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Saturday, December 31, 2005


Left I on the News Photo Album

And so, we close out 2005 as the sun sets over...wait a minute...that can't be the Pacific, can it? Nope.

Sunset over Manahawkin Bay

It's interesting to compare how a reflection on perfectly smooth water, as in the picture of Mirror Lake below, can generate one kind of effect, but a reflection on non-smooth (can't really call it rough) water, as here, generates a different, but equally striking, effect.


The Year in Review

If the paper you subscribe to doesn't carry Dave Barry's Year in Review, subscribe to a different paper. Or read it online:
FEBRUARY...In other hopeful news, President Bush, seeking to patch up the troubled relationship between the United States and its European allies, embarks on a four-nation tour. When critics note that two of the nations are not actually located in Europe, the White House responds that the president was "acting on the best intelligence available at the time."
Barry can be completely silly, but underlying a lot of his humor is the very serious truth:
JUNE...Israeli and Palestinian leaders reach an agreement under which Israel will withdraw its settlers from the Gaza strip, arousing peace hopes in amnesia victims everywhere.
Dave Barry's Year in Review. Nobody does it better.


Hunger strikers in Guantanamo

What can I say that would add to Whatever It Is, I'm Against It's discussion of the Guantanamo hunger strikers, and the description of what is happening by the U.S. military, which de facto becomes the description of what is happening in the U.S. media, since there is no "she said" to present the alternative point of view. There is an alternative point of view, of course, not only presented by "anonymous bloggers" like WIIIAI, but most ably by Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a frequent guest on shows like Democracy Now! and Flashpoints!, but you will never, and I mean never as far as I know, see him in the corporate media.

I'll quote just one section but recommend the entire article:

So we are now told that “This technique (hunger striking) is consistent with al-Qaida training and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention and bring pressure on the United States Government to release them.” The phrase “consistent with” implies a causal relationship, suggesting that the prisoners are Al Qaeda members, that they have received some sort of training in not eating, and that they are under orders, without actually having to prove any of that.
Let me just add the one thing that WIIIAI doesn't point out. The implication of this statement, even if this part were true, is that there is something wrong with trying to "elicit media attention and bring pressure" to be released. Isn't that a perfectly logical and natural thing to do, even for someone who is "guilty" (of what, I don't know), nevertheless someone who is entirely innocent, as many of those held in Guantanamo were (the ones who were released) and are (at least some of the ones who are still there)? The fact that they are willing to risk their lives to "elicit media attention," rather than some less serious action, surely reflects the desparation of their situation (held for years with no legal recourse), the strong possibility that they did nothing wrong, and the nature of their treatment as well (including their almost total isolation from lawyers and their total isolation from the press and hence their inability to tell the world "their side of the story").

OK, so I did have something to add. :-) But you should still read what WIIIAI has to say.

Friday, December 30, 2005


Iraqi children: one (hopefully) saved, more than half a million killed

In heavy rotation on the cable channels and also featured prominently on local and national coverage is the story of "Baby Noor," a 3-month-old Iraqi child with spina bifida, who is being sent to the U.S. for what one hopes will be a life-saving operation. If only as much coverage had been given to the 567,000 Iraqi children under the age of five who died (or, more accurately, were killed) during a decade of U.S./U.N. sanctions which crippled what had been perhaps the most advanced medical system in the Middle East, not to mention the deliberate (and criminal) destruction of the Iraqi water supply by American bombing during the Gulf War, with full foreknowledge of the likely consequences.

Also left unmentioned in the course of this "good news" story is the distinct possibility that Baby Noor's birth defect was caused by American use of depleted uranium in both the Gulf War and the current invasion of Iraq. Not that spina bifida doesn't occur naturally, but both birth defects and cancer have increased dramatically in Iraq:

At the Saddam Teaching Hospital in Basra, Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, a British-trained oncologist, displays, in four gaily colored photo albums, what he says are actual snapshots of the nightmares.

The photos represent the surge in birth defects -- in 1989 there were 11 per 100,000 births; in 2001 there were 116 per 100,000 births.

There were photos of infants born without brains, with their internal organs outside their bodies, without sexual organs, without spines, and the list of deformities went on and on. There also were photos of cancer patients.

Cancer has increased dramatically in southern Iraq. In 1988, 34 people died of cancer; in 1998, 450 died of cancer; in 2001 there were 603 cancer deaths."
Best of luck to Baby Noor. Too bad the "generosity" of the United States comes way too late for so many others.


The race to the bottom

Holly Sklar exposes the reality of "The American Dream":
The hourly wages of average workers are 11 percent lower than they were back in 1973 (adjusted for inflation), despite rising worker productivity. CEO pay, by contrast, has skyrocketed -- up a median 30 percent in 2004 alone, in the Corporate Library survey of 2000 large companies.

Median household income has fallen an unprecedented five years in a row. It would be even lower if not for increased household work hours. Americans work over 200 hours more a year on average than workers in other rich industrialized countries.

We are breaking records we don't want to break. Record numbers of Americans have no health insurance. The share of national income going to wages and salaries is the lowest since 1929. Middle-class households are a medical crisis, an outsourced job, or a busted pension away from bankruptcy.


Iraq sovereignty watch

How's that "sovereignty" coming? Not so well (emphasis added):
After a series of prison abuse scandals that have inflamed sectarian tensions, U.S. officials announced plans Thursday to rein in Iraqi special police forces, increasing the number of American troops assigned to work with them and requiring consultations before the Iraqis mount raids in Baghdad.

The plan, which is expected to be formally approved in Washington in a few weeks, will be implemented in the capital first but may serve as a model for the rest of the country.

This week, the U.S. military announced it would delay the hand-over of American-run prisons to Iraqis.

The U.S. moves will upset some Interior Ministry officials, the senior official acknowledged. It amounts to a reimposition of American authority over security forces that have operated independently for months.
In the face of all this, we still have this curious claim:
More than 2 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion and 1 1/2 years after the formal end of the occupation, it also illustrates that Americans still have the final word on security matters.
A "formal end of the occupation"? Sorry, when there are 150,000+ foreign troops in your country, you are an occupied country. Period. I don't care how many resolutions claim you are not. You are.

Ah, but there's an explanation:

Though Iraq is technically a sovereign nation, a United Nations resolution passed last year gives U.S.-led forces the authority "to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq."
A resolution like that may give some kind of cover under international law to the presence of American troops, and their "legal" ability to do basically anything they want, but it completely puts the lie to that "sovereign nation" claim. You can't be a "sovereign nation" when the U.N. has the right to pass resolutions authorizing another country to do whatever they want inside your country. Not "technically," and not any other way.

"All necessary measures"? Why, that might include dissolving the just-elected Iraqi government under the claim that the election results might destabilize the country. It could include arresting Muqtada al-Sadr, who we're informed this morning is a "real spoiler." It could include establishing checkpoints on every street corner, and requiring every person passing by to submit to strip searches to ensure they aren't carrying bombs or other weapons. It could literally include anything, since virtually anything the Americans do could be asserted to be part of maintaining "security and stability." "Sovereignty"? Not even close.


Left I on the News Photo Album

Mirror Lake

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Bridge for sale

Reuters, a.k.a. the U.S. military, reports this today:
U.S. fighter jets dropped two 500-pound (225-kg) bombs on a village in northern Iraq, killing 10 Iraqis they suspected of planting explosive devices on a nearby road, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
Most of the story is perfectly plausible -- some U.S. fighter jets spotted people planting a bomb, followed them, and dropped a bomb on them and killed them, and they even (claim to have) found the bomb that was being planted. Entirely plausible. Until this:
They [the fleeing men] drove the cars into the village and tried to hide by parking between two buildings, the statement said.

The pilots then dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs.

"They were able to destroy the vehicles while causing only minimal damage to surrounding structures," the military said.
They were hiding between two buildings, and two 500-pound bombs dropped on them caused only "minimal damage" to the buildings (and, evidently, not a single civilian casualty). Sure. The only people who might believe this kind of fairy tale, probably are also the people who believe this:
About 22% of U.S. adults believe Mr. Hussein helped plan 9/11, the poll shows, and 26% believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded. Another 24% believe several of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis, according to the online poll of 1,961 adults.
Temporarily switching into teen IM speak: OMG.


Left I on the News Photo Album: Bonus Photos!

Well, the photos I've been showing each day were supposed to be the best of 2005, and 2005 isn't over yet! Since these don't fit in schedule I'd already planned, here are two bonus photos, taken during a run earlier today (as always, click to enlarge):

Headwaters of the San Lorenzo River
photographed from the Travertine Springs Trail
Left, San Lorenzo River proper; RIght, Craig Springs Creek


The "forgotten" history of Ahmad Chalabi

The news is that Ahmad Chalabi failed to get elected to the Iraqi parliament. But there's a curious gap in his history, as presented by some in the media:
Ahmad Chalabi once argued that Saddam Hussein had doomsday weapons and that Iraq needed liberation and democracy.
Before Saddam's ouster in 2003, Chalabi, then living in exile, was a favorite of the Defense Department and the U.S. Congress.

But he fell from grace after his claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction were discredited. U.S. forces last year raided Chalabi's Baghdad office after he was accused of giving U.S. intelligence to Iran.
A favorite of the "Defense Department and the U.S. Congress," eh? Hmm, what are they forgetting? It couldn't be this event, could it?

The headline on the White House page describing the event is rather curious itself:

Special Guests of Mrs. Bush at the State of the Union
Mrs. Bush? George had nothing to do with it?

The article cited above is from AP; the identical formulation ("Source in 'information' about WMD, fell out of favor, offices raided] was used on the local TV news I was watching last night. A New York Times editorial described him merely as an "American protege"; I guess maybe they didn't want to say "Bush administration protege" since that would have left out the debt the Times owes to him as one of their "best" sources. Another Times article describes him as a "former Pentagon favorite."

Contrast that with the far more accurate coverage in the Washington Post:

Ahmed Chalabi -- the returned Iraqi exile once backed by the United States to lead Iraq -- facing a shutout from power.

The longtime exile and his associates played an influential role in the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein; U.S. authorities tapped Chalabi to lead a small Iraqi force in the U.S.-led invasion. But his reputation suffered from past financial scandals, and critics have charged he was always more popular with Americans than with Iraqis.


Left I on the News Photo Album

Gambel's Quail, photographed at Sabino Canyon

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Sore losers in Iraq?

A propos of my discussion the other day about American media not paying much attention to demonstrations in Iraq, on today's local CBS news (KPIX), they showed a bit of film of demonstrations today, described by the anchor thusly: "The demonstrators were unhappy with the results of the election."

No, you moron, they were unhappy with what they perceive as election fraud in the election, not with the "results" (although those are, of course, the end product of the fraud). Of course he followed that by citing the U.N. statement that the election was "credible," and that's that.


Quote of the Day

"These Democratic senators voted for the war and say they were misled. They weren't misled, they were afraid of being called unpatriotic."

- Politically insightful actor George Clooney
(With a hat tip to Suburban Guerrilla)

And as an added bonus:

Tony, Workers World


Iraqi electoral math

Following up on yesterday's post about protests against electoral fraud in Iraq, today we have the U.N. claiming that the "elections were transparent and credible." Considering that foreigners cannot even move safely in large parts of the country, I don't know what kind of visibility his "U.N.-led international election assistance team" actually had in order to reach such a conclusion, but let's take a look at his math:
Jenness said the number of complaints was less than one for every 7,000 voters. About 70 percent of Iraq's 15 million voters went to the polls.
That's a curious way of obscuring the actual data. 70 percent of 15 million is 10.5 million; one complaint for every 7,000 of those is 1,500 complaints. Since there are only 275 electoral districts, that would be 5 1/2 complaints per district. I don't know what is "normal" in elections, or what counts as a "complaint," but that sure sounds like a lot to me. Not all complaints are serious, of course, and I obviously am not in a position to judge how much actual fraud or ballot-stuffing there was, but, as I wrote the other day, it seems pretty clear the "West" (and that includes its lackeys in the U.N.) isn't treating this election with the scrutiny that they would give to an election in, say, Venezuela or Bolivia.


The release of Dr. Rihab Taha and Dr. Huda Ammash

Robert Scheer writing at The Huffington Post wonders why there hasn't been more coverage of the recent release of Iraqi scientists Rihab Taha and Huda Ammash. His musing was probably triggered by this article by Melinda Liu in Newsweek online. As an aside before I get to the main points, the article's headline talks about "Mrs. Anthrax." But the article itself reveals that Huda Ammash has a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Missouri. Doesn't that qualify her as "Dr. Anthrax"? Just asking.

Scheer correctly notes this:

The fact is, all of the top scientists in Iraq consistently told first U.N. and then U.S. inspectors before and after the invasion that Iraq, hobbled by inspections and sanctions, had no functioning WMD programs or usable WMDs in recent years.
He then quotes Liu's curious conclusion, without noting the apparent contradiction with what he just wrote:
When Saddam was still in power, most of us journalists reporting in Iraq simply assumed it was impossible to get a straight story out of his officials. Now we know Saddam’s aides weren’t the only ones spinning the truth. It’s hard to know what to believe any more.
"Saddam's aides weren't the only ones spinning the truth"? Both Liu and Scheer have just told us that the exact opposite was true, that Saddam's aides (and Scott Ritter) were the only ones telling the truth. No wonder Lui doesn't know "what to believe any more." She can't even read her own writing.

Liu's claim she doesn't know "what to believe" is also at odds with her discussion of torture. She describes at length the treatment meted out to Dr. Ammash's husband:

Being subjected to hours and hours of earsplitting American rap music laced with profanity and being doused with cold water, then forced to stand for hours in front of a freezing air-conditioner turned up full blast.
Liu says she "wasn’t sure whether to believe him." OK, fair enough. But now we know a lot more than she did when she interviewed him. So why would she still be writing that "it's hard to know what to believe any more"? It's not hard at all.

Incidentally, Liu interviewed Ammash's husband in 2004, before the Abu Ghraib revelations became public. I can find no evidence that she ever wrote about any of his claims until this article.

Also incidentally, there are now calls by some Iraqi government officials to rearrest Taha and Ammash, which raises the question of whether the original claim that the decision to release them was an "Iraqi-American decision" was accurate (or whether it was as accurate as the fiction that U.S. troops are now in Iraq at the "invitation" of the Iraqi government).


Left I on the News Photo Album

Just in case anyone is getting the idea that all I ever photograph is birds:

Marin Headlands Wildflowers

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


"Mistaken" renditions

From AP comes this amusing claim (amusing as long as you're not one of the victims):
The CIA's independent watchdog is investigating fewer than 10 cases where terror suspects may have been mistakenly swept away to foreign countries by the spy agency.
"Mistakenly" swept away? What, they thought they were putting them on a domestic flight and they went to the wrong gate at the airport? Got confused between Lebanon and Lebanon, Indiana? No, that wasn't quite it:
For instance, someone may be grabbed wrongly or, after further investigation, may not be as directly linked to terrorism as initially believed.
So, if you were grabbed "rightly" (in other words, George Bush or John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzalez said you were a terrorist and you were the right Jose Padilla, not the wrong one), or if you were directly "linked" to terrorism (e.g., you once Googled "Osama bin Laden"), then rendition to foreign countries where you "might" be tortured is perfectly ok, and not even worth discussing, nevertheless investigating.


Mass graves in Iraq

The news today is that a mass grave containing "dozens" of bodies has been found in Karbala, Iraq, part of the "as many as 30,000" (note the phrasing; when is the last time you attended a demonstration where the press reported the maximum possible number by saying "as many as 300,000 demonstrators protested the war today"?) Shia who were killed when their 1991 revolt against the Hussein regime was defeated. Having just watched "Hotel Rwanda" last night, I'm hardly going to speak out in favor of mass killing of innocent people as a tactic in fighting a civil war (or suppressing a revolt, depending on your point of view). The question, to which I cannot find a definitive answer, is who were those "30,000" (or whatever the correct number is) people?

It is a fact that rebels had seized control of Najaf and Karbala, so this was definitely a serious revolt. How surprising would it be if 30,000 people were killed in fighting a civil war/revolt? In the U.S. Civil War, in a country with a population of 31 million (i.e., comparable to that of Iraq), 200,000 were killed in battle, with far less lethal technology (although also less effective medical care) than available at the end of the 20th century. Thousands, sometimes more than ten thousand, were killed in single battles.

It is also a fact that there were other mass graves in southern Iraq, which were quite fresh at that time:

On the "Highway of Death," the American "Turkey Shoot" had killed thousands, perhaps "as many as" 30,000 (although most estimates are just "thousands"), retreating Iraqi soldiers, not to mention the literal mass graves created when American bulldozers buried hundreds or thousands of Iraqi troops alive during their initial attack. The "Highway of Death" (the Basra Road) extended for seven miles; just imagine the picture above, repeated nearly ad infinitum and definitely ad nauseum for seven miles worth of death, defenseless, senseless death from the air. However the 30,000 Shia died, and I can find virtually no information on the subject, it seems highly unlikely their deaths were any more brutal or morally repugnant than the ones that came at the hands of Americans.


Imperial spin through history

Mike Peters


Blog formatting

I think I've abandoned my brief flirtation with:
Really obnoxious quotes for quoted, inserted material
unless I hear an outcry in its favor.

I've also just modified the link configuration, mainly because looking at underlined words in blogs has been bugging me since I started writing, and I finally decided to do something about it. The way it's now set up, you should only see underlining when the mouse is over the link; otherwise the links are in blue, bold for links which haven't been visited, and plain for links which have. I'm definitely open for feedback, so stick your $0.02 in the Comment field if you have thoughts.


The Post and the economic draft, part II

The Washington Post's ombudsman Deborah Howell revisits a story on military recruiting. There are quite a few curious aspects of this "self-criticism." To begin with, the article appeared on Nov. 4, and Howell's analysis article appears on December 25, nearly two months later, without the slightest explanation. One can assume, but she doesn't say, that the revisiting came as a result of pressure or criticism from the military. Next, she describes the article as "largely based on Pentagon data, included some analysis done by the National Priorities Project (NPP), a liberal-leaning think tank that questions the war in Iraq." But, although the article was "largely based" on government data, the overwhelming thrust of the criticism is on that "some analysis" part that was done by the "liberal-leaning" (whatever the heck that means!) think tank. Next, take a look at who she says she talked to to help her analyze the story:
In looking at the story, I talked to Curt Gilroy, who, as director of accession policy for the secretary of defense, has oversight of all active-duty recruiting; Tim Kane, a Heritage researcher; Betty Maxfield, demographer of the Army; Bruce Orvis, director of the Manpower and Training Program at the Rand Corp.'s Arroyo Center, and Robert Brandewei, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center in Monterey, Calif.
Every single one of those is either a military, government, or right-wing source. The actual article does make clear she also talked to the research director for the NPP, although she doesn't see fit to mention that in the summary above. Curiously, Howell doesn't seem to think that looking at the actual data in the report in question would help her in evaluating the accuracy of the article.

I'm not going to do a detailed criticism of the criticism, but I do want to mention just one point, which bears directly on the central point of the article, which was that the military draws heavily on the poor for its recruits:

A statement from Gilroy and Maxfield said that "incomes and socioeconomic status of recruits' families closely mirror the U.S. population."
Sorry, a "statement" doesn't work as a criticism of an article that dealt with statistics. The article said "Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households." Is that true, or isn't it?

My analysis of the original article is here. Not one of the criticisms I had of the article is even mentioned in Howell's analysis, among them, the bizarre implication that someone from an urban area is not among those "lower-middle-class to poor households."

My favorite statement in this article? "The Department of Defense does not know whether the data are right or wrong." No, but that won't stop them from criticizing the analysis.


Left I on the News Photo Album

Great Blue Heron, photographed at Ridgefield NWR


Cuban foreign policy

Considering the articles I've posted here about Cuban doctors offering their help to Katrina victims, and saving lives in Guatemala, someone asked me the other day if Cuban doctors were also helping in Pakistan which is, after all, on the other side of the world. It would hardly be surprising if Cuba didn't have the financial wherewithal to handle such an effort, and since I hadn't heard anything about it, I suspected the answer was "no".

Well, as it turns out, they do. Almost all things are possible, once you decide on your priorities:

Some 2,260 Cuban health brigadistas, more than 1,400 of them doctors, are in the area of Kashmir, where they have attended to more than 200,000 patients and saved hundreds of people in imminent danger of dying.


Imagine all the people...

...demonstrating against election fraud. Thousands of people have demonstrated on multiple days, in multiple cities in Iraq, against what they claim was election fraud in the recent Iraqi election. The demonstrations have received brief coverage on TV news, since they provide a certain "visual" that's attractive to TV, and passing mention in print, but no serious evaluation of the merits of the claims. There has, of coure, been lots of discussion about the actual results, and the consequences of those results for Iraq and the United States, but little or none about the election itself and the charges of fraud.

Now imagine the same thing happened after the recent elections in Bolivia or Venezuela. The story would be at the top of the news, in heavy rotation on the cable channels, the subject of all the pundits on the talking heads shows, daily press releases from the U.S. government, and so on, all designed to make sure that the entire American public was aware that the elections were illegitimate (and, implicitly, that if the U.S. decided to invade those countries, it would be entirely justified since they are ruled by people who will stop at nothing to stay in power, even stealing elections, and they clearly need to have democracy "brought" to them at the point of American guns).

Stolen elections in the United States? Let's not even go there. The press certainly won't.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Left I on the News Photo Album

I thought maybe I'd close out the year treating readers to a new picture each day, featuring pictures I've taken during the last year. Let's start with this one, which I'm so fond of I've been using it as my desktop picture for a month or so. You can click on the pictures to get a larger version:

Monterey Harbor: Brown Pelicans and White Boats


Resign. Now.

Joining many others, Ralph Nader adds his voice:
Bush/Cheney Have Disgraced Their Office; They Should Resign
I would like to add just one excerpt from his article:
An illegal, criminal war means that every related U.S. death and injury, every related Iraqi civilian death and injury, every person tortured, every home and building destroyed become war crimes as a result - under established international law.
Couldn't have said it better myself.


The racist, apartheid nature of Israel

It's controversial (mostly in the United States) to dare to suggest that Zionism=racism (as many U.N. resolutions have asserted), or that Israeli actions equal apartheid. If you think those equations (or analogies, if you prefer that to "equations", which is always dangerous when talking history and not mathematics, since things in history are rarely exactly the same) are invalid, then please tell me what the word "Jewish" is doing in this article, which comes not from al Jazeera or the Iranian News Service, but from AP (and, judging from the author's name and base of work -- Josef Federman, based in Jerusalem -- quite possibly written by an Israeli Jew):
Israel said Monday it will build more than 200 new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements.
Obviously, it isn't news that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are for Jews only, Palestinians keep out, go to the back of the bus. But when you see it in print in an article like that, whose point isn't at all to discuss those apartheid, racist policies, but simply to describe the latest development, it really drives it home. At least it did for me.

Incidentally, "settlements" are not "Jewish." Settlements are buildings and roads and sewers and electric lines. Settlements don't worship God, or light candles on Chanukah. Imagine if that sentence were written accurately: "Israel said Monday it will build more than 200 new homes in West Bank settlements for Jews only." It's even more striking in that form, isn't it? And no surpise the author doesn't write it that way.


The effort to put lipstick on Colin Powell continues

It's astonishing the lengths that some people will go to to try to maintain a false image of Colin Powell. Over the weekend, while acknowledging that the Bush administration could very easily have obtained warrants for domestic wiretapping, Powell pronounced his total approval of Presidential sovereignty: "I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions." And he's not just talking about the past either: "Yes, of course it should continue." He only stopped short of saying, "L'etat, c'est Bush."

And in the face of these statements, what does The New York Times have to say (and, I might point out before I continue, this is a news article, not an opinion piece)? "Though Mr. Powell stopped short of criticizing Mr. Bush, his suggestion that there was 'another way to handle it' was another example of his parting company on a critical issue with the president he served for four years." Parting company? He sees "absolutely nothing wrong" with what Bush did! Man, if that's "parting company," I'd sure like to have opponents like that! Gheesh!

And what about Iraq, another one of those examples of "parting company"?

On Iraq, Mr. Powell repeated earlier statements that differed somewhat from those of Mr. Bush, saying he did not know whether he would have advocated going to war with Iraq if he had known that the country had no stockpiles of illicit weapons.

Referring to the case for going to war if there were no such weapons, Mr. Powell said he would have told the president, "You have a far more difficult case, and I'm not sure you can make the case in the absence of those stockpiles."
He did not know whether he would have advocated going to war, and his only concern was whether the President could "make the case." The fact that it might be illegal under international law even to go to war if Iraq did have stockpiles of WMD, nevertheless if they didn't? No concern to the noble Secretary Powell whatsoever, neither then nor now.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


A Chanukah story

I have my differences with Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, but this makes for an absolutely fascinating interpretation of Chanukah as a tale of imperialism, guerrilla struggle, and "the first national liberation struggle in recorded history." I have absolutely no idea how valid any of this is, either historically or philosophically, but it certainly makes for interesting reading for anyone who wants to know more about Chanukah than the fact that there are eight nights and a Menorah. Indeed, according to Lerner, the "story about a miracle of a pot of oil that kept the temple flame burning for eight nights" was a tale told by Rabbis who wanted "to downplay Chanukah’s political importance and reframe it as a religious event."


A Christmas wish

Stolen shamelessly from Politics in the Zeros:

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Media Blog of the Year!

I'm stunned. I've just learned that Press Action has named Left I on the News "Media Blog of the Year"! I'm truly honored, especially with the company I'm keeping: Amy Goodman named as "Press Action Person of the Year," Jeremy Scahill named as "Reporter of the Year," William Blum (author of the essential book Rogue State) as "Commentator of the Year," Dave Zirin as "Sportswriter of the Year," and Eschaton (Atrios) as "Blog of the Year." What a great way to end the year!

Update: So excited I forgot to include the citation:

Eli Stephens’s Left I on the News delivers far and away the best media analysis anywhere in the blogosphere.


Quote of the Day

A Knight-Ridder article today notes the somewhat surprising and definitely heartening news that, just between 2000 and 2005, the percentage of African-Americans enlisting in the active-duty Army fell from 24 percent to 14 percent. In attempting to explain this, the army recruiter quoted cited the "improving economy" (something I really doubt, even without looking up changing employment statistics for Blacks over that period), but then also cites:
"The public perception that this is a risky time to be a soldier."
Yeah, that's it, those darned African-Americans are just so much more perceptive than other people about...reality. "Perception" indeed. Bah humbug.


The Washington Post Shill

The importance of the air war in Iraq has been emphasized here many times, and its recent escalation has been a subject of discussion by Dahr Jamail, Norman Solomon, and others. The Washington Post finally catches on, summarizing American offensive actions last month by citing a source claiming that 97 civilians were killed last month as part of the air war in Anbar province ("Operation Steel Curtain"), and notes an increase from 25 airstrikes last January to 120 in November. But outside of those basic facts (and the first isn't actually stated as fact), the article from one end to another could have been (and for all I know was) written by the U.S. military propaganda office (or its outsourced PR firm).

Start with that figure of 97. It's a figure provided by a doctor in Husaybah, and only refers to fatalities in the first week in one town of a multi-town, 17-day offensive. But even though the article refers to how "some critics" say that the deaths are "too liittle investigated," there isn't the slightest effort in the article to investigate or even add up the claims of deaths in other towns to come up with an actual total estimate for the entire campaign.

Then of course we have the obligatory military claims. The article quotes that same doctor saying, "I dare any organization, committee or the American Army to deny these numbers," and then proceeds to do just that:

Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Marines...U.S. Marines in Anbar say they take pains to spare innocent lives and almost invariably question civilian accounts from the battleground communities. They say that townspeople who either support the insurgents or are intimidated by them are manipulating the number of noncombatant deaths for propaganda..."I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of civilians are killed by the insurgency," particularly by improvised bombs, said Col. Michael Denning, the top air officer for the 2nd Marine Division, which is leading the fight against insurgents in Anbar province..."Insurgents will kill civilians and try to blame it on us."...Townspeople, medical workers and officials often exaggerate death tolls, either for effect or under orders from insurgents [That last statement made completely with attribution, merely as simple fact on the authority of the Post]...American commanders insist they do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, Denning said [Ed. note: not content with making that claim once in the article, this is now the second time for the identical claim]...The precision-guided munitions used in all airstrikes in Anbar 'have miss rates smaller than the size of this table,' Denning said [Ed. note: too bad "precision" is not the same as "accuracy"; "precision-guided" munitions are not the same as "accuracy-guided" munitions because the latter do not exist]"
But just citing disclaimer after disclaimer from the U.S. military isn't enough. Every individual incident cited in the article (some of which have been mentioned in this blog before) is covered with excuses of insurgents being seen firing from the neighborhood, insurgents taking civilians hostage, and so on. Not a single airstrike described in the article is the fault of the U.S. military (even forgetting about the fact that the entire offensive -- not to mention the entire invasion and occupation -- was the deliberate, unprovoked choice of the U.S. military).

Perhaps the most outrageous charge in the article is this one, which is the conclusion of one of the phrases cited above (emphasis added): "They say that townspeople who either support the insurgents or are intimidated by them are manipulating the number of noncombatant deaths for propaganda -- a charge that some Iraqis acknowledge is true of some residents and medical workers in Anbar province." Who are those Iraqis? None are identified in the article. The only possible source for this "charge" comes much later in the article, with this statement:

Arkan Isawi, an elder in Husaybah, said he and four other tribal leaders gathered to assess the damage while the operation was still underway and identified at least 80 dead, including women and children. "I personally pulled out a family of three children and parents," he said.

An exact count, however, was impossible, he said. "Anyone who gives you a number is lying, because the city was a mess, and people buried bodies in backyards and parking lots," with other bodies still under rubble, Isawi said.
Well, ok, it's true that this guy says an exact count is impossible, and no doubt that's true. But he personally identified "at least 80" dead people, so I doubt very much if he said this to cast doubt on the doctor's claim that 97 civilians were killed. I mean, what would be the point of "exaggerating" by using the number 97 instead of "at least 80"? The point, and the order of magnitude, are exactly the same. It really doesn't matter morally or legally or by any other criteria. And who is more likely to be accurate anyway, a doctor in a hospital issuing death certificates, or someone pulling bodies out of the rubble? Do you really keep an exact count when you do something like that?

Perhaps this was not the Iraqi who "acknowledged" that the number of noncombatant deaths was being "manipulated for propaganda" (although even he isn't quoted as making any such charge, only saying that it is impossible to make an exact count, which isn't the same thing at all). If not, then why not at least cover your tracks by attributing the claim to "Iraqis who refused to be identified for fear of their lives" or something like that? No, the Post didn't even think that was necessary, any more than they thought it necessary to attribute the more direct claim "Townspeople, medical workers and officials often exaggerate death tolls, either for effect or under orders from insurgents" to anyone. Just the word of the Post, which is really the word of the U.S. military, ought to be good enough for its readers. At least, that's the implicit attitude in the article.

Not once in the article does anyone challenge the word of the U.S. military or note that their claims "could not be verified," or might be "exaggerated." The one former Pentagon official who appears in the article as some kind of mild critic is mainly noting that better assessments should be made post-facto. Among the claims of this "critic" are: "It's almost impossible to fight a war in which engagements occur in urban areas [and] to avoid civilian casualties...when you're using force in an urban area or using force in an area with limited intelligence [and facing an enemy actively] exploiting distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, air power becomes challenging no matter how discriminate it is." This "critic" is better at making excuses for the military than actually criticizing them.

As Amy Goodman says, "If we had state media in the United States, how would it be any different?"

Friday, December 23, 2005


A Home Run for Cuba!

Last week, the U.S. government announced it would not let a team from Cuba play in the World Baseball Classic, because Cuba would be "making money" from the tournament in violation of U.S. laws.

Today, the Cuban Baseball Federation hit that pitch out of the park:

Money is not the motive adduced by the OFAC for our interest in competing. We are a federation of a modest but dignified country; our only proposal is to cooperate so that baseball can continue to develop and attain its reinsertion in the Olympic Program in the near future. We have never competed for money.

With the objective of offering options, the Cuban Baseball Federation would be disposed to the money corresponding to its participation in the Classic to be destined to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
And for those who scoff at the idea that the U.S. embargo hurts Cuba, and pretend it's some kind of "straw man" used by Fidel Castro to justify economic problems in the country, here is the latest in a long line of concrete examples of the very real effects of the embargo. I have no idea how much money Cuba was scheduled to "make" from this tournament, but let's say it was $10,000. That's $10,000 that could have been used to buy baseball gloves for kids in Cuba, or $10,000 that could have been used to buy drugs for sick people, etc. $10,000 (or whatever the figure is) very real dollars. If the organizers of this tournament have any sense, they'll take Cuba's offer to donate their share of the money to Katrina victims, and donate medicine or baseball gloves or something else they can get a permit for from the U.S. government to the people of Cuba in return.

Update: Dave Zirin's informative take on the original denial (i.e., before this current news), delightfully entitled "Bray of Pigs."

Second update: And never to be forgotten is that the Cuban President was thinking about (and offering help to) Katrina victims before the American President.


War Made Easy

I bought Norman Solomon's new book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, back in August, and I'm just getting around to reading it. Not surprisingly, it's nowhere near past its "sell by" date, since it's a timeless (at least for the foreseeable future) tale of U.S. imperialism, war, and the manipulation of the press.

It's both remarkable and sad how everything remains true, and keeps coming back again and again. The Prologue ("Building Agendas for War"), which tells the stories of the U.S. invasions of the Dominican Republic (1965), Grenada (1983), and Panama (1989), makes clear not only the proganda aspects of laying the groundwork for such wars, as well as the demonization of selected "enemies" which happens both before and after those invasions, but also that wars which are "quick" or "successful" and generate few American casualties generate little opposition at home. Which is exactly what I was discussing here last week. Democrats/liberals (not universally, but overwhelmingly) are not only not opponents of imperialism, they are supporters of it. It isn't U.S. intervention -- economic or military -- that they oppose, just interventions which don't bring "results," or can't be sold properly to the public, or seem to have more negative consequences than positive ones, etc.

The first chapter ("America Is a Fair and Noble Superpower") echoes that same point, that those who view the history of American intervention as somehow noble or benign, and done only for the best of intentions, will continue to support that foreign policy except when things go "wrong" (as in Iraq today) or in the most extreme of circumstances. One of the interesting historical episodes in this chapter is that of the NSA's spying on the U.N. delegates as the final U.N. vote (never taken) on invading Iraq approached. Highly relevant today, because the Bush administration is busy trying to give the impression that all their spying and wiretapping has to do with tracking down those dastardly al Qaeda terrorists and their "allies" (i.e., anyone who ever Googled "al Qaeda"). In fact, though, just two years ago we had the case of the U.S. wiretapping U.N. delegates in order to try to influence the vote for invading Iraq. In keeping with Solomon's focus on the media, he points out that the "paper of record," The New York Times, never printed a single story about that scandal, which was big news all over the world.

Chapter two ("Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War") talks about people who mouth their love of "peace" while preparing (and then waging) war (which, as an aside, is one reason I insist that I am part of the "antiwar" movement, and not the "peace" movement, and that demonstrations I'm involved with are "antiwar" demonstrations, not "peace" demonstrations). In 1972, for example, the U.S. was publicly talking about negotations and "peace" in Vietnam. At that very time, Richard Nixon was rejecting the idea of bombing the North Vietnamese dikes because it would kill "only" two hundred thousand people; instead, he was suggesting to Henry Kissinger that they "think big" and use a nuclear bomb (Kissinger said that would be "too much." What a guy.). Solomon shows how fake diplomacy is often used while preparing for war, with Colin Powell's performance at the U.N. (and "performance" is definitely the right word) just the latest example.

The key thing about this book, which characterizes all of Solomon's writing, is that it is absolutely full of facts. Not dry facts, but anecdotes, examples, and such to drive home the points he is making. Solomon's knowledge is encyclopedic, and he imparts that knowledge in the service of helping the reader not just know what has happened, but to understand how and why it happened, and continues to happen.

Even though I haven't finished it yet, I say confidently that War Made Easy is the most important book that was written in 2005. It is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is happening in the world today, which is part and parcel of understanding how to change that direction.


Season's Greetings from Left I on the News

It's Festivus ("for the rest of us," which would include me), the start of a series of holidays including Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa, not to mention St. Stephen's Day and New Year's. So, since I didn't have all your addresses (I'm not the NSA, after all), I'll have to use this method to wish all my readers Season's Greetings and a Happy New Year. A guy can wish, can't he? I'll get back to reality soon enough.

[Yes, this is indeed the card I had to make myself after I couldn't find a decent one in the stores, and that is, naturally, one of my own photographs of my (extremely broadly defined) neighborhood.]


Bombing al Jazeera: it's no joke

Tony Blair has said it's a "conspiracy theory," the White House called it "outlandish" and "absurd." But now a British FOIA request (from FOIA Blog via Blair Watch with a major hat tip to Bob at Politics in the Zeros who is blogging much too frequently for someone on vacation in Maui!) comes back with this response:
Thank you for your email of 24 November in which you request a copy of any memos or notes that record President Bush's discussions with the Prime Minister about the bombing of the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar. Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I can confirm that the cabinet Office holds information which is relevant to your request.
The request is then denied on the grounds that "disclosure of information would or would be likely to predudice relations between the United Kingdom and any other State" (i.e., that it would embarrass George Bush). But, as Blair Watch points out, they key is in that second paragraph. Previous "non-denial denials" referred to in the first sentence of this post have tried to pretend that this never happened. But now the British government, in the process of denying a FOIA request, has absolutely confirmed that "memos or notes that record President Bush's discussions with the Prime Minister about the bombing of the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar" do exist. The ball is now in your court, American media.

By the way, it goes without saying that the charge itself (that Bush did seriously propose this) is entirely believable.


Justice for Nicola Calipari?

Italian prosecutors are now considering bringing murder charges against a U.S. soldier for the murder of Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence agent who was escorting Giuliana Sgrena to safety after her kidnap release. A summary of the analysis of the two governments involved:
The U.S. Army cleared its soldiers of any wrongdoing and blamed the Italians for driving too fast on a dangerous road to the Baghdad airport and for failing to heed the soldiers' warnings to slow down.

But Italian investigators, relying on testimony from the Italian intelligence agent driving the car and the journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, concluded that the vehicle had not been speeding and that U.S. troops had not issued any warnings.
Actually, the testimony of the U.S. soldiers proves conclusively, with mathematical certainty, that no warning shots were fired, as analyzed here at Left I on the News back in April.

There have, of course, been probably hundreds of Iraqis killed at checkpoint shootings in a manner similar to this one. Iraqis, however, unlike Italians, have no recourse to the law, since American soldiers are exempt from prosecution under "Iraqi law" (i.e., the "law" of occupation).


Who is dying in Iraq?

(Part of an (unfortunately) long-running series)

Today's AP summary of events in Iraq yesterday starts off like this:

Large demonstrations broke out across the country Friday to denounce parliamentary elections that protesters say were rigged in favor of the main religious Shiite coalition. Also, the U.S. military said two soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Friday.

No other details were released. At least 2,163 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The article goes on at length covering all sorts of things happening in Iraq. A full twelve paragraphs later, never the end of the article and at the point where it will surely be cut by many papers running the story, comes this:
Meanwhile, gunmen Friday attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in the city of Adhaim, in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala province, killing eight soldiers and wounding seventeen, an Iraqi army officer said on condition he not be identified for fear of reprisal.
Four more paragraphs later we get this:
In Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt outside a Shiite mosque, killing four people and wounding eight, Diyala police said. Among the dead was a policeman guarding the mosque.
Here's the first point of this post, in case it's not totally obvious. Americans are now confronted on a daily basis with the deaths of Americans in Iraq, and reminded of the total number of those deaths. But Iraqi deaths? Not so much. The actual deaths receive much less prominence, and the totals, even estimated totals (since there are no individually enumerated totals), are mentioned so rarely that when George Bush mentions an (incorrect) figure it gets headlines. And this highlights the danger that I and Norman Solomon (and others) have noted - if and when American deaths decline, even in the face of constant or increasing Iraqi deaths due to increased American aerial bombing, the attention of the media, and with it the attention of the American people, will wane, and, with that, the antiwar attitude of those who see the main evil of the war as the deaths of Americans.

And here's the second point, which I don't think I have ever noted before. Where do the deaths of Iraqi army members show up? If you look at the database at Iraq Body Count, you will see that IBC includes Iraqi police in their "civilian" body count, but not members of the Iraqi defense forces. It turns out, if you dig into the fine print at the Iraq Coalition Casualties site, they have a count of 3802 Iraqi police and military killed. Unfortunately they don't divide the totals (unfortunate since the police deaths are already included in Iraq Body Count), but suffice to say there are thousands more Iraqis who I had previously forgotten about when summing up the total number of Iraqis dead as a result of the invasion.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Whatever happened to the Peace Corps?

Add another country to the long, long list of places where people are worried about the presence of U.S. troops: Paraguay.
U.S. authorities call the military exercises standard and largely humanitarian in nature, involving no more than two dozen or so U.S. troops at a time in this California-sized nation. Paraguayan officials approved 13 joint exercises last spring, lasting through the end of next year, but it wasn't until Rumsfeld's visit in August that the maneuvers ignited a firestorm, especially in neighboring Brazil.
Here's my question: how much military training can two dozen troops accomplish? And if their mission is "largely humanitarian," why isn't the U.S. government sending people who aren't wearing uniforms and carrying weapons?

Later in the article, a former Paraguayan interior minister is quoted as saying, "That's one reason it's infantile to think that these U.S. training missions are meant just to provide dental care and take care of people's cavities." And a curbside merchant says ""If they want to help people, that's fine. I'm all for that. We can use the help. But if it's to fight a war? That's a different story." So again -- if the U.S. is sending people to Paraguay to provide dental care and otherwise "help people," why do those people have to wear uniforms and carry guns?

And one more question. Why does the U.S. government pay soldiers to go do these tasks, but at the same time people who work for its Peace Corps are volunteers? Don't they need those soldiers in Iraq? And aren't Peace Corps people doing work at least as worthy of a paycheck as soldiers?


What trumps "national security"?

We already know that "national security" trumps civil liberties. But government regulation of big business? Fuhgeddaboudit. The "right" of big business to do what they want trumps everything:
One stark example was the White House's blockade of a Ridge-supported plan to secure large chemical plants. After Sept. 11, Whitman had worked with Ridge on a modest effort to require high-risk plants -- especially the 123 factories where a toxic release could endanger at least 1 million people -- to enhance security. But industry groups warned Bush political adviser Karl Rove that giving new regulatory power to the Environmental Protection Agency would be a disaster.

"We have a similar set of concerns," Rove wrote to the president of BP Amoco Chemical Co.

In an interagency meeting shortly before DHS's birth, White House budget official Philip J. Perry, who also happens to be Cheney's son-in-law, declared the Ridge-Whitman plan dead.
The Washington Post article from which this is taken has its amusing insights into the way the current administration likes to "govern"; indeed, as befits an administration which is virtually identical with big business, the story bears remarkable similarity to things which occur in businesses on a daily basis:
The Department of Homeland Security was only a month old, and already it had an image problem.

It was April 2003, and Susan Neely, a close aide to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, decided the gargantuan new conglomeration of 22 federal agencies had to stand for something more than multicolored threat levels. It needed an identity -- not the "flavor of the day in terms of brand chic," as Neely put it, but something meant to last.

So she called in the branders.

Neely hired Landor Associates, the same company that invented the FedEx name and the BP sunflower, and together they began to rebrand a behemoth Landor described in a confidential briefing as a "disparate organization with a lack of focus." They developed a new DHS typeface (Joanna, with modifications) and color scheme (cool gray, red and hints of "punched-up" blue). They debated new uniforms for its armies of agents and focus-group-tested a new seal designed to convey "strength" and "gravitas." The department even got its own lapel pin, which was given to all 180,000 of its employees -- with Ridge's signature -- to celebrate its "brand launch" that June.

"It's got to have its own story," Neely explained.
These are the same people who complain about the government spending money on human needs, because "we just don't have that kind of money." Cuts in Medicaid, welfare, student loans?Can't be avoided. Funds for new typefaces and color schemes for DHS? No problem.



Commenting on Saddam Hussein's claim of having been beaten and tortured, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan had this to say:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan called Saddam's allegations "preposterous." The former president, he said, "is being treated the exact opposite of the way his regime treated those he imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions."
Well, I don't know if Hussein has been tortured or even beaten by his American captors, but given the American record of beating, torturing, and even killing other prisoners, and given that Saddam Hussein may well have been considered the ultimate "ticking time bomb" in that it might have been assumed that he knew all sorts of details about the ongoing resistance which was (and is) killing Americans daily, it is hardly "preposterous" to assume that torture might have been part of his treatment.

It's especially interesting that McClellan chose to talk about "expressing their opinions." There is little doubt that Saddam Hussein did treat political opponents harshly, including torture and murder. But the current trial, as I have discussed before, is about an actual assassination attempt against Hussein. Not even a plot, an attempt. By contrast, where do we stand with the invasion of Iraq which has killed more than 100,000 people? George Bush says it was justified because Saddam Hussein, even though he had no WMD, had a desire to "reconstitute" (just add water, I guess) his weapons in the future, and might have decided to give some of them to terrorists to use against the United States. So not only does Bush think that war and the death of 100,000+ people are justified on the basis of someone "expressing their opinion," apparently they're justified based on what George Bush thinks someone else may have been thinking! And Saddam Hussein is in the dock, and George Bush is swaggering around. Now that is preposterous. But true.

Update: Experimenting with the new "included quotes" style which seems to be sweeping blogtopia. Comments? Yes? No? Indifferent?


The Rebel Jesus reappears

From the lyrics to Jackson Browne's The Rebel Jesus:
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
And today, Rev. Gene Robinson, the first gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, had this to say (hat tip to Cursor):
"There are two kinds of giving, but I like to think of it as downstream giving and upstream giving. It's not enough to pull the drowning victims out of the river, you need to walk back upstream and find out who's throwing them in. So there's both downstream-giving that actually takes care of victims of oppression. And then there's upstream-giving -- walking back upstream to do justice and to promote systemic change to find the underlying causes that are causing all this."
Look out, Gene! The centurions are coming for you!


Exit polls and the media

Four days ago, two different exit polls claimed Evo Morales was leading the Bolivian election with 45 percent of the vote, and all the news was about how the Bolivian Congress was going to select the President. Just yesterday, the election commission claimed he had 52.8 percent of the vote, and today it's up to 54 percent! Nearly ten percent higher than all the initial reports. I presume this has to do with rural districts supporting Morales more heavily, and reporting more slowly, and exit polls being completely inadequate to deal with an election in which the turnout was vastly higher than previous elections and a lot of Morales' voters probably not being interested in talking to exit pollsters. But surely this was all predictable in advance. So why was the 45 percent presented as near gospel four days ago? More than likely, it's because the corporate media and the Western governments they represent (yes, "represent," most foreign reporting is nothing more than stenography of administration pronouncements) were still holding out the hope they could head off Morales' election.


American Life: the transit strike

This paragraph from the New York Times coverage of the transit strike probably says more than it wanted to say:
"Some striking workers hinted they were having second thoughts. They said they live paycheck to paycheck, burdened with mortgages, many with children and ailing relatives to care for. Some said they had begun to wonder if they would be the ones to lose the most."
So instead, they are being urged (or, more accurately, demanded) to return to work and forego their fight for a decent pension, so that when they get older, they can be a burden on their children. Capitalism in a nutshell.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Depleted Uranium comes home

Since this blog began I've been writing about the evils of depleted Uranium, most recently here. Iraqis and Americans (and others elsewhere that DU weaponry has been used) have suffered as a result.

Today's news takes the story one step further, both qualitatively and quantitatively:

"Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter charged Monday that the reason Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi stepped down earlier this month was the growing scandal surrounding the use of uranium munitions in the Iraq War.

"Writing in Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter No. 169, Arthur N. Bernklau, executive director of Veterans for Constitutional Law in New York, stated, 'The real reason for Mr. Principi's departure was really never given, however a special report published by eminent scientist Leuren Moret naming depleted uranium as the definitive cause of the 'Gulf War Syndrome' has fed a growing scandal about the continued use of uranium munitions by the US Military.'

"Bernklau continued, 'This malady (from uranium munitions), that thousands of our military have suffered and died from, has finally been identified as the cause of this sickness, eliminating the guessing. The terrible truth is now being revealed.'

"He added, 'Out of the 580,400 soldiers who served in GW1 (the first Gulf War), of them, 11,000 are now dead! By the year 2000, there were 325,000 on Permanent Medical Disability. This astounding number of 'Disabled Vets' means that a decade later, 56% of those soldiers who served have some form of permanent medical problems!' The disability rate for the wars of the last century was 5 percent; it was higher, 10 percent, in Viet Nam.

'The VA Secretary (Principi) was aware of this fact as far back as 2000,' wrote Bernklau. 'He, and the Bush administration have been hiding these facts, but now, thanks to Moret's report, (it) ... is far too big to hide or to cover up!'"
And, as I've also discussed before, not only is this a health problem, it's also part of the never-ending cost of war. Repeating something from that just-linked post:
"While the exact cost of compensating those injured in fighting in Iraq is uncertain, the Department of Veterans Affairs already expects to pay $600 billion over the next three decades in disability payments to veterans of earlier wars."
Let's repeat -- that $600 billion does not include those serving in Iraq. Add to that the cost of paying for a lifetime of healthcare for hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have been exposed to DU in Iraq (on top of all the other medical problems resulting from the war) and, as Everett Dirksen famously said, "Pretty soon you're talking about real money." And you're definitely talking about real lives. And real deaths.


Cointelpro never stopped

They're not after "terrorists." They're after us, people exercising their right to free speech:
"Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.

"In glimpses and in glaring detail, the videotape images reveal the robust presence of disguised officers or others working with them at seven public gatherings since August 2004.

"The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, 'I am a shameless agitator.' She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present.

"Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders."
And why are they after us? Because free speech might turn to minor violations of the law, like crossing the street against the light or something? Nonsense. Because free speech threatens the state, and the power of the ruling class to wage illegal wars and increase their wealth and power.

One of the tactics police used in the sixties, which was effective in damaging the Black liberation movement, is to send a letter to someone in the movement alleging that someone else is a police informant. If you ever see such a letter (or, these days, an email) about someone in an organization you work with, do not believe it unless it comes from a known source (if it's anonymous, just hit the "Delete" button and move on; it's less than worthless) that you trust completely, and has some sort of proof. Even if it's from a known source, make sure it really came from that source. Assume nothing (other than that the police will always try to create trouble to weaken progressive movements). Leave the anonymous sources, which will usually be people you don't want to have anything to do with anyway, to Judith Miller and her colleagues in the corporate media.


Lots more "Resign. Now." voices

When I wrote about this subject just yesterday, I wasn't aware of a large group of people who had already endorsed the message at the World Can't Wait website, and even signed a full-page ad which appeared recently (pdf) in the New York Times, calling for demonstrations on the night of the State of the Union address (Jan. 31) on the theme of "Bush Step Down (and take your program with you)." I like "Resign. Now" a lot better, but what can you do? I also think they could use a better graphic artist, but it's the message that counts, and with that I have no quarrel!

I've added the Jan. 31 call to the "Upcoming Events" schedule (where I list "national" events) at right.


Breaking news: Padilla case back to Supreme Court

CNN is reporting (nowhere online that I can find) that a Federal Court has ruled that the U.S. government's transfer of the Jose Padilla case to civilian court was illegal, and that he has to continue to be held as an "enemy combatant" so that his case can proceed to the Supreme Court. The court apparently recognized the obvious, that the civilian charges were a complete sham, a dishonest effort by the Bush administration to avoid a possibly unfavorable Supreme Court decision on their actions.

Update: The story is now online at the Washington Post (hat tip to reader catherine). The ruling, written by a conservative judge, is described by the Post as "blasting the government in unusually blunt terms for its behavior in the Padilla case."


Hero worship

I was criticized by a commenter the other day for hero worship of George Galloway. By no means do I agree with everything George Galloway has ever said or done, or every position he takes on every issue. That doesn't mean I don't tremendously admire his work against the war against Iraq (among other issues).

And the same is true for Scott Ritter, who puts on a marvelous performance (RealPlayer video link) on C-SPAN's Washington Journal today. While Ritter and I don't share the same politics, my admiration for his integrity, his knowledge, and his speaking ability is enormous. If you have the time, watch the show (Ritter's segment starts just at 2:18 into the 3-hour show; he's preceded by other segments on Intelligent Design which I didn't watch). Ritter is truly impressive.


Rewriting the history of Afghanistan

An AP article on the recent election in Afghanistan sums up recent Afghan history thusly:
"The country has had no elected national assembly since 1973, after which coups and a Soviet invasion plunged it into decades of chaos that killed more than 1 million people. That period was followed by the rule of the Taliban."
How nice and simple. And how convenient that it totally omits the role of the United States in precipitating that invasion and chaos and those deaths, as openly admitted by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, the principal author of that policy (training and arming the Mujahedin, including Osama bin Laden, in order to lure the Soviet Union into intervening in Afghanistan).

Tuesday, December 20, 2005



Two stories are at the top of the news right now. The first is the McCain "anti-torture" bill. Numerous people, including me, have written about the limitations of the bill, but let's suppose it was a perfect bill. Clearly written, no loopholes, a reasonable definition of "torture" which would satisfy the Golden Rule ("Do unto others..."), and so on.

Which brings us to the second story in the news -- George Bush's assertion that being "at war" allows him to ignore even clearly written laws, under the guise of "national defense." Nevermind that the United States Congress has not declared war. Nevermind that the endpoint of this war is as ill-defined as the end of the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty." Nevermind that the "enemies" in this "war" range from Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi to PETA, Greenpeace, student LGBT groups, and the ACLU, not to mention Quakers.

The facts are quite plain. The McCain bill is a complete and utter irrelevancy. If George Bush can order warrantless wiretaps in the name of "national security," despite a clearly written law preventing him from doing so, then he can order torture, the invasion of Syria, the bombing of nuclear reactors in Iran, or anything else he chooses. It's in the Constitution. That's what Bush says, anyway. And that's why 1+1=1. Indeed, 1+anything=1. Because that first "1" trumps everything, according to George.


The Israeli war of terror on Terra (and on the Palestinians)

Not surprisingly, this story is completely missing in the American media:
"Radical Israeli settlers have uprooted more than 200 olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers in a village in the northern West Bank, officials and a rights group said on Monday.

"'The settlers uprooted 128 olive trees on Friday and we were shocked this morning to discover the loss of an additional 40 trees,' Raed Nahas, head of Burin regional council, told AFP. Nahas said that many of the trees had been farmed for generations and that the farmers were devastated by their loss. 'We feel great sadnees. This is a real disaster as these trees were inherited from our grandfathers.'"
Naturally, Israel is taking action against these outrageous acts, right? Sorry, no:
"The trees had been destroyed by youths living in an unauthorised settlement outpost close to the major city of Nablus over the last few days but there had been no arrests, the head of the local regional council said."
So we have illegal (even by Israeli standards!) settlers performing illegal acts, and the Israeli government acquiescing in both by doing nothing.

Even the Israeli groups that sound like they ought to be doing something, or at least saying something, have rather curious things to say:

"The Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, which monitors abuses committed by settlers against Palestinians, said that the destruction was the work of settlers living in outposts which have not been authorised by the government.

"'The farmland is placed very near to the illegal outpost of Har-Bracha Bet and the Bracha settlement,' the organisation said in a statement.

"'We know that the settlers of the area were angry at the fact that the farmers worked their land, and it should be pointed out about the proximity between the ploughing action and the cutting down of the trees.'"
Is it my imagination, or is everything this group of Rabbis who "monitor abuses" has to say nothing more than excuses for the actions of the Israeli settlers? Those darn farmers were actually ploughing their own land which is "placed very near" to an illegal outpost! Considering the olive trees had been there for generations, isn't it the illegal settlements which were "placed very near" to the farmland?

Back here in the land where even that group of Rabbis would be considered terrorist sympathizers, here's what CNN's Daryn Kagan had to say this morning when reporting on upcoming elections in Israel:

"Likud hardliners opposed Sharon's land concessions to Palestinians."
Concessions? Giving back something you stole from someone is a "concession"? Oy vey.


Condi: the Single, Black, Great White Father

Believe it or not, even a single, Black woman can play the role of the Great White Father:
"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in an interview on CNN, said that if it's confirmed that Morales won the election, 'we will do what we do with every elected government, which is to say that we'll look to the behaviors of the Bolivian government to determine the course of U.S.-Bolivian relations.'"
Yes, do behave, you naughty little Bolivian children. Show the proper respect for your parents the dominant imperialist nation.

But that wasn't all Secretary Rice had to say today, oh no:

"The reconvened [Commission for Assistance to a Free [sic] Cuba] will present President Bush with a new report by May, 'with both updated recommendations to hasten democracy and an inter-agency strategic plan to assist a Cuban-led transition,' Rice said.

"'The work we do now will ensure that our government is fully prepared, if asked, to assist a genuine Cuban transition government committed to democracy and which will lead to Cuba's reintegration into the inter-American system,' she added in a statement."
If asked? If asked!? Who exactly do they think will be asking the U.S. government for help? Luis Posada Carriles? Orlando Bosch? Because it sure isn't going to be any elected member of any present or future Cuban government, that's for sure. The key, of course, is that "Cuban-led transition" reference. By "Cuban-led," you can bet she isn't referring to any Cubans who live in Cuba, or have lived there for nearly 50 years, for that matter.


Resign. Now.

Back in September I tried to start a "Resign. Now." movement. Owing to my enormous influence and literally hundreds of readers, it got nowhere, although, no doubt without the slightest influence by me, the call was joined by Cindy Sheehan, Norman Solomon, and a small number of others.

Today, for the first time as far as I know, influential blogger Atrios (Eschaton), reacting to "Snoopgate", adds his voice, which reaches just a few more people than mine (150 times as many, more or less). In typical Atrios fashion, he really doesn't actually say very much himself, merely adding "Time for the president to resign" to a long quote from a Newsweek online piece by Jonathan Alter. Well, it's a start.

Incidentally, I have to comment on the "New York Times held the story for a year" aspect of the story, which I commented on briefly before. Here's the thing no one else has mentioned. The New York Times may have had the story for a year, but they didn't "get" it by themselves. Someone who was either involved with the illegal activities, or who knew about them, told them. Perhaps it was even Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who wrote himself a letter two years ago (how very bold!). Whoever it was surely realized that the New York Times wasn't publishing the story. I mean, a week, two weeks, a month, maybe that was understandable, but surely at some point they realized that their whistle had been blown in the wrong ear. And? What's the matter, didn't they have Sy Hersh's phone number? Or Robert Parry? Or Norman Solomon? Or Amy Goodman? Or many other brave and progressive journalists, who would have been absolutely delighted to break the story? Did they want the story out there, or not? Evidently not so much. So maybe it was Jay Rockefeller.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Quote of the Day (belated)

"As John Pilger said, 'The British media was as much a part of the invasion force of Iraq as was the Marines, and the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Where are they now, all these columnists, all these experts, all these interviewers who used to interview us as if we were mad, or bad, or both?"

- George Galloway, speaking at the International Peace Conference in London, Dec. 10
Needless to say, we can add the American media to that quote.

Lots more coverage of that conference here and here.

Galloway's speech (listen here) is dynamite, as usual.


The reappearance of (some of) the "Disappeared"

On many occasions I have written about the outrageous detention of Iraqi scientists including Gen. Amer al-Saadi, Dr. Rihab Taha and Dr. Huda Ammash (al-Saadi most recently here). Today comes the news that Taha and Ammash have been released from jail, along with 22 others (not including Gen. al-Saadi as far as we know). All 24 were released without charges, with the specious claim that they were "no longer a security threat" (as if they ever were).

Here's the most outrageous fact:

"'The release was an American-Iraqi decision and in line with an Iraqi government ruling made in December 2004, but hasn't been enforced until after the elections in an attempt to ease the political pressure in Iraq,' said lawyer Badee Izzat Aref."
Aside from the "sovereignty" issue of the Americans having anything whatsoever to do with the release of prisoners held in Iraq, think about what this is saying. These 24 people should have been freed in December 2004 (not that they ever should have been in jail), but remained jailed (and, based on what we know of other cases, quite likely in solitary confinement) for nearly a full year in order to "ease the political pressure." I wonder if they agreed to sacrifice a year of their lives for that noble goal.

Update: I had refrained from commenting on this in the original post, but the repeated occurence of broadcasts on TV referencing "Dr. Germ" and "Mrs. Anthrax," coupled with the echoing of that language at Huffington Post, forces me to add something. We (the American media-consuming public) are told in every story that Dr. Taha was "known" as "Dr. Germ." No. George Bush is "known as" "W". Dr. Taha was not "known as" "Dr. Germ" any more than George Bush is "known as" "aWol". She was called that by the American government in an attempt to demonize her and by extension the Iraqi people, and to help pave the way for the invasion. Repeating this pejorative term serves only to continue that demonization, and to continue the desperate attempt to justify an unjustifiable war.


Intelligently designed comics

Garry Trudeau


Quote of the Day

"For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed."

- George Bush, discussing "progress" in Iraq
"Reclaimed" lives? Is he confusing Christmas with Easter? Or human beings with land? Or is he referring perhaps to this definition: "To bring back, as from error, to a right or proper course"? Does he think that Iraqis were sinners, who he has now set along the path of righteousness? And if he actually had done so, how exactly does that make up for the more than 100,000 Iraqis who are no longer alive to see this miracle occur?

Of course, thinking that Bush is concerned with actual lives lost is fantasy, as he himself demonstrates in his speech with this line:

"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day."
Leaving aside his attempt to pass off another $100 billion as "another dime," following that with "another day" is telling. Because the slogan is actually "Not one more death. Not one more dollar." And Bush's avoidance of referring to "more deaths" and substituting the innocuous phrase "another day" is telling. Because he would very much like his listeners to avoid making that connection, and understanding that "another day" means "another death" (or two or four).

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