting thing about the movie is the chance to revisit events from the initial phase of the war (the famous "major combat operations") in the light of a year and a half's experience. The quote from Rumsfeld above is one example (not that most of the people reading this blog didn't realize how self-referential that quote was even back in 2003). Another quote worth remembering is how George Bush announced the war, two days before it started:

"Saddam and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing."
Is there anyone who believes that if the Husseins had actually left Iraq, that the U.S. would not have invaded, and would not be occupying Iraq today? Of course Bush is clever enough not to deny that, he merely says that if they don't leave, he's invading. He fails to mention that if they do leave, he's invading anyway.

One interesting aspect of the movie is the reaction of the Al Jazeerah staff, all of whom (at least the ones who are part of the movie) are opposed to the invasion, but all of whom realize that the U.S. military will prevail. However not one of them gives any thought to the consequences of the occupation, and what is likely (or even possible) to happen after the "major combat" dies down.

Monday, December 27, 2004


Amazing song

Since I've been taking some shots at "Christians" lately, it might surprise you to learn that I've spent the last week listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas (music) specials on TV. I'm a heathen, for Christ's sake; what am I doing listening to Christmas songs? The answer is simple, really; I like good music. 95% of the music I listen to has nothing to do with me. I listen to (and like) songs about drug usage, and I don't use drugs, I listen to songs about teenage angst, and I'm not a teenager. I listen to songs about riding fast cars or motorcycles, and I drive a Prius at sensible speeds, and on and on. I do of course like some songs for their content, as we've been discussing here recently, but mostly I listen to music because I like the music.

But of all the music I've listened to in the last few days, one, which wasn't even a Christmas song (but it was part of a Christmas special), simply blew me away; so much so that I had to write about it here even though it's completely off-topic to what I normally write about. And that song was a version of Amazing Grace sung by the Blind Boys of Alabama to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun (still one of my favorite songs on the original Animals' LP, which you can listen to here). You can listen to a clip here, or buy the whole thing from the iTunes music store (or elsewhere too, I'm sure). Be sure to listen (or buy) the version that's on the album Spirit of the Century; there's another, completely different, version which did nothing to me.

For a more traditional version of the song, I'll still go with the Judy Collins' version. But the Blind Boys' version is not only a tour de force, it's simply an amazing Amazing Grace.


Political humor of the day

Nobody does it better: Dave Barry reviews the year (hat tip to WIIIAI for the link). Just one excerpt, from April:
"Meanwhile, in another blow to the U.S.-led coalition effort in Iraq, Spain withdraws its troop, Sgt. Juan Hernandez. As violence in Iraq escalates, critics of the Bush administration charge that there are not enough U.S. soldiers over there. Administration officials heatedly deny this, arguing that the real problem is that there are too many Iraqis over there. In the words of one high-level official (who is not identified in press reports because of the difficulties involved in spelling 'Condoleezza') the administration 'may have to relocate the Iraqis to a safer area, such as Ecuador.' John Kerry calls this 'a ridiculous idea,' adding, 'I wholeheartedly endorse it.'"
Don't forget to take note of the cartoons which accompany the articles.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


Election roundup

In Iraq, less than a thousand residents of Fallujah have returned in two days; an estimated 200,000 had fled. Sure, they'll be ready for elections on January 30...2006. Of course that would be assuming that any of the returnees actually stay, which seems unlikely given the lack of water, electricity...or houses.

In Palestine, local elections are going on, although the Presidential election is actually two weeks later, on January 9. If you limit yourself to the Western corporate media, you'd be unlikely to name a single candidate other than Mahmoud Abbas. Infrequent but invaluable blogger Lawrence of Cyberia has an extremely informative post about the other main candidate, the "other" Barghouti, Mustafa (the one who was beaten by Israeli troops a couple weeks ago). Well worth reading if you want to know who he is before he loses.

As in Palestine, in Ukraine there is only one candidate running as far as the Western corporate media is concerned, Yushchenko. Watching BBC World the other night, it was "Yuschchenko this," and "Yuschchenko supporters that." It's a wonder they're bothering to have an election with only one candidate. Yanukovich? Never heard of him. In the light of this, it's all the more remarkable that the New York Times actually ran a story the other day completely debunking the conventional "knowledge" (I can't call it "wisdom") that Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin put into his soup at a dinner with the head of the Ukranian Secret Service. How on earth this "discouraging word" about Yushchenko slipped through is beyond me; no doubt the editor who let it happen has been disciplined and it won't happen again.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Again on "Christians"

Some Christians, whom I wrote about recently, are once again in the news, demanding that the world stop saying "Happy Holidays" and say "Merry Christmas" instead. Kinda' funny that a week or so ago they weren't urging everyone to say "Happy Chanukah" to each other. Even funnier that you never hear them demand a greater prominence for "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men." I guess that would be a little too hypocritical for a group that almost universally supports the U.S. war against the Iraqi people. To clarify, by that "group" I'm referring not to Christians in general, but Christians who seem to think that the most important thing about being Christian is to be called "Christian" or to proclaim yourself a "Christian," rather to actually live a life which would cause you to be so labelled, the kind of people like Cupertino teacher Stephen Williams who, in claiming he was being singled out because he was "Christian," clearly meant to imply that teachers who were Baptists or Methodists or Catholics or other assorted denominations weren't actually Christian.

Writing on CommonDreams yesterday, Vicar Giles Fraser notes about the kind of Christians I'm talking about:

"Nicene Christianity is the religion of Christmas and Easter, the celebration of a Jesus who is either too young or too much in agony to shock us with his revolutionary rhetoric. The adult Christ who calls his followers to renounce wealth, power and violence is passed over in favor of the gurgling baby and the screaming victim. As such, Nicene Christianity is easily conscripted into a religion of convenience, with believers worshipping a gagged and glorified savior who has nothing to say about how we use our money or whether or not we go to war."


Iraqis are better off today than under Saddam

Well, except for the Christians.

And 250,000 Fallujans who no longer have homes to live in, or, if they do, they don't have electricity or water which would actually allow them to live in their homes.

And let's not forget the women, including blogger Riverbend, who once upon a time (i.e., before the invasion) used to be employed as a computer geek, and since the invasion barely is able to leave her home.

And of course who can forget the residents of Baghdad, who not only have to live with just a few hours of electricity a day, but also have to suffer the indignity of not being able to buy enough gasoline to run their generators for the remaining hours.

Not to mention the tens of thousands (estimates range up to 100,000, and that was before the recent assault on Fallujah) of Iraqis who are no longer living to see this "better day."

And then there are the 27-50 percent of Iraqis who are unemployed.

Oh, but don't worry, because things are due to get even "better," as you can see from this story:

"The United States is helping the interim Iraqi government continue to make major economic changes, including cuts to social subsidies, full access for U.S. companies to the nation's oil reserves and reconsideration of oil deals that the previous regime signed with France and Russia."
So you can see it really was all about helping Iraqis have a better life. Why, the evidence is practically overwhelming.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


Quote of the Day

"I have to say I am not ecstatic about everything that happens in the United States either."

- Russian President Vladimir Putin, responding to criticism of events in Russia
This and the post immediately below this one courtesy of the relatively new blog First Draft, which I have today added to the blogroll at right, as it has become increasingly indispensible as a source of news and views.

Oh, and by the way - Vlad, you and me both.


The Washington Post wakes up

The latest round of torture memos obtained and released by the ACLU have awakened the Washington Post to the fact that they share their town with a criminal government. Some excerpts from an editorial that runs today under the headline "War Crimes":
"Since the publication of photographs of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in the spring the administration's whitewashers -- led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low-ranking reservists, that they were limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003, that they were unrelated to the interrogation of prisoners and that no torture occurred at the Guantanamo Bay prison where hundreds of terrorism suspects are held. The new documents establish beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.

"Though they represent only part of the record that lies in government files, the documents show that the abuse of prisoners was already occurring at Guantanamo in 2002 and continued in Iraq even after the outcry over the Abu Ghraib photographs.

"Army investigations of these crimes were shockingly shoddy: Officials lost records, failed to conduct autopsies after suspicious deaths and allowed evidence to be contaminated.

"The Bush administration refused to release these records to the human rights groups under the Freedom of Information Act until it was ordered to do so by a judge. Now it has responded to their publication with bland promises by spokesmen that any wrongdoing will be investigated. The record of the past few months suggests that the administration will neither hold any senior official accountable nor change the policies that have produced this shameful record. Congress, too, has abdicated its responsibility under its Republican leadership: It has been nearly four months since the last hearing on prisoner abuse. Perhaps intervention by the courts will eventually stem the violations of human rights that appear to be ongoing in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. For now the appalling truth is that there has been no remedy for the documented torture and killing of foreign prisoners by this American government."
Even in this scathing editorial, however, the buck seems to stop at Donald Rumsfeld. The words "Executive Order" or "President Bush" do not appear anywhere. The editorial also cleverly absolves Democrats of any responsibility by placing the failure of Congress to investigate this situation solely on the shoulders of the "Republican leadership," rather than on the entire Congress, every single member of whom has the power to get more press attention in one day than Left I on the News does in a lifetime. Still, the editorial is a good, if belated, start. Who knows, perhaps one day the Post will come to acknowedge that the entire invasion itself was one massive, and continuing, war crime.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Missing the point

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer runs the following story today:
Attack in Iraq shows troops' vulnerability

"CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- American troops in Iraq must work around a wide range of vulnerabilities: soft-skinned tents instead of concrete buildings, a shortage of body armor and open or unprotected vehicles."
It's true that these kind of things are vulnerabilities. But the real vulnerability, the heart of the matter, is that U.S. troops are operating in a country which they invaded, a country in which the majority of the population (according to polls) wants them to get the hell out, and a country in which a significant fraction of that majority are willing to put their lives on the line to see that that happens. And no amount of concrete buildings, body armor, or "up-armored humvees" is going to remedy that vulnerability.


What do "Americans" want?

Yesterday I was listening to a CNN analyst, talking about the latest Washington Post poll, claiming that "Americans want to see elections in Iraq go forward [on Jan. 30]." No. Some Americans certainly do (60% according to this particular poll), but certainly not "Americans" as a whole. Today's New York Times commits the same linguistic sin, with a headline reading "Fighting On Is the Only Option, Americans Say." No, some Americans say that (again, 60% according to the latest poll), but a rather sizeable number (39%) do not, as I wrote about just two days ago. The fact is that on this, and countless other issues, Americans are split down the middle, certainly not 50-50 on any particular issue, but near enough that saying anything about what "Americans" think, other than that Americans are split on the issue, is simply incorrect and dishonest.

I just called this a "linguistic sin" and "dishonest," but in reality, it's much more than that - a deliberate attempt to marginalize minority opinion, and, perhaps even more subtly, to label anyone who doesn't share the majority opinion on these questions as "not an American" or even "anti-American." If Americans think that fighting on is the only option, and you don't think so, then you must not be an American.

Indicative of this "silence the minority" concept is this section from the Times article:

"Some people said that polls themselves were part of the problem.

"Charlie Eubanks, a cotton farmer and lawyer from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, said he supported President Bush but had been lukewarm about going to war. Now, he said there was no choice but to fight on, and that reports on opinion polls were only 'aiding and abetting' the enemy by making opponents think the American will is weak."
Or, as Bill O'Reilly would say to those of us with dissenting opinions: SHUT UP! Just shut up and go away, you antiwar types; we don't want to hear it.

No Bill, no Charlie, no New York Times, no CNN, we are not going to shut up and go away. So stop pretending that "Americans" agree with you. Some do. And some don't.

Followup: Cursor notes that the Times article cites a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll which asked about approval or disapproval of how things are going in Iraq, and asked for an opinion about sending more troops, but didn't even bother to ask about withdrawing troops.


Torture - the U.S. double standard

In response to evidence of torture being committed by Americans and their surrogates in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, the Administration and the corporate media continually use the word "abuse" in place of "torture." That's their way of subconsciously convincing us that really, it wasn't so bad (not to mention not illegal).

On December 2, in a report that has gone completely unmentioned in the press as far as I can tell, Amnesty International issued a stinging rebuke of American human rights practices, leading with this:

"If and when President Bush comes to sign his Human Rights Day proclamation this year, Amnesty International believes that an honest appraisal would require him to acknowledge that the USA has violated and undermined basic human rights principles and the rule of law during his first term in office and continues to be far from the global human rights champion it proclaims itself to be."
The entire report is an absolutely devastating indictment of U.S. policies and hypocrisy, and deserves to be read in its entirety, but the portion I'm singling out here is the discussion of torture. AI notes that the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights includes a section on "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," which includes the following accusations:Every one of these practices are being used by the United States, and every one of them is referred to by the U.S. government and the U.S. corporate media as "abuse" when practiced by the U.S.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


The real story of Christmas

Writing at CommonDreams today, James Carroll discusses the story of Christ's birth and death as a political saga involving resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine. For those (like me) not that familiar with this story, it's quite interesting reading. Here's part of his summary:
"If the story were told today with Roman imperialism at its center, questions might arise about America's new self-understanding as an imperial power. A story of Jesus born into a land oppressed by a hated military occupation might prompt an examination of the American occupation of Iraq. A story of Jesus come decidedly to the poor might cast a pall over the festival of consumption."
And, to set the story to music, a link to my last year's post of the lyrics to Jackson Browne's marvelous Christmas song, The Rebel Jesus.


Now you see them, now you don't

In today's attack in Mosul, out of the 20 dead, four were Halliburton employees and three more were subcontractors. Look quickly, because starting tomorrow they'll be forgotten, never to be included in those totals of "American dead" as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The next time you hear or read about the 1350 or so American dead, try to remember that there are another 150 from other American allies dead, and just under 200 contractors also dead (many of them Americans), for a total "cost" of this war to the "coalition" of now almost exactly 1700 dead (and, of course, thousands wounded, many of them severely). 1700 is a full 25% more than 1350. If someone tried to cut your pay by 25%, you'd scream. When the American media tries to wipe out the memory of 25% of the coalition dead in Iraq, no one even notices.

It goes without saying they scarcely remember the Iraqi dead, except when it serves George Bush's purpose. Hell, they won't even count those folks; that might imply they actually counted.

Monday, December 20, 2004


The media and their priorities

Geov Parrish provides an excellent list of the most overhyped and the most underreported stories of 2004 (although there are definitely some that he misses, like the continuing oppression of the Palestinians and the effects of "the wall"). Many won't be a surprise, but I particularly liked the way he described this overhyped story:
"The Economy is Improving. Then it's not. Then it is. Then it's not. Then it is. Then it's not. But Alan Greenspan says... and blah, blah, blah. Ah, stagnation. Only the U.S. media could make unemployment, high credit card debt, a sky-high federal deficit, kamikaze tax-cuts, a record trade imbalance, and sagging corporate profits appear rosy. Let's cut the crap: Capitalism is in a crisis that the Bush administration can't figure out how to fix. End of story."
Actually that's not quite right; the "then it is's" are vastly underrepresented in his description. There are at least five of those for every grudging acknowledgment that all that "improvement" hasn't actually improved things any. And that fact that there have been 7,550,000 "job inflation-adjusted" jobs lost during George Bush's term in office hasn't been reported anywhere (except of course here at Left I on the News).


Burying the lede, circling the wagons

The big story tonight is a press release from the ACLU detailing documents they just obtained (using the Freedom of Information Act) shedding new information about torture at Guantanamo. There are quite a few significant details that come out in those documents, but the ACLU press release starts with the most significant:
"A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq."
Now as I said there are many other things of interest, like a report from "an FBI agent who had 'observed numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees,' including 'strangulation, beatings, [and] placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings,'" or the fact that Defense Department personnel were impersonating FBI agents during interrogations to deflect blame from themselves (at least, according to the FBI).

Now there are legitimate questions about whether the Executive Order referred to actually exists; the White House denies it. Nevertheless, the fact that there exist FBI documents which allege such an order is blockbuster news, right? Well, not according to the Washington Post, who buries that fact in the fifth paragraph of their story, and uses the phrase "presidential order" (lower case) and fails to include the name "Bush" in their story. Not according to the Los Angeles Times, who buries that fact in the tenth paragraph of their story. And definitely not according to the New York Times, which does not mention the Executive Order at all!

Yes, that's the same New York Times which in the same edition gives us this headline: "Bush Says Iraqis Aren't Yet Able to Quell Rebels" as if something which is obvious to the entire world becomes news because the President says so. How about "Bush Acknowledges Iraqis Aren't Yet Able to Quell Rebels"? Too confrontational and anti-establishment? Evidently so. Has anyone seen that famous liberal media? I'm afraid it disappeared long before today's lede did.

Update: Knight-Ridder follows the lead of the New York Times in completely omitting any mention of the Executive Order.

Update 2: I can't watch all the channels at once, but jumping between CNN, CNN Headline News, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC this morning, I haven't seen any mention of either aspect of the story, neither the new evidence of torture nor the allegation of the existence of an Executive Order authorizing torture.


"Free nations are peaceful nations"

So said George Bush in today's press conference, not for the first time. And, not for the first and not for the last time, no one called him on this absurdity. We'll grant that the United States is a "free" nation, whatever that means exactly. Is it a peaceful nation? Has there been a President in recent memory who did not launch an invasion, or a bombing campaign, or given key assistance to a bloody coup, against another country? Let's see (and I just know I'm going to forget some):
Bush II: Afghanistan, Iraq
Clinton: Somalia, Iraq, Yugoslavia
Bush I: Iraq, Panama
Reagan: Grenada, Libya
Carter: Nicaragua (by proxy)
Ford: East Timor (U.S. weapons, with permission)
Nixon: Vietnam, Chile
Johnson: Vietnam
Kennedy: Cuba, Vietnam
Oh yeah, that's one "peaceful nation" alright. I think we'd better hope that Iraq doesn't follow our example should it become "free."


Two out of five Americans agree - U.S. out of Iraq!

The Washington Post is out with a new poll today, and the article about it touts the fact that "nearly six in 10 -- 58 percent -- said the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq rather than withdraw them." Sometimes the remainder in a poll will have a large number of "undecideds," but not in this case. Looking at the actual polling data, we find that a solid 39 percent - two out of five Americans - believes that U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Iraq. Those of us in the antiwar movement truly have a large base of people to work with - the task at hand is probably less to widen that sentiment than to deepen it, so that it can be mobilized and make its weight felt.


Presidential security

That's what it looks like in Iraq (at least, if you allow me the liberty of calling Allawi the "president"). Will it come to that in the U.S.? No, but only because in the U.S. they use a much wider security perimeter so the weapons-toting guards aren't in frame:

"President Bush will be sworn in next month for a second term amid the tightest security in inaugural history, with police planning to search every one of the tens of thousands of people expected to line the parade route...And there will be more Washington streets closed and more security fencing than ever to create a large buffer zone...extra security measures include bomb-sniffing dogs, sophisticated sensors to detect chemical, radiological or biological material, and expanded use of police helicopters and military aircraft. Thousands of police officers from the Washington suburbs and other cities will help with traffic, crowd control and other duties...More will be ready to respond behind the scenes. The FBI, for example, will have investigators, evidence technicians, hostage-rescue teams, heavily armed SWAT personnel, hazardous-materials experts and bomb technicians in place."
The real intention of all this isn't security (which is the case in Iraq), but two entirely different things. One is to keep the American people in a state of fear, and maintain the illusion of George Bush as a "war president" (not that any inauguration that was conducted during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War ever required such security measures). And the second is to propagate the fiction that George Bush is actually a popular President, rather than the most-hated President in history.

Bush would like to keep demonstrators from spoiling his day, as they did in 2000, but ANSWER is doing their best to make sure that Bush doesn't get his way. Despite having thus far been refused permits for demonstration areas along Pennsylvania Avenue (applied for 11 months ago!), and despite indications that there will be illegal attempts to prevent people from carrying signs, and despite the fact that the private "Presidential Inauguration Committee," in cooperation with the National Park Service, is doing its best to privatize Pennsylvania Avenue and restrict it to paying customers (and "customers" is the right word, since many of them expect something in return), ANSWER is expecting to mobilize thousands of people to defend the right to free speech and tell George Bush (and tell the world) what the American people, and the world, think of George Bush and his policies.

Incidentally, AP should read their own articles. The one linked above on the security measures ends by saying "So far no mass demonstration is planned for next month," while another AP article on the same day describes ANSWER's plans for a demonstration.

It is indicative of the weasel-like nature of the Administration that they hide behind the fact that they haven't yet denied any permits that were applied for:

"'The inauguration is on Jan. 20 and it's not even Dec. 20 yet,' [Bill Wine, a spokesman for the National Park Service] said. 'It is expected that a lot of permits will be finalized in the next two or three weeks.'"
Mr. Wine is either being disingenuous or just plain stupid, suggesting that one week's notice will be plenty for organizing a demonstration of tens of thousands of people. He probably thinks that the people of Fallujah are actually going to vote in the Iraqi election, one week after being allowed to return to their homes.

Some people are urging a silent demonstration at the inauguration, the "Turn Your Back on Bush" movement. ANSWER are urging the opposite. Don't give up the right to use your voice, even if turning your back is a form of free speech. Don't give up the right to hold up a sign expressing your viewpoint. Do not be silent while the people of Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Haiti are led to the slaughter. Do not be silent while the people of Iran and North Korea and Cuba are put into the crosshairs. Do not be silent while the people of the United States see their schools and hospitals and libraries closed, their jobs lost, their benefits reduced, their civil liberties taken away. Do not be silent.


Getting your news in a timely manner

The mass media are all atwitter today with the news that Donald Rumsfeld has been letting a machine sign condolence letters for him. If only they were getting their news from the web, they would have known about this a month ago when it was first reported by David Hackworth.

In that same article, Hackworth reported with somewhat less evidence that the same was true of condolence letters being sent out by George Bush. Don't look for that story to appear in the media, though. No part of the Washington establishment has the knives out for Bush, so it's unlikely they'll be investigating that aspect of the story (not that they investigated the Rumsfeld story either; it was Hackworth and Stars & Stripes who get credit for that). Sounds like a perfect question for Helen Thomas to be asking at the next press conference, though.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


Remember Fallujah?

The media are doing their best to forget about it, even though more than five weeks after the U.S. assault on the city, the battle continues there. How many Iraqi non-combatants were killed there by the U.S. military? Chances are we'll never know. But this interesting piece of information, from an AFP article about the mental health of the Marines involved in the assault, sheds some light on the subject:
"The US-backed government put rebel losses at more than 2,000, although unit commanders later revealed their troops had orders to shoot all males of fighting age seen on the streets, armed or unarmed, and ruined homes across the city attest to a strategy of overwhelming force."
Can you say "free-fire zone"? I knew you could.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Free and fair elections

...won't happen in the U.S., at least if the Republicans have their way.
"A judge Friday granted a state Republican Party request to block the counting of hundreds of recently discovered King County [Washington] ballots in the governor's race, which the GOP's candidate is winning by 43 votes.

"Early this week, county workers found 573 ballots that elections officials say were mistakenly rejected because there was a problem with how the voters' signatures had been scanned into the county's computer system. County workers should have checked for a paper signature to verify the ballot during the original count, but instead they were put in the reject pile."
So instead of correcting one mistake (these were completely legal and valid ballots cast by 100% qualified voters which were mistakenly rejected at first), instead they propose to compound it with the slightly larger mistake of allowing someone to govern the state of Washington for the next four (?) years whom the voters of the state most likely did not elect ("most likely" because the content of those 573 ballots is unknown).

Of course, I could say this is some kind of cosmic justice, or "what goes around comes around." The Democrats did their own best to make sure the most recent election wasn't a proper representation of the voters' wishes by expending millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of effort to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot.

Not, of course, that any election where money plays such a dominating role could possibly be truly "free and fair."


Capitalism kills

The latest episode in an ongoing saga:
"Thousands of Americans are getting sick and many are dying each year from prescription drugs that were pushed onto the U.S. market ahead of the rest of the world.

"A Knight Ridder analysis shows that as the number of new drugs given first to Americans has increased, the reports of drug-induced ailments have soared. Yet, even as the deaths and damage have increased, the Food and Drug Administration has never instituted an aggressive system to track the safety of drugs once they are on the market."

Friday, December 17, 2004



I've written several times, most recently just three days ago, about the affect war has on men and in turn the effect those men have on the women in their lives. In this week's Metro newspaper (and numerous other newsweeklies around the country), a long article by Dan Frosch explores, with numerous frightening examples, the phenomenon known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), its frequency among returning veterans, and the inability of the Veteran's Administration hospitals to deal adequately with it (despite the "support the troops" blather from the Administration).

Here's just one story from the article, which I recommend in its entirety:

"The first time Kristin Peterson's husband hit her, she was asleep in their bed. She awoke that night a split second after Joshua's fist smashed into her face and ran, terrified and crying, to the bathroom to wipe the blood spurting from her nose.

"When she stuck her head back into the bedroom, there he was--punching at the air, muttering how she was coming after him and how he was going to kill her. Kristin started yelling but Joshua's eyes were closed. He was still asleep.

"The next morning Joshua saw the dried blood on his wife. 'Oh God,' she recalls him saying. 'I did that.'

"Peterson doesn't remember the night or the nightmares. He also can't remember punching his wife again in his sleep a few weeks later, this time driving her front tooth through her lip, all the while murmuring how he'd never go back.

"For six months last year, Peterson helped build an oil pipeline across Iraq as a specialist in the Army's 110th Quartermaster Company. On the same highway where Private Jessica Lynch was ambushed, he saw Iraqi soldiers, dead and rotting, dangling out of their tanks. Peterson's truck once broke down as it was surrounded by a group of Iraqi children, some throwing rocks, others toting AK-47s. 'I kept thinking, 'God, I can't handle this,'' the 24-year-old says with a hollow laugh.

"Since Peterson returned to Richmond Hill, Ga., in August 2003, these memories have turned him into a man Kristin often doesn't recognize--a man who lashes out in anger at her and their 21-month-old son, whose awful dreams tell him to beat his wife because, in his sleep, she's an Iraqi.

"There are thousands of Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers across the country like Joshua Peterson. They are coming home with minds twisted by what they've seen and done in Iraq.

"A December 2003 Army study -- published in The New England Journal of Medicine -- found that approximately 16 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychologically debilitating condition causing intense nightmares, paranoia and anxiety. But that study is, already, out of date.

"After a particularly bloody summer and fall, many military and mental health experts predict the rate of PTSD will actually run nearly twice what the Army study found, approximately the same level suffered by Vietnam veterans. Others think it could spike even higher and note that rarely before has such a dramatic rate of PTSD manifested itself so early."
Isn't it obvious that there is only one way to "support the troops"? Bring them home now!


Elections in Iraq

It certainly appears that elections are going to proceed in Iraq, come hell or high water. As this story, buried at the bottom of a longer story on the latest car-bombing indicates, both hell and high water may be on the agenda. Or perhaps the expression is wrong, because actually this election will probably be a low-water mark for "democracy":
"With most groups acknowledging that the insurgency will make it largely impossible to hold Western-style rallies, campaigning is expected to consist mainly of television pitches. That arena may favor Dr. Allawi, with easier access to the country's two main broadcast television channels, one of them government-operated and the other American-financed.

"Dr. Allawi's campaign started on an unpropitious note, when American and Iraqi forces closed off sections of central Baghdad so he could leave the Green Zone and cross the Tigris River to declare his candidacy at a sports club. But Western reporters judged the three-mile journey to be too hazardous in the bus provided by Allawi aides, and remained behind.

"Five hours later, he stood before fewer than 60 people, about half of whom were his own aides. With American bodyguards in flak jackets and cradling automatic weapons patrolling the club's auditorium, Dr. Allawi read a brief statement and returned hastily to the Green Zone."
"Free and fair" elections? I think not.


Read the fine print

George Bush is busy pitching "his" Social Security plan ("his" is in quotes because, based on his personal track record with economic issues, he's the living model for the old slogan: "How do you make a millionaire? Give him ten million." The man is as familiar with finances and economics as he is with the English language, i.e., a near total stranger). Knight-Ridder summarizes the "benefits" of the privatization plan thusly (emphasis added): "In theory, the higher rate of return that such investments tend to earn over time would ease the strain on traditional Social Security, provided that traditional benefits are reduced in tandem." But the entire problem that this plan is supposed to solve is that, in 2042, benefits will have to be reduced in order for the system to remain viable. So the alleged "fix" doesn't fix anything!

The other strange statement in this article, which I haven't read anywhere else (partially because the details of this "plan" have been less than forthcoming, since there really isn't an actual plan), is this: "The president wants to let younger workers invest part of their Social Security taxes, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 percent, in the stock market and other investment vehicles." That's it? Two percent? And with that minuscule change, I'm supposed to believe that on the one hand there is going to be a huge crisis requiring borrowing two trillion dollars, and on the other hand that the entire Social Security "problem: will disappear by "wisely" investing just two percent of the taxes. Something doesn't add up.


Quote of the Day & Repulsive Headline of the Day

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."

- Leonard Hoffman, one of eight British justices who ruled 8-1 against a British law allowing for the indefinite detention without trial of "suspected foreign terrorists"
Hoffman has it exactly right. So how does the San Jose Mercury News headline this story? "British terror policy undercut." Undercut: "To diminish or destroy the province or effectiveness of." If the heart of the British "terror policy" is detaining 17 people indefinitely without trial, I'd say they don't have much of a "terror policy."

How about a headline like "Human rights upheld in Britain" or "British justices strike a blow against the unrestricted power of the state"? Or even a neutral headline like "Indefinite detention outlawed in Britain"(The Washington Post, whose story this is, used the relatively neutral headline "British Court Deals Blow to Terror Law"). Instead, we have a headline which immediately turns the reader against the decision, making sure that the reader knows that the paper thinks this was a bad decision (and subconsciously encouraging the reader to feel the same way).

Thursday, December 16, 2004


Quote of the Day

"We will continue to make it clear to both Syria and Iran that ... meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interests."

- George Bush (Source)
The Angry Arab provides the analysis: "[Bush added...] only countries that are 10,000 miles away from Iraq are allowed to interfere in and colonize Iraq."


Surprise! Tom Hurndall was murdered in cold blood

The Guardian reports today on the latest developments in the trial of the Israeli soldier who murdered British peace activist Tom Hurndall:
"The Israeli soldier on trial for killing the British peace activist Tom Hurndall in the Gaza Strip has admitted he was lying when he said his victim was carrying a gun, but said he was under orders to open fire even on unarmed people.

"Sergeant Idier Wahid Taysir is charged with manslaughter for shooting Mr Hurndall, 22, as he tried to shelter children on the edge of Rafah from Israeli army gunfire in April last year. He died of his injuries in January.

"Sgt Taysir told the army investigators he had opened fire at Mr Hurndall because the Briton was on the edge of the security zone, carrying a weapon and wearing camouflage clothing.

"In fact, he had not entered the closed zone, had no gun and was wearing a bright orange jacket."
None of this is a surprise in any way. In some ways, here's the most important part of the story:
"The military investigation initially cleared Sgt Taysir but was reopened under pressure from Mr Hurndall's family and the Foreign Office after the army's account of the shooting was shown to be false."
The article is charitable in crediting pressure from Hurndall's family for the reopening of the case; clearly it was the pressure from the British government which had this effect. Now if only the United States government would put pressure on the Israeli government to reopen (or should that really be open?) its investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie.


Kookie Sean & Ollie - the view from Cupertino


Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The dioxin drama

Since the "confirmation" that Ukranian candidate Yushchenko was "deliberately poisoned"; I've been skeptical. Whatever the evidence of dioxin in his body, how a doctor in Austria could know conclusively that it was deliberately introduced is a big question mark. In addition, the U.S. media has repeated over and over that he had "1000 times" the normal level of dioxin in his body. But that's bogus mathematics. Imagine a substance for which the natural level in the body is zero. Introduce one nanogram of that material into the body and there's now a "million times" (actually infinite, to be precise) the normal level, but that doesn't prove anything. Dioxin does have some normal level in the body, but it's very low, so telling people that someone has a "1000 times" that level is still very misleading, and intentionally inflammatory.

But all that was just my speculation, and natural cynicism about anything I read in the corporate media. Today, Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com makes the case that the whole business is a fraud, based not on speculation but on actual evidence. Evidence like the fact that the "doctor" who has been making these pronouncements is actually the head of the clinic, and that the doctor who actually was in charge of the case, who evidently didn't agree with the announced conclusion, resigned five days ago. There's more (like the fact that no one in recorded history has died of dioxin poisoning), and you can read the column to get the details. Suffice it to say, if you fell for this tale...withhold judgment until further notice.

Followup: Tom Tomorrow reports that Dick Morris was on Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday, claiming responsibility for having orchestrated the revelation that Yushchenko was poisoned. The credibility of the allegation moves yet another notch downward.


Laci Peterson was just one of many

Even though I'm a Californian, and have been subjected to a daily barrage for more than a year (or however long it's been), I really wasn't following the whole Scott Peterson trial closely. There are a lot of murders in this country. This one got the attention it did partially for legitimate reasons (it wasn't just a simple murder with a dead body, but a missing person story, with a long, public search), and partially, in my opinion, because of the "murder of the unborn child" angle which whipped the right-wing into a frenzy and had them cheering in the streets at the verdict and salivating at the sentence. It's no accident that this case was repeatedly referred to on the news, and for all I know in the courtroom too, as the murder of Laci and Conner Peterson, even though an unborn child, even if it has been given a tentative name by its parents, does not have a legal name and there is or was no such person as Conner Peterson (whether you want to call an unborn child a "person" is another matter entirely).

But the only reason I'm posting on this subject at all, which as I said didn't particularly interest me, is something I heard on CNN's NewsNight tonight. According to them, and I have no reason to doubt this, murder is now the leading cause of death of pregnant women in the United States! And that, my friends, is a rather shocking demonstration of something. I'm not quite sure what - the real level of "values" that permeates our culture, the attitude of far too many men towards women, the number of men returning from service in the military with a cavalier attitude towards murder and totally messed up minds - you can fill in the blank yourself. But for sure it's nothing to be proud of.

NewsNight, incidentally, didn't mention the military connection, even though men who were involved in combat are three times more likely to commit spousal abuse, including murder, than men who were not.


The "Disappeared" in Iraq

With the news that "Some of Iraq's high-profile detainees will be taken to court next week," the world (but, in reality, only Left I on the News) is reminded of the fate of the "disappeared" of Iraq, the most prominent of whom is Gen. Amer al-Saadi. Gen. al-Saadi was, as you will remember, Saddam's science adviser who was the Iraqi liason to the weapons inspections teams, and whose major "crime" seems to have been steadfastly telling the truth in the face of the lies emanating from George Bush, Colin Powell, et al. Gen. al-Saadi surrendered voluntary on April 12, 2003, and has not been seen publicly since then; at least until this May, and most likely until this very day, he has been held in solitary confinement. Unlike the people who will be going to court next week (at least, supposedly), as far as I know Gen. al-Saadi has never been charged with a single crime, and there are no plans to try him for anything. Nevertheless, he remains in prison, a living example of American (and puppet Iraqi) "democracy" and "freedom."


Supporting the troops

I don't support what the U.S. armed forces are doing in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or anyplace else in the world for that matter. I do support the right of the troops themselves to live a decent life, with a job, food, housing, and health care, just like I support that right for every inhabitant of the planet.

Watching CNN do a story on homeless Iraq veterans (not to be confused with homeless Iraqi veterans), I read the following subhead on the screen: "300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night." Is there any other country in the world about which such a statement could be made? I seriously doubt it. When the President and the right-wing urge me to "support the troops," they have about as much credibility as they did when they claimed there were WMD in Iraq. Or when they claim to support the "right to life," but don't bother to support that right for anyone who's already born.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Support Left I on the News

The "Koufax awards" recognize the best "left" blogs (Sandy Koufax was a great left-handed pitcher, for those who don't follow these things). If you like Left I on the News, and want to see it recognized and/or think it deserves to be more widely read, feel free to go here to read about the categories etc., and here to nominate Left I on the News (and/or your other favorites!) in whatever category(ies) you think appropriate. If you don't...don't!

And don't forget to visit some of our favorites, listed over to the right. Some of them definitely deserve to be nominated in some of the categories too.


Political humor of the day

From the New York Times, trying to give Jon Stewart a run for his money:
"The Pentagon is engaged in bitter, high-level debate over how far it can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad, senior Defense Department civilians and military officers say.

"Critics of the proposals say such deceptive missions could shatter the Pentagon's credibility, leaving the American public and a world audience skeptical of anything the Defense Department and military say - a repeat of the credibility gap that roiled America during the Vietnam War.
I'm still laughing. Only in the pages of the New York Times (ok, and every other corporate media source right along with them) does the Pentagon have any credibility to be "shattered."


R.I.P. Gary Webb

{Updated] (First posted Sunday, 8:26 a.m.)

Gary Webb took his own life yesterday at age 49. Webb is the reporter who broke the story of the "Dark Alliance" between the CIA and the Contras in Nicaragua, which led directly to a crack cocaine epidemic in the United States. Based primarily on the CIA "investigating itself" and pronouncing itself innocent, Webb was thrown overboard by his paper, the San Jose Mercury News, and his career as a journalist destroyed. There is no immediately known "reason" for his suicide, but surely had he become a celebrated investigative reporter, as he deserved to be, his life would have taken a different path.

Update: Tom Tomorrow on Gary Webb, from 1996:

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Webb in 1998 (replayed today)

Counterpunch discusses Webb and posts an article he wrote for them in 2001, including the following quote:

"To this day, no one has ever been able to show me a single error of fact in anything I've written about this drug ring, which includes a 600-page book about the whole tragic mess."


Some countries take pride in vaccinating their citizens

Of course they're the ones where the medical system isn't run for profit. You know which one I'm referring to:
"The achievements of the vaccination program for the Cuban population following the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 have been described as 'impressive' by U.S. Dr. Jon Kim Andrus, head of the Vaccinations Unit at the WHO/PAHO in Washington who, together with a team of experts has recently carried out an international evaluation of the National Immunization Program in our country.

"After paying tribute to Cuban scientist Tomas Romay - who introduced the first vaccine ever to be discovered in the world, namely the anti-smallpox vaccine - Andrus, a family doctor and epidemiologist in public health, outlined the impact of the results achieved by our country with the immunization programs.

"From 1962 to date, we have eliminated polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, rubella and mumps. Also eradicated in severe clinical form are childhood tetanus, tubercular meningitis in children under one year, and serious complications in congenital rubella and meningoencephalitis posparotiditis.

"He also mentioned other conditions which are no longer a serious problem in Cuba - with infection rates of 0.1 per 100,000 inhabitants - including tetanus and hemophilus influenzae (a bacterial agent that causes meningitis and pneumonias during the first years of life) or other diseases that have been significantly reduced such as typhoid, meningococcus diseases and hepatitis B."

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