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Monday, February 28, 2005


Unbelievable news of the day

Here's the latest in the "war on terror":
"New intelligence indicates that Osama bin Laden is enlisting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his top operative in Iraq, to plan potential attacks on the United States, federal officials said Monday."
The U.S. has no idea where bin Laden is. They don't know where Zarqawi is; there's even some question about whether he actually exists. In the face of these obstacles, the U.S. claims to know what these two elusive people are saying to each other. Truly remarkable!

Sunday, February 27, 2005


It's Oscar night, and Bush, Rumsfeld, and Schwarzenegger all won awards!

For real! It just didn't happen at the Oscars, but at the "Razzies", which honor the year's worst achievement in filmmaking. George Bush won the worst-actor category for his performance in, what else, Fahrenheit 9/11, while Donald Rumsfeld won the worst supporting actor award for the same movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger got a lifetime achievement award, for the most worst-actor nominations ever without ever having won.

Deserving winners, all! Or is that losers? Or are we all the losers for having to put up with these losers?


Peter Benenson: "Physician, heal thyself"

The founder of Amnesty International, Peter Benenson, died. I admit to never having heard of him, but based on this, he was my kind of guy:
"Almost every British prime minister in the past 40 years has offered to recommend him for knighthood, but he responded to each with a personal letter suggesting that 'if they truly wished to honor his work, they would clean up their own back yard first, and then he would set out a litany of human rights violations the British government was complicit in.'"


Violence in Iraq

Coverage of violence in Iraq is a staple of the media, but only Knight-Ridder's non-pack reporter Hannah Allam reports on a phenomenon you won't read about anywhere else:
"Shiite Muslim assassins are killing former members of Saddam Hussein's mostly Sunni Muslim government with impunity in a wave of violence that, combined with the ongoing Sunni insurgency, threatens to escalate into civil war.

"The war between Shiite vigilantes and former Baath Party members is seldom investigated and largely overshadowed by the insurgency. The U.S. military is preoccupied with hunting down suicide bombers and foreign terrorists, and Iraq's new Shiite leaders have little interest in prosecuting those who kill their former oppressors or their enemies in the insurgency.

"Since the Jan. 30 elections, Shiite militants have stepped up their campaign to exact street justice from men who were part of the government that oppressed and massacred members of their sect for decades. While Shiite politicians turn a blind eye, assassins are working their way through a hit list of Saddam's former security and intelligence personnel, according to Iraqi authorities, Sunni politicians and interviews with the families of those who have been targeted."
Allam discusses several recent cases. The murder of one, a judge named Taha al-Amiri, did receive widespread coverage, but none of it emphasized his status as a Hussein ally. Other victims mentioned by Allam have been completely unmentioned in the media.

It is possible to do independent reporting in Iraq, or anywhere. There are just precious few reporters doing it.


Get out the rose-colored glasses again

Yesterday's headlines read: "Economy Up More Than Thought - Growth In 4th Quarter Far Exceeds Expectations". As an aside, isn't it curious that stories like this, or stories about a company making more or less money than "expected", are always taken as telling us something about the economy or the company in question? Maybe they just tell us the economists doing the predictions were off the mark, rather than telling us that the economy or the company is actually doing better or worse.

Anyway, back to the news, which informs us that the growth of "the economy" (by which they mean the GDP, of course) "could be good news for jobless people hoping for companies to increase hiring." Or not. Later in the article, we read this "Economists predict the nation's payrolls will expand by a sizable 225,000 in February, which would be up from January's 146,000 gain." Imagine how much different the impact of that sentence would be if it read instead, "Economists predict the nation's "job-inflation adjusted" payrolls will expand by 75,000 in February, which would be up from January's 4,000 job loss." As I've said before, would you really brag about your pay going up 2% if inflation that year had been 3%? Wouldn't it be more accurate, and a lot more meaningful, to talk about how your pay had lost 1% of its value?

Which brings us to the next subject - pay. Because even while jobs are, more or less, finally managing to keep pace with job-inflation, the nature of those jobs continues to change, as is made clear in this article. It profiles workers in the airline industry, which is possibly a worst case, but far from unique:

"Airlines have directed most cuts at labor costs, which account for nearly a third of their operating costs. United baggage handlers shouldered an 11.5 percent pay cut in January, temporary until April. That is on top of an 18 percent cut two years ago. At USAirways Group, flight attendants agreed to pay cuts of about 9 percent late last year, their third cut in 2 1/2 years.

"Some airline employees, like lead ramp workers at United, still earn close to $20 an hour after the cuts -- better than $41,000 a year before overtime pay -- and acknowledge they'd be hard-pressed to find a comparable job in the current economy. [Ed. note - the way this is written seems to be an implicit criticism of the expectations of the airline employees, rather than an indictment of the "comparable jobs" available in the "current economy"]

"Eileen Zolinas, a 16-year flight attendant for US Airways whose husband, a mechanic for the airline, died in 1993. Zolinas flies on call and gets paid for 71 hours of flight time monthly. But she needs at least 95 hours to pay the bills.

"Limited hours and lower wages have pared her annual earnings from about $40,000 a few years ago to about $31,000 last year. With the newest pay cut, she expects them to drop to about $26,000.

"Meyers, the United ramp worker...says he was making about $60,000 a year in the mid-1990s running his business, before applying for a job with the airline. He started at $8.98 an hour. But the contract promised a jump to a higher wage after five years.

"He reached that point in 2003, when his pay rose to $25.06 an hour, equal to roughly $52,000 before overtime. It lasted for one paycheck. A new contract cut Meyers' pay to $20.66 an hour. Last month, workers' pay was pared a second time, leaving Meyers at $18.41 -- about $38,000 a year."

Update: It's worth noting that the salaries in the last few paragraphs are not inflation-adjusted, that is, it's even worse than it seems on first reading.


Cutting costs, killing people

Privatizing government functions to "cut costs" is all the rage in the United States. The New York Times today reports on the consequences when it comes to health care for prisoners:
"Brian Tetrault was 44 when he was led into a dim county jail cell in upstate New York in 2001, charged with taking some skis and other items from his ex-wife's home. A former nuclear scientist who had struggled with Parkinson's disease, he began to die almost immediately, and state investigators would later discover why: The jail's medical director had cut off all but a few of the 32 pills he needed each day to quell his tremors.

"Over the next 10 days, Mr. Tetrault slid into a stupor, soaked in his own sweat and urine. But he never saw the jail doctor again, and the nurses dismissed him as a faker. After his heart finally stopped, investigators said, correction officers at the Schenectady jail doctored records to make it appear he had been released before he died.

"Two months later, Victoria Williams Smith, the mother of a teenage boy, was booked into another upstate jail, in Dutchess County, charged with smuggling drugs to her husband in prison. She, too, had only 10 days to live after she began complaining of chest pains. She phoned friends in desperation: The medical director would not prescribe anything more potent than Bengay or the arthritis medicine she had brought with her, investigators said. A nurse scorned her pleas to be hospitalized as a ploy to get drugs. When at last an ambulance was called, Ms. Smith was on the floor of her cell, shaking from a heart attack that would kill her within the hour. She was 35.

"In these two harrowing deaths, state investigators concluded, the culprit was a for-profit corporation, Prison Health Services, that had moved aggressively into New York State in the last decade, winning jail contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with an enticing sales pitch: Take the messy and expensive job of providing medical care from overmatched government officials, and give it to an experienced nationwide outfit that could recruit doctors, battle lawsuits and keep costs down.

"In the two deaths, and eight others across upstate New York, state investigators say they kept discovering the same failings: medical staffs trimmed to the bone, doctors underqualified or out of reach, nurses doing tasks beyond their training, prescription drugs withheld, patient records unread and employee misconduct unpunished.

"Prison Health has sold its promise of lower costs and better care, and become the biggest for-profit company providing medical care in jails and prisons. It has amassed 86 contracts in 28 states, and now cares for 237,000 inmates, or about one in every 10 people behind bars."
All too literally in this case, the prisoners are the canary in the coal mine, a vision of what is in the store for the population as a whole.


Innocent until proven guilty charged by the police

All over the news is the arrest of a suspect in a case known as the "BTK serial killer". Rights of the accused? Fuhgeddaboudit. The TV news I was watching informed its viewers that "the BTK killer has been arrested." Print media are usually slightly more circumspect, since they can easily slip in the word "accused" into their articles, but even there we find leads like "Police in the US say they have caught a serial killer known by the self-coined name BTK." In fairness to the media, they're only following the lead of the police, who have repeatedly violated the rights of the accused person by labelling him in public as the "killer", announcing in no uncertain terms that "BTK is arrested". Unmentioned in most coverage, but not all, are two minor little details - the accused person hasn't even been charged with a crime yet, and, even more significantly, "Wichita police have been embarrassed by mistaken arrests in the case twice before." But that won't keep them from labelling an accused man as "the killer", and eliminating the possibility he'll ever receive a fair trial. Oh well, at least he'll receive a trial; that's more than a lot of accused people these days.


Cuba and the convictions of 75 "dissidents/journalists"

For those who don't know much about this case, CounterPunch today carries part III of an interview conducted by filmmaker Saul Landau with Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's Vice President and President of its National Assembly. Alarcon also provides additional interesting details on the case of "The Five". Here's one bit from the latter section, which is rather illustrative regarding the U.S. "war on terror":
"The government asked for the maximum sentence for all five. For Rene that meant 15 years. But read the transcript of the court session. The Miami Assistant Attorney General called him a man with such strong convictions and motivations that he would emerge from prison still young and attempt to again penetrate the terrorists to learn their plans and inform the Cuban government. 'You have to do something to put him out of action, judge.' Page 46 of the transcript. The judge added: 'As a further special condition of supervised release the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, and organized crime figures are know to be or frequent'."
What does that mean? It means that Rene Gonzalez, whose "crime" involved infiltrating Miami-based terrorist groups with a continuing history of committing acts of terrorism against Cuba, is specifically prohibited by the U.S. government from attempting to do so again when he gets out of prison. "War against terror"? It must be hard to keep a straight face saying that when you're actually protecting terrorists.

Friday, February 25, 2005


George Bush wasn't the only "ugly American" visiting Europe

The "liberal media" has their share. Here's the New York Times' Elizabeth Bumiller's take on the visit:
"Few people in President George W. Bush's entourage seemed happier to get home late Thursday night from his trip to Europe than Bush himself, who spent his week in meetings with three of the prickliest characters right now in American foreign relations - President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and President Vladimir Putin of Russia."
Oh, those darn "prickly" European leaders, insisting on actually having their own opinions and policies instead of just taking orders from George. And, sadly for George and Ms. Bumiller, Bush is now back on the continent where his nearest neighbor actually has the prickly audacity to insist on the sovereignty of his nation. The cheek!


Political humor of the day

"President Bush is denying reports today that he has plans to invade Iran. Oh we're still going to invade. We just don't have any plans! You know. Like Iraq."

- Jay Leno


Everything is connected to everything else

I don't usually publish entire articles on this blog, but the following article, which appeared in the Jan-Feb, 2005 issue of the Avocet, the newsletter of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, isn't available online, and I thought it important enough to make it available to a wider readership. It speaks to the relationship of environmentalism and political activism in general. The author, Craig Breon, was the Environmental Advocate and later the Executive Director of the SCVAS from 1994 until recently (no, he wasn't canned because of this article, he's taking a break to travel the world).

Peace, Trees, and Good Governance
Wangari Maathai, Ecologist, Wins a Nobel

by Craig Breon

The Associated Press headlined its article, "First African Woman Awarded Nobel Prize," but the article quickly went on to note that Kenyan Wangari Maathai, 64, is also the first environmentalist to receive the honor.

Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, ostensibly to teach the women of Kenya that planting trees was essential to their long-term livelihood and the health of the land around them (of course, those two are one and the same). In this goal she has no doubt been a huge success, with more than 30 million trees planted and her ideas spread to surrounding countries. However, perhaps more important has been her integrated approach to the strands of social progress. Along the way, she fought for women's rights and sustainable economic practices while fighting against government corruption. In doing so, she endured criticism, vilification, and beatings. It is likely that to truly succeed in the conservation movement of the future we will have to adopt this approach...and be prepared for the beatings to come.

We arrive at the intersection of peace, ecology, and good governance--a more holistic approach to activism that we may have to acknowledge over time, but which complicates our mission of conservation greatly. Must we get rid of the despotic government of Myanmar (formerly Burma) to preserve the great forests of the earth? Must we transfer huge amounts of wealth from the United States and Europe to countries such as India and Brazil in order to mount a serious effort against global climate change? Will fighting for the right to unionize in China or at Wal-Mart bring us closer to the sustainable use of natural resources? Will the war in Iraq mean fewer birds along the Pacific Flyway? I believe I could make a credible argument that the answer to each of the questions above is "Yes."

If someone then asked me, "And what does that mean for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society?", I would not have an answer.

Let me just tone down the volatility of this for some people by reverting to John Muir. "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Muir was talking about ecosystems, before that word existed. The foundation of his statement clearly comes from science, though the implications reverberate through politics and the ways we lead our own lives. The question becomes--to what extent does that quote ring true beyond conservation biology and into poverty, armed conflict, free and fair elections, and corporate capitalism?

Back to Maathai, from her speech at the Nobel ceremony, "Today, we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system.... We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds, and in the process heal our own, indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder." Such words are easy to embrace, but what specific changes in our thinking, and concomitant actions, do they demand?

To give the conservation movement its due, many international and some regional organizations have for a time now embraced the concept that wild places and wildlife will not last long unless cultural and economic issues are addressed in the communities surrounding those resources. For just one example of this, I suggest you look at the website of the Wildlife Conservation Network (www.wildnet.org), based in our own hamlet of Los Altos. Despite such advances in the conservation ethic, we remain greatly distant from producing the "shift in our thinking" Maathai calls for in the larger population. Do we fault the masses for that? I don't think we can.

Certainly, many of us would argue that a strong economy over decades and centuries is based, perhaps first and foremost, on healthy natural resources. We have argued this for years, and rightly so. Conservationists are near incredulous that the Bush administration would tout a strong economy while virtually ignoring the science of global climate change and the strong likelihood that serious economic impacts lay ahead for the world as a result.

Yet we don't seem to turn the table on ourselves often enough. Perhaps environmental progress in the context of a global economy cannot be seriously advanced without educating women on a massive scale, or demanding workers rights, or reforming democracy at home and abroad.

Consider the implications of the following possible chain of logic. Purchasing 15,000 acres of the South Bay salt ponds for restoration will likely rank as one of the most important local accomplishments since the flowering of the conservation movement in the late 1960's. However, if global warming leads to sea level rise, will our newly restored wetlands be swamped by the rising Bay? (OK, I threw in a pun for levity's sake) Further, can we forestall sea-level rise without assuring that India, China, Brazil and others do not pass through the dirtiest stages of economic development that we allowed ourselves (and some would say still do)? Can such a great leap forward be made in those three behemoth countries without increasing the power of women in their political and economic systems? And on and on.

I'll stop there. For now, we can celebrate the accomplishments of Wangari Maathai, and celebrate also the Nobel Foundation's acknowledgement that peace with the planet lies shoulder to shoulder with peace amongst peoples.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Abuse of detainees? Problem solved.

So says the U.S. military:
"The U.S. military says it has implemented new procedures to ensure that detainees are not abused, as they were at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and allegedly at other U.S. military detention facilities."
OK, raise your hand if you think that detainees would not have been abused if only the proper "procedures" had been in place. Didn't think so.

Just for a little historical perspective, this from April, 2004:

"A former head of the U.S. Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba has been sent to Iraq to ensure proper prison conditions, after photos apparently showed U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, the military said on Friday."
Looks like that didn't work, did it?

And would anyone care to explain why, in the face of widespread abuse and torture, it has taken more than a year for the U.S. military to come up with new "procedures" to halt these practices? I'm sure they put out an order banning digital cameras the day after the first Abu Ghraib pictures were made public; chances are that was the beginning and end of the "new procedures". Not that even having video of obvious war crimes like executing wounded enemy combatants has even resulted in charges being brought.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Limbo lower now

Just how low can the bar be set? Pretty darn low:
"Talk of Bush is often imbued with suspicion. But compared with the mood of two years ago, German critics are less likely to compare him to Adolf Hitler."


The lies about Iran fly fast and furious

From AP:
Bush, Schroeder Demand Iran Halt Nuke Plan

"President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder agreed Wednesday to turn down the volume on arguments about Iraq and Iran, demanding in unison that Tehran abandon its nuclear ambitions and exploring whether allies should use rewards or punishment to achieve that goal."
But this is a complete and utter lie. Tehran's "nuclear ambitions" consist of building nuclear power plants, and not only Schroeder but even Bush said nothing about that; instead, they both said, with virtual identical words, "Iran must not have a nuclear weapon." But Iran has denied it has any intention to have a nuclear weapon, so Bush and Schroeder weren't "demanding Iran halt nuke plan," they were demanding that Iraq not do something it has denied it is going to do. Rather a different thing.

And, for the record, I repeat my complete and unconditional support for the right of Iran to have nuclear weapons should it choose to do so. As long as any nation confronts a nuclear-armed and fully capable (of using them) United States, not to mention a nuclear-armed and fully capable Israel, and actually as long as any nation confronts a United States without nuclear weapons but armed to the teeth with "conventional" weapons and demonstrating every liklihood of using them at the slightest pretext, nations have not only the right but the duty to confront that threat by whatever means necessary, to steal a phrase from Malcolm X. The arrogance of nuclear-bomb-using United States, and World War-starting Germany, telling Iran or any other country what they may not do to defend themselves, is simply beyond belief (well, actually it isn't).

Update: I just heard Bush speaking on BBC World, and had the "pleasure" of hearing him pronouncing the word mullah as "moo-lah," proving that to Bush, it's all about the money (also proving that he's a frickin' idiot, and not just because he doesn't know how to pronounce the word, but for using it in the first place, since any negotiations being conducted with Iran will be conducted with the elected leadership of Iran, not with "mullahs"). Fortunately, Merriam-Webster hasn't yet approved Bush's latest mangling of the English language, as they did with "nucular".


Looking backwards

A curious juxtaposition in the news recently:

George Bush: " As past debates fade, as great duties become clear, let us begin a new era of transatlantic unity."

Gerhard Schroeder: "No one is denying there were differences in the past. But that is the past."

Tony Blair: " Whatever the differences in the international community have been over the past couple of years, I think we have a really solid basis now for going forward in a unified way."

Barry Bonds: "I truly believe that we need to go forward. Okay? You cannot rehash the past."

Revising an old saying: Those who want us to forget the past, probably did something for which they should be condemned.

For those who think that remembering the past is a better idea than forgetting it, Zeynep at Under the Same Sun has a must-read post up about the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, a "ghost detainee" tortured to death by the CIA and then used as a photo prop by oh-so-delighted American soldiers.


Headline of the Day

From The Times:
Leaders accentuate the positive as protests bring out the negative
Darn those spoilsports anyway. Daring to "bring out the negative" like the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis that stains the hands of George Bush. Can't they accentuate the positive, instead of doing things like this:
"Thousands of his [Gerhard Schroeder's] countrymen marched through the centre of Mainz carrying banners reading 'Warmonger' and 'No 1 Terrorist'."
I mean, would it hurt to have a banner reading "Thank you for not bombing Iran yet"?


Problems viewing this entire blog?

The other day a reader emailed and said that, when he comes to this blog, only the first couple posts on a page would load. I had never seen that on my Mac, nor had any other feedback along those lines, but just coincidentally the next day I happened to be using IE on a PC (ok, it wasn't really a PC, it was Virtual PC running on my Mac :-) ), and saw exactly the same thing. Not only did only the first three (or so) posts load, but the format wasn't quite right either - almost, but not quite. Then I hit "Refresh" on the browser and all was well. The next day I repeated the experiment - incomplete load the first time, perfect after a refresh.

I have no idea why this is happening, but if it's happening to you, on this or any other blog, try hitting "Refresh" and see if it clears up the problem.


Quote of the Day

"Bush's proposed $2.57 trillion--yes, trillion--fiscal 2006 budget is no 'guns and butter' financial plan, aimed at appeasing the home-front population while waging war for empire abroad. This even cuts out the bread."

- Leslie Feinberg, editor of Workers World newspaper, in the latest issue
I don't know if the "even cuts out the bread" is original with Feinberg (I'll assume it is until someone says otherwise), but I like it, because it really makes clear that what is being cut is not just some unneccessary supplementary item (personally I enjoy a good piece of bread with nothing on it), but the heart of the matter.

Will Durst also weighs in, with slightly more venom and slightly less humor than usual for him, on the same subject:

"Apparently the plan is to balance the budget on the nutritionally deprived and uninsured backs of the inadequately medicated poor. That's the deal: budget cuts if you're not rich, tax cuts if you are. Less money for those who don't have any and more to those who do. That's how President Fredo says we're going to get out of the giant deficit hole he's dug. You can't put it any more simply. Rich people richer. Poor people poorer."
The U.S. is spending roughly $800 billion (more than $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country) this year and every year on war. As long as that priority doesn't change, nothing else will.


Get a large van - NATO "help" is on the way!

At a time when most papers, like the Los Angeles Times, are running misleading headlines like "All NATO Nations to Aid Iraq Training", a few, like The New York Times, have gone with the slightly more accurate "NATO Agrees on Modest Plan for Training Iraqi Forces". But none that I've seen have elaborated on the details of the "modest" nature of that plan better than Knight-Ridder:
"NATO's gift looks smaller when unwrapped; in fact, NATO and White House officials refused to provide details of how much countries will contribute, preferring to emphasize only the fact of agreement.

"'I'm really reluctant to announce figures for other countries,' [Ed. note - gee, I can't imagine why] said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. 'But if you go to NATO . . . I think they've even got a fact sheet today with numbers on them.' [Ed. note - the typical White House pass the reporter off on someone else ploy]

"Not so, said NATO.

"'We're not giving one because it changes every day,' [Ed. note - ri-i-i-ight] said a NATO official who spoke only on condition of anonymity. [Ed. note - stop quoting anonymous sources doing their official job, dammit!] 'And some governments don't like us doing it. They prefer to do it themselves.'

"Officials did say that they hope NATO's contributions will increase the number of military instructors in Iraq to 160 from 100 [Ed. note - wow! Better get a bus!]"
There are actually some details of how "all NATO nations" will be aiding the training:
"Germany has agreed to train Iraqi military police in the United Arab Emirates and contribute $652,000 [Ed. note - should be enough to keep the war going for another half hour or so], according to an independent published summary that officials cited. Belgium is sending 10 driving instructors to the German-led mission in the United Arab Emirates."
But, of course, everyone's favorite contribution comes from the French:
"France will contribute one officer to the Iraq training mission -- in Brussels. He will be stationed at NATO headquarters 'validating equipment provisions.'"
He's got a big rubber stamp marked "OK to pay Halliburton."

At least some have an honest view. John Hulsman, a Europe analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, says: "This might be as good as it gets."

Exit strategy? Looks like that "get help from the Allies" one isn't working. Here's mine: Out Now! Not one cent more for occupation and war! Join me on the weekend of March 19-20 to shout this message from the rooftops.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Mark these words

George Bush, today:
"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table."
The second sentence was said with a dismissive flick of the hand truly worthy of the emperor of the world.

As for the first sentence, it comes down to what the meaning of "is" is, or, in this case, the meaning of the word "attack". No, an imminent invasion of Iran or anyplace else is definitely not in the cards, not while the U.S. has its hands full in Iraq and can't even replenish its troops for that occupation. But as for a bombing of alleged Iranian nuclear installations? Let's see. Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter say it's being planned, George Bush says it isn't. Hersh & Ritter, Bush. Hersh & Ritter, Bush. Gosh, who to believe? Well, Bush lied to me as recently as yesterday, so it's a close call, but I think I'll go with Hersh & Ritter.

By the way, that dismissive and arrogant "all options are on the table" statement? Let's all be clear on that. "All options" includes illegal, unjustified, unprovoked acts of aggression and murder, acts which are violations of the Geneva Conventions and international law, and which would make one subject to the same charges which resulted in the hanging of the leaders of Nazi Germany. That's what "all options" means.


The hidden death toll in Iraq

I've been writing about it since back in 2003, when the "official" death toll was under 500, but now the Chicago Tribune has suddenly discovered that, lo and behold, nearly 250 American contractors have been killed in Iraq.
"Contractors' deaths are not well reported or well documented, and they don't seem to carry nearly the same weight with the public as the deaths of soldiers do," [Peter Singer, an expert on national security and Iraq military contracts at the Brookings Institution] said. "Their stories don't make the front pages--they barely even make Page 28 sometimes."
But yet, as the Tribune notes, "many of [the contractors] are working in supply, logistics and even combat roles integral to the military's mission." Singer notes that "the number of private contractors in Iraq--estimated at 20,000 to 30,000--surpasses the number of troops there from all the U.S. allies combined."

I titled this post "hidden death toll," but in fact, this information is only buried in the corporate media; it's available, at least in reasonably complete detail, if you know where to look for it. Iraqi deaths? Those are really hidden -- nameless, faceless, and uncounted.

(Hat tip to Cursor for the link)


Political humor of the day

"The Europeans asked George Bush what he thought of the Kyoto Accord. 'Uh, I prefer the Camry,' he replied."

- Jay Leno


Confusing the future with the present

This headline caught my eye in today's San Jose Mercury News: "Poverty threatens future of Afghanistan." The article starts out: "The United Nations said Monday...that the nation which harbored Al-Qaida terrorists until 2001 could fail again unless more is done to lift it from poverty." So it's not failing now? It just might fail in the future? Way down at the end of the article, we finally get to the actual facts:
"[Afghanistan] still has the worst education system in the world, according to the U.N. calculations, which points out that nearly three-quarters of all adult Afghans are illiterate and few girls go to school at all in many provinces.

"Half of all Afghans are poor, the report said.

"The average life expectancy for an Afghan is 44.5 years, 20 years less than in neighboring countries; one Afghan woman dies in pregnancy every 30 minutes and the country is the world leader in infant deaths caused by contaminated water."
Oh, but it's the future which is "threatened by poverty." Tell that to the Afghan people.


Food for thought

In today's food news, this from the New York Times:
"The friendliest gesture during the dinner given by President Bush [for Jacques Chirac] here was not political or personal, but culinary. After the lobster risotto with truffle sauce and alongside the filet of beef with bordelaise sauce was a side dish of potatoes. Mr. Bush announced that they were 'French fries,' one participant said. No longer would thin slices of potatoes cooked in oil be 'freedom fries.'"
Two questions. Did they really serve something that could reasonably be called "French fries" alongside filet of beef with bordelaise sauce, and on what planet outside of the Congressional dining room and a handful of right-wing diners were French fries ever really called "freedom fries"? Has anyone reading this blog ever walked into a restaurant (or driven through the drive-in window) and seen "freedom fries" on the menu? I assure you I have not. And I'm highly sceptical that the reporter for the Times ever has either.

P.S. - do you think the boorish Mr. Bush even knows there are no such things as "French fries" in France (except possibly at McDonalds; not sure about that)?


Blogging as addiction

The San Jose Mercury News today writes about the addictive nature of blogging. To which I can only add: "My name is Eli, and I am a blogger..."

Monday, February 21, 2005


All Cuba, all the time

Well, perhaps it seems that way from the last flurry of posts. I just calls 'em as I sees 'em, which is to say I just report on stories as I come across them. And tonight I opened up tomorrow's New York Times and found this:
Latin America Fails to Deliver on Basic Needs

"El Alto, Bolivia - Piped water, like the runoff from the glaciers above this city, runs tantalizingly close to Remedios Cuyuña's home. But with no way to pay the $450 hookup fee charged by the French-run waterworks, she washes her clothes and bathes her three children in frigid well water beside a fetid creek.

"The trend is not unique to Bolivia, where a lack of clean water contributes to the death of every tenth child before the age of 5, and it has presented Latin American leaders with a nettlesome question: what now?

"Indeed, the heated backlash against free-market changes - fueled by the sense that they promised more than they delivered while offering overpriced, often flawed services - has at once left governments vulnerable to volatile protests and forced foreign companies to retreat.

"No companies have been more buffeted than those running public utilities offering water, electrical and telephone services, or those that extract minerals and hydrocarbons, which, like water, are seen as part of a nation's patrimony."
Needless to say, I know of one Latin American country which isn't fighting the effects of privatization, where not a single person is forced to wash their clothes or bath in well water or in a creek because they can't afford running water, where not a single person lacks for electricity because they can't pay their electricity bill, and where not a single person (not one!) is homeless. That country is Cuba. Their economic system is called socialism. And, for some unknown reason, the New York Times neglected to mention them in their roundup of the delivery of basic needs in Latin America.


George Bush rewrites history

Speaking in Brussels today, George Bush had this to say:
"Some Europeans joined the fight to liberate Iraq, while others did not."
However, as I wrote back in December, this is simply an out-and-out lie. George Bush's justification for invading Iraq, announced on the eve of that invasion, was the "disarmament" of Iraq, not its "liberation". On the day the invasion began, the American people were told in no uncertain terms, "The war to disarm Iraq has begun."

Bush also attempted to rewrite history with this line:

"In all these ways our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe, and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on Earth will ever divide us."
The opposition of many Western European governments to the invasion of Iraq was not a "temporary debate" or a "passing disagreement." Rather, it reflected a fundamental difference between them and the United States, a difference which still exists. Although the Europeans in question remain imperialist governments, for various historical reasons they are now in a position where it benefits them to believe that nations must adhere to international law, and that unprovoked, unauthorized wars of aggression are out of bounds. Even the British had to be careful to give lip service to this behavior, although they distorted it by falsifying legal opinions to justify their actions. The United States, by contrast, acts and believes as if it is completely above international law; for all intents and purposses, it acts as if there is no such thing. As I said, these are fundamental differences, and the description of them as "passing disagreements" is wildly off the mark. Nonetheless, it has been dutifully repeated by the corporate media as if it were a truism not even worth mentioning, nevertheless questioning.


Who or what is a journalist?

Bloggers have been in the news a lot lately, and one question that comes up is "are bloggers journalists?" Most are definitely not reporters, but, if we assume that both editors and columnists are journalists, and I think they generally are classified as such, then most bloggers (at least, most political/news bloggers, not people blogging about their personal lives), who function as a combination of editor and columnist, certainly qualify.

The subject comes up because, after first listening to a discussion of visiting Cuba after seeing the movie "Mission Against Terror" last week, and then after having read an article today about the same subject, I was sitting around idly thinking about whether or not I would qualify. I've been a "journalist" (a.k.a. blogger) for more than a year and a half; during that time I suspect I've "published" more words than the vast majority of journalists working in the world today. So I should qualify as a journalist to visit Cuba, right? Probably not.

The operative U.S. policies are found on the Treasury Department site in the "Licensing Application Guidelines" section. Here are some interesting tidbits from the PDF file you can download there. A "general license" can be obtained by people who are "regularly employed as journalists by a news reporting organization or by persons regularly employed as supporting broadcast or technical personnel." Left I on the News is not much of an "organization," but then again neither was Talon News until it was formed as a front for GOPUSA. I certainly report and analyze the news every day. OK, I'm not making money from these endeavors, but again, neither is Talon News as far as I know. And I could make money if I allowed ads on this site like many other bloggers. If that's what it takes to become a "news reporting organization," I might be willing to sacrifice my "no ads" principle.

Or, I could go the second route, which is to get a "specific license for free-lance journalism". Here are some of the requirements:

Again, we have the question of what is a "news media organization", and what exactly constitutes "publication". What constitutes a "record of publications in the news media"?

Basically, the U.S. wants as few people reporting on Cuba as is possible, as you can judge from these bizarre examples from the guidelines; if you can determine why the second and third examples are "not licensable", you're doing better than I:

What are they afraid of?


This is my idea of "gonzo journalism"

"Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker won his fifth George Polk Award for his accounts of prisoner abuse in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, making him the most-honored individual in the history of the awards."
(Hat tip to Atrios for the link)

Want some real journalism to emulate or admire? Forget Hunter Thompson and his self-absorbed writing. Try Democracy Now!, Flashpoints!, or CounterPunch.


Ah, for the good old days

These are the good old days that George Bush longs to see return to Cuba, as described by a writer for Via, the magazine of the AAA:
"I first came to Havana in 1948 as a teenager fresh out of high school. It was truly a wild place then, an unabashedly corrupt, if strikingly beautiful, metropolis peopled by mobsters, hucksters, streetwalkers, procurers, corporate vultures, tinhorn gamblers, and con artists of every stripe--a sort of Sodom of the Antilles."
If you're interested, the article also includes a whole section on the ins and outs of trying to actually get to Cuba in the face of the U.S. government's determined opposition to your doing so (that is, if "you" are American. If not, be thankful.)


Delusional Bush

Would Hannibal Lecter joking about cannibalism, or Osama bin Laden joking about bombing the World Trade Center, be funny? Evidently, George Bush thinks so. Here's what he had to say in Brussels today:
"You know, on this journey to Europe, I follow in some large footsteps. More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin arrived on this continent to great acclaim.

"An observer wrote, 'His reputation was more universal than Liebniz or Newton, Frederick or Voltaire, and his character more beloved and esteemed than any or all of them. The observer went on to say, There was scarcely a peasant or citizen who did not consider him as a friend to humankind.'

"I've been hoping for a similar reception.

"But Secretary Rice told me I should be a realist."
Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk. The man actually does not realize he is the most hated man on the planet.


Beloved Bush

From a private communication from someone on site, here's what's happening in the German city of Mainz, over and above the typical road closures, which Bush will be visiting for several hours:
"Ship movements on the Rhine near Mainz and the last part of the Main river are prohibited all day.

"'General aviation' aircraft, i.e. those flying by sight, are forbidden in a diameter of 60 km around Mainz.

"Commuter trains (S-Bahn) which travel near the prospective route will be stopped for about an hour. Long distance trains are probably also affected.

"The inner city of Mainz is completly closed for the day; businesses are ordered to close their shops. Parking is prohibited in this area starting Tuesday evening in this area and along the routes the the Bush cavalcade might take.

"People living there are ordered to remove objects near the street or seal them off. Garages have to be cleared. Even a business selling tombstones was ordered to remove his exhibits, because they might be used -- standing 30 meters from the street -- as projectiles...

"This morning I overheard a note on the radio that even the mobile phone networks are being shut down during Bush's visit, but I have not yet been able to get this confirmed."
No doubt this kind of treatment is a key element of "thawing the relationship", "burying the hatchet", "mending the fences", etc. (choose your own nonsensical set of words).


Moving on from Iraq...

Scott Ritter is now claiming that "plans for a June attack on Iran have been submitted to President George W. Bush, and that the president has approved them." We report, you decide. And, hopefully, you get out in the streets on March 19 and protest! Because even if it isn't true (and it probably is), you know damn well it could be!

Update: The Washington Post reports on upcoming demos against the war. Don't disappoint them! Be there!


Fallujah update

Since I've been questioning recently how 60,000 (or 25,000) people could actually be living in Fallujah without basic services, I am forced to report on this story from the Washington Post's Jackie Spinner. She writes:
"U.S. forces are working with local contractors and the Iraqi government to restore electricity and services. In the two months since residents were allowed back in the city, U.S. and Iraqi officials have reopened 10 schools, three medical clinics and two hospitals.

"'We are seeing the population starting to rebuild itself,' [Col. John R. Ballard, commander of the Marine 4th Civil Affairs Group, based in Washington] said. 'In the last two to three weeks, bakeries, barbershops, markets have opened back up.'

"On some heavily damaged streets, traders have propped up their wares against piles of rock and debris, selling bicycles, bricks, brooms and cigarettes against the curtain of war. On Monday, Fallujah experienced its first traffic jam since the offensive."
"Working...to restore electricity", we learn later in the article, means that they expect electricity to be restored in April. Let's try to remember to check back in April; if there's electricity flowing in Fallujah, they'll be one up on Baghdad.

That phrase "based in Washington" is a curious one. Is Col. Ballard actually in Fallujah, or is he back in Washington, reading glowing reports sent to him by his staff on location? Unclear. One also has to wonder about what it means to "reopen 10 schools etc." Think back to November, 2003, when the press was filled with "positive" stories about how the U.S. had "rebuilt 1600 schools," and it turned out that "rebuilding" involved, in most cases, shipping in a few new desks, or fixing a few broken windows. So now one has to be cynical and wonder what it means to "reopen" a school, especially when we read stories like this in the same article:

"The walls and ceilings are pocked with bullet holes, and most of the glass was knocked out during the fighting. The classrooms are cold, he said, and the children shiver in their coats."
The U.S. had a "priority" to reopen schools, but, several months after the assault and after $65 million of rebuilding contracts have been awarded, they haven't even managed to replace the windows in this school. But this school is actually open, with 120 of its previous 387 students attending classes. Is it the same in the other nine, or is this the school in the least destroyed section of town which the U.S. military chose to take the reporter to? Hard to tell.

We also learn how effective the "rebuilding" of the city is going to be:

"Saad Khalifa, 39, a taxi driver who lives in northern Fallujah, said he returned to the city on Feb. 1 and found his house demolished.

"Khalifa said he applied for compensation from the Iraqi government to rebuild his house and was told he was eligible for the maximum, $4,000, 'which is nothing.'

"'We can build only one room and a kitchen with this money,' he said."
Not to mention that he really has nothing, because the Iraqi government isn't actually giving out that money yet, just promises.

But the most telling line in the article is this one:

"In another sign of returning normality, Iraqis waited in miles-long lines for fuel, just like in any other city in this country."
Ah, how nice to be back to "normal". I'm sure they're all jumping for joy.

And, in the latest development, having destroyed one city of 300,000, U.S. forces are now surrounding Ramadi, another city of 300,000, and planning a similar fate for those lucky Iraqis. Why, it's practically a sign of "normalcy".

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Bush league news

In today's news:Hat tip to Whatever It Is I'm Against It for the first two stories above.


Nature moment

I was out running today, and saw not one but two groups ("rafters") of wild turkeys, miles apart - one group of three, and then a much larger group of ten, complete with a displaying Tom like the one in the picture above. Strange facial features notwithstanding, they really are magnificent creatures when viewed from close up in their natural environment.

Would the course of United States history be any different if the Wild Turkey, a pacifist vegetarian, had been picked as the national emblem, as Benjamin Franklin advocated? Sadly, no. Instead, we have the Bald Eagle, a much more appropriate bird whose diet consists of animals much weaker than itself (fish, basically). Iraq, Panama, Grenada - the smaller and weaker the better in the eyes of the U.S. Why is the U.S. criticizing Venezuela for buying 100,000 new rifles? It's the same reason that they don't want Iran or North Korea to have nuclear weapons, and it has nothing to do with the alleged arming of Colombian rebels or terrorists. It has to do with keeping one's potential future "enemies" (targets of invasion) as weak as possible.

If you've ever seen Jays mobbing Crows, though, you know that nature does have some interesting lessons to teach us. Smaller, weaker birds, when they band together, can attack and scare off ("defeat") much bigger ones. It's a lesson the U.S. is learning in Iraq every day. Of course it's a lesson that was learned in Vietnam many years ago.

Am I stretching a bit in this post? Probably. I needed an excuse to run the great picture above, though. Forgive me. :-)


Who would Jesus frag?

Today's San Jose Mercury News brings us the story of the first all-female professional gaming (as in video gaming) team, called the "Frag Dolls". Of course this caught my eye:
"'Wheew! It's such an adrenaline rush,' said [Emily Ong, 25], a devout Christian, after a game in which her spy successfully killed two characters by breaking their necks."
And how much more "Christian" can you get than breaking people's necks? Yeah, yeah, it's only a game, it's only imaginary, blah blah. Do real Christians really imagine that Jesus would be playing games like this if he were alive today? Do they imagine he pulled wings off flies for fun when he was a child? I realize there isn't anything in the Bible about this, at least, not according to Rufus, the unknown 13th apostle played by the controversial Chris Rock in one of my favorite movies, Dogma. But still, what is it about Christianity that someone can play games like this and still describe themselves as "a devout Christian"?


Wishful thinking of the day

[First posted 2/19, 2:33 p.m.; bumped and updated]
"The fact that you have these suicide bombers now, wreaking such hatred and violence while people pray, is to me, an indication of their failure."

- Sen. Hillary Clinton, commenting on suicide bombings today in Iraq which killed 55 people.
Man, I'd sure hate to see what would happen if they were successful.

Shouldn't Hillary be leaving it to George Bush to cover up the fact that the U.S. invasion has made Iraq probably the most unstable country in the world? Instead, Clinton's comments fit in well with those of her fellow liberal, John Kerry, who's busy repeating his call for 40,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq.

You can always count on liberals. Unfortunately, what you can count on is that they'll do the wrong thing.

Update: Via Atrios, the almost (almost!) unbelievable news that Fox News actually altered the quote in its news story to read "homicide bombers", to conform to Fox's absurd style guide. Even if you accept the claim that Palestinian bombings which kill Israelis are homicides rather than acts of war, Fox's terminology is absurd enough; what language does it leave to describe bombings which don't involve suicides, or bombings which kill only the bomber and no one else? In Iraq, it's even more absurd, since a significant percentage of the bombings, even the car bombings, have not involved suicides. Whatever their own nonsensical ideas for using the English language are, however, putting their words in someone else's mouth is simply beyond the pale.

Wouldn't it be nice if the information sources which were "rife with inaccuracies" really would fade away?


Rewriting the past, present, and future

Today's "Perspective" section in the San Jose Mercury News features a major front-page article by T.R. Reid, a "former Washington Post correspondent" and author of "The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy". I won't bother with the article, but here's the headline (and subhead) which stretches across 80% of the top of the page: "Standing up to Uncle Sam: As the European Union increasingly flexes its muscle, the White House is changing course on trans-Atlantic diplomacy, trading a dismissive approach for one that reflects the bloc's emergence as a true U.S. counterweight." Really?

The White House is, of course, in the middle of pretending to practice diplomacy, with trips to Europe by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoliezza Rice, and an upcoming one by George Bush, all variously described as a "charm offensive" or attempting to "thaw a chilled relationship", etc. But all that is just for the suckers in the cheap seats. Is there any actual evidence that the U.S. has traded in its "dismissive approach" toward the E.U. (or any evidence that the E.U. has been "flexing its muscle", for that matter)? Oh wait, Don Rumsfeld says his talk about the "Old Europe" was the "old Rumsfeld"? It is actually funny, it just isn't true.

The only thing that has changed about the U.S. is its new, and certainly temporary, voice. But, just like a falsetto voice, it conceals the harsh reality that lies beneath, which, while it may be restrained by the realities on the ground in Iraq, is certainly not being restrained by the "muscle" of the European Union or any acknowledgement by the United States that the E.U. has "emerged" as "a true U.S. counterweight".

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Reuters rewrites history

In a major development in Haiti today, armed gunment stormed a prison in Haiti and took former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune away at gunpoint. As I write this, it isn't clear what this is all about. But here's Reuters' attempt at rewriting history, embedded in the story: "Almost a year after Aristide fled an armed revolt ..." Fled? Try "taken out of the country at gunpoint by the United States", Reuters. "Fled" indeed.


Not fade away

In an article discussing the company which created Moveable Type blogging software, we read this:
"Critics, though, view all the fuss about blogs as the latest bout of Internet hyperbole, one that will eventually fade away once readers realize they are rife with inaccuracies and mundane minutiae."
Hey folks, do me a favor. Let me know when you think this blog is filled with "inaccuracies and mundane minutiae", will you? Until then, I'll be right here, blogging away.

Wouldn't it be nice if the things that were really filled with "inaccuracies [Iraqi WMD ring a bell?] and mundane minutiae [news about Britney Spears marriage, anyone?]" would "fade away"?


The weighty left

You gotta' love the media's ideas of balance. We've all seen it in practice, but, in the latest issue of "EXTRA! Update", the bimonthly newsletter of FAIR (not online), Peter Hart gives us the insider's view, as exposed in a recent speech given by FAIR founder Jeff Cohen:
"In 2002, I was an on-air commentator at MSNBC, and also senior producer on the Donahue show, the most-watched program on the channel. In the last months of the program, before it was terminated on the eve of the Iraq War, we were ordered by management that every time we booked an antiwar guest, we had to book two pro-war guests. If we booked two guests on the left, we had to book three on the right. At one meeting, a producer suggested booking Michael Moore and was told that she would need to book three right-wingers for balance [Ed. note - well, he is rather hefty!]. I considered suggesting Noam Chomsky as a guest, but our studio couldn't accomodate the 86 right-wingers we would have needed for balance.


Quote of the Day

"You never want a president to say never, but military action is certainly not, is never the president’s first choice."

- A grotesquely smirking George Bush, when asked if he would rule out military action against Iran.
No, definitely not. His first choice is complete and utter capitulation on the part of the designated enemy. Military action is only the second choice following the failure of the first.

Co-quote of the day, also courtesy of George Bush:

"We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe."
At last he gets something right! The division is between a cynical United States and an idealistic (compared to the U.S., anyway) Europe.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Friday night at the movies

Today's Flashpoints radio show featured an interesting interview with filmmaker Avi Lewis, who, along with his partner Naomi Klein, has just released a new movie called "The Take," about Argentinian workers who take over a factory. Not coincidentally, Roger Ebert is out today with a review of the movie, which gives it three stars (I think that's about 1 1/2 thumbs up). I like the first and last paragraphs of the review:
"As one documentary after another attacks the International Monetary Fund and its pillaging of the Third World, I wish I knew the first thing about global economics. If these films are as correct as they are persuasive, international monetary policy is essentially a scheme to bankrupt smaller nations and cast their populations into poverty, while multinational corporations loot their assets and whisk the money away to safe havens and the pockets of rich corporations and their friends.
"I wearily anticipate countless e-mails advising me I am a hopelessly idealistic dreamer, and explaining how when the rich get richer, everybody benefits. I will forward the most inspiring of these messages to minimum-wage workers at Wal-Mart, so they will understand why labor unions would be bad for them, while working unpaid overtime is good for the economy."
I was off tonight seeing a different documentary, "Mission Against Terror", a film about the Cuban Five who are imprisoned (under horrendous and absurd conditions) in the United States for the "crime" of attempting to prevent acts of terrorism, specifically the acts of terrorism that have been carried out by Miami Cubans and the U.S. government for the past 46 years (according to the movie, 3,400 Cubans have died from such acts of terrorism in that period, more, as I'm sure readers will recognize, than died in the attacks of Sept. 11). As a documentary, the film wasn't the best, but as the story of five courageous men and the outrageous and completely unjust fate that has befallen them, it was very powerful and moving. Here's just one fact I learned from the movie - Orlando Bosch is one of the most notorious terrorists in Cuban history, having masterminded the bombing which downed a Cubana airliner and killed 73 people. Bosch walks the streets of Miami today a free man. One of the Five was specifically carrying out the task of infiltrating Bosch's group to prevent similar actions from being carried out in the future. For that act of heroism, he is currently serving a life sentence in the United States. The U.S. is fighting a "war against terror"? Don't you believe it.

Make sure to see "Mission Against Terror" if it comes to a city near you. And it sounds like "The Take" is a winner as well. Don't hold your breath waiting for either to be shown on your local PBS station.


Political humor of the day

"A new poll out says that Warren G. Harding was the dumbest President ever. George Bush has asked for a recount.

- Jay Leno


The bottomless well...of nonsense

Jon Stewart, in full "fair and balanced" mode last night, had on as a guest Mark Mills, one of the authors of a new book called "The Bottomless Well: The Twilight Of Fuel, The Virtue Of Waste, And Why We Will Never Run Out Of Energy." How nice. Let's start with the title. What comes from "wells" is oil, but the book, despite its title, actually doesn't posit that there is an unlimited supply of oil, only of "energy" (as the last part of the title implies). In fact, according to this review, the book "includes a strong pitch for nuclear power as our best choice to meet continuously rising energy demand." Curiously, however, speaking to the Daily Show's more liberal audience, the words "nuclear power" never once left the author's lips; instead, he claimed we were "drowning in oil" and referred on multiple occasions to the "trillions of barrels of oil in Canada's oil sands." Jon Stewart actually noted that extracting that oil was more expensive "with today's technology" (actually there's no reason to suppose it will ever get less expensive), but Mills didn't note (and no doubt would dispute) this statement from David Goodstein's "The End of the Age of Oil": "People who have invested many millions of dollars into trying to exploit this resource have come to the conclusion that it will probably always be energy-negative, meaning that you will always have to put more energy into acquiring and processing it than you will ever get out of it." That is, it isn't just about the financial cost, but the energetic cost.

The talk of "waste" is intended to imply that it takes energy to make technology, so "waste" is good. No one (or not too many people, anyway) would suggest that the world should retreat to a pre-industrial state. Mills, however, demonstrated his argument by taking out a piece of coal and a laser (a pen laser he was using to symbolize a surgical laser) and stated that "99% of the energy in the coal is eventually used to make this laser." This is nonsense - the efficiency of coal-fired plants is in the 40-45% range, not the 99% range, and that doesn't even count the energy needed to clean up the waste and greenhouse gases which result.

Other nonsensical assertions from Mr. Mills included his claim that "people don't tend to waste things, especially in free economies." Driven on the road behind an SUV lately, Mr. Mills? Mills' assertion is just a variation of the classic tragedy of the commons. The fact of the matter is that people, especially in "free economies", and especially in more well-off ones like the United States, do tend to waste things, because the impact of that waste is felt by someone else, whether it be someone in a poorer area or country where the waste is dumped, or someone who isn't even born yet. Mills also claimed, in response to Stewart asking him if the $200 billion the U.S. spent in Iraq wouldn't have been better spent developing technology to extract oil sands, that "technology tends to develop independently of government." I guess he hasn't used the Internet lately. And Mills should forget about nuclear power, which wouldn't exist without government funding. It's true that government money can't simply buy solutions - investing $200 billion next year in creating a unified field theory won't likely result in an answer. But that's a far cry from the implication that governments aren't essential in driving the development of technology, particularly fundamental ones with payoff cycles too long for industry to consider worthwhile.

One interesting thing to note about Mills - he was introduced as a physicist, which definitely gives him a cachet with most people. But, not only is he not a Caltech professor like Goodstein (mentioned above), according to his bio he's not even a Ph.D. With a career that "began in integrated circuits and defense electronics," his qualifications to judge the future of energy in the world are, to be charitable, less than impressive. Which jibes with the credibility, or lack thereof, I found in his presentation, as indicated above. But I'm sure he'll be giving Michael Crichton some competition on the right-wing fueled pseudo-science talk circuit.

Update: Actually, in thinking about Mills' bio, I realize that not only isn't he a Ph.D., but there's no evidence he even graduated from college (or high school, for that matter). Not that people without a college education can't have intelligent, educated opinions, even on highly technical subjects. But it isn't exactly a recommendation. The lack of any mention of academic credentials is, in my opinion, telling in this case.


Not a pretty picture

Jeanne at Body and Soul is on a roll as she paints a picture of U.S. military actions (and war crimes) around the world. It's not a pretty picture, but, in fairness to Jeanne, she's not the artist, just the photographer recording the brutal reality (So can one say that a photographer "paints a picture"? I just did.)


Quote of the Day - Age of Enlightenment Division

"When you're dealing with a reality like the devil, you can't just learn the theoretical. You need the pragmatic experience."

- Rev. Clement Machado, one of the 100 enrollees in the Vatican's new exorcism class.
Well, at last we know where George Bush gets his concept of "reality"!

Who knew that, although there are between 300 and 400 exorcists in Italy, that isn't enough to handle the "avalanche of requests," and that "In the United States, the shortage is even more acute"?

And in clear evidence that the hand of the devil is at work in the world, this side note: The link above goes to the San Jose Mercury News, even though this is a Los Angeles Times story. When I went to the LA Times website, and entered "exorcism" in the search bar, two hits for the story in question came up. But clicking on either one gave a "page not found." The story has been exorcised!


Oh, those magnanimous Israelis

[First posted 2/17, 2:08 p.m.; updated and bumped]

In today's "news" ("news" is in quotes since it's "news" about something that is allegedly going to happen in the future; based on similar Israeli announcements about this or that in the past, we can safely say the chances of actual implementation of this announcement are slim if not none):

"Israel ordered a halt on Thursday to the demolition of Palestinian militants' family homes, a tactic decried internationally as collective punishment but which the Jewish state had long argued deterred attacks.

"Israeli security sources said the decision followed a review that found the policy's efficacy against a revolt raging in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since September 2000 was off-set by the violent resentment it spread among Palestinians."
Gee, when do you suppose they'll do a review which finds that it's the occupation of Palestinian land which sets off "violent resentment" and when do you suppose we'll hear an announcement that, as a result, they've decided to end the occupation?

God forbid that it would be international law, rather than just effectiveness, that would prevent the Israelis from committing war crimes by administering collective punishment. In that Israel is no different from their patrons, the United States, who commit similar if not identical war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and likewise could care less about international law.

Update: Even this promise of future behavior was too good to be true, and even my usually sensitive detectors missed this loophole:

"But other groups, including the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, said the decision may not end most Israeli razing practices in Palestinian areas. More than 4,200 Palestinians have been left homeless in the bulldozing or dynamiting of 675 attackers' homes since the last Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, according to the human rights group B'tselem. Most of those buildings were destroyed not as punishment, but to eliminate cover for attackers and expand security buffer zones and roads.

"'Our biggest concern is the mass home demolitions in Rafah, which left almost 30,000 people homeless,' said Paul McCann, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, referring to the southern Gaza border town with Egypt."

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Democrats (Heart) Negroponte

Jeanne from Body and Soul saves me the trouble of recording the sound of Democratic lips kissing the despicable John Negroponte's feet.


Another "traffic accident"

The U.S. continues to try to minimize "deaths from hostile action" in Iraq by classifying events as "traffic accidents," of which there are one heck of a lot happening. Like this one:
"Two state guardsmen died in Iraq when their vehicle rolled over into a canal after the roadway collapsed, the Mississippi National Guard said Thursday."
Ri-i-i-ight. The roadway just happened to "collapse." An act of God or something. Erosion maybe. An earthquake. Resistance fighters? Never saw 'em.


Alan Greenspan, psychologist

It's not enough that he's the world's most famous, and certainly one of the most overrated, economists, now Alan Greenspan wants to be a psychologist as well:
"U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan embraced President Bush's vision of an 'ownership society' on Thursday, saying private Social Security accounts could foster feelings of wealth among poor Americans.

"'These accounts, properly constructed and managed, will create ... a sense of increased wealth on the part of middle and lower-income classes of this society, who have had to struggle with very little capital,' Greenspan told the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

"'While they do have a claim against the Social Security system ... as best I can judge, they don't feel it is personal wealth the way they would with personal accounts,' he said as he took questions from the panel."
Ah, nothing like "feelings of wealth." Actual wealth might be better, but, barring that, the poor will have to settle for "feelings" and "a sense of increased wealth."

For the record, Alan Greenspan's father was a successful Wall Street broker. Greenspan is not only an extremely wealthy man today, as far as I can tell he's never had the slightest glancing acquaintance with poverty or even middle-class existence in his entire life. His opinion about the "feelings" of the "middle and lower-income classes of this society"? Utterly worthless.


Things change - Paul Martin

[First posted 2/16, 8:32 p.m.; updated and bumped]

I admit to being a typical American in being woefully ignorant of Canadian politics, so if Paul Martin is really a two-faced lying hypocrite, I'm sure one of my Canadian readers will set me straight. But, barring that, I have to say that today was one of those rare days when I've been impressed, very impressed, with a politician. Right now the Canadian Parliament is debating bill C-38 to legalize same gender marriage. I just happened to be flipping by CSPAN-2 when I stumbled upon Canadian Prime Minister Martin delivering the opening speech (I presume) in that debate. The entire speech is at the link, but here are some excerpts worth quoting, and worth repeating:

"Remember that it was once thought perfectly acceptable to deny women 'personhood' and the right to vote. There was a time, not that long ago, that if you wore a turban, you couldn't serve in the RCMP. The examples are many, but what's important now is that they are part of our past, not our present.

"Over time, perspectives changed. We evolved, we grew, and our laws evolved and grew with us. That is as it should be. Our laws must reflect equality not as we understood it a century or even a decade ago, but as we understand it today.

"For gays and lesbians, evolving social attitudes have, over the years, prompted a number of important changes in the law. Recall that, until the late 1960s, the state believed it had the right to peek into our bedrooms. Until 1977, homosexuality was still sufficient grounds for deportation. Until 1992, gay people were prohibited from serving in the military. In many parts of the country, gays and lesbians could not designate their partners as beneficiaries under employee medical and dental benefits, insurance policies or private pensions. Until very recently, people were being fired merely for being gay.

"Today, we rightly see discrimination based on sexual orientation as arbitrary, inappropriate and unfair. Looking back, we can hardly believe that such rights were ever a matter for debate. It is my hope that we will ultimately see the current debate in a similar light; realizing that nothing has been lost or sacrificed by the majority in extending full rights to the minority.

"Four years ago, I stood in this House and voted to support the traditional definition of marriage. Many of us did. My misgivings about extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples were a function of my faith, my perspective on the world around us.

"But much has changed since that day.

"If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Mr. Speaker, together as a nation, together as Canadians: Let us step forward."
Update: Is there any wonder why I, like so many Americans, are ignorant about what's going on in Canada? It is alleged that gay marriage was a huge issue in deciding the last American election; it certainly was an issue that was the subject of numerous (unfortunately successful) state ballot measures. In the light of that, wouldn't the opening of a debate in a Canadian Parliament on the subject be newsworthy? Well, you'd think. The New York Times today carries only a story from Reuters, not even their own story, but that's better than the Washington Post or my local Knight-Ridder paper The San Jose Mercury News, neither of which carries a word on the subject. Nor have I seen a single mention on CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, or Fox News today (as usual, I'm just glancing at them during breaks, so it is possible that one or the other of them did in fact mention it, but certainly not with any prominence).


Quote of the Day - Jesus is Just Alright With Me Division

"Now let me get this straight. Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ which means he does not say, ‘Blessed are the warmakers,’ which means, the warmakers are not blessed, which means warmakers are cursed, which means, if you want to follow the nonviolent Jesus you have to work for peace, which means, we all have to resist this horrific, evil war on the people of Iraq."

- Jesuit priest John Dear, speaking at a Baptist college last September.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Criticizing the left

The Ward Churchill controversy has been a major one recently; I haven't commented on it before [for those who haven't read me say this before, let me repeat myself - I've never seen the role of this blog as simply reporting things. I'm sure everyone who reads this blog knows about the Ward Churchill situation. Likewise I haven't posted about the terrible tragedy that befell Lynn Stewart, and all of us, recently. I post when I have something to say, and hopefully something somewhat unique to say. Anyway, back to this post...]. Robert Jensen has an article at CounterPunch which I generally agree with, which, if you haven't read yet, I'll recommend here. While generally agreeing with Churchill's thesis (the Malcolm X "chickens coming home to roost" thesis), he notes:
"Let's go to the passage that has received the most attention, the labeling of the people described as a 'technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire' as 'little Eichmanns.' Are all the stock traders in the United States really equivalent to Adolph Eichmann? It's true that Eichmann was a technocrat who helped keep the Nazi machinery of death running, not the person pulling the trigger, so to speak. But Eichmann was a fairly high-level Gestapo bureaucrat, directly involved in the planning of that holocaust. Is it accurate to think of all stock traders -- even if marked as "little" versions of Eichmann, implying a much lower scale -- as being in an analogous position? Is there a difference between a run-of-the-mill stock broker who manages people's retirement funds and high-level traders who make deals that can change the value of a nation's currency and destroy people's lives?...By using the comparison so loosely, the term loses meaning. Ironically, if so many people can be Eichmanns in some sense, then the actual Eichmanns in our system -- the people in the military, government, and corporations in charge of the actual institutions of war and economic domination, the Pentagon planners and the bank officials who squeeze crippling debt payments out of Third World countries -- are off the hook."
And now, in the same vein, I turn to Sacramento, where, if you've been following the news, you know that an incredibly courageous couple have been mounting physical representations (they insist they're not "effigies" but that's definitely a matter of debate) of American soldiers on their house, with antiwar statements attached to their body. Last night there were two competing demonstrations (pro- and anti-war) at their house. As I said, these people are very courageous, I'm actually somewhat shocked that so far the only thing that has happened is that their first two displays have been torn down; I would have expected a brick through the window, and I wouldn't have been surprised if someone tried to burn the house down. So far, thank God, it hasn't happened.

The second display the couple put up was a soldier's uniform, mounted to the side of the house, with a sign reading "Bush Lied, I Died." This, in my opinion, was a very effective display, attempting to bring home the cost of the war with a direct message and clear display. The first display, however, was a different story entirely. This one was another soldier's uniform, but this one, rather than just being attached to the side of the house, was actually hanging, and not just hanging on a rope, but hanging with a noose around its "neck". The sign on that one was a much more ambiguous "Your tax dollars at work." This display, in my opinion, was not only insensitive to the families of people with relatives in Iraq (or who had already been killed in Iraq), but simply very poorly thought out. What did it mean? No American soldiers have been hanged by the resistance in Iraq, so one could somehow (wrongly) assume that the couple was somehow calling for American soldiers to be hanged.

The point is simple. Messages are important, and must be clearly thought out. I, and here I speak for at least 99.9% of the antiwar movement, don't want American soldiers dead. I don't deny that for many in the antiwar movement, there is a certain schadenfraude and feelings of vindication of our antiwar position when the resistance in Iraq achieves success, and when American and Iraqi government soldiers are killed. But this doesn't mean we want those people killed. We want them home. Now. We are on the side of the families of those soldiers, not on the other side. And we should do our best to make sure that everything we do makes that clear.

And, just to clarify that point about schadenfraude. If I, and people who think the way I do (which includes the vast majority of people in the world), had had our way, today there would be a hundred thousand (or so) more Iraqis, 1600 more Americans, and hundreds of people from other assorted nations alive in the world. Their deaths, and their blood, is on the hands of George Bush, and the U.S. Congress, and the American corporate media. It is not on our hands. None of it.


More Fallujah follies

Washington Post reporter Jackie Spinner is still in Fallujah, searching for the stories about the residents who are greatful their city was destroyed in order to rid it of resistance fighters. She reports that "The Marines estimate that there are about 60,000 people living in the city," which is quite a difference from the AP report of just a few days ago which claimed that "American officers say only about a tenth of the 250,000 residents have returned." Only a 240% difference.

The really bizarre claim in all these stories is that the Americans don't know how many people are in Fallujah. Considering that every single one of them, except the handful who never left and managed to survive the onslaught, has passed through an American checkpoint (and been retina-scanned, etc.) on the way into and out of town, the claim that they don't really know (within a factor of 2.4 apparently!) how many people are living in Fallujah is simply not credible.

Nor is it credible that 60,000 people, or even 25,000 people, are actually living in a town lacking not only electricity and running water, but pretty much everything else as far as one can tell. Aside from AP's statement that "Few shops are open. Some vendors sell fruit and vegetables from street stands, and kiosks offer gum," there isn't any evidence of sufficient commerce that would indicate this could possibly be a viable city. There are no cars (or, I believe, trucks) allowed in the city, so no shops could actually be getting goods to sell, or raw materials (like flour for a bakery) that would be needed to allow them to actually function. Schools? The only mention of children in any of these recent articles are the ones begging chocolate from the American soldiers, or getting the candy and soccer balls that the soldiers are handing out. Postal service? Doctors? Dentists? Even a drugstore? We know that many of the hospitals and clinics were bombed during the invasion, and there isn't any evidence in any of the articles that have appeared in the press recently that any of them are functioning. So what on earth are 25,000, or 60,000 people doing in a city which apparently has the functional equivalent of a couple 7-11's open. I know what would happen in my city of 60,000 if we were down to two 7-11's, with everything else in town closed, and no electricity or running water. We'd all leave town, that's what, and not come back. Because you simply can't live like that.

The good news is that pretty soon the American reporters will run out of the "good news" stories about the kids and their soccer balls, and have to actually look around and start reporting what's really happening. Either that, or Dahr Jamail will manage to get into Fallujah and tell us.

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