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Thursday, November 30, 2006


Maliki's tools

George Bush is being widely quoted as having said after meeting Iraqi Primi Minister Maliki yesterday:
"One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people."
Bush didn't elaborate on what those "tools" might be, nor has any of the news coverage I've watched so far, but surely it isn't merely "training" which A) doesn't qualify as a "tool", and B) has been the alleged centerpiece of the U.S. "exit strategy" for several years now. No, as I've been writing for a year and a half, I'm guessing the "tools" that Maliki was referring to are the planes and tanks he really needs to emulate the American "success" against the resistance, tools that the U.S. has not only been "slow" about giving the Iraqis, but tools that there isn't a chance in hell they're ever going to give to them. Heck, as we just learned a few weeks ago, the U.S. isn't even supplying armored Humvees to the Iraqi forces, much less tanks and planes.

An amusing take on this is found in the New York Times article on the subject, which quotes an unnamed "senior administration official" about the meeting:

"This is not the United States and Iraq struggling for control of the steering wheel. This is the United States wanting Iraq to be firmly with the steering wheel in its hand, and the issue is, how do we get there as quickly as possible."
Chances are the official meant that metaphorically. But I'd say that steering wheel is quite a literal one, and not only isn't the U.S. letting the Iraqis have the steering wheel, they aren't even letting them in the car tank.

By the way, I originally titled this post, "The elephant in the room." I have not yet read a single article, or heard a single commentator, discuss this subject.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Modern-day capitalism, explained by Wiley Miller

Wiley Miller (Non Sequitur)

Don't worry, though, statistics will show the unemployment rate is still going down. All the missing "employees" have either had a "buyout" or otherwise "retired" (i.e., gave up looking for work knowing it was futile).


What's on Fidel's mind

More than 1,800 people are gathered in Havana to belatedly celebrate Fidel Castro's 80th birthday, an event he unfortunately is still too sick to attend. However, he did send a letter to be read to the participants, and I thought it interesting enough to reproduce parts of here. After spending a few paragraphs honoring the painter Oswaldo Guayasamín, whose Foundation is sponsoring the event, here's what's on his mind:

As long as the planet exists and human beings breathe, the work of creators will exist.

Today, moreover, thanks to technology, the work and knowledge that humanity has created throughout thousands of years is within everyone’s reach, even though it is not yet known how human beings are affected by the radiation from billions of computers and cell phones.

Recently, the prestigious World Wildlife Fund, based in Switzerland and considered internationally to be the most important NGO overseeing the global environment, stated that all of the measures taken by Cuba to protect the environment made it the only country on Earth that meets the minimum requirements for sustainable development. This is an encouraging honor for our country, but of little importance in the world, given the weight of its economy. That is why, on this past 23rd, I sent a message to President Chávez saying:

"Dear Hugo:

"By adopting a Comprehensive Energy Savings Program, you have become the most prestigious defender of the environment in the world.

"The fact that Venezuela is the country with the largest oil reserves is extremely important, and will make you an example that will draw along all other energy consumers to do the same, saving a countless amount of investment.

"Just as Cuba, a nickel producer, can mobilize resources worth billions of dollars for its development, Venezuela, with its exports of hydrocarbons, could mobilize trillions.

"If the rich industrialized nations were to achieve the miracle of reproducing throughout the planet – within several dozen years – solar fusion, having first destroyed the environment with hydrocarbon emissions, how will the poor nations, who constitute the immense majority of humanity, be able to live in that world?

"¡Hasta la victoria siempre!"
Finally, dear friends, who have done us the immense honor of visiting our country, I very sorrowfully take my leave of you, because I was not able to personally thank you and embrace each one of you. We have the duty to save our species.

Fidel Castro Ruz

November 28, 2006
Al Gore's got company!


Iraqi refugees

With all the articles (ok, not that many, but a steady trickle) about the number of people either fleeing Iraq or becoming internal refugees, it's remarkable how few (none that I've seen, actually) actually discuss the refugees themselves. For example, back when the U.S. was bombing Fallujah to smithereens, I asked where were all the reporters (or any reporters) talking to the people who fled Fallujah, many of whom were living in tent cities in the desert. They were completely invisible as far as the corporate media was concerned.

Today's San Jose Mercury News finally bucks this trend with a story by one of my favorite mainstream reporters, Hannah Allam, herself a refugee of sorts (formerly the Baghdad bureau chief for Knight-Ridder, she's now part of the Beirut bureau of McClatchy). Allam profiles some of the 600,000 Iraqis living in Jordan (yes, that figure is for Jordan alone, and doesn't include "at least that many more [who] have fled to Syria, Egypt and other countries, testament to the viciousness of the war in their homeland.") As Allam notes, "the departed represent about 5 percent of Iraq's population of 27 million."

One of the most interesting parts of the article, similar to many of the things we read in years past (though not recently) from Riverbend on Baghdad Burning, is the intermingling of Shia and Sunni Iraqis in Jordan. There may be an "age-old" religious division between Shia and Sunni, but it certainly didn't manifest itself as a bloodbath until the Americans showed up to "liberate" the country.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


How do you ask someone to be the last person to die for a mistake lie?

George Bush proclaimed to the world today that "here's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

George Armstrong Bush and his Last Stand

And here's another thing he's not going to do: urge any member of his own family to be one of those "troops on the battlefield," risking death to "complete" his "mission." The caption to the picture above is of course completely fanciful; the idea that George Bush might emulate George Armstrong Custer and actually place himself in danger is beyond laughable.

John Kerry was wrong when he asked his famous question, because the Vietnam War was no more a "mistake" than the invasion of Iraq. Both were quite deliberate manifestations of American foreign policy, of American imperialism. But the correct question, the one shown in the title of this post, is one I'm waiting for someone to ask this time around. Shouldn't this be the sign-off line for some columnist, some pundit, some talk-show host somewhere? Keith Olbermann, are you listening? "XXXX days since 'Mission Accomplished'" is getting old as a sign-off. I hereby surrender all copyright claims to this quote, if only you or anyone else will help popularize this question. Because it is the question that Americans need to be asking, now.


Sovereignty watch

George Bush was asked about meetings between leaders of Iraq and Iran, and he was at pains to remind his audience, as he does when it suits his purpose, that Iraq is a "sovereign" nation. But just yesterday, National Security Adviser Steven Hadley had this to say:
"And let me also say that there's been a lot of discussion within the American press about the need to adapt our strategy, a lot of discussion about Baker-Hamilton, a lot of discussion on talk shows, a lot in the press about ideas about the way ahead for Iraq. And it's important, I think, for the President to send the message to Prime Minister Maliki that while he is listening to all of these voices for ideas, is open to ideas, that in the end of the day to reassure Prime Minister Maliki that it is the President who will be crafting the way forward on Iraq and to reassure Prime Minister Maliki it will be done in a way that is cooperative with Iraq, rather than imposed on Iraq, so that we come out of this process with a strategy that is an Iraqi strategy and a strategy that we share and can support."
So, if Iraq is a "sovereign" nation, why is it George Bush, and not Prime Minister Maliki, who is the one "who will be crafting the way forward [Ed. note: as if!] on Iraq"? Why is everyone waiting for the charade of the Baker-Hamilton "Study Group," rather than waiting for the Iraqis to tell the U.S. what to do next? The U.S. is there at the "invitation" of the Iraqis, is it not?

And why is the idea that it would be the Iraqis to decide on the appropriate "strategy" for "victory" so preposterous that it isn't even mentioned, much less discussed?


It's my fault

The San Andreas fault, that is.

Sunset over Bodega Bay, CA

That's Bodega Head across the bay, and on the other side of the San Andreas Fault, which runs right through the Bay. The Bay joins the Pacific Ocean through a very narrow opening on the left side of this picture, just below the Head.

Remarkably, construction was actually begun on a nuclear power plant (!!) on Bodega Head, less than a quarter-mile from the Fault! Citizen action, however, put a stop to it, leaving only a hole in the ground (the "Hole in the Head") as its legacy.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Red tide sweeping Latin America

Literally. They call it the "Red Sea," the estimated two million Venezuelans who crowded Caracas yesterday to show their support for Hugo Chavez in the impending Venezuelan election. Unlike its Biblical counterpart, however, this Red Sea will not be divided. And, if do our best to assist it, it will become a tide, an unstoppable tsunami sweeping away imperialism. Optimistic? Yes. Long odds? Perhaps. But inevitable. The only question is when, and how many people will die needlessly first.


Reading the news backwards

Catching up on the news I missed while I was on vacation has its amusing moments.

Today's news: "With 58 percent of the ballots counted, [leftist Rafael] Correa had a 65 percent to 35 percent lead over banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa" in the race for President of Ecuador. In other words, a landslide victory.

Saturday's headline and news: "Frustrating tie expected in Ecuador as two outsiders vie for presidency." "Many analysts predict a dead heat."


Iraq Coalition Casualty Count[er]

Catching up with the news from the last few days, I found this story with a Los Angeles Times by-line but which I can find only in my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News. It's the story of a man and his laptop, specifically, an antiwar activist named Michael White who decided it was his mission to keep track of "coalition" casualties (and more) and who has single-handedly maintained the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website since very early in the current Iraq war.

Although the article discusses only U.S. deaths (with a brief mention of coalition deaths), and the site is known primarily for that, for the last two years the site has at least tracked in a minimal way Iraqi deaths as well. Given the controversy over similar data from Iraq Body Count, this statement on his site is interesting: "This is not a complete list, nor can we verify these totals. This is simply a compilation of deaths reported by news agencies. Actual totals for Iraqi deaths are much higher than the numbers recorded on this site."

Anyway, an interesting article.


You can't handle the truth

Two almost identical stories in the news these days about signs that people want taken down. In Colorado, a homeowner's association has demanded that a woman remove a "peace wreath" from her door, claiming (although the woman denies it) that it was a "divisive" anti-Iraq war "sign." And here in California, a display of hundreds of crosses on a privately-owned hillside has become controversial, thanks to a sign-ordinance violating sign reading "In memory of 28xx U.S. troops killed in Iraq." In this case the erectors of the crosses and the sign are antiwar activists, but, as with the "sign" in Colorado, the message is completely neutral; the only opposition to the war in Iraq contained in the signs is in the mind of the beholder.

Which is precisely why there is such a controversy. Supporters of the war simply can't handle the truth of what their support has wrought. 2800+ soldiers dead? Please, don't remind us. Out of sight, out of mind. In a similar, though not identical, way, to the other controversy circulating in today's news - the decision of some media (including the Los Angles Times and NBC News) to call what is happening in Iraq a "civil war." Of course it doesn't matter what name anyone wants to give to what is happening in Iraq, but the effort to give it some kind of "bad name" is today's version of yesterday's "no one is reporting the good news of all those 'rebuilt' schools" controversy.

In A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson famously says to Tom Cruise, ""You can't handle the truth." But at least Tom Cruise's character was asking for the truth. Here in the U.S., the truth is the last thing that supporters of the war are interested in.

How badly do they want avoid being reminded of the war they support? Just consider this aspect of the story from Colorado, remember, that's the one involving the almost completely innocuous peace wreath (emphasis added):

The subdivision's rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

[Homeowners Association President] Kearns ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn't say anything. Kearns fired all five committee members.
That badly.


Fall in California

A place to cleanse the mind, if ever so briefly, of the world's harsh realities...

Cataract Trail, Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County (north of San Francisco), CA

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Open thread

Hopefully nothing too dramatic will happen in the next few days; if it does, feel free to talk about it! Regular stone-throwing at the edifice of imperialism will resume Monday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Murder in Lebanon: Hypocrisy on parade

Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was assassinated today in Lebanon. Immediately we heard from two of the world's biggest hypocrites.

George Bush:

"The United States remains fully committed to supporting Lebanon's independence and democracy in the face of attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence."
Tony Blair:
"We need to do everything we can, particularly at this moment, to protect democracy in Lebanon and the premiership of Prime Minister Siniora.

"And it underlines once again the absolute and urgent need for a strategy for the whole of the Middle East, that supports those who favour democracy and the proper way of resolving disputes everywhere."
No reminder from either of these protectors of Lebanon (nor from the media reports of their hypocritical bleating) about the "protection" they offered back in July when they rushed weapons to Israel in the midst of its destruction of a substantial portion of the country and the murder of more than 1500 Lebanese. And no reminder from either of these lovers of "democracy" (nor from the media reports of their hypocritical bleating) about how they responded to the completely democratic election of a Hamas government in Palestine by imposing a total blockade on Palestine, a blockade that was (and is) designed to effect political change in Palestine by terrorizing its civilian population, the very definition of terrorism.

The murder of more than a thousand Lebanese civilians? Silence. The murder of thousands of Palestinians? Silence. Ah, but the assassination of one member of the Lebanese government, that they have something to say about.


Israeli peace movement discovers the Pope is Catholic

This revelation just in, courtesy of a study by Peace Now:
"The property rights of many Palestinians have been systematically violated in the course of settlement building."
This conclusion comes from a study which reveals that 40 percent of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including long-standing communities, are built on private Palestinian land and not on "state-owned land." They don't say which state; how the state of Israel could "own" any land at all in Palestine escapes me.

We're not talking about the little hilltop trailer settlements here, but some of the largest settlements on the West Bank, including two of the three major settlement areas -- Ma'ale Adumim (population 32,000), and Ariel (population 16,000). A whopping 86% of Ma'ale Adumim is built on privately-owned Palestinian land according to the study.

Of course, whatever the ownership of the land itself, a full 100% of the population of these settlements is illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of population onto occupied territories. And, although Israel claims the Fourth Geneva Convention doesn't apply to the West Bank, it's worth noting this, taken from an ADL document:

A special UN meeting in Geneva held on July 15, 1999. The closed-door meeting lasted a mere 45 minutes. However, a resolution was unanimously passed stating that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply to Israeli settlements in the "occupied territories." [Quotes around the last phrase from the original]
"Out Now!" doesn't just refer to the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan!

Monday, November 20, 2006


Cuban miracles

Cuba calls it Operation Miracle. But it's no miracle, just the product of a society which is based on human needs, not profit, and believes in human solidarity, rather than "everyone for him/herself."
Almost half a million people from 28 nations have benefited from Operation Miracle, a highly successful program started by Cuba that provides free [eye] surgery to low income patients.

A report issued by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and presented at a recent parliamentary hearing informed that a total of 485,476 patients have been operated on including 290,000 Venezuelans.

The initial eye operations took place exclusively at Cuban hospitals, but with the objective of extending the program, similar surgical facilities were set up in other nations, always under the supervision of Cuban medical personnel.

Today, 13 ophthalmologic centers are in service in Venezuela, and similar facilities are providing services in Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Bolivia.
Bill Gates thinks that it takes money to solve problems like this. It does, of course, and I commended him just yesterday for being one of the few Americans to even acknowledge the existence of these problems, as well as putting his money (his Foundation's money, anyway) where his mouth is. But, first and foremost, what it takes is will. If a small, poor country like Cuba can accomplish the things described in this article, just imagine what the richest country could do, if it were organized according to human needs.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Gaza solidarity wards off Israeli airstrike

Most readers have probably seen or heard the news item the title of this post alludes to. But you probably didn't see that headline, because, almost without exception, the media treated this event as a humanitarian act on the part of Israel, rather than one of Palestinian solidarity.As an isolated incident of news coverage, this wouldn't prove anything. But consider this, from the Reuters article:
Israel has been under pressure to avoid civilian casualties after an artillery shell killed 19 people, all non-combatants, in Gaza on November 8. Israel apologized for the civilian deaths and said a technical fault caused a targeting error.
Yes, that's what they said. But 19 paragraphs earlier in the same article, we just read this:
Hours after the "human shield" protest, an Israeli aircraft attacked a car carrying Hamas militants on a crowded Gaza City street. Hospital officials said an elderly passerby died of his wounds after being hit in the strike.

Medical workers said the two men in the vehicle and two other passersby were wounded.
So now tell us about the "targeting error" which allowed the Israelis to target a car on a "crowded street" (for about the hundredth time) and kill a passerby. The same article reminds us, also for the hundredth (or thousandth) time, that "Hamas...has rejected Western demands to renounce violence [and] recognize the Jewish state." Strangely enough, nowhere in the article does the author feel the need to remind us that Israel has refused to renounce violence and recognize a Palestinian state. Nor to remind us that Hamas' violence has caused a fraction of the deaths of the Israeli violence.


Gen. Abizaid needs to get out more

A few days ago, Gen. John Abizaid had this to say when testifying before Congress:
"When I come to Washington, I feel despair. When I'm in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to our soldiers, when I talk to the Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing."
It looks like Gen. Abizaid hasn't talked to Capt. Stephanie A. Bagley, profiled in today's New York Times:
Capt. Stephanie A. Bagley and the military police company she commands arrived in Iraq in December 2005 brimming with optimism about taking on one of the most urgent tasks in Iraq: building a new police force.

Now, as the 21st Military Police Company approaches the end of a deployment marked by small victories and enormous disappointments, Captain Bagley is focused on a more modest goal.

"I just want to get everyone home," she said. In the past several weeks, Captain Bagley, 30, barred her troops from foot patrols in the most violent neighborhoods and eliminated all nonessential travel. "I'm just not willing to lose another soldier," she said.

As the death toll among American troops has risen in Baghdad, and the security plan has faltered, Captain Bagley's soldiers say they have tried to resist the urge to question the larger American enterprise here, whether it was right or wrong to come to Iraq in the first place, whether and when American troops should leave. They are here to do a job, they say, and are duty-bound to complete it.

But Captain Bagley has asked herself those questions "all the time," she said. She ponders whether it has all been worth her soldier's leg or her soldier's life. She wonders what the American command will do to turn things around.

Her discouragement is plain, but she keeps her deepest thoughts private, in part because she wants to protect her soldiers from doubt at this most critical time in their lives. She knows that their job is difficult enough without the suggestion that their sacrifices may have been in vain. "You can't pass it along to your soldiers," she said. "You can't question it. It would lead to the destruction of the company. You got to keep it together."

The company has done everything it could to help rebuild Iraq, she said, but now they want to go home. "It's been a very frustrating year," she said. "We all want to get out of here."
Incidentally, I've frequently written about how one reason the Iraqi forces could never take the place of what the Americans are doing is because the U.S. is never going to give them tanks, helicopter gunships, and other heavy equipment. It turns out I wasn't thinking broadly enough. Here's a picture of the reality in Iraq from the same article:
The company’s challenges crystallized in a moment late last month during a routine assignment. Some of her soldiers had gone to the Baya Local Police Station, one of 18 local stations in the troubled southern outskirts of Baghdad where her unit has worked this year. They were picking up a contingent of Iraqi policemen for a daily patrol of Dora, an especially violent neighborhood here in the capital.

On these patrols, the Americans, swaddled in Kevlar from head to hips, travel in Humvees and other armored vehicles. The Iraqis, wearing only bulletproof vests, ride in soft-skinned pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s, the only vehicles they have.

The Iraqi policemen begged the Americans not to make them go out. They peeled off their clothes to reveal shrapnel scars from past attacks. They tugged the armored plates from their Kevlar vests and told the Americans they were faulty. They said they had no fuel for their vehicles. They disappeared on indefinite errands elsewhere in the compound. They said they would not patrol if it meant passing a trash pile, a common hiding place for bombs.


In praise of Bill Gates (and a suggestion for him)

I find Microsoft products distinctly unimpressive, and as a company Microsoft stands out for its ruthless and frequently illegal business practices in a world in which they have plenty of competition for ruthlessness and illegality. And the fact that Gates has billions to give away is, in part if not in large part, a direct consequence of his business practices.

Having said all that, Gates at least understands his position as a privileged American and, while he's not doing anything to change the fundamentals of the world economic divide, at least he's using his money to try to alleviate some of the symptoms, as we first learned about here back in 2004. Today's San Jose Mercury News features a lengthy interview with Gates in which he touches on that subject:

Q So you are saying those of us who live in the United States exist in a sort of bubble in terms of not understanding the suffering and problems of those in the developing world.

A Absolutely. I've said many times that if we just re-sorted the world so that you randomly lived next to the majority [and knew] how the majority of people lived, you'd say, "Oh my God, her baby just died of malaria; my God, look at that dirty water." And the IQ applied to this thing would be a thousand times bigger, because whenever you describe this to people, or they go out to these areas, they come away very affected.

Most people don't see these conditions at all. Do they know what visceral leishmaniasis is, that it kills 300,000 people a year? The way (the news media) documents things like plane crashes . . . I don't understand why are they running those articles, because that's not the tragedy that happened that day; it's the ongoing set of diseases, some of which are unique to these tropical countries.
I wonder if Bill knows that there is at least one country where medical research isn't driven by the profit motive:
"They don't really like patents. They like medicine. Cuba's drug pipeline is most interesting for what it lacks: grand-slam moneymakers, cures for baldness or impotence or wrinkles. It's all cancer therapies, AIDS medications, and vaccines against tropical diseases.

"That's probably why US and European scientists have a soft spot for their Cuban counterparts. Everywhere north of the Florida Keys, once-magical biotech has become just another expression of venture-driven capitalism. Leave it to the Cubans to make it revolutionary again."
The Gates Foundation could find no better place to invest its $1+ billion/year, no place where they could get a better "ROI," than in Cuba. Needless to say, that isn't going to happen, not least of all because it would be illegal.

Incidentally, Gates was in town to collect a philanthropy award at the (San Jose) Tech Museum. It was exactly one year ago that Cuban scientist Dr. Vicente Verez Bencomo was honored, in absentia (courtesy of the U.S. government), at those same awards ceremonies. Dr. Bencomo, who no doubt has a budget substantially less than $1 billion/year, nevertheless developed an incredibly important vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), a bacteria that can cause meningitis and pneumonia and is estimated to be responsible for 200,000-700,000 childhood deaths annually around the world.

I can't end without sharing one light moment from the interview. Asked his opinion about Google, Gates had this to say:

They're in this honeymoon phase of, Google can do anything at all times. If it was rumored they were doing pizza, you'd think it was going to be zero calories and free.
Hey, have you heard? Free pizza!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Hunger in America...and what the U.S. is doing about it

Just two days ago came the "good news" that "only" 35 million people in the U.S. were hungry last year, down from 38 million the year before. Could that fact that more than ten percent of the population of the richest country in the world suffer from hunger have anything to do with this?
The government of President George W. Bush shamed the United States into international isolation after it rejected a UN resolution defending the human right to food.

After a week of UN debates on humanitarian affairs, US diplomats were the only ones to vote against a resolution supporting the Right to Food.

The related text was sponsored by an unusual majority of 131 countries, and another 44 UN member states yesterday voted in favor.
As of this writing, here in the land of the "free press," not a single media outlet has reported this story (the above story comes from Prensa Latina, since the General Assembly's web page of resolutions is characteristically lagging.).


Liberal media watch

There's a major "Support the Troops" rally going on in Columbus, OH today. And guess who's not only playing it up big time, but is there in person, with their special combat vehicle "Warrior One"? The answer: CNN, who even has a special web page for their contribution to the war effort.


Capitalism in the news

Socialists and Communists have been talking about the nature of Capitalism for a long time; now psychologists are getting into the act:
A team of psychologists has an explanation for why money can't buy happiness.

Pictures of dollar bills, fantasies of wealth and even wads of Monopoly money arouse feelings of self-sufficiency that result in selfish and often anti-social behavior, according to a University of Minnesota study published Friday in the journal Science.
Also in today's news we have one of those "capitalist success stories," the tale of a man who was living out of his car in the '70's, got fired from a job at a fast-food restaurant in 1979, and since then has grown not only to be worth millions, but has given out $1.3 million in random gifts of $10, $20, or $100 to people on the streets at Christmastime. He's known as the "Secret Santa" because he does this anonymously (until now).

So what's the twist? This:

Doctors told Stewart in April that he had cancer of the esophagus and it had spread to his liver. He has been lucky, he says, to get into a clinical trial at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. But...the treatment costs more than $16,000 a month.

His insurance company won't cover the cost of the treatment, which has left him concerned about his finances and his family.
So even a man rich enough to have given away more than a million dollars in his lifetime, is still "on the edge" when it comes to health care. Not as on the edge as most Americans, to be sure, many of whom are one medical emergency away from living in their own cars, but still close enough that he has to worry about it.

Friday, November 17, 2006


My simple question for the media about events in Iraq

The past few days have seen mass kidnappings at an Education Ministry in Baghdad, and smaller-scale abductions of contractors in southern Iraq. From multiple new sources I hear (and read) that these were carried out by "people (or militia members) masquerading as members of the security forces." Since the kidnappers haven't been captured, how could they possibly know that? To be specific, how do they know that these kidnappings weren't carried out by the actual security forces rather than people masquerading as them?

At the very least, an "apparently" is warranted in these stories.


More on science and the blockade of Cuba

More news from the Biotechnology Conference being held in Cuba that I wrote about two days ago, the one which a dozen U.S. scientists were prevented from attending:
Results from recent clinical trials made with the humanized monoclonal antibody HR3, obtained by specialists from the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM), show promise in the possibility of using this antibody in the treatment of head and neck tumors.

Dr. Agustin Lage, director of the CIM, broke the good news at a press conference during the opening session of an Immunotherapy Workshop taking place simultaneously with the Biotechnology Havana 2006 convention.

Dr. Lage said that test results received in trials held in Cuba and other countries such as India, China and Germany, showed a significant reduction in the malignant lesion of certain brain tumors (almost all of them non-treatable by surgery ) and of pharyngeal carcinomas.
But, you say, can't the U.S. scientists just read the scientific paper, and gain as much benefit as from going to the conference? If you think so, you don't understand scientific conferences. There's the opportunity for scientists who normally just read each other's papers to actually talk to each other, and give each other an idea which might lead to even more significant results, perhaps even leading to a fruitful collaboration. There's simply hearing about something which you just might not have read about, either because you just can't read everything that is published in your field, or because it was something that wasn't exactly in your field, or because it wasn't published at all. Negative results, for example, rarely result in scientific publications, yet they just might be the key piece of information you need to move ahead with your own work. Or something someone did in an unrelated field might give you an insight you wouldn't have otherwise had. And there's just the stimulation of going to a conference and hearing about all sorts of interesting work which makes you vow to redouble your own efforts.

And all this works both ways, of course. The Cuban scientists (and others from around the world) would have benefited from the American scientists, and the Americans would have benefited from the Cubans. And Americans, and Cubans, and the people of the world, would have been better off, as science took one more step or many steps, large or small, towards alleviating the suffering of the world's people.

That's what the blockade - not just a blockade of trade but a blockade of knowledge - is doing.


Bush: "Quit Iraq, drop the blockade of Cuba!"

No? What else can you make of this "analysis" of history?
The president said there was much to be learned from the divisive Vietnam War — the longest conflict in U.S. history — as his administration contemplates new strategies for the increasingly difficult war in Iraq, now in its fourth year. "It's just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful — and that is an ideology of freedom — to overcome an ideology of hate."
But, obviously, the only way Vietnam got to the point it is today is not because the U.S. kept fighting and killing Vietnamese (and Americans), but because it finally left, leaving Vietnam to develop on is own. So clearly, Bush's lesson of history is that the only way to "save" Iraq is to get the hell out of there (by rooftop helicopters, if at all possible) so they can run their own country.

And as for Cuba, haven't the liberals been saying for years that the only way to overthrow Communism in Cuba is with McDonalds, not with a blockade? Well, since Bush clearly thinks that the "ideology of freedom" (i.e., his and most capitalists' word for "Capitalism") has triumphed in Vietnam thanks to McDonalds et al., surely he must agree that war, even economic war, is not the way to achieve that same goal in Cuba.

Alas, George Bush isn't actually capable of thinking through the consequences of his assertions. So I'm afraid it's more war in Iraq, and continued economic war against Cuba, for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


The future of Iraq, on view today in Afghanistan

This is what Iraqis have to look forward to if the "antiwar" Democrats ever succeed in pushing through the "redeployment" option:
The Air Force has conducted more than 2,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan over the past six months, a sharp increase in bombing that reflects the growing demand for American air cover since NATO has assumed a larger ground combat role, Air Force officials said.

The intensifying air campaign has focused on southern Afghanistan, where NATO units, primarily from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as American Special Forces have been engaging in the heaviest and most frequent ground combat with Taliban rebels since the invasion five years ago.

The NATO forces are mostly operating without heavy armor or artillery support, and as Taliban resistance has continued, more air support has been used to compensate for the lightness of the units, Air Force officials said. Most of the strikes have come during "close air support" missions, where the bombers patrol the area and respond to calls from ground units in combat rather than performing planned strikes.
No word on how many innocent civilians, or even supposed "enemy" forces, have been killed by these ten/day strikes. We can guess these bombs aren't just being dropped on empty desert. Also no word on how many airstrikes are taking place in Iraq. I've written recently about the almost total lack of reporting about any airstrikes in Iraq, but it seems unlikely that that reflects the reality of the situation.

Of particular interest is the asserted reason for the airstrikes: "The NATO forces are mostly operating without heavy armor or artillery support." The reason this is interesting is because, as I have also written, there is no chance that the U.S. is ever going to provide such heavy weaponry to the Iraqi forces they are supposedly training; no chance because, if they did, the chance that those weapons would be turned on the Americans would be almost a certainty. Which means that, unless we stop them, the future of Iraq is precisely what is on view in Afghanistan - Americans delivering indiscriminate death from the air.


Withdrawal from Iraq: the role of the media

Norman Solomon, in an article on today's CounterPunch, discusses the fact that, despite the widespread interpretation of the recent election results as a rejection of the occupation of Iraq, things still haven't changed not only in Washington, but also in punditville and in newsrooms all over the country. And he reminds us of both the history and the consequences:
Contrary to myths about media coverage of the Vietnam War, the American press lagged way behind grassroots antiwar sentiment in seriously contemplating a U.S. pullout from Vietnam. The lag time amounted to several years -- and meant the additional deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and perhaps 1 million more Vietnamese people.

A survey by the Boston Globe, conducted in February 1968, found that out of 39 major daily newspapers in the United States, not one had editorialized for withdrawing American troops from Vietnam. Today -- despite the antiwar tilt of national opinion polls and the recent election -- advocacy of a U.S. pullout from Iraq seems almost as scarce among modern-day media elites.
Not one more death. Not one more dollar. Out now! Not "in six months." Now.


What passes for "good news" in the United States

For the first time in six years, the number of Americans struggling with hunger fell in 2005, the Agriculture Department said.
Good news, right? It would be if not for the baseline:
Last year, 35 million people suffered food insecurity, meaning they didn't have the money or resources to get enough food for active, healthy living. The number was 38 million in 2004.
That's more than ten percent of the entire population of the richest, most (or one of the most, anyway) agriculturally productive nations in the world. That's trouble, my friends, with a capital "T" and that rhymes with "C" and that stands for "capitalism."

"People before profits" isn't just a slogan. It's an imperative.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


L.A. Times calls for justice for Posada...sort of

The Los Angeles Times called today for terrorist (and they actually called him a "terrorist," to my great shock!) Luis Posada Carriles to be brought to justice...sort of. Here's the Times editorial, followed by a letter to the editor which I've sent off tonight in response:

Los Angeles Times:

Bring the Cuban terrorist to justice
The U.S. must not release a man accused of blowing up a Cuban jetliner. A third-party country could be the answer.

November 15, 2006

IT IS TIME TO BRING Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to justice. Dithering on the part of the U.S. is leaving the nation open to charges of hypocrisy in the war on terror — specifically, to the charge that some forms of terrorism are more acceptable than others.

The 78-year-old Posada is lionized by hard-line anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami. He stands accused of conspiring to blow up a Cuban airliner in 1976, causing 73 deaths. He denies involvement, but newly declassified documents place him at planning sessions for the attack.

Posada has boasted of bombing hotels in Havana that resulted in one death and 11 injuries. In 2000, a Panamanian jury convicted Posada and three other terrorists of plotting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, and they were jailed. Outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, however, pardoned the four — some believe as a favor to the White House.

A naturalized Venezuelan citizen, Posada was arrested in spring 2005 for entering the U.S. illegally. An immigration judge has since blocked his deportation to stand trial in either Venezuela or Cuba because of concerns about the fairness of any proceeding in those countries. The Bush administration now faces a choice between trying Posada in this country or setting him free in February.

Letting him walk would clearly be an outrage, and trying him in a U.S. courtroom after refusing to hand him over to Venezuela would create a perception problem across Latin America. The State Department has approached a few countries to take Posada, but all have refused.

It isn't clear whether Spain is one of these nations, but the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero should be encouraged to resolve this impasse. Madrid is a credible interlocutor between Washington and Latin America, and Spanish courts have a recent tradition — thanks in large measure to crusading magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who pursued former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, among others — of aggressively taking on cases of universal jurisdiction.

Washington should broker a deal that allows Posada to be tried in a third country whose principled neutrality is not questioned in this case — even if it means upsetting some Cuban Americans in Miami or putting up with some embarrassing revelations about CIA activity among the exile community.

The alternative is for the U.S. insistence that nations band together to fight the war on terror to sound hypocritically self-serving.
My response:
While the Times' call for Luis Posada Carriles to face long-overdue justice is welcome, real justice calls for him to be tried in Venezuela. It is in Venezuela, not Spain or any other country, in which Posada faces outstanding charges for the murder of 73 people via the mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455 in 1976.

The Times errs in claiming that "An immigration judge has since blocked his deportation to stand trial in either Venezuela or Cuba because of concerns about the fairness of any proceeding in those countries." Cuba has not even sought the extradition of Posada, and the refusal to extradite him to Venezuela is not due to any concern for "fairness," but rather to the uncontested testimony at his hearing that he would likely be tortured in Venezuela. And who was it that the U.S. prosecutor allowed to present that uncontested testimony? Joaquin Chaffardet, Posada's lawyer, former boss in the Venezuelan secret police, former business partner at the time of the airline bombing, and someone who was indicted, though not convicted, for organizing the prison break which sprang Posada from a Venezuelan jail in the first place!

Justice in the Posada case not only demands that Posada be tried, but that five men who are now starting their ninth year in U.S. prisons be freed immediately. Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González - collectively known as the Cuban Five - were sent to the U.S. to monitor and disrupt the terrorist plots of Posada, Orlando Bosch, and other right-wing Cuban-Americans in Miami. In return for doing the job that the U.S. government should have been doing, and saving the lives of innocent people, that same U.S. government arrested them, falsely charging and convicting them of conspiracy to commit espionage. The outrageous injustice of their imprisonment cries out to be rectified.

It's long past time not only to try Posada for his crimes, but to free the Five!


The inhumane U.S. blockade of Cuba

A few days ago, the U.N. voted for the 15th consecutive year to condemn the U.S. blockade of Cuba, by the resounding vote of 183-4. Only the opposition of the American ("American" as in "residents of the U.S.A.") people is ever going to actually end the blockade however, given the complete disregard of the United States government for international opinion, or international law for that matter.

In that regard, it's essential for Americans to understand the price they are paying for this blockade. Among those costs are the cost to health care and scientific research, as exemplified by something happening this week in Havana:

A dozen US researchers were unable to attend the International Congress "Biotecnología 2006," with sessions continuing in this capital Wednesday, after being denied permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
So is this some unimportant conference in a third-world country, and those dozen U.S. scientists were just looking for an excuse for a tropical vacation? Hardly - the conference brought together nearly 600 participants from 40 countries. And what kind of knowledge did they come to share? Here's an example:
The forum presented on Tuesday a new synthetic product with anti-tumoral properties patented by a team of Cuban scientists from the Havana-based Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).

According to Granma daily, the first phase of the clinical test in 31 uterine-cancer patients has already been completed, and it was further evidenced that secondary reactions are minor when compared to conventional therapies.
So, if you or anyone in your family ever suffers or dies from uterine cancer, you may have the U.S. government to "thank."

American businesspeople who are losing potential profits by being unable to trade with Cuba are practically the only Americans (outside of leftists such as myself) to raise their voices against the blockade. It's time for the scientific community, and for all Americans, to add their voices and put a stop to this inhumane policy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Iran - the danger of war increases

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with George Bush and tried to raise the specter of Iran even higher:
"There is no question that the Iranian threat is not just a threat for Israel, but for the whole world. The fanaticism and the extremism of the Iranian government, and the fact that the leader of a nation such as Iran can threaten the very existence of another nation, as he does towards the state of Israel, is not something that we can tolerate or would ever tolerate, and certainly not when we know that he is trying to possess nuclear weapons."
True to form, Bush reiterated his previous stance, that he would be happy to talk with Iran, after they agreed to his demands.

And today, one day later, a day of amazing coincidences:

I hardly need to point out that these allegations are now tracking the pre-invasion allegations against Iraq even more closely.

The U.S. is already overcommitted in Iraq (and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan), and Israeli talk about the possibility of their military action against Iran is, in my opinion, more intended to convince the American audience about the alleged danger posed by Iran than anything else. Most likely, all of these new (and old) accusations are designed to ratchet up the pressure on Russia and China to go along with strong sanctions on Iran, thus weakening Iran and setting them up for a future assault when imperialism is ready, in much the same way that Iraq was set up for the 2003 invasion. Nevertheless, these developments have to be treated seriously, and treated as if the possibility of invasion or other attack is very real.

U.S./U.K./Israeli hands off Iran!

Monday, November 13, 2006


John McCain's Vietnam syndrome

There's one "Vietnam syndrome" which affects the American people - the lack of desire to see thousands of their fellow American die in vain. There's another one which affects politicians like John McCain (not to mention conservative pundits like Bill Kristol) - the desire not to blamed for a lost war. That's my explanation for people like McCain and Kristol still beating the drums for more troops to be sent to Iraq to "solve the problem" or achieve "victory."

Here's McCain on Meet the Press:

I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.

Now, if you want to, to give up on, on Iraq, then fine, and take the consequences. I think there will be chaos in the region. But we need to control the—this insurgency, we need to embed people with the police and the military, we need to clear and hold—and “hold” is the important part—so we can expand areas of security. There’s a lot of things that we can and must do. But if we don’t want to do that, fine, but that is a decision that I think will have profound consequences. I’m not prepared to go to an American family and tell them, “Well, you know, we’ll—you just stay there for a while and we’ll delay this withdrawal and defeat for a year or two,” I’m not prepared to tell them that. I’m prepared to tell them that if we have the will to win, we will do what’s necessary to win. But I’m not interested in seeing a scene of the American Embassy on the, the roof of the American embassy in Saigon multiplied a thousandfold.
John McCain knows very well, particularly after the recent election which is being universally interpreted as a repudiation of the war, that there is no chance that more troops are going to be sent to Iraq. Zero. There's only one reason he's calling for it. So when Iraq is "lost," McCain can run for President pompously claiming he's not to blame, and if only his advice had been followed, none of this would have happened.

As for the helicopters on the roof, I say, "Bring 'em on!"

Saturday, November 11, 2006


UN to let the slaughter in Palestine continue

Hold your shock - the United States has vetoed yet another U.N. resolution condemning Israeli actions in Palestine (specifically Gaza in this instance). How far will the U.S. go to "protect" its clients in Israel? This particular resolution also "would have called on the Palestinian Authority to 'take immediate and sustained action to bring an end to violence, including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory.'" Even that wasn't good enough for the U.S., though.

Everyone's favorite villain John Bolton will soon be gone. Does anyone think that any other American representative to the U.N., even (or should I say especially) one appointed by President Hillary Clinton or President Al Gore, would have cast their vote differently?

As with Donald Rumsfeld, it can seem satisfying to rejoice when those who are the arrogant face of American policy are given the boot. But in both cases, the forces really determining the policy they were implementing are unchanged.


"Helping" Iraqis...to an early grave

When the latest Johns Hopkins report was released, the one thing I expressed skepticism about was the figure of 53,000 excess non-violent deaths. I wrote about that:
"I have to say that, scientific method or no scientific method, I find this very hard to believe, given the state of public health (water, etc.) and actual health care (hospitals, etc.) in Iraq. Perhaps the only thing that explains it is that, after a decade of sanctions, things were already so much worse than 'normal.' Imagine if their baseline had been the 1980's."
Today, the Los Angeles Times carries an article which sheds some light on the state of health care in Iraq, as well as on my comment above:
Thousands of Iraqis are believed to have died from shortages of medicine, vital equipment and qualified doctors, despite an infusion of nearly half a billion dollars from U.S. coffers into this country's healthcare system, Iraqi officials and American observers say.

Raging sectarian violence as well as theft, corruption and mismanagement have drained health resources and made deliveries of supplies difficult. Exacerbating the crisis, hundreds of doctors have been killed, and thousands have fled Iraq. The child mortality rate, a key indicator of a nation's health, has worsened since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to Iraqi government figures.

Healthcare in Iraq once was first rate. Medicine and hospital care were free, doctors well-educated and respected. But neglect by former President Saddam Hussein and years of United Nations sanctions laid waste to the system.

The nation's health has deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s, said Joseph Chamie, former director of the U.N. Population Division and an Iraq specialist.

"They were at the forefront," he said, referring to healthcare just before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. "Now they're looking more and more like a country in sub-Saharan Africa."
My only argument with this article is the reference to "neglect by former President Saddam Hussein." The fact that medicine and hospital care were free, and that an excellent public education system was producing well-educated doctors (and other professionals), were a direct result of the semi-socialist policies of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath party. It was the "United Nations" (in reality, U.S./U.K.) sanctions which forced the alleged "neglect."

On the numeric front, the article gives us this:

At one of the busiest hospitals in Baghdad, five people die on average every day because the staff does not have the equipment to treat heart attacks and other commonplace illnesses and injuries, said Husam Abud, a doctor at Yarmouk Hospital. That translates to more than 1,800 preventable deaths a year at that hospital alone.
1,800 deaths a year translates to 6,300 deaths in the 3 1/2 years since the invasion. I don't know what percentage of the patients in the entire country are treated by this one hospital, but I feel confident in saying it's a lot more than one-tenth, which would translate to a lot more than 63,000 excess deaths, and hence a lot more than the number arrived at by the Johns Hopkins study. There are two explanations. One is that the Johns Hopkins study was wrong. The second, which I posited last month, is simply that, while the number of people dying from preventable non-violent causes is high, it was also high (but not quite as high) before the invasion, thanks to the years of brutal (and deadly) sanctions, hence raising the baseline used by the JHU researchers.

Whatever the case, one thing we know for sure. Thanks to the "help" they've received from imperialism, Iraqis are not worse off than they were before the invasion. They're much worse off.

Friday, November 10, 2006


The British terrorist threat

We're now into the second day of the great British terrorist scare. MI5's head says they are tracking "almost 30 terrorist plots involving 1,600 people," and Tony Blair says "the threat from international terrorism 'is serious, is growing, and will, I believe, be with us for a generation.'"

Completely absent from any of the coverage of this story is any hint whatsoever of the nature of this "threat," and I don't mean which subways are being targeted. To hear or read the coverage, one would think that "terrorism" is simply something that people are attracted to for its own sake. Any clue that there might be a reason why 1500 people in Britain might have chosen to follow this path, other than the usual nonsense about 73 virgins, is completely absent. Equally absent is any explanation about how it might be possible to eliminate this threat in "a generation." Are all the terrorists, and every person who might possibly become one, going to be killed or jailed in that time?

The idea that British (and, of course, U.S.) foreign policy, as seen in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iran in particular, might have anything to do with this threat? Completely, utterly, totally missing from the discussion. Can't go there. Wouldn't want to acknowledge that changes in that policy would be orders of magnitude less expensive in lives and "treasure," and infinitely more effective in ending the terrorist threat.


Inane Quote of the Day Week Year

"Years from now, when America looks out on a democratic Middle East growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima."

- George Bush, speaking at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps
Sure they will, George. And people will speak about you with the same awe and reverence that they give to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.


Delusional Quote of the Day

"The American people have put their feet on the right path by ... realizing their president's betrayal in supporting Israel, so they voted for something reasonable in the last elections."

- Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al Qaida in Iraq
Don't we wish.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Once again on Johns Hopkins vs. the world

Once more into the breach, dear friends.

Earlier today, when I wrote about the latest claim that 150,000 Iraqis have died, the AP article linked to didn't mention the numbers from the Johns Hopkins study at all, nor did it clarify who was included in this latest estimate of 150,000, nor did it mention the basis of the estimate.

Now the article has been updated and all three problems are remedied, but not any of the other issues that I raised. And once more I am going to have to clarify for at least my readers, if not for the AP and the rest of the media, that a bowl of apples is not the same as a bowl of apples and oranges. The new estimate, we are told, includes "civilians, police and the bodies of people who were abducted, later found dead and collected at morgues run by the Health Ministry" (and the 150,000 is simply an extrapolation from the "100 bodies/day" brought to morgues and hospitals). But "civilians, police, and dead abductees" hardly covers all the Iraqis who have been killed by this war. There seems to be neither any recognition of that fact, nor any understanding of the fact that the "controversial" Johns Hopkins report ("controversial," apparently, because it "was dismissed by President Bush and other U.S. officials as not credible") measured the mortality rate for all Iraqis, not just those in particular categories.


The "concerns" of imperialists

One of the subjects discussed by Cuban Foreign Felipe Perez Roque yesterday at the U.N. (see post below) was how the U.S. economic warfare against Cuba had recently been directed against Cuba's medical efforts to help the peoples of the world. This article from a recent edition of the Sydney Morning Herald provides some insight into that same subject:
Cuba has been flooding some poorer parts of the region with doctors and humanitarian workers since the tsunami tragedy in Indonesia on Boxing Day, 2004. Swathes of the Pacific, from Kiribati to East Timor, are becoming dependent on Cuban medical aid, and the Cubans appear to be winning hearts and minds. Following the Java earthquake in May, teams of doctors were quickly flown to affected areas.

Indonesia's regional health co-ordinator, Ronny Rockito, said the two Cuban field hospitals and 135 workers made a bigger impact on the humanitarian crisis than the work of any other country.

"I appreciate the Cuban medical team; their style is very friendly and their medical standard very high," Mr Rockito said. "Everything is free and [there is] no support from my government. We give thanks to [Cuban President] Fidel Castro. Many villagers begged the Cuban doctors to stay."
Aside from the rather poorly-chosen image of Cuban doctors "flooding" a region hit by a tsunami, a fair picture of what's going on. Now here's the first paragraph of the article, which precedes the excerpt above:
Cuba, one of the world's few surviving communist nations, is quietly expanding relations in the Pacific region, and Canberra and Washington are said to be watching developments with concern.
As Granma comments:
Fearing the example of commitment, solidarity and unselfishness that has earned the physicians the gratitude and respect of the people in the nations where they are working, the "concerns" are an irrefutable demonstration of the two countries’ "vocation" to defend human rights.


U.S. suffers three more defeats

[First posted 11/8/06, 8:47 p.m.; updated and bumped]

Defeat one was the defeat of the American project to intimidate the Nicaraguan people with the usual range of threats and bullying, and their election of pseudo-Sandinista Daniel Ortega (however little confidence one may have in him).

Defeats two and three occurred today in the U.N. General Assembly. To no one's surprise (except perhaps George Bush, who doesn't seem to expect bad things to happen to him in elections), the General Assembly voted for the 15th consecutive year (!) to condemn the U.S. "embargo" (virtual blockade) against Cuba, with the usual resounding vote of 183 to 4 (Voting "no" with the United States were Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau. Micronesia abstained. Nicaragua and Iraq did not vote.).

But this year, the vote featured a twist. This year, the U.S. managed to pressure Australia into introducing an amendment to that resolution, which would have added "a paragraph saying that the U.S. measures were motivated by 'valid concerns' about the lack of freedom in Cuba and called on Havana to release political prisoners." What utter nonsense. Without even getting into a defense of these usual charges against Cuba, which I have covered on many occasions here, what if they were true? How many other countries in the world does the U.S. maintain an embargo/blockade on? Are you telling me that there are no other countries which have a "lack of freedom" and which hold political prisoners in this world? For goodness' sake, Israel has slaughtered more Palestinians this month than the alleged number of political prisoners held in Cuba. And unlike the United States, which is holding hundreds of prisoners (including, at least for a while, some American citizens) without any charges whatsoever, there isn't anyone in jail in Cuba who has not been tried and convicted on laws which were in effect at the time they committed their crimes.

Anyway, this maneuver by the Americans was to no avail - the amendment was resoundingly defeated, 126 to 51 with five abstentions. In your face, John Bolton and George Bush (and John Howard).

Update: Felipe Perez Roque's eloquent speech at the U.N., not only denouncing the U.S. economic war against Cuba but explaining in detail its extent, is now online. Since I don't write enough for my Australian readers, I'll reprint here the section which deals with the "Australian" amendment that went down to defeat:

Ladies and gentlemen, is this amendment really an expression of a genuine concern for Australia? No. It is only proof of its abject submission to the government of the United States.

But, in addition, Australia does not have the moral authority to try to refer to the human rights situation in Cuba.

The Australian government is an accomplice of U.S. imperialism. It is a kind of “junior imperialist,” always at the ready in the Pacific to follow its mentors in Washington. It not only collaborated with them and sent troops together with the U.S. Army to the war in Vietnam, in which four million Vietnamese people lost their lives, but also enthusiastically participated, by sending more than 2,000 troops, in the invasion of Iraq, a pre-emptive and totally illegal war. There are still 1,300 Australian soldiers in Iraq despite the fact that just 22% of the Australian population supports that particular venture.

The Australian government, which subjects the Aboriginal population of its country to a veritable regime of apartheid, does not have the moral authority to criticize Cuba. The Australian government, which supports the U.S. torture center in Guantánamo, and backed summary trials before military courts of prisoners who are ill-treated and tortured there, including Australian prisoners, does not have the moral authority to criticize Cuba.


Counting the Iraqi dead - again

The latest entry in the "how many Iraqis are dead" sweepstakes:
Iraq's health minister said about 150,000 have been killed by insurgents since the war started, giving the government's first overall casualty estimate.

Iraq's Health Minister Ali al-Shemari said about 150,000 Iraqis have been killed by insurgents since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

For every person killed about three have been wounded in violence since the war started in March 2003, al-Shemari told reporters during a visit to Vienna. He did not explain how he arrived at the figure, which is three times most other estimates.
Count the errors. First of all, "150,000 killed" is not a "casualty estimate," it's a "fatality estimate." Second, an estimate of the number of Iraqis killed by one source ("insurgents") can hardly be considered an "overall casualty estimate." Surely even the health minister wouldn't claim that no Iraqis have been killed by the Americans or by the Iraqi government forces, would he? Third, the all-inclusive, yet unexplained term "insurgents." Does that estimate include Iraqis killed by sectarian militias and death squads? Fourth, do the health minister's "Iraqis" include all Iraqis, or just those designated as "civilians"? The article (and the health minister?) doesn't say.

Finally, the claim that this number is "three times most other estimates." Actually I'm not aware of any other "estimates." Iraq Body Count counts (not "estimates") the number of civilian dead reported in English-language media. That's an undercount of the total number of dead (and doesn't even include non-civilians), but not an "estimate." The Johns Hopkins study, which is not mentioned in the AP article at all, was a scientific study which produced a scientifically valid number with error bars, not an "estimate." As for other numbers which get cited in the press, like that of George Bush, those can't even be considered a "guesstimate," much less an "estimate."

Two things we know for sure. The U.S. government and the media will keep spinning the numbers to keep them as low as possible, and whatever the correct number, there are one hell of a lot of Iraqis (and others) dead who would be alive today were it not for U.S. imperialism.


Pat (expletive) Tillman

The doomed man waved his arms, pleading for recognition as a friend, not an enemy.

"Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it!" the NFL star shouted, again and again.
But that's the least of what the investigation into the death of Pat Tillman has revealed. Here's what is known:The bottom line is this: "All four failed to identify their targets before firing, a direct violation of the fire discipline techniques drilled into every soldier."

Months' of investigation have gone into sorting out the cause of Pat (expletive) Tillman's death. During that time alone, not to mention the years which preceded, tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been gunned down by American forces, and thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese have been similarly murdered by Israeli forces using U.S. weaponry. How many of those deaths have occurred under similar circumstances - failure to reliably identify the target before firing (or dropping a bomb or firing a missile or artillery)? And how many of those will be given months' of investigation? None (although we'll hear claims in some of the cases that "an investigation is ongoing"), because the lives of those victims are considered worthless, especially compared to the life of Pat (expletive) Tillman.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Chavez joins the call: Resign. Now.

I've said for a long time, and reiterated just recently, that calls for the Secretary of Defense to resign without calling for the Commander-in-Chief to resign, particularly one who calls himself "Commander-in-Chief" more often than any President since George Washington, don't make any sense.

Someone else agrees with me:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez applauded the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and suggested President George W. Bush should quit as well.

"Heads are beginning to roll," Chavez said during a news conference Wednesday. "It was about time he resigned. The president should resign now."
Out Now! U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan! Israel out of Palestine! Bush and Cheney out of office! Resign! Now!


It's a massacre

No, not Republicans. Palestinians:
Israel was placed on high security alert Wednesday, hours after Israel Defense Forces artillery shells struck a residential area in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun early Wednesday, killing at least 18 Palestinians and wounding dozens of others.

Eight children and seven women were among the dead, the Palestinain Health Ministry said, adding that 18 of the victims were members of the Athamna family.

Khaled Radi, a Palestinian Health Ministry official, said all of those killed were civilians. According to witnesses, the victims were sleeping when the 15-minute barrage of shells first hit.

Radi also said at least 40 people were wounded, all civilians. Four hospitals are treating the wounded across Gaza.
Will any of those newly elected "antiwar" Democrats speak out against this American-financed war slaughter? Short answer: no. Now that the election's over, it will actually be a shock if they speak out against the other war, the one in Iraq (and even more of a shock were they to speak out against the war in Afghanistan).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006



I'm not sure if Stephanie McMillan is recommending not voting at all, but I doubt she is. Because, while the choice of voting for Tweedledum and Tweedledumber (or TweedleImperialist and TweedleImperialister) isn't one I'm going to make, and while I am annoyed (like Stephanie, apparently) at being asked to vote for some new tax or some new bonds for something you can't say no to like clean water or education but never given a chance to vote against spending hundreds of billions of dollars on war, there still are things I cast my vote for that are real and do matter. Here in California, just to name two, there's a ballot proposition to force parental notification of abortions, and another (Prop. 90) which elevates private property rights to even higher levels than they are now, and would for all intents and purposes abolish zoning laws and prevent governments from planning rational uses of land.

So, the meaningless choices on the top of the ballot notwithstanding, go vote.

Monday, November 06, 2006


More on the Saddam verdict

George Bush claimed today that the conviction and sentencing to death of Saddam Hussein was "a landmark event in the history of Iraq." But if George Bush had his way, Saddam Hussein would have been dead on March 20, 2003, a victim of American bombs. So evidently convicting him in an "Iraqi" court wasn't that important as far as Bush was concerned.

One note on the quotes around "Iraqi." We all know that the defendants have been in the custody of Americans, not Iraqis. But tonight on BBC, something else was revealed. The BBC reporter had to get permission from the Americans to interview the defense lawyers. Yes, you read that right. Not the defendants. The defense lawyers.

And, while we're on the subject of that "landmark" "Iraqi" "justice," just a brief reminder that there are many people - Tariq Aziz for one and Gen. Amer al-Saadi for another, who as far as we know are still being held illegally by American forces, three and a half years after surrendering voluntarily to the Americans. Aziz at least was accused of something (basically being part of a regime that lost a war), although a trial doesn't seem to be in the offing (I'm not sure he's actually been officially charged with anything). Gen. al-Saadi has been charged with...absolutely nothing.


Shock! Horror! Gambling in the (ethnically cleansed) casino!

In today's shocking news, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and various ministers in his Cabinet "quickly distanced themselves" from remarks by Olmert's new Deputy Prime Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman's remarks, calling for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, were nothing he hasn't said many times, and nothing that came as a surprise to anyone, least of all Olmert or anyone else in Israel. Olmert says, "The opinions he expressed are not the government's position, and Lieberman knows that I am for complete equal rights for the Arab citizens of Israel. As long as I am the prime minister, that is the policy of the government." Well, "complete equal rights" is nonsense, Olmert doesn't support any such thing (just to name one, the right to marry anyone in the world you want to and have them actually live with you). But the simple fact is that, by appointing Lieberman as Deputy Prime Minister, Olmert deliberately and knowingly legitimized Lieberman's position, not to mention putting Lieberman in a better position to some day be prime minister.

But let's all pretend to be shocked.


The Simpsons and "Operation Enduring Occupation"

For those who missed last night's Halloween "Treehouse of Horrors" episode on The Simpsons, the closing minute.

Non-Americans should take note that The Simpsons is shown on the FOX Network which, despite identical (I think) ownership, is not FOX News. As will be evident from this clip.

Update: Courtesy of the comments, a link to the complete segment (6 1/2 minutes).

Sunday, November 05, 2006


The euphemisms of genocide

Israel has murdered more than 40 48 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun in the last few days. And how does The New York Times headline (and lead) the story? "Israel Vows to Hit Gaza Until Rockets Subside." Israel is not "hitting" anything, and the object of its war crimes isn't a place, it's people. Israel is slaughtering Palestinians by the dozens, not "hitting Gaza."


Saddam, Dujail, the Anfal, the media, the Johns Hopkins report, and the facts

With the Dujail verdict in, the media has started to mention the other trial, the one for the Anfal campaign in which many Kurds were killed. I'm not here to excuse anything that happened, just to explore what did happen. On tonight's news I heard the newscaster casually refer, without attribution, to "200,000" Kurds killed during the Anfal campaign. Well, of course that's interesting, since most of the media haven't even mentioned the Johns Hopkins report of 655,000 (or "more than 480,000," as I prefer) dead because of the American invasion of Iraq. So naturally I ask the question I tend to ask - where did that number "200,000" come from? Does it have anywhere near the credibility of the "655,000" number?

Before turning to that, a bit of a reminder about the Dujail case. Back in May, I explored the claim that "250,000 acres of palm groves and orchards" had been razed in Dujail after the assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. After analyzing the claim as highly improbable if not impossible, I discovered, by the admission of the New York Times reporter (John Burns) who had reported the claim, that there was no basis for the number whatsoever other than prosecution claims (an admission, by the way, which never found it's way into the Times).

So now let's look at the Anfal campaign. I always start at Wikipedia, which "informs" its readers that "The Anfal campaign, which began in 1986 and lasted until 1989, is said to have cost the lives of 182,000 civilians in the mostly rural areas of Kurdistan, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International." Well now isn't that interesting. Because Human Rights Watch actually says "By our estimate, in Anfal at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 persons, many of them women and children, were killed out of hand between February and September 1988." Do note the opening words "by our estimate." Because, unlike the Johns Hopkins Study, this wasn't actually a scientific study, as Human Rights Watch openly admits: "Two experienced field researchers...spent six months in northern Iraq between April and September 1992, gathering testimonial information about the Anfal." Now without any question serious human rights abuses, serious crimes, were documented by HRW. But nothing which could make their numbers anything more than what they in fact say they are - "an estimate."

And Amnesty International? Again, the claim that they have used a number of 182,000 is simply false. Here's what they actually say: "Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who “disappeared” in this wave, but Kurdish sources put the total at over 100,000." And later, they even add, "However, during the 1991 uprisings, hundreds of people who had “disappeared” in the 1970s and 1980s were discovered alive in secret underground prisons."

Bottom line? There isn't any evidence of "200,000" deaths as I heard on the news tonight, or the "182,000" that Wikipedia falsely attributes to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Nor can I find any evidence that any actual epidemiological study of the deaths was ever conducted.

The conclusion is hardly surprising. When accusations are made against one of the "bad guys," no actual proof is required for the media (and others) to dutifully repeat the accusations. When data are collected showing the truth about American crimes, the standards suddenly become rather different.


The Saddam Hussein verdict

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death today, for his role in the death of an alleged 148 people in Dujail. George Bush is responsible for the deaths of 480,000* Iraqis at a minimum, and possible hundreds of thousands more. What fate do you suppose awaits him? What fate should await him?

*There are, of course, different ways to state the results of the latest Johns Hopkins study. Some prefer to cite the "most probable" number of 655,000 deaths. But since that number is the top of a bell curve, there is actually a 50% chance that fewer deaths than that have occured. I prefer making statements that I know to be true with 95% accuracy. Here's where it gets tricky. The Lancet paper has some very confusing aspects. The "most probable" number includes all deaths, violent and non-violent. But the only error bars that the paper quotes, 425,000 to 795,000, are for the violent deaths only. So if we take the minimum number of violent deaths (425,000), and add to that the number of non-violent deaths (estimated at 53,000), we arrive at a figure of 478,000, which I round up to 480,000. That's not a perfect number, since there are error bars on the 53,000 as well (not specified in the paper), but it's as close as we can come to a number that we "know" (with a high degree of certainty) is true. Not, as I have noted elsewhere, that it matters in some philosophical sense, or even in a legal sense. Whether George Bush is responsible for the deaths of 50,000 Iraqis or 500,000 Iraqis, the fate he deserves is the same.


What some people could learn from Roy Riegels

I wouldn't be surprised if most readers haven't heard of Roy Riegels, but his story holds a surprisingly important lesson for today. Riegels was a football player for University of California (Berkeley) in the 1929 Rose Bowl, who managed to pick up a fumble and run 65 yards with it. Alas, he was running in the wrong direction, and although he was actually tackled on the one-yard line by one of his teammates, his team suffered a safety on the very next play. Since they eventually lost the game by one point, his bonehead play essentially lost the Rose Bowl.

And what better image for the Iraq war, a war which the vast majority of Americans, even many politicians and military officers, acknowledge "shouldn't have happened" but, which, despite that recognition, most of those same people still persist in the bizarre idea that it has to be kept going. So we can presume that these same people would have been cheering on Roy Riegels as he ran the wrong way, in the misguided hope that their team would "win" if only he kept going.

But it didn't work that way for Roy Riegels and Cal. And it isn't going to work that way for the U.S. in Iraq either. Continuing to do something that is wrong will never turn out right.


Arianna Huffington thinks I'm crazy! (or a terrorist)

Stumbled on this* this morning from Arianna Huffington:
"Let's just stipulate that everyone in America not in a straight jacket or part of a terrorist sleeper cell wants America to "win" -- and center the debate on what, exactly, the president and the GOP mean by victory."
No, Arianna, I, and a hell of a lot of other Americans (arguably, a majority) just want the U.S. and its allies to get the hell out of Iraq, now, and don't look back (except for writing a check for the damages). We don't want the U.S. to "win," not by any conceivable definition. We want the Iraqi people to win by getting their country back, and then doing their best to fix the almost incalculable damage caused by the American invasion (not to mention the years of sanctions and bombing which preceded the invasion).

And there's nothing whatsoever crazy about that.

As for being part of a "sleeper" cell, I'm afraid I, and the tens of thousands of people who regularly demonstrate in the streets against the U.S. occupation, are a bit too "out" for that.

* The full link to this article is http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/rosie-david-and-wolf-w_b_32927.html; for some reason Blogger seems to be hiccuping on that. Perhaps it's too long.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


The ongoing Israeli massacre in Gaza

Make no mistake about it - it's a massacre. Yesterday alone, Israel murdered 14 Palestinians in Gaza, bringing the total to nearly 300 since June. In that time, only a handful of Israeli soldiers have died, and, I'm pretty sure, not a single Israeli civilian. As I said, a massacre.

Billmon has a long post up today about the moral ambiguity of the situation, in particular the murder of the two Palestinian women yesterday acting as human shields. But the facts, which seem to be most thoroughly covered in this Los Angeles Times article, say otherwise. Here's the "money section":

The lead group of women approached the besieged mosque on foot on a wide street, shouting at the Israelis to leave Gaza. Soldiers turned from the mosque and opened fire.

An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers had spotted two male militants hiding among the women and fired at them. Footage filmed by Reuters and other news organizations showed no men in the crowd at the time.
Even FOX News, which I was watching last night, showed footage of the crowd outside the mosque, circled two figures in the crowd which appeared to be male, and noted that they were clearly unarmed. And just how good does that Israeli army spokesman think we think the vision of Israeli soldiers is anyway, that they could identify "militants" in the crowd? The bottom line is that, to the Israeli army (and to most of the Western corporate media), any Palestinian male between the age of 12 and 70 is a "militant," or at least a "potential militant," which, according to the doctrine of "preemptive strike," is the same as a "militant."

And, just a reminder that, while there are indeed Palestinians firing rockets into Israel (rockets which "have caused panic, property damage and six deaths in the last three years," i.e., fewer deaths than the number of Palestinians killed in just a few hours yesterday), the vast majority of the people being killed wholesale by the Israelis, and described by the Israelis and the corporate media as "militants" or "gunmen," are nothing more than people defending their land against invaders from another country. As with the comparable situation in Iraq, these people are no less "innocent" than the "innocent civilians," and their deaths are no more "acceptable" than those of the civilians.

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