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Sunday, April 30, 2006


Slandering Venezuela, Iran, Belarus

On the front page of the "Perspective" section of the San Jose Mercury News today is this article, written by Robert D. Kaplan, a national correspondent for the Atlantic and author of "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground." We are told that he wrote the article for the Washington Post, although I couldn't find it there; perhaps it is yet to appear.

The headline of the article reads "Iron-fisted leaders still threaten the world," and no, they aren't talking about George Bush, one of the only world "leaders" who really is threatening the world, on a routine basis. The subhead reads "Nuclear, biological weapons falling into hands of unaccountable states" but curiously, the word "Pakistan" doesn't appear anywhere in the article. Instead, with the exception of North Korea and Russia, the article is filled with diatribes against countries which definitely don't have nuclear weapons and, as far as we know, have no biological weapons either -- Serbia (under Milosevic, not now, for goodness sake), Liberia (under Charles Taylor, not now, for goodness sake), Iran, Venezuela, Belarus, Syria, Sudan.

Alexander Lukashenko, recently re-elected with 83% of the vote, is a "dictator...who has turned Belarus into the political equivalent of a Brezhnev-era theme park." Then there are "non-traditional dictatorships," in which are included Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both elected with a far greater percentage of the vote than George Bush ever got (Chavez multiple times). See how many errors you can count in this sentence:

There are Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, built on economic anger and religious resentment, where oil and nuclear power have become symbolic fists raised against a perceived oppressor -- whether it be the Americans or the Great Satan.
One hardly knows where to start. There's the "it's all about us" syndrome, where Chavez and Ahmadinejad aren't ruling their countries in the interests of their own people, no, they're ruling it in reaction ("economic anger and religious resentment") to the U.S. Right. And the oil and nuclear power aren't being used to strengthen their own countries' economies and the economic well-being of their own people, no, it's all about giving the U.S. the middle finger. Right. And as far as that "perceived" oppressor, well, I think we all know the truth. Coups and attempted coups? All in the imagination of the victims, no doubt.

Stephen Colbert may have skewered George Bush for his willingness to ignore "reality," but Bush has nothing on the author of this article:

What they have in common is that the rulers can exploit the whole panoply of state power without regard for the will of the people. The irony of Iran has been that, for years now, a significant part of its population has been decidedly less anti-American than almost any other state in the Middle East. Chávez and Lukashenko are also hated by vital parts of their populations.
Chavez and Ahmadinejad and Lukashenko are elected leaders, ruling their countries with the aid of elected parliaments. They are expressing the will of the people, not "exploiting state power without regard" for that will. What utter nonsense. And this business about being "anti-American." We all know that most people around the world, in country after country which has felt the brunt of U.S. imperialism, are almost inexplicably favorable towards Americans. It is U.S. foreign policy that they are completely against. And don't you love that "hated by vital parts of their populations" bit? I don't know about Belarus or Iran, but for sure in Venezuela I know who he's talking about. They're called "capitalists." They may be a "vital part" of the population, but, as elections in all those countries have shown, they are certainly a distinct minority.

But the scariest, the most troubling, paragraph, is this one, which is the one intended to rouse the American people to action against these "potential threats" (note also the attempt to rewrite the past and provide yet another justification for the invasion of Iraq):

We are entering a well-armed world, with more players than ever who can unhinge the international system and who have fewer reasons to be afraid of us. That's why a resentful state leader, armed with disruptive technologies and ready to make use of stateless terrorists, poses such a threat. Saddam was a wannabe in this regard. According to a Joint Forces Command study, parts of which appeared in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, he was preparing thousands of paramilitary fighters from throughout the Arab world to defend his regime and to be used for terror attacks in the West. Looking ahead, Ahmadinejad would also be a prime candidate for such tactics, as would Chavez, given his oil wealth and the elusive links between South American narco-terrorists and Arab gangs working out of Venezuelan ports.
Dangerous stuff.

Update: Another article from the socialist press on what is behind the U.S. venom against Belarus, this one from Socialism and Liberation magazine.


Media coverage of the Bush/Colbert show

There's been a rather interesting followup to the White House Correspondent's Dinner (see post below). I have seen multiple times, on multiple channels, clips of the George Bush/Steve Bridges tandem "double-W" performance, which was funny, certainly. I have seen no clips, none, of Stephen Colbert's performance. And it's not as if Colbert's bits all had long-setups. Some did, but there were plenty of one-liners that were "clip-worthy" (e.g., the one cited below about the President's constant beliefs, facts be damned).

I'm not going to the trouble of providing links, but in a variety of print coverage I've seen, virtually all of it has also dwelt either exclusively or predominantly on the Bush duo bit, although that was much shorter than Colbert's routine. The press simply doesn't want to touch that Colbert material with a ten-foot pole. USA Today was practically the only paper I looked at that had extensive coverage of Colbert's routine, but even there it was subordinated to the Bush routine, and ended with this curious sentence: "He then showed a clip in which he fielded questions by the press corps, only to wind up running from the building chased by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas." Notice anything missing? Like the word "Iraq"? Which was, after all, the entire point of that bit.


Two demos

An estimated 300,000 people demonstrated against the war in Iraq and the possible war against Iran in New York City yesterday.

The New York Times covered the demonstration in the local section; other papers didn't cover it at all. There was an AP article, but it didn't make it into the paper I read, the San Jose Mercury News.

And on the morning after 300,000 people demonstrated against the war, what was the lead story on NPR radio this morning? The upcoming (later that day) demonstration on Darfur. The actual demonstration in New York was not mentioned at all.

And what happened at that Darfur rally, which got so much pre-event publicity? They certainly had a good turnout, as I saw while watching a bit of it over lunch on C-SPAN. This article says "thousands" (which we all know could mean "hundreds of thousands," although an underestimate like that is much less likely to occur at a rally supported by the establishment), but also includes a formulation for crowd size estimate I've never seen before: "The organizers' permit estimated a turnout of 10,000 to 15,000 for the rally." Honestly, I don't care what the permit estimated before the rally, what did the organizers say at the rally? The article doesn't say.

Here's the most curious thing I noted in watching a dozen speeches or so. Speaker after speaker talked about genocide in Darfur. But just two days ago, a major story emerged: because of the lack of a few hundred million dollars, the U.N. is cutting in half the food rations of the people in Darfur. Surely that imminent and completely preventable catastrophe would be mentioned by the speakers at the rally, wouldn't it? Not one that I heard. God forbid they should raise a concrete demand against their own government (other than launching an intervention in yet another country). I found it bizarre.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Stephen Colbert hits it out of the park!

I still hate Stephen Colbert's new show. As far as I'm concerned, as I've said before, he's so wrapped up in imitating a right-wing talk show host that someone unfamiliar with either Colbert or a real right-wing talk show host would almost certainly conclude he is one. But I just finished watching Colbert absolutely destroy George Bush, to his face, at the White House Correspondent's dinner. It will be replayed on C-SPAN several times, and chances are it will be online elsewhere (e.g., Crooks and Liars) before long. It is a must-watch speech/comedy piece.

I particularly loved how he ended with a long segment with Helen Thomas, which repeated over and over the question, why did the U.S. invade Iraq? No punches were pulled, and no quarter given. Brilliant stuff. If only he were like this every night I'd start watching his show again. In the meantime, I could watch this performance again and again. Well, at least again.

Update: Just watched it again, this time from the beginning. I love the George Bush clone, who I've seen many times (and enjoyed) on the Tonight Show (Jay Leno). The most notable thing about the whole evening was the sparseness of the laughter for Colbert's routine, and the mere smattering of applause at the end. I was rolling in the aisles, but the White House Press Corps and guests were not, for the most part, amused.

Second update: There was so much material, just two quotes. First:

The greatest thing about this President is you know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday!
The second, which I referred to above, had to do with a skit (on film) of Colbert acting as Press Secretary, using clips from real press conferences. The closing question was Helen Thomas asking why the U.S. really invaded Iraq, given that all the stated reasons have been proven false (this was a real question she asked). Colbert runs screaming from the room, but Thomas pursues him. Colbert runs into a garage, picks up the emergency phone, tells the person on the other end why Thomas is stalking him, and the guy on the phone says, "Yeah, why did we invade Iraq?" Loved it.

Incidentally, if you want to read more, I cross-posted this at Daily Kos here; there are now 411 comments (and climbing) on the post.

And, as predicted, the video is at Crooks and Liars here.

Friday, April 28, 2006


The oil...crisis?

You've gotta' love the media. Gasoline prices are skyrocketing and what is the cover story on this week's Life Magazine? "Perfect Weekend Drives" that you can do "on a single tank of gas." Lovely. Here are the mileages of those "single tank" trips they're encouraging their readers to take: 240, 470 (!), 180, 280, 310, 390, 250, 330, 170. But that's not enough for Life, oh no. The second main article in the issue is "Why I Love My RV, by Jeff Daniels." Life Magazine, single-handedly doing their part to exacerbate the oil crisis.

Life isn't something you buy; it comes in your paper, in my case the San Jose Mercury News. And what is on the front page of that paper today, in the same issue containing the Life Magazine? An article celebrating the "longest commute in the U.S." -- a man who commutes 372 miles round-trip five days a week (and who won $10,000 as a result). The article has lots of sentences about how he finds the drive "exhilirating" and the trade-off (living in the country vs. having to commute that far) "decent." Here's a sentence it doesn't include: how much gasoline he manages to burn during the course of a year, and how much pollution he contributes to the atmosphere as a result.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


The almighty dollar

Gotta' love the power of the dollar. Alabama is not exactly known as a left-wing state. Nevertheless, this just in:
The Alabama state congress has approved a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to annul all trade, financial and travel restrictions related to Cuba.

A second resolution passed by Alabama’s congress expressed thanks to Alimport’s Alvarez for his efforts toward normalizing bilateral relations.

The resolutions read out by [Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron] Sparks were presented by nine legislators who traveled to Cuba together with the agriculture commissioner.
Of course the dollar is behind this development:
The Alabama commissioner added that the southern state’s trade relations with Cuba have been "extremely important to the farmers of Alabama," who have sold $150 million worth of goods.

Sparks also said that the trade has been an important boost for port activities, and that it "ensures" the maintenance of 467,000 jobs in the agricultural sector, according to the AFP.
Be that as it may, the Alabama legislators could have easily confined their resolution to just trade issues, without including financial and travel restrictions as well. I have to believe that this development has something to do with the presumably favorable impression that those nine legislators formed about Cuba when they travelled there. Making sure that more Americans don't form favorable impressions of Cuba is without question one of the major reasons the U.S. continues to maintain those travel restriction, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike.


You can always count on the Democrats

...to do the wrong thing. Faced with the chance to vote on a whopping $1.9 billion reduction in spending on the war in Iraq, Senate Democrats voted "No" almost unanimously.

P.S.: yes, that "whopping" was a joke. Of course the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, should be voting to cut off all funding for the war. That would require that they were actually listening to their constituents, however, rather than to the people and corporations putting money in their pockets.


What speaks louder than words?

Apparently it's silence:
The scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been a Washington obsession for months, but Republican lawmakers who returned from a two-week recess this week said they felt free to pass a relatively tepid ethics bill because their constituents rarely mention the issue.
Don't you wish they would be so responsive on the issues their constituents do mention? Like pulling the troops out of Iraq?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


More Iranian "threats"

The Washington Post tells its readers:
Escalating the threats between Washington and Tehran, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Wednesday that his country would strike U.S. targets around the world in the event it is attacked over its refusals to curb its nuclear program.
I'm sorry, announcing that you will retaliate if attacked is not a "threat." Announcing that you quite possibly will attack, and that "all options are on the table," up to and including nuclear weapons, when you do -- that's a threat.


Once again: conventional "wisdom" on Iran

Before dinner I was listening to a discussion on NPR (radio) about Iran. The moderator noted that they made sure to have "both sides" of the debate they were having. What were those "both sides"? One was "it is inevitable that Iran will get nuclear weapons," and the other was "no, we can still prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons." The idea that Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program, and doesn't want nuclear weapons, simply wasn't on the table.

I know I've said this before, but I'm afraid I'll have to keep writing about it because it is clearly the issue of the moment, and the powers that be are sparing no effort to convince the American people of the "danger" from Iran. As with the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, their lies must be exposed continuously, because they aren't going to stop telling them.


The U.S. military & Microsoft

Microsoft announced its next operating system, "Longhorn," in 2001, introduced it to developers in 2003, renamed it to "Windows Vista" in July, 2005, and is now claiming it will ship the product in January, 2007.

Equally eager to dangle a carrot in front of the nose of its target audience is the U.S. military:

As the top U.S. commander in Iraq suggested today that the United States would soon reduce the number of troops in Iraq, Pentagon planners said to ABC News that they hoped to pull more than 30,000 troops out by the end of the year, and possibly by as early as November.
And just like Microsoft has its excuses for the delays, so does the U.S. military:
The reductions depend on political and security progress in Iraq.
And, just as with Microsoft announcements, the media continue to parrot each U.S. military announcement of "possible" troop reductions as if they have any basis in reality.

The analogy does fall apart however (aside from the fact that Microsoft products don't usually result in death). Even if the U.S. military does manage to pull out 30,000 troops by the end of the year, it won't be the equivalent of a new release. More like a service pack. Just like Windows needs to be totally replaced by MacOS or Linux, the U.S. military and the system it represents (and defends) needs to replaced by a totally new system. In the short term, however, we'll settle for a complete withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Update: By a curious coincidence, the latest issue of eWeek magazine just arrived, carrying this story:

Microsoft has 'fessed up to hiding details on software vulnerabilities that are discovered internally, insisting that full disclosure of every security-related product change only serves to aid attackers.
Yup, that sounds like the U.S. military, alright, keeping a tight lid on its transgressions using the excuse of not aiding attackers. The only difference is that the military doesn't "'fess up."

Second update: On CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, tonight, Cooper led into this story by talking about how troops might be coming home "soon." A little later, he elaborated and used the "end of the year" formulation. Clearly Anderson works from a different calendar than I do, if he thinks that eight months qualifies as "soon." Of course that's precisely what this whole story is about, and Anderson Cooper and most others in the press play right into the Administration's wishes -- in order to weaken the opposition to the war, convince the American people that they will "soon" be withdrawing troops, even when they have no such intention.


Luis Posada Carriles: An update

There are two related developments today on the saga of terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. First, he is in a courtroom in El Paso, TX today, applying for U.S. citizenship. Headlines on the story all refer to him as a "Cuban militant" or an "anti-Castro militant" or an "accused bomber." The latter refers to the murder of 73 people during the blowing up of a Cubana airliner, a crime for which Posada has yet to be convicted. However, it's hardly necessary to go back to 1976 to establish the nature of Posada's character. In April, 2004, just two years ago, he was convicted in a Panamanian court of "endangering public safety" after being caught with 20 pounds of C-4 explosive while on his way to kill Fidel Castro (and probably several hundred Panamanian university students at the same time). In an absolutely preposterous (in some hypothetical, just world) development, he and his associates weren't charged with attempted murder or terrorism because no detonators were found; there is no doubt this was under the pressure of the U.S. government, and that the subsequent pardoning of the convicted men came as a result of pressure from the same source. This man, possibly the worst terrorist in the Western hemisphere, is being given serious consideration in his application for U.S. citizenship today. Members of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five and others are in El Paso today, protesting this potential outrage.

The second development relates to that application. Posada Carriles entered the U.S. illegally (strangely enough, I've never seen him referred to as an "illegal alien") in March, 2005. I first wrote about it shortly thereafter, when it was widely known (e.g., reported in the Cuban and Miami press) that he was in Miami, but at which time the U.S. was taking no action against him (he was finally arrested in May after flaunting his presence with a public interview). And now it turns out that, at a time when he was claiming through his lawyer that he had snuck into the country illegally through Texas, and that the U.S. government was pretending it didn't know he was here, that an FBI informant had already told the government, from the moment he entered the country, that he had actually entered the country through Miami on a ship with two of his associates (neither of whom has been charged with assisting his entry).

The hypocrisy, duplicity, and responsibility of the U.S. government in this case is truly remarkable. There have been two very good summaries recently of the entire history of this case -- one published today on Consortium News by Robert Parry, and the other recently on CounterPunch by Venezuelan lawyer Jose Pertierra.


The hidden victims of the Iraq war

I was only half-listening to TV as I made a cup of tea, and it doesn't seem to be online (to my surprise, actually), so this won't be the most carefully documented of posts. CNN was doing its "Fallen Heroes" segment, where they show the picture, name, and hometown of soldiers recently killed in Iraq, and say something about them. The first one that caught my attention had a 2-year old son. The next one had a pregnant wife. The next a brand-new wife, who for all we know will turn out to be pregnant as well. The story is repeated day after day, and, clearly, magnified ten-fold for Iraqi families, though of course we never see their pictures on CNN or hear their stories.

The number of victims of this war, not even counting the victims of misplaced economic priorities, is vastly greater than shows up in any count. Back in economics class in college, I remember learning about the "multiplier effect." A similar thing occurs in war. Unfortunately, it involves subtraction as well as multiplication.


The short memory of The New York Times

Today we read this in The New York Times:
The Army plans to charge Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the former head of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, with dereliction of duty, lying to investigators and conduct unbecoming an officer, Army officials and a lawyer for the officer said on Tuesday.

Colonel Jordan was the last major figure from Abu Ghraib whose status remained unresolved two years after the graphic accounts and photographs of detainees being abused and sexually humiliated became public. Other more senior officers have been reprimanded, fined and relieved of command.
Leaving aside the question of whether such people as George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, or Alberto Gonzalez qualify as "major figures from Abu Ghraib," the Times has omitted the most important one of all: Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the man who was sent to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib, the man widely viewed as the point man for what went on there, a man who back in January invoked his right against self-incrimination and refused to testify in the trial of two of the Abu Ghraib dog (mis)handlers. Miller was just mentioned in The New York Times three days ago in a short piece by the same author (!), Eric Schmitt, as having changed his mind and agreed to testify.

Is Miller's status "resolved"? Hardly. Here's what his status was back in January:

Miller, now based at the Pentagon as a senior official managing Army installations, was recommended for administrative punishment for his alleged mishandling of interrogations of a valuable detainee in Guantanamo Bay. But high-ranking military officials have declined to impose the penalty.
In my mind is the information that Miller tried to resign from the Army, but has been prevented from doing so because of his "taking the fifth" (technically, not exactly the "fifth"), but I can't find documentation for that claim anywhere. If true, that may explain his change of heart about testifying.

By the way, "Gitmo-izing" has a cutesy ring to it. If you want to know more about what it really means, and the role Geoffrey Miller played in it, start with this Democracy Now! interview with Alfred McCoy, author of "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror." For more complete documentation, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has it all, having played (and still playing) a lead role in the fight against torture, or read the transcript of the Frontline show on the subject.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Invading the World, One Economy at a Time

Today on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Antonia Juhasz about her book that was just released today, The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. Aside from the usual confusion about this being the "Bush Agenda" and not the "Bipartisan Imperialist Agenda," it sounds like a must-read book, judging from this must-listen (or must-read; the transcript is online) interview. Juhasz is more knowledgeable (and perceptive) about aspects of the invasion and occupation of Iraq than any commentator I've seen chattering on TV, talking about Paul Bremer, Henry Kissinger, Iraqi oil exports to the U.S. and lots of other topics. She also has a proposal I'm sure we can all agree with -- cancel all existing reconstruction projects, make the Bechtels and Halliburtons give back all the money they took for not reconstructing Iraq, and give it to the Iraqis who are perfectly capable of reconstructing their own country once American and British troops get the hell out.

Check it out.


Big brother is watching

Yesterday I mentioned "CentCom" in conjunction with the definition and reporting of "casualties." Today I got this pleasant email as a result:

I caught your post regarding CENTCOM and casualty reports. We do post them on our webpage, http://www.centcom.mil. I don’t know if you’ve seen the site, but it features news, photos, audio and video from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Please give it a look; Hopefully it will prove to be a helpful resource. If you could add a link to our site (I’m trying to spread the word about it), it’d be appreciated. If you want to be signed up for the weekly electronic newsletter and monthly Coalition Bulletin, just ask.

SPC C. Flowers
CENTCOM Public Affairs
Well, I'll pass on the "adding a link" part, but of course I did take SPC Flowers' advice and go check out the site. On the front page there's a link to "Casualty Reports," which I followed. Here's what I found:
4/23/2006: Roadside Bomb Kills 3 Mnd-b Soldiers
4/22/2006: Four Coalition Soldiers Killed By Roadside Bomb In Kandahar Province
4/22/2006: Ied Blast Kills Four Mnd-b Soldiers
4/22/2006: Mnd-b Soldier Killed In Roadside Bomb Attack
4/21/2006: Marine Killed In Al Anbar Province
4/19/2006: Roadside Bomb Kills Mnd-b Soldier
4/16/2006: Three Marines Killed In Al Anbar Province
4/16/2006: Marine Killed In Al Anbar Province
4/15/2006: Marine Killed In Motor Vehicle Accident
4/14/2006: Two Marines Killed, 22 Wounded In Al Anbar Province
4/13/2006: Multi-national Division-baghdad Soldier Killed
4/13/2006: Marine Dies Due To Enemy Action Near Baghdad
4/12/2006: Soldier Dies From Wounds In Al Anbar Province
4/12/2006: Two Mnd-b Soldiers Killed By Roadside Bombs
4/12/2006: Ied Kills Mnd-b Servicemember
4/12/2006: Task Force Band Of Brothers Soldier Dies
4/11/2006: Task Force Band Of Brothers Soldiers Killed
4/11/2006: Three Mnd-b Soldiers Killed By Roadside Bomb
4/10/2006: Soldier Dies From Wounds In Al Anbar Province
4/10/2006: Two Soldiers Killed In Al Anbar Province
So SPC Flowers has graciously confirmed my claim: CentCom uses the word "casualty" erroneously when they actually mean "fatality." The latter, of course, sounds a bit "harsh." It includes the word "fatal," which is a dead giveaway (pardon the pun), whereas "casualty" just sounds so, well, casual. Not at all serious.

And, if you're looking for actual totals of casualties (or even just fatalities) on the CentCom site, you'll have to do a better job than I. I couldn't find them anywhere.


The "best" of the Democrats

A lot of progressives view Sen. Russ Feingold as the "best" of the Democrats. He talks tough, and was the one who introduced a resolution of censure against George Bush. So what does this "progressive" have to say about Iran? Here's what he said to a group of bloggers at a lunch in Los Angeles, as reported by one of them, R.J. Eskow:
"We must never take any option off the table, because the danger is real. But we need to make every effort to negotiate, and it doesn't look like that's being done."
Really? Never take any option off the table? Even using nuclear weapons, or violating international law by launching an unprovoked war of aggression? How about kidnapping Ayatollah Khamenei and torturing him until President Ahmadinejad agrees to destroy all nuclear facilities in Iran? Could we at least take that option off the table?

With "progressives" like this, hyping the "danger" of Iran and refusing to "take any option off the table," why worry about FOX News and the right wing?


Edited quotes and a topsy-turvy world

What follows is taken from a New York Times story as it appears in the San Jose Mercury News. Strangely enough, the version that appears in the Times (online) itself doesn't contain these passages. Note carefully the placement of the quotation marks:
"Working in the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the agency is our concrete policy," [Iranian President Ahmadinejad] said. But "if we see that they are violating our rights, or they don't want to accept" what he called the country's rights, "well, we will reconsider."
Did you catch that? "What he called the country's rights" are the author's words, not Ahmadinejad's (I can't find the full quote). The next paragraphs elaborate (if you want to call it that) on that phrase:
Iran insists the Non-Proliferation Treaty gives it the right to enrich uranium for fueling civilian nuclear power plants, and he has given no ground in the international faceoff.

The United States, Britain and France maintain Iran also wants enriched uranium for atomic bombs, which would violate its commitments under the treaty.
"Iran insists..."? To the best of my knowledge, there isn't the slightest question about Iran's rights to a civilian nuclear power program under the NPT. And against that, what are we setting? A thought crime -- the U.S. and its allies asserting that they know what Iran "wants." And note the wording of that last phrase. What is it that "would violate its commitments under the treaty"? Enriching uranium for atomic bombs is the answer. But only doing so would violate those commitments, not "wanting" to do so.

The article continues with this gem:

Taken together, the actions appear to show an Iranian determination to move ahead with a confrontation with the West when the U.N. Security Council meetss, probably next week, to debate its next steps.
Iran is "moving ahead" with a confrontation with the West? How about the "West" is moving ahead with a confrontation with Iran? How dare you put your face in front of my moving fist?

The topsy-turvy world of the American government and media is also reflected in another Times article, headlined "Rice Dismisses New Threats From Iran." Iran is making threats? Technically, yes. They are "threatening" to withdraw from the NPT if sanctions are imposed on it. Put another way, they are "threatening" to "retaliate" in the mildest possible way if the economic powers of the world launch an economic war against it. And what else is Iran "threatening"? Why, those aggressive people are actually vowing to do something (unspecified) if attacked militarily. The fiends!

I searched both The New York Times and the Washington Post for the phrase "threats against Iran." I got exactly one match -- in a quote from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on why oil prices are rising!

Monday, April 24, 2006


"Casualty": a casualty?

The story of a bombing at an Egyptian resort today prompts me to write about something I first wrote about back in October, 2003: the word "casualty." Most readers probably know that "casualty" is not synonomous with "fatality," but includes injuries as well. Most people probably don't know that the actual definition of "casualty" also includes soldiers who have been captured or are missing in action as well. At least since the beginning of the current Iraq war, however, and probably much earlier, the U.S. CentCom definition counts only fatalities; they try not to mention injuries at all.

But the whole problem is actually more subtle than this, which is why today's report triggered this post. CNN Headline News, which I was watching, reported "More than 100 casualties in Egyptian resort." Which made me realize -- whenever there is a report of a "terrorist" action, such as the one in Egypt or this car bombing yesterday in Baghdad, we always see sentences like this: "Seven car bombs exploded in the capital on Monday morning, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 100." They actually tend to avoid the word "casualties," but almost always give us the largest possible numbers to react to by including the number of wounded. But when it comes to U.S. military personnel, it's quite a different story, typified by this story in the same paper on the previous day: "Three U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb northwest of the capital, raising to eight the number of Americans killed this weekend in the Baghdad area." Now I don't know, since it wasn't reported, but it seems highly unlikely that eight Americans were killed and not a single one injured. It's simply that those casualties go unmentioned. (Added later: And, it should be noted, incidents in which there are only injuries, and no fatalities, go completely unreported in the media).

The explanation seems fairly straightforward. The higher the numbers of Iraqi (or Egyptian) casualties inflicted by "terrorists," the worse the "enemy" seems and the more justified the war and occupation. On the other hand, the lower the number of American casualties, the "better" the war is going, and the longer Americans are willing to put up with the "cost" (not that a majority are willing to accept the cost even now).

There's a reason why you have to swear in court to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because, as I wrote just yesterday, an omission can be just as much a misrepresentation of the truth as an actual lie. Too bad the U.S. media and the U.S. military don't have to take that oath.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Liberal warmongering quote of the day

"Just the fact that the Iranian government is making a lot of noise doesn't prove their capability. Remember, the Iraqi government made a lot of noise, and they had nothing."

- Democratic Rep. Jane Harmon
This is the "argument" from a person who claims to be arguing against taking military action against Iran, someone who is on the House Intelligence [sic] Committee. Wouldn't you think that someone who is on the "Intelligence" Committee would know that the "noise" that the Iraqi government made was to deny (accurately) that it had any WMD, and that the "noise" the Iranian government is making is to deny that it has any intention of making nuclear weapons? To hear this "opponent" of military action speak, you would think the exact opposite, wouldn't you?

Update: Joining right in to the chorus of lies, Tony Blair, who says that "Nobody is talking about military invasion" (a patent falsehood in and of itself), then adds to the pressure for such an invasion by claiming "Iran...is in breach of its nuclear obligations." No, Tony, that's you and your American allies who are in breach of the NPT; Iran is in complete compliance with that treaty.


Photo of the Day

Brown Creeper

The Brown Creeper is not an uncommon bird, but one which very few "non-birders" are ever likely to see, for reasons which are obvious if you look at the picture above, which I took yesterday during my annual "Birdathon." Small (5"), extremely well-camouflaged, generally silent, and always seen alone, you really have to be looking for them to see them, even though they can be seen in perfectly ordinary places (this one was photographed in the picnic area of a local park).

The team I was part of saw 55 different species of birds, which, considering that we were walking, and did no driving at all (unlike the "serious" birdathon teams intent on seeing 200 or so species), wasn't bad at all.

Looking for politics? Well, like many bird species, the Brown Creeper is threatened by habitat loss. And appreciating what the world has to offer now really helps to strengthen one's resolve to work to see that it isn't lost forever, and to fight for a world in which everyone can appreciate its beauty.


Words kill

It's just one two-letter word misused; in an article about the price of gasoline, we find this:
Crude-oil prices reached a new record of $75 a barrel Friday, driven by nuclear gamesmanship in Iran, continued violence in Iraq, the war of words between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and U.S. officials, and Nigerian rebel attacks on the African nation's oil pipelines.
But there is no "nuclear gamesmanship" in Iran; what there is is a nuclear (and conventional and economic) threat against Iran. Iran is not "playing games" when it insists on its right as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (or as a non-signatory, for that matter) to develop nuclear power for its country; it is exercising its rights as a sovereign nation. The one who is "playing games," and threatening to do much, much worse, is the United States, assisted by its "allies" (lackeys) around the world. And it subtle clues like these ("nuclear gamesmanship in Iran") which help condition the American people to the "righteousness" of an attack on Iran.


Political humor of the day

"Your headline '2 SJSU students to hang with Bush' struck me immediately. That's a noble sacrifice if they are willing to make it, but couldn't we hang Cheney and Rove with him instead?"

- Letter writer to the San Jose Mercury News

Saturday, April 22, 2006


You don't know nothing 'bout hard work, Mr. Pres-i-dent

Pink has a song out entitled "Dear Mr. President". To say it has nothing in common with Marilyn Monroe's "Happy Birthday, Mr. Pres-i-dent" would be an understatement. It will be interesting to see if this song gets the airplay of Pink's "Stupid Girls" (it definitely won't get the video play unless Pink makes an actual video, which I don't find any evidence that she has done).

Here are three videos of the song: the plain acoustic version, just featuring Pink and the Indigo Girls singing the song, and two different versions in which other people have added their own video on top of the music, basically a series of photos illustrating the lyrics. My favorite is the one linked to the word "two." Good stuff.

Hat tip to The Blue Voice, who posts all the lyrics.


Bush's trip to California

The Washington Post, in a 640-word article, didn't manage to include one about the protests that greeted Bush. But that wasn't enough inaccuracy (yes, inaccuracy; errors of omission constitute an inaccurate portrayal of events) for Jim VanderHei and the Post. Here's how the story ends:
Bush traveled Friday night to Stanford University, where he met privately with members of the libertarian Hoover Institution to discuss the war. He concluded the day with a private dinner held by George P. Shultz, a Hoover fellow and former secretary of state. Bush will have lunch Sunday with Marine Corps and Navy families.
First of all, the "libertarian" Hoover Institution? How about the "notoriously right-wing Hoover Institution"? Second of all, how can you write about Bush meeting with members of the Hoover Institution and not mention that that meeting was supposed to take place at the Hoover Institution itself, but had to be moved to George Shultz's house because protesters were surrounding Hoover and Bush couldn't get there? Isn't that more newsworthy than mentioning a private meeting about which we know nothing other than that it occured? And finally, note how VanderHei skips from Bush's Friday to his Sunday lunch with military families. What happened to his Saturday stay at a pricey resort (check it out yourself - suites up to $3925/night, and Bush, or perhaps our tax dollars, rented the entire resort, all 85 rooms worth)? Why is VanderHei hiding that little detail from his readers? Does it detract from that "Bush the common man" image?

The New York Times, to its credit, actually led with the cancelled visit to the Hoover Institution.

And, just for fun (or disgust, as you prefer):

"What the f--- do I know about science and technology?
I'm as dumb as a post."


Washington vs. Cuba & Venezuela

The battle is on:
The Bush administration is battling to stop Venezuela and Cuba from gaining seats in important U.N. posts in a confrontation that has many Latin American nations caught in the middle, diplomats and analysts say.

Most observers believe Washington faces an uphill battle to keep Venezuela out of the Security Council and Cuba out of a newly created U.N. Human Rights Council.

While President Bush is generally disliked abroad, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro have courted nations with a strong anti-U.S. discourse and offerings that range from discounted oil to free eye surgery.
George Bush is "generally disliked abroad." But what makes Venezuela and Cuba the likely victors in these small skirmishes isn't George Bush, it's the bipartisan U.S. foreign policy which is what is really "generally disliked abroad."

All of the real power in the U.N. resides in the Security Council, and even there within its five permanent members. But these two votes are one of the rare situations where the General Assembly, composed of virtually all of the nations of the world, gets to have a say. And in that forum, the U.S. can experience some pretty humiliating defeats. At least, defeats that would be humiliating to someone with any humility.


The 55-year (and counting) "exit strategy"

Last October I wrote a post with the above title. Now, buried in an article about a phony (and probably not to be implemented) whopping $0.2 billion (the article says $200 million to make it sound bigger) "cut" in a proposed $106 billion "supplemental" spending bill for the war, we find that the military is thinking along the same lines:
U.S. military officials in Iraq say improvements to bases are necessary because the U.S. is likely to have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, albeit in smaller numbers than the 135,000 that are there now. They point out that 50 years after the Korean War, the United States maintains around 30,000 troops on Korean bases as a hedge against renewed hostilities.
For the record, as I wrote back in October, it's 55 years after U.S. troops entered Korea, not 50, and, at least as of last October, there were 37,000 American troops there, not "around 30,000." And, also for the record if you don't go read that entire old post, I'll note that Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. commanders in Korea were talking about the "growing capability" of the Korean troops and how that is going to (in the future, always the future) reduce the need for as many American troops there.

I'll close with the same close from that post:

Here's my exit strategy for Iraq (and Korea, for that matter): "As the American people stand up (and say NO! to the occupation), American forces will be stood down." Stand up, America! Just say NO!


Quote of the Day

"We will not allow an American soldier to set foot [in Iran]. We will defend our country till the last drop of blood.''

- Shirin Ebadi, Iranian winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.
And for a bonus quote from Ebadi:
"The intervention of the American army will not improve the situation - the experience of Iraq has demonstrated that."
Ebadi has been speaking out against U.S. intervention in Iran since 2003, when talk of the U.S. bombing nuclear facilities in Iran was first heard, and again the next year. Her most dramatic moment occured in December, 2003, while delivering her Nobel Prize acceptance address. I wrote about it like this:
Unlike the "real" (original) Nobel Prizes (Physics, Chemistry, etc.), the Nobel Peace Prize is a political award, meant to sent a message to someone, typically someone not in favor in "the West." This year's prize, to Iranian reformist lawyer Shirin Ebadi, was meant to send a message to the religious rulers of Iran in support of human rights in that country. However the winner herself apparently has a different idea about the message she wants to send:
Iran's Shirin Ebadi became the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize Wednesday and sent a bold anti-war message to the West, accusing it of hiding behind the Sept. 11 attacks to violate human rights.

"In the past two years, some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of Sept. 11 and the war on international terrorism as a pretext," she said in a prepared acceptance speech.

"Regulations restricting human rights and basic freedoms ... have been justified and given legitimacy under the cloak of the war on terrorism."

Ebadi said Guantanamo prisoners had been "without the benefit of the rights stipulated under the international Geneva conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the (U.N.) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

Friday, April 21, 2006


San Jose says "No" to Bush!

Five hundred or so people showed up to "unwelcome" George Bush to San Jose today. More were expected, and in fact more actually came. Thanks to the (entirely deliberate) last minute announcement of the trip in the first place, the failure of the police to negotiate a "not-so 'free speech' zone" until late yesterday afternoon, the closure of the location from three directions, and the need to walk more than a half-mile to get there in the first place, only the most "connected" and the most dedicated managed to get to the right place; others were scattered in other, even less accessible and "unapproved" locations. But show up we did.

And what demonstration would be complete without this total waste of taxpayers' money:

Here's the funny thing. That building behind the line of cops? That's not where Bush and Schwarzenegger were at all! They were in a building far to the right (and actually behind) me as I'm photographing the cops. They were so far away from us that, had we decided to "rush the building" (why, I don't know), jets could have scrambled from the nearest air force base and probably beat us there. This kind of show of force isn't about protecting Bush, or protecting the precious Cisco buildings for that matter. It's about intimidating the protesters, making people feel uneasy and in some way "guilty" about exercising their First Amendment rights. Of course it doesn't work with the people who do show up at a demonstration like this, but imagine the effect it has on some people who see this kind of thing on TV, figure that "where there's smoke there's fire," and that they'd be better off not coming to such a potentially dangerous place.

Update: That one-woman protest against Chinese President Hu yesterday? WIIIAI tells us she's been charged with "harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official," carrying a penalty of up to six months in prison. I wonder what you can get for "harassing or intimidating" George Bush? I left out "threatening," because I'm pretty sure that could land you in Guantanamo for life.

2nd Update: I forgot the most interesting story. As I was leaving, an acquaintance told me about a friend of hers that works at Cisco (where the speech occured). They had received a memo saying, in effect, "If you are a supporter of George Bush, let us know and we'll consider you for admission to the speech." Has there ever been a President who was as big a coward as George Bush? I seriously doubt it.

Update #3: After leaving Cisco, Bush was supposed to pay a visit to the Hoover Institution on the Stanford campus. But, as the San Jose Mercury News reports, he didn't:

At Stanford, where Bush ended up canceling an appearance at the Hoover Institution, a peaceful but spirited group of about 1,000 students and community activists gathered to await Bush's arrival. Many waved placards and chanted against U.S. involvement in Iraq.
But the Mercury News isn't telling the whole story, which I saw on NBC Nightly News. Bush didn't "cancel" his appearance (which he might have done if he had been running late, for example); he had to abort his visit because the Hoover Institution was surrounded by Stanford students!

And now Bush is further north in St. Helena, where he is being greeted by still more protests. No justice, no peace!


Ethnic cleansing continues in Palestine

An article on CounterPunch today makes some very important observations which you won't be reading in, say, The New York Times. In response to the most recent suicide bombing in Israel, Israel has revoked the rights of three Hamas MPs and a Palestinian cabinet minister to reside in Jerusalem. To the "West," it's a simple "response to terrorism," even though these four people had nothing to do with what happened. But the author gets to the deeper implications of what just happened:
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six-Day war of 1967 and later annexed the Palestinian half of the city and its inhabitants to Israel in violation of international law.

Now Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem and a man well-versed in underhand manoeuvres in the holy city, is expelling Palestinians from East Jerusalem on the grounds that he doesn't like their politics.

Foreign minister Tzipi Livni observed that Israel had the right to revoke the residency of whomever it deemed disloyal to Israel. In other words, Olmert and his cronies are behaving as though Palestinian residency in Jerusalem is a right conferred by Israel -- as though Palestinians are immigrants rather than the city's indigenous inhabitants living under an illegal and increasingly vicious occupation.
The author doesn't use the term "ethnic cleansing," that's my addition. The expulsion of four people does not constitute ethnic cleansing. The proclamation of the right to expel these people does constitute a proclamation of the right to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem of Palestinians on whatever pretext the Israelis choose.


Contrasting protests

Yesterday a Falun Gong supporter was allowed to scream at President Hu Jintao for what was reported to be two full minutes (it was probably less), on the grounds of the White House no less. When's the last time any protestor was allowed to scream at President Bush for more than two seconds before being dragged off?

Today I and a thousand or two others will be out protesting Bush's visit to San Jose. We can scream for as long as we like, and Bush won't even hear us, because we'll be in the "not-so 'free speech' zone" talking basically to each other (and to the public, to the extent that the media allows us to), while he's kept at a comfortable distance from us. "Comfortable" in the sense that his poor brain won't have to be disturbed with the thought that there are actually people who not only disagree with him, but think he's a war criminal responsible for the death of more than a hundred thousand people.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Lies, damn lies...and indirect quotes

Here's how the Washington Post writes about what Iran is up to:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that Iran was pursuing the enrichment of uranium on an industrial scale, which could allow it to accelerate the development of nuclear weapons.
This statement is both grammatically and factually correct. But it certainly has a tremendous potential to mislead. Ahmadinejad, of course, not only said nothing about "accelerating the development of nuclear weapons," what he said was the exact opposite.

The Washington Post wasn't the only one doing its best to promote war with such subtle influences on the American psyche. Here's what Jon Stewart, the person liberals think is a liberal but really isn't, had to say last night:

"We've got an America-hating madman who we know is building WMDs in an oil-rich country that starts with the letters I-R-A."
No Jon, we most certainly do not "know" any such thing. But thanks to people like you, and the Washington Post, the majority of Americans most likely do "know" this non-fact right now (that's a guess, by the way; I haven't seen any polls, but I feel pretty confident about the guess).


Scott Ritter indicts capitalism...then embraces it

I have tremendous respect for Scott Ritter as someone who has the courage of his convictions. His willingness to speak the truth, when so many others remained silent, is admirable. But Ritter also has some very strange ideas. His first was an article entitled "The Art of War for the anti-war movement," which criticizes the antiwar movement for a variety of things, among them not having a centralized leadership. You can find a critique of that article written by Bob Morris at Politics in the Zeros. And now we have his next article entitled "A Path to Peace with Iran."

In this article, Ritter is his usual scientific self while laying out the truth about Iran's nuclear program, in the face of the relentless media and political onslaught on that truth:

The reality is Iran does not possess an active, ongoing, viable nuclear weapons program. In all reality, Iran does not yet even possess the capability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale.

The fact that the IAEA safeguard inspections are at play in Iran may in itself come as a surprise to most observers of the ongoing Iranian nuclear saga. Iran is still very much a member, in good standing, of the non-proliferation treaty, and all of its nuclear activities continue to be under the stringent monitoring of the IAEA safeguard inspectors.
Ritter also correctly analyzes the incorrect analysis of the war in Iraq (and the potential war against Iran) in the antiwar movement, noting that while the criticism focuses on "'Big Oil,' the 'Neo Cons,' the 'Military Industrial Complex,' and more recently, the 'Israeli Lobby," the real source of the problem is bigger than any of those:
But it is wrong, and futile, to simply blame these power nodes, or the institutions they have come to so heavily influence. These power nodes did not simply appear out of nowhere. They are a product of American history and culture, a manifestation of the reality that, even more so than the processes of representative democracy, America is a product of unadulterated capitalism.
But although Ritter recognizes the underlying problem, he isn't willing to draw the requisite conclusions; indeed, he draws precisely the wrong conclusions:
Some might argue that this very definition in itself provides justification for a total rejection of the current manifestation of the American system, and the need to seek a new path or direction. There are those in the anti-war movement today who articulate such an argument. I, for one, am not prepared to embrace this way of thinking. I recognize both the good and bad inherent in the difficult blending of capitalistic greed and individual humanism that is modern America, and accept that this system is the best model in existence today, as long as it maintains a system of checks and balances that keeps the forces of excessiveness under control.

Since America is, first and foremost, a capitalist system, it is to capitalism that one must look to for these adjustments. We got the first inklings of this very sort of attitudinal wake-up call just this week, when Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican of distinction who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for the Bush administration to "cool it" on the issue of Iran.

Senator Lugar did not base his arguments on grand ideological principles of peace and justice, but rather the more base passion of prosperity.
So, just like Harry Reid, who argues against war on Iran because "we don't have the resources," Ritter argues for arguing against an attack on Iran because it would be bad for capitalism (driving up oil prices, etc.). Ritter himself, I think, understands that such an attack would be completely unjustified, illegal, and immoral, but he is arguing that those of us who oppose such an attack should adapt to the right-wing by appealing to other arguments.

Scott Ritter should stick to speaking about what he knows. The facts. And keep his opinions to himself.

Update: More Scott Ritter (hat tip Firedoglake). Lots of good stuff, and some, in my opinion, completely inane things too (cf his comments on Cindy Sheehan).


Tel Rumeida update

I wrote a few days ago about the situation of Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, Hebron. You can now hear Chelli Stanley and John Harmer talk about the work of the Tel Rumeida Project yourself; they were interviewed tonight on Flashpoints! radio (segment starts at 38:30 into the program, which you can download or listen to online). I'm proud to say I had at least some part in arranging that interview.

Chelli's brother, who is in Tel Rumeida now, has been beaten three different times, and hospitalized once. She reports that just this morning in Tel Rumeida, settlers beat four elderly human rights workers, one of them 79 years old. As usual, soldiers who were present did nothing to stop the beatings.


The twin parties of imperialism

Just in case you had the slightest doubt about the fundamental, pro-imperialist position of the Democratic Party, here's their Senate leader (and the one who liberals seem over the moon (or here) about), Harry Reid:
And he said the U.S. has no military option in Iran.

"We don't have the resources to do it" because of the ongoing war in Iraq," he said.
Talk about your principled opposition!

[And no, I don't understand that placement of quotes more than you do, but it appears that way in both the Washington Post online and also in the AP section of Yahoo News]


Quote of the Day

"Bush [is] a man of applied ignorance who has undernourished his mind with the empty calories of comfy dogma."

- Richard Cohen
Great turn of phrase!


Misleading headline of the day

It's a widely reported story; here's the San Francisco Chronicle version:
Worst-case climate change called unlikely
The original Washington Post version isn't much better:
Climate Change Will Be Significant but Not Extreme, Study Predicts
The headlines are what will form the public perception. But now let's look at the article itself:
Climate scientists have for more than a decade concurred that climate sensitivity's most likely value is in the range of about 2.5 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. But...scientists have been unable to rule out more extreme calculations suggesting a warm-up of 16 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
They have been "unable to rule out" 16 degrees or more. OK. What does the new study show?
Climate sensitivity almost certainly falls within the more conventional range of current predictions [that's the 2.5 to 8 degrees], with only a 5 percent chance that it will exceed 11 degrees Fahrenheit.
Well, that is a relief. The "extreme" has declined from 16 degrees to "only" 11 degrees. And there's "only" a 5 percent chance of that. If there was a 5 percent chance you would die everytime you flew on a plane, how many people would be taking airplanes?

Note what's missing from the article -- any discussion of the impact of what even that more likely, 2.5 to 8 degree change, will have on the world.


Death toll in Iraq: an update

One of my frequent subjects is "groups of people whose deaths are forgotten when 'totals' are given," and I have included in various posts on that subject soldiers of countries other than the U.S. (e.g., U.K., Italy), members of the Iraqi army (past and present), resistance fighters, and, finally (I think, I'm probably forgetting someone now) contractors (note: I have not forgotten to include Iraqi civilians in this list; their deaths are not "forgotten," they are simply not reliably counted). In the past I've relied on the number from Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, which lists 318 dead contractors of all nationalities. Today, on Democracy Now!, in a segment on the deaths of the four Blackwater contractors/mercenaries in Fallujah, host Juan Gonzalez says this:
According to Department of Labor statistics, at least 425 U.S. civilians have died in Iraq including at least 22 Blackwater contractors.
So, for those interested in tracking just American deaths, whether you are a jingoist or just think that (correctly, unfortunately) that that number has the most impact on other Americans and their thoughts about the war, the number is now not 2378, the number of American military killed, but at least 2803. And remember that, while some of those are "regular" civilians (e.g., journalists, Christian Peacemakers), most of them are contractors who were, for all intents and purposes, just "outsourced" (civilianized) members of the military, doing jobs which in any previous war would have been done by the "real" military.


The "no-buy" list: beware of terrorists with treadmills

If you thought (as I did) that the "no-fly" list only prevented people from flying, it turns out you were wrong:
When [a Roseville couple] attempted to buy a treadmill on a financing plan, a Wells Fargo representative told the salesperson that the couple would have to wait 72 hours while they were investigated. The reason? The husband's first name was Hussein. He is a U.S. citizen who has lived here more than 30 years, but because others named Hussein -- like Saddam -- are on the [OFAC] list, he had to be "cleared."

Similarly, a Chicago resident discovered the watch-list when he went to an auto dealership to purchase a used car. At the top of his credit report, a salesman noticed a reference to an "OFAC search" -- followed by the names of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. Apparently, the customer's last name, Muhammad -- one of the most common names in the world -- had triggered false matches to the watch-list, because the individuals named on the credit report had Muhammad as their middle name.

One wonders what would have happened had this man applied for a job or sought to rent an apartment using the same credit report. How many nervous employers or landlords would have simply turned him down, scared off by the alarming reference to terrorists? The prospect of lost opportunities for jobs or homes is very real, as more employers and landlords begin checking not just credit reports but also the OFAC list itself -- most with very little understanding of what the list means.

Why are companies screening people against the list? While some, like financial institutions, are required to do so by the government, most businesses face no such requirement. But because the law prohibits anyone in the United States from doing business with people on the list, theoretically any company or individual could be fined for a transaction with a blacklisted person.
There are 5,000 people on the list. Considering that the majority of people imprisoned in Guantanamo are there for bogus reasons, it seems likely 90% are more of the people on this list are there for no good reason, either. Note that the OFAC list in question is of people "believed to be associated with terrorism." Note the words "believed," meaning these people haven't even been charged with any crime, nevertheless convicted, and the word "associated," which is as nebulous as it gets. Yet not only are they penalized, but so are hundreds of thousands of other people, whose names just happen to be similar.

Civil rights, anyone? Logic, anyone?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Health care in Iraq: the limited memory of The New York Times

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the unfulfilled (to put it mildly) "promise" of the United States to build 142 health clinics in Iraq. Today The New York Times editorializes on the subject, calling on the U.S. to keep its promise. But the Times' has rather selective memory of the past:
Recent decades have been cruel to the children of Iraq, a country that was a regional leader in health care 30 years ago. Then came Saddam Hussein's diversion of Iraq's wealth into weapons, wars and palaces, 12 years of crushing international sanctions and finally, the invasion, occupation and insurgency. More children have probably died from lack of clean water and sanitation, malnutrition, and lack of health care than from the missile, bomb and rocket attacks of invading armies and insurgent militias.
Errors of commission and omission abound. First, the claim that it was "30 years ago" that Iraq was a regional leader in health care is bogus; that was the case up until the U.S. assault on Iraq and the subsequent sanctions. And why? The Times accurately mentions "lack of clean water and sanitation," but they left out one detail -- the water purification plants of Iraq were deliberately (and illegally) bombed and destroyed during that war by the U.S., with foreknowledge of what the consequences would be -- genocide on a massive scale. And what was that scale? The Times doesn't bother to remind us, but the answer is that more than a half-million children under the age of five died as a result of the deliberate U.S. actions. I'm sure you all remember -- that was the "price" that was "worth it" according to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The Times left out that little detail as well.


The "family values" and "human rights" administration

The U.S. is always full of talk about "human rights" and "family values." Here's the reality:
Delvis Fernandez, the founder and president of the national Cuban American Alliance Education Fund, would like to take his blind 88-year-old mother Sara to Cuba to visit with her diabetic 86-year-old sister, whose leg was recently amputated. But their proposed trip is illegal under the U.S. Administration's tightening regulations.

George "Jorge" Milanes of Los Osos wants to travel to Havana to see his dying 94-year-old aunt, Tia Carmen, who--in a typical Cuban extended family custom--helped raise him. However, U.S. rules forbid him to go.

Although other Americans are not allowed to travel to Cuba at all, Cuban-Americans are now allowed one trip every three years to visit family members. But under the new rules, "family" has been redefined only as mother, father, sister or brother. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews don't qualify--which is the reason Fernandez is not allowed to accompany his aging mother on a visit to her sister.

With the Bush Administration's new definition of "family" for Cuban-Americans, Milanes cannot legally travel to Havana again, since he has only aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews there. His California-born children are not allowed a first-hand experience of their Cuban roots. "How gross is that, to hinge foreign policy on the separation of families, especially for a 'family values' kind of guy," Milanes fumes.


The cost of war

How much is being spent on the U.S. wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan? Try $10 billion a month, and rising. And even after the war "ends," however that might be defined, the costs will keep on coming:
To fully re-equip and upgrade the U.S. Army after the war ends would cost $36 billion over six years, and that figure assumes U.S. forces would begin withdrawing in July and would be completely out of Iraq by the end of 2008, an assumption Bush dismissed when he suggested withdrawal will be up to his White House successor.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said a more protracted fight could triple Schoomaker's $36 billion figure.
"Begin withdrawing in July"? I and millions of Americans (and Iraqis and others) wish that were going to happen, but it seems highly improbable. Expect $100 billion to be the likely figure.

Of course, this calculation of "continuing expenditure" has to do with exactly one thing -- re-equiping the Army. The Washington Post neglects to tells its readers about the biggest expense of all - continuing medical care for tens of thousands of injured veterans. That amount is likely to exceed one trillion dollars over the next 50 years.

Of course, the "opposition" is going to do something about all this, right? Yeah, right:

Senate Democrats say that, in the end, they will vote for the measure, which congressional leaders plan to deliver to President Bush by Memorial Day. But the upcoming debate will offer opponents of the war ample opportunity to question the Bush administration's funding priorities.
"Questioning" and then voting for it anyway, that is bold.


Resign. Now.

Scott McClellan resigns. Andrew Card resigns. Numerous people call on Donald Rumsfeld to resign. But only a handful of others have yet to join me in calling for the real responsible parties -- Bush, Cheney, Rice, and, yes, Rumsfeld (and plenty of others, I'm sure) -- to resign.

Resignation is legal and, unlike impeachment with conviction, actually precedented. The call for resignation puts the power of the country where it belongs -- into the hands of the people of the country, who, like the people of countries around the world, actually have the power to force it to happen, if they want it badly enough.

I'll try again. Resign. Now.


Cuba and Iraq Iran

I have drawn an analogy between the U.S. occupation of Cuban land at Guantanamo and the the contruction of the monumental new American embassy in Iraq. I've also discussed the Platt Amendment that the U.S. forced on Cuba and its relevance to Iraq.

And as we reach the 45th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, the most overt attempt by the U.S. to overthrow the Cuban government, Joseph Palermo, writing at the Huffington Post, reminds us of another key lesson from the history of Cuba:

In April 1961, in preparing for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA had painted several of its own planes with Cuban Air Force insignia, and the pilots pretended to be "defectors" from Castro's own military when they provided air support for the invading operatives on Cuba's south coast.

On April 15, 1961, two of the freshly-painted B-26 bombers were forced to emergency land in Miami after Fidel Castro's air defenses riddled them with bullets. The Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that the crews had "defected" to the United States, and their identities had to be kept secret lest Castro's goons kill their families.

Fast forward to 2002, according to a leaked memo from the British government, President George W. Bush suggested to Tony Blair prior to attacking Iraq that the United States should paint aircraft with "United Nations" colors, and then provoke Saddam Hussein to fire on them, thereby creating the pretext for an invasion.

In 1961, the United Nations Ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, told the world that the CIA planes were from "Castro's own air force" that "took off from Castro's own air force fields." (They had taken off from Nicaragua.)

We should be suspicious if "defectors" from the Iranian Air Force begin bombing in support of a U.S. invasion. We should be equally suspicious if the Iranians fire upon some "neutral" planes (or ships) giving Bush a pretext to launch the war.
My only difference with Palermo is that I don't think the U.S. is going to need, or even want, any pretext for assaulting Iran; they already have all the "reasons" they need. I still don't think they are going to attack, but only on "practical" grounds. But if they decide to, they will. The lack of a Gulf of Tonkin moment won't be an impediment.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The Tel Rumeida Project

I first heard about the Tel Rumeida Project at Politics in the Zeros; a few days ago I had an opportunity to see the same program repeated in San Francisco. This report, written by one of the two people currently touring the United States to talk about their project, summarizes the situation of the Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, which, while at the extreme end, really encapsulates the situation of the entire occupied Palestinian people:
Located in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron, Tel Rumeida is a small neighborhood living out the brutal extravagance of direct Israeli occupation. If Tel Rumeida is viewed as a microcosm of the Israeli plan for Palestine, the sometimes subtle realities of Palestinian life under occupation and the type of Palestinian state Israel desires can be more easily comprehended.

Nearly every tactic used by Israel to create its merciless occupation is employed in Tel Rumeida: displacement, imprisonment, economic strangulation, extreme militarization, arbitrary detention, land confiscation, disruption of normal Palestinian life, settler violence, soldier brutality, government complicity with illegal settler acts, and daily humiliation.
Although Hebron is a Palestinian city in the heart of the West Bank, an "agreement" (the kind of "agreement" you reach with a robber who's pointing a gun at your head) gave 20% of the city to the Israelis/Jews (in this context, the two terms are more or less interchangeable). The Jews who settled in Hebron are typical of the extreme right-wing, racist Jews who settle in "outposts" all over the West Bank, but with one exception -- they are living in "authorized" places, protected by Israeli soldiers and Israeli police. These are the kind of people who can be seen in video filmed by the Tel Rumeida project people chanting "Kill the Arabs," and who paint such delightful slogans as "Arabs to the gas chambers" on the walls of the town (as seen, for example, in the film Occupied Minds).

But these right-wing racists are backed by the full power of the Israeli state (and, not so indirectly, by the full power of the American state). In the first 3 1/2 months of living in Tel Rumeida, the activists counted 120 attacks on Palestinians by the settlers, almost all of them witnessed by soldiers, and none of them prevented by the soldiers. In 8 months they haven't witnessed a single significant intervention by Israel police to prevent stonings, beatings, or other acts of settler violence against Palestinians. When Palestinians attempt to lodge complaints, the police routinely hang up the phone when they hear Arabic spoken on the line, but even incidents documented with video footage and reported by the internationals are simply ignored. The constant harassment has already succeeded in ethnically cleansing 90% of the neighborhood; only 10% of the Palestinians originally living there have had the courage to remain in the face of the onslaught.

One of the dramatic aspects of this situation is that, because of Israeli law, children under the age of 12 are not subject to penalties, nor are their parents, so the acts of stoning Palestinians are routinely carried out by children as young as 6. Video footage of such incidents is available on the website (a full, edited documentary is in preparation). Watching such footage, you should remember that a Palestinian child carrying out a similar activity, and not even stoning people but just stoning an armored personnel carrier in a completely symbolic act, is likely to be shot and killed by the same Israeli soldiers who watch indifferently while Israeli children stone Palestinians. In the current Intifada, approximately 800 Palestinian children have been killed. Of those, 68% were shot in the head or upper chest, indicating rather conclusively that they were not "caught in the crossfire" but were deliberately assassinated by Israeli soldiers.

The people involved in the Tel Rumeida project are few in number, and incredibly brave, as they attempt to put themselves between the Palestinians of Tel Rumeida and the Israeli settlers, simultaneously documenting and attempting to prevent the atrocities which occur on a daily basis. I've added a new "Donate" link in the right-hand column; a small donation will go a long way to helping this small band of heroes. And if you have the opportunity to either hear them present a program in your area, or to arrange a presentation, I strongly recommend you do so. In the meantime you can visit their website to read their reports and see their photos and videos.

When you read Western corporate media, you frequently read about how Arabs want to "drive the Jews into the sea." When you see the Israeli Jews who live in Tel Rumedia, you'll realize that in reality, the shoe is very much on the other foot. They are the ones who are quite openly, and unapologetically, trying to drive the Palestinians, if not "into the sea," then at least completely out of their historic home. And, as an ironic sidenote, a significant fraction of these people claiming Hebron, and the rest of the West Bank, as their "home," are in fact recent arrivals from places like Brooklyn.


"All options" means all options

Just so we're clear about the meaning, there was an explicit exchange on this subject today:
Q Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?

THE PRESIDENT: All options are on the table.
One thing to note about that quaint expression, "on the table." Something can't be "on the table" unless there are actual plans for it. Which pretty much refutes his claim that articles mentioning such plans constitute "wild speculation."

While we're at this "press availability," we have to take note of the fact that Bush is paying much more attention to what's going on in the world than he did previously:

"I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation."
As you'll remember, he has previously denied reading newspapers at all. Now he's progressed as far as the front page.


Why I read left-wing media: Belarus

Last month, there was an election in Belarus. When the Western media and Western governments immediately denounced the elections as a fraud, and demanded new elections, it was easy to conclude something was amiss. After all, the West's favored candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, got a grand total of 6 percent of the vote, to the 83 percent of Alexander Lukashenko, the incumbent. Now I'm not saying the election was totally fair, or that there wasn't some fraud, but with an 83-6 vote, it's hardly likely that a "new election" would change things. It was obvious there was more to the story than met the eye, particularly when shortly thereafter, Lukashenko and 30 other officials were given visa bans by the E.U..

But reading the corporate media, you simply wouldn't have a clue why any of this was happening. That's where left-wing media comes in, in this case, Workers World newspaper, and this enlightening article. First we have the "fair elections" part, where the U.S. and E.U. figure that's it's "fair" for their heavy thumb to be pressing down on one side of the scale.:

Both the U.S. and European governments poured in millions of dollars openly and covertly to defeat Lukashenko. The Feb. 26 New York Times admitted that the Bush Administration was spending $12 million in 2006 to overthrow the Belarus leader. Another $2.2 million was allocated by the quasi-governmental National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is also trying to topple Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

The European Union awarded $2.4 million to a German company to broadcast hostile radio and television programs into Belarus. The Polish regime set up Radio Racja with similar goals. Though he is an opposition figure in Belarus, Milinkevich was allowed to address the Sejm, the Polish Parliament.

The NED, Britain's Westminster Foundation and Germany's Foreign Ministry gave money directly to Lukashenko's opponents, according to the Times.
Then we get to what was underneath it all, which to me was the real eye-opening part:
Belarus is the only country carved out of the former Soviet Union that didn't allow a fire sale of its state-owned industry. Unlike Russia, there are no billionaire "oligarchs"--like the now-imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky--who were able to loot factories and natural resources.

There is a stock market in Minsk. But 80 percent of industry is still state-owned. That is a good reason why the unemployment rate in Belarus is 1.5 percent, as compared to 18 percent in Poland in 2005, and 48 percent for Black men in New York City in 2003.

Average wages increased by 24 percent last year. Pensions also went up. The sales tax was cut. So why shouldn't President Lukashenko get an overwhelming number of votes?

Lukashenko also angered Bush by denouncing the invasion of Iraq and defending Cuba, Iran, People's Korea and Venezuela in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last fall.
Did you see any of this information in the corporate media? Hardly. And incidentally, for those inclined to disbelieve what they read from such left-wing sources, you might be interested to know that you can also read what is perhaps the most "unbelievable" of these figures, the 1.5 percent unemployment rate, in what some might consider a more authoritative source -- the CIA World Factbook. You can even read facts there that didn't make it into the Workers World article:
Belarus's economy in 2005 posted 8% growth. The government has succeeded in lowering inflation over the past several years...During 2005, the government re-nationalized a number of private companies...A wide range of redistributive policies has helped those at the bottom of the ladder; the Gini coefficient is among the lowest in the world.
You can see why there's so much opposition to the results of the election...from the capitalists and their media. Certainly not from the people who are benefitting from these policies.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Left I at the movies

I wouldn't be writing about this weekend's movie, were it not for this story about the sale of 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Venezuela. By complete coincidence, this weekend I watched The Lord of War, which is a virtual homage to the Kalashnikov (while also being a terrific, riveting movie with a fantastic performance by Nicholas Cage).

The Lord of War isn't really a political movie; the wars which form the basis for the arms trade which the movie is about are presented without any real context. Are there political messages in the film? I'm sure there are, if you want there to be, but that isn't the reason to watch it. The fact that it's simply a terrific movie is. While listening to the director's commentary after watching the movie, I was quite surprised to learn that this was a low-budget, "indie" film; it certainly doesn't give that impression.

Update: While we're at the movies, Crooks and Liars has a short post about a new movie American Dreamz which I've been seeing trailers for on TV. It's supposed to be some kind of parody of George Bush, but a USA Today article tells us all we need to know about where the writer/director is coming from:

"I'm not a conspiracy theorist," Weitz says. "I genuinely believe people in the administration went to war in Iraq for a dream, to create a liberal democracy in the Middle East, the only problem being it's a little more difficult than that."
So, evidently, those of us who think the invasion of Iraq was done for something other than the noblest motives must be "conspiracy theorists." It must be hard to direct a movie with your head so far up your you-know-what.


Compassionate capitalism

When I woke up this morning, it was 40 degrees (F) outside. Today, National Guard Armories in two local cities which are used as homeless shelters are closing for the year (to re-open in late November); 250 people who have been able to spend the winter nights indoors won't be doing so any more. Of course you know why - the budget is exhausted. "We can't afford it." The cost of operating the shelter? $30,000/month. I don't think my calculator has enough decimal places to figure out the fraction of a minute's cost of the war in Iraq that that represents.

One interesting feature of this story is that I only heard about it on a local TV station (KTVU, Oakland). It wasn't an important (or unordinary) enough story to even make the local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, nor does a Google news search turn up any other news coverage. "Every person for themselves" is such an intrinsic part of capitalism that when it rears the ugliest part of its head, as in this story, it simply isn't even news.

I wonder how many of the local "Christian" leaders preached sermons about this situation on Easter Sunday, and called on their flocks to rise up and call for their government to reflect their nominal values? I'll bet it was few and far between.

Where do capitalists spend their money, besides for fighting war? Another story did make the Mercury News this morning - so far in this election season, local developers have managed to find $412,356 in spare change to "donate" (i.e., invest) in the San Jose mayoral election (out of a total of $1.2 million).

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