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Sunday, December 31, 2006


Another "milestone" tombstone

American death toll in Iraq hits 3,000
Inaccurate? Yes. Omitting several hundred thousand other deaths for which an exact "milestone" will never happen? Yes. But still hopefully a milestone, not in the number of officially counted deaths of American soldiers under certain circumstances, but in the continued turning of American opinion not just against the war, but in favor of immediate withdrawal.

AFSC (and probably others) are coordinating the organizing of events all over the country. How successful they'll be considering that tomorrow is New Year's Day remains to be seen. What we really need is a plane towing an appropriate message over some of the Bowl Games and parades that will be happening tomorrow. Hopefully someone's thought of that.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


How many Iraqis died today?

It's an interesting question. When the latest Johns Hopkins study was released, I calculated that, using their data, we could say with 95% certainty that 480,000 Iraqis had died thanks to the U.S./British invasion and occupation. But that study only estimated deaths through July, 2006. Using their "excess death per thousand" rate, one can estimate that 78,000 more Iraqis have died since that study was released, bringing us to 550,000+ (again, that's the 95% certainty number; the "most probable" number would now be at 725,000+).

The problem with the Johns Hopkins study, though, is not its seemingly solid science, but it's gut-level credibility. According to its numbers, 520 Iraqis are dying per day. But you can read an article like today's all-too-typical summary, and it informs you that "At least 80 Iraqis died in bombings and other attacks Saturday." A frightening number to be sure, but a long way from 520.

But what's missing? Here's something else, again all-too-typical, from the same article: "New deaths announced by the U.S. military included three Marines and a soldier killed in combat in Iraq's volatile western Anbar province, and two soldiers killed by roadside bombs in Baghdad." Four soldiers killed in "combat" in Anbar, and not a single Iraqi fatality? Not bloody likely. Given the superior firepower of the Americans, and their disregard for Iraqi life, it's hard to believe that anything less than dozens of Iraqis were killed in that same combat. Similarly, we can imagaine that when two soldiers were killed by roadside bombs in Baghdad, the remaining members of their company sprang to action, firing their weapons in every direction and killing anything that moved. Was any of this reported? Nope.

What else? Let's look at that "at least 80 Iraqis" number. It turns out to be the sum of a car bomb which killed 37 in Baghdad, another car bomb in Kufa which killed 31, and 12 bodies bearing signs of torture which were also found in various parts of Baghdad. Every one of them a "double-digit" killing. The death of 5, or 2, or 1 person here or there doesn't even make the news. There are hundreds of cities in Iraq. If one person were killed in just 80 of them, that would double the "count" right there.

What else? Just in those two car bombings, another 134 people were injured. Some superficially, no doubt, but some quite seriously. Does AP report on the people who died in the hospital from yesterday's car bombing, or the one the day before that? Will they report on the ones out of this 134 who die tomorrow or next week? Not in any article I've ever seen.

Then, after all that, we have the people who simply died because of poor health care, lack of medicine, and so on, numbers which have also increased substantially thanks to the results of the invasion.

Does all this add up to 520 per day? I don't know. But it sure adds up to a lot more than 80 (as even AP admits: "The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.").

Saddam Hussein was hanged today for the judicial killing of 148 people. Their trials may not have been fair, but they were tried, and for alleged involvement in a very real crime (an attempted assassination). What fate awaits George Bush & Co., responsible for the death of more than 148 people every day for more than three and a half years?


Quantitative proof: Iraqis were better off under Saddam

After all the bogus reasons, excuses, and rationales for invading Iraq and overthrowing (and finally killing) Saddam Hussein have fallen away, one still remains - we (the noble Americans who have only the best interests of others at heart) wanted to free the Iraqis from a brutal dictator, "give" them democracy, and all in all just make their lives better. Aside from the more than half a million who no longer have any life at all, how are we doin'?

Not so well, obviously, as American reporters and Iraqi bloggers have made quite clear. But we don't need to rely on subjective evaluations, because it turns out there's perfectly quantitative proof - how many Iraqis thought life there was so bad they had to flee the country? Nearly two million Iraqis have fled since March, 2003, with an estimated 100,000 more leaving each month. And under Saddam? Just 280,000.

Life isn't just worse under the U.S. occupation than under Saddam Hussein. It's much worse.

Update: A rare and shameful correction. I couldn't easily find the number of Iraqi expatriates, and I misread that article which gave a number 280,000, which was actually the number registered to vote. According to this article, which I just found, the actual number of Iraqi expatriates as of Feb., 2005 was 2.5 million. That's slightly larger than the number who have left in the last few years, but considering that that was over a considerably longer period of time, the point is still valid. Just not as much.


Right I observing Left I

Great Blue Heron perched above Los Alamitos Creek (San Jose, CA)

As the year closes in on its end, my wish for the world's people remains the same - that they can enjoy the same beauty that I was able to enjoy on a spectacular Northern California winter's day. And my wish for the world remains the same too - that the world's people don't succeed in destroying that beauty forever.


Website of the Year: Left I on the News!

So says Press Action, who writes:
Eli Stephens’s Left I on the News ascends from best Media Blog of the Year in 2005 to the grander Website of the Year award for 2006. Left I provided insightful analysis and media criticism of events in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and even the Tour de France bicycle race. Press Action’s only qualm with Left I is the shortage of updates on the site when Eli would go on vacation or work-related travels.
Well, I'm truly honored. This blog is both a labor of love (i.e., not money) and a labor of (self-imposed) political obligation (see the two quotes which appear at the upper right of this blog for an elaboration). To the extent that it's appreciated and useful to others, I'm truly grateful.

And I do need to point out that, when updates disappear because I'm out of town, at least you get to look forward to some nice pictures when I return!

Drinks on me!

Friday, December 29, 2006


More dystopia, this time from Riverbend

After a long absence, Riverbend returns. Starting on a light note that's really deadly serious, here's one of her signs about how you know things are bad:
An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country's 'Golden Years'.
Like Hannah Allam, Riverbend reports that the last year has brought major changes:
This last year especially has been a turning point. Nearly every Iraqi has lost so much. So much. There's no way to describe the loss we've experienced with this war and occupation. There are no words to relay the feelings that come with the knowledge that daily almost 40 corpses are found in different states of decay and mutilation. There is no compensation for the dense, black cloud of fear that hangs over the head of every Iraqi. Fear of things so out of ones hands, it borders on the ridiculous- like whether your name is 'too Sunni' or 'too Shia'. Fear of the larger things- like the Americans in the tank, the police patrolling your area in black bandanas and green banners, and the Iraqi soldiers wearing black masks at the checkpoint.
And finally, some insightful remarks which bear on the impending "milestone" of 3,000 ("official") dead Americans:
Here we come to the end of 2006 and I am sad. Not simply sad for the state of the country, but for the state of our humanity, as Iraqis. We've all lost some of the compassion and civility that I felt made us special four years ago. I take myself as an example. Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

Just because Americans die in smaller numbers, it doesn't make them more significant, does it?
And, I'll add, in defined, countable numbers. We'll know who the "3,000th American" to die is. We'll never know who the 1,000th, or the 5,000th, or the 100,000th, or the 500,000th Iraqi to die was. But, echoing Riverbend, it doesn't make them less significant, does it?

Out now! Just like "no means no," now means now! Not in a year. Not in six months. Not after a "surge." Now!


In which the author of Left I on the News is very nearly struck dumb again

Saddam's reign leaves destruction behind
The article is exemplified by its final paragraphs:
Wahid Abdel Meguid, deputy director of Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Iraq will need decades to recover from Saddam.

"Saddam leaves behind misery and destruction everywhere," he said. "It is a society imbued with fear."
Yeah, that was Saddam's fault. George Bush and U.S. imperialism had nothing to do with it. Remarkable how powerful Saddam has been in the last few years from the inside of a jail cell, isn't it?

Re-read Hannah Allam's article about how much fear has increased just in the last year and tell me about how it was all Saddam's fault.

Saddam was no saint. But the blame for the destruction and fear reigning in Iraq (not to mention the million and a half Iraqis killed by the sanctions and the U.S. invasion and occupation) lies squarely in Washington, D.C.


The dystopian present

Whenever you see the word "dystopian," it always seems to be associated with the future, as in, for example, the way people describe the world of V for Vendetta. But, as one of the best of the mainstream reporters shows us, dystopia is alive and not so well, in Baghdad today. Hannah Allam, former Knight-Ridder/McClatchey Baghdad bureau chief, returns after just a year away and paints a truly chilling picture of life in Baghdad.

While George Bush searches in vain for a way to "win" in Iraq, the people of Iraq would be satisfied with just surviving to this time next year. And the people of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Lebanon, Venezuela, and more, can only hope that U.S. imperialism's plan for "victory" in their countries doesn't bring them the same fate. Well, that's not quite true. They can do more than hope. They can fight back. And that's what many of them are doing, or preparing to do.


Left I at the Movies

If you feel like being punched in the gut, and yet still inspired and educated, Winter Soldier is the film for you. This film of the 1971 hearings held by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War into atrocities and other war crimes being committed by the United States in Vietnam starts with discussions of beheadings and disembowelment, and goes on from there. After an hour and a half of powerful first-hand testimony about Vietnamese being pushed out of helicopters, the use of chemical weapons including CS gas and white phosphorous, the murder of wounded prisoners, disfigurement, rape, and murder for sport, you'll have had quite a look at the nature of warfare conducted by the United States of America against a third-world country where the people look different. Cross off that "people" and make that "inhabitants"; the testimony makes very clear the soldiers didn't view the Vietnamese as people.

I'll leave the testimony of atrocities to the movie itself, but two more general comments by two of the participants really struck me. First this one, offering some insight into how the soldiers could accept so much wanton murder of civilians:

"Things like Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed us it was ok to kill civilians as long as it was for the good of the nation."
And a different take on the same subject, from a soldier describing his change in attitude after an attack in which five of his friends were killed:
"I would kill anyone, innocent or not, just to make sure I wasn't killed."
Winter Soldier, made in 1972, was re-released in late 2005 and is now available on Netflix (and elsewhere, I presume). It would certainly be a highly appropriate movie to be shown by any local antiwar group.

Some related material:


Mark these words

Somalia today:
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Thursday...his troops would assist the transitional government to restore peace in Mogadishu.

He said Ethiopia would not become bogged down in an Iraq-style occupation.

He predicted that Ethiopian troops would remain in Somalia for a matter of days or weeks. "We are certainly not planning to stay there for months," he said.
Donald Rumsfeld, November, 2002:
"Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."

Thursday, December 28, 2006


In which the author of Left I on the News is literally struck dumb

Activist extraordinaire Medea Benjamin has an article today on CommonDreams listing the "ten good things of 2006." Now while I admire Benjamin's activism, we don't share precisely the same politics, so I could quibble with her enthusiasm for the 2006 election results, and I would certainly dispute the omission of Cuba from a list of Latin American countries "committed to improving the lives of the majority" (but I'll give her the benefit of doubt and assume she was only talking about recent additions to that list).

But I was literally struck dumb when I read her 7th "good thing":

While the fighting between Israel and Lebanon left over 1,000 dead, mostly Lebanese, a ceasefire was achieved after only 34 days. When the violence threatened to spiral out of control, the United Nations, the Arab League and individual governments stepped forward to insist on negotiations, to hammer out a ceasefire agreement and to provide international peacekeeping forces to serve as monitors.
"Only" 34 days? The U.N. stepped forward "when the violence threatened to spiral out of control"? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? What was she thinking when she wrote this?


Telling it like it is

Maybe it's been like this for a long time, but this was the first time I noticed. I was in Target a little while ago, and at the door, as is often the case, was a uniformed guard. But this time, I happened to glance at his badge. "Security"? Nope. "Asset protection."

Telling it like it is.


Gerald Ford's "opposition" to the invasion of Iraq

All the headlines are about how Gerald Ford had voiced strong opposition to the invasion of Iraq. But that's being rather generous with the word "voiced." Here's the real story:
The Ford interview -- and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 -- took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death.
So that "very strong" opposition didn't actually extend to...actual opposition. The death of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis was just fine with Ford, just so long as we all knew after he was dead that he wasn't for it.

Thanks, Gerry. You won't be missed.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Israel's "existence" is in danger. Blame Rachel Corrie.

Here we go again. Back in March we had the cancellation of the New York performance of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" (it later ran for two months in a different venue). Now the play has been preemptively canceled again, this time in Toronto:
Many [in Toronto's Jewish community] were dismayed and openly critical when confronted with the prospect of the city’s flagship not-for-profit theatre producing a play that could be construed as anti-Semitic propaganda, especially during a frightening period when Israel’s existence is threatened by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The idea that anything Rachel Corrie ever said or wrote was anti-Semitic is offensive in the extreme. But if anything, the rest of that proposition is even more absurd. Israel's existence threatened by Iran? Sure, if you believe against actual evidence that Iran is intent on building a nuclear bomb, and that the entire nation is suicidal. Israel's existence threatened by Hezbollah or Hamas, two organizations which do not possess an airplane or a tank between them, and have never occupied a single inch of Israeli soil? Supporters of Israel may pretend to believe this nonsense in order to fabricate a rationale for justifying Israel's behavior, but surely no person in their right mind actually believes it, do they? We might as well believe that the existence of the United States is "threatened" by al Qaeda, another group which possesses not a single tank or plane.


Invasion? No problem.

I wrote this morning about the absence of even the most ritual condemnations of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Now, as with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, U.S. imperialism has come completely out of the closet:
The United States defended Ethiopia's assault on Islamists in Somalia, which has reportedly killed more than 1,000 people, but said "maximum restraint" was needed to spare civilians [Ed. note: Pinochet and Lt. Calley would be so proud of that "restraint"].

Gonzo Gallegos [Ed. note: !], a State Department spokesman, said Ethiopia's offensive was intended to halt "aggressions" by the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) movement, which the United States this month said had been taken over by Al-Qaeda. [Ed. note - an allegation that AFP is happy to repeat without the slightest proof whatsoever.]

"Ethiopia has genuine security concerns with regard to developments within Somalia and has provided support at the request of legitimate governing authority [Ed. note: a "legitimate" government formed in Kenya in 2004]," he said, referring to Somalia's weak Western-backed government.
Up next: the U.S. blocks any meaningful U.N. resolution aimed at ending the invasion until thousands more innocent victims of U.S. imperialism and its proxies have died.


Fewer dead Americans than you (or I) thought

Early today I wrote the latest in a long line of posts about the number of people, Americans and otherwise, who have died in Iraq. But it turns out I was wrong. Why? Because, as we learn here, while around 100 of those who have died were members of the American armed forces, they weren't Americans, they were non-citizens serving in the armed forces.

And it looks like that number may well expand. Until now, only legally resident non-citizens were eligible to serve; now, the U.S. military is so desperate that they're actually considering setting up recruitment stations in other countries!

Here's the sentence I love from the article which describes this possibility:

Foreign citizens serving in the US military is a highly charged issue, which could expose the Pentagon to criticism that it is essentially using mercenaries to defend the country.
"Essentially"? Well, I guess that's no more inaccurate than "defend the country."


The War Prayer

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth in battle -- be Thou near them! With them —in spirit— we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of He, who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

- Mark Twain
The story of the War Prayer, written by Twain in 1904 as a protest against the American wars against Cuba and the Philippines, but not published until after his death, is told here in Juventud Rebelde.


V for Very Viewable

I can't remember how it came up, but some time ago several readers gave strong recommendations for the movie V for Vendetta. Although it's not generally "my kind of movie" (not much into either superhero movies, or Matrix-type movies), I was persuaded, and last week finally got around to watching it. Which allows me to add my voice to that of the readers who recommended this very viewable film.

It's not so much recommending the movie itself that prompts me to write, though, but the reaction to it. After watching the movie, I read through a bunch of reviews, and was quite surprised to see the number of negative reviews it received. What became clear to me, as I read them, was how much politics was dominating the reviewing process. Hardly any of them, for example, even bothered to mention the acting, with an excellent performance by Natalie Portman and great supporting roles from Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, and John Hurt, among others (can't say much for Hugo Weaving as V). Virtually none mentioned what I considered to be award-worthy cinematography, exemplified by closeups of the spittle-flecked lips of John Hurt's giant disembodied head, peering down from a screen onto his subordinates as he barks out orders.

Instead of reviewing the movie, so many of the reviewers seemed to be reviewing its politics. And the strange part of that was that so many of them seemed to think the message of the movie was ambiguous or simply unclear. Really? I'd say the message of the movie, boiled down to its essence, is a pretty simple one - tyranny should be resisted. Several of the reviewers, for example, quoted the line (which I'm not sure was actually in the movie although I did hear it from one of the actors in the DVD "extras") "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." OK, I accept the general validity of that statement. But this wasn't just any random terrorist, if you want to use that term. This is a person who is resisting the tyranny of a Hitler, a Pinochet.

Not by coincidence, I'm sure, are the main screen victims of this tyranny leftists, homosexuals, and "others" (which are pretty clearly implied to be Muslims or other foreigners). Jews are never mentioned, but considering the role that the church is playing in this future society and state, it's a pretty good guess they would have been among the victims. And yet there seems to be a reluctance among the reviewers to acknowledge that resistance, armed resistance, to such a brutal tyranny would be acceptable (even given the fact that, as improbable as it actually would be, the movie doesn't depict any innocent civilian victims of the resistance; only those responsible for the tyranny, and the armed representatives of the state, are victimized).

There is some legitimate question about V's methods, of course. Is he the quintessential anarchist, hoping in vain to inspire the masses with "propaganda of the deed"? Although he is a loner, I'd say no, since he does, in his own way, actually attempt to involve the masses in acts of resistance, rather than simply to inspire them.

As a movie, I have no criticisms of "V" at all. Sure, there are plot holes, as there almost always are in movies of this type, but nothing that detracts and can't be easily overlooked. The movie can be criticized "politically" on the grounds that, aside from simple power, there doesn't seem to be any actual motivation for the acts in the movie. Are they trying to gain control of the oil reserves of the Middle East, a la American imperialism, for example? Not as far as one can tell; they're not trying to do anything with power other than to have it. Economic matters simply doesn't figure into the movie at all; aside from the single TV station, we have no evidence that anyone is even working. So the movie is hardly a socialist critique of the world, nor a prescription for revolution. But criticizing a movie for what it's not is simply wrong.

What it is is a cracking good story, with excellent acting and cinematography to boot. Two thumbs up.

As in interesting coincidence, as I was thinking about writing this review, this highly-relevant article appeared in the paper yesterday, which I'm quoting in full:

Rights abuses inevitable, Pinochet wrote
Chile'S 1973 Coup Leading to Bloody Regime Regrettable but Necessary, ex-Leader Said

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - In a letter to Chileans to be published after his death, Gen. Augusto Pinochet wrote that he wished he had not had to stage the bloody 1973 coup that put him in power, and called the abuses under his long regime inevitable.

His fate was public shunning and unimagined loneliness, he said in the message made public Sunday.

The former dictator, who died Dec. 10 of heart failure at age 91, insisted the military takeover avoided civil war and a Marxist dictatorship, and said his 1973-90 regime never had "an institutional plan" to abuse human rights.

"But it was necessary to act with maximum rigor to avoid a widening of the conflict," Pinochet wrote.

According to an official report, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons in the 17 years after Pinochet overthrew elected Marxist President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973. Tens of thousands were illegally imprisoned, tortured and forced into exile after the coup, during which Allende committed suicide rather than surrender.

Pinochet's "message to all my compatriots to be published after my death" was made public by the Pinochet Foundation.
It was "necessary to act with maximum rigor." How's that for a euphemism for the murder of 3,197 innocent people (and that "official" estimate is decidedly on the low side of reality, without any question)? And this is the kind of regime for which film reviewers and others want us to think that we should question the validity of armed resistance.

See "V". And don't forget to check out "Missing" as well, to help understand the role that economics (and U.S. imperialism) do play when the likes of a Pinochet seize power.


Fidel update

Since this didn't make my morning paper, I'll pass it on for readers who share my interests:
A Spanish surgeon who has just examined Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Tuesday he is making a good recovery from intestinal surgery, does not have cancer, and could return to governing his country.

Castro's disappearance from the public eye after emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding in July sparked frenzied speculation about his state of health but surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido said the communist leader was in good condition.

"His physical activity is excellent, his intellectual activity intact, I'd say fantastic, he's recovering from his previous operation," Garcia Sabrido, head of surgery at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon public hospital, told a news conference after returning from Cuba.

"He asks every day to return to work, but doctors advise him not to, to take it easy," said Garcia Sabrido.

Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba last week to examine the 80-year-old leader, said he did not need further surgery but required physical therapy, a strict diet and rest.
Fidel isn't immortal, but, to the disappointment of the imperialists, it doesn't look like his demise is imminent.


"It's Christmastime in the city"

Americans doing their best to win hearts and minds on Christmas in Iraq:
As the sun came up over the city Sunday, a soldier sang "Silver Bells" while others smashed windows in an apartment building to get a better look at the street below. "It's Christmastime in the city," he crooned.
The article from which this is taken provides some typical insight on that "all-volunteer" Army:
"It's hard. But we've still got work to do. The mission doesn't stop," said Alonzo, who left his job as a beer salesman and enlisted because the Army provided better health care benefits for his three young children.


Lewis Carroll writes about Somalia

It's been bad enough that, with U.S. support, Ethiopian troops have been present in Somalia for quite some time now (an excellent background article on the situation is here). It was worse on Christmas Day when Ethiopian warplanes bombed Mogadishu airport with nary a crocodile tear of condemnation from the international community. But I about popped a gasket when I read this headline in today's paper, describing the latest escalation in the Ethiopian assault on Somalia:
Ethiopia takes Somalian towns
Fight Aims To Roust Islamist Incursion
How dare those Islamists be present in their own country? The nerve of them!

"Incursion" indeed.

And I thought the U.S. opposition to "foreign fighters" in Iraq was bad!


The apples and oranges "grim milestone" in Iraq

I've now heard two different broadcast channels claiming that a "grim milestone" has been passed in Iraq, with "more Americans killed in Iraq than were killed on 9/11." This is complete nonsense. First, while 2,973 people were killed on 9/11, not all of them were Americans (strangely enough, I can't seem to pin down the exact number). So if we're going to use the number 2,973, then we need to consider all the people killed in Iraq, not just American soldiers. Even if we just include "coalition forces," 2,973 was passed long ago; the current number stands at 3,225. And that doesn't include the 12,000 Iraqi police who have died, and of course it doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis who have died, who, since they were no less "innocent victims" than the 2,973 victims of 9/11, certainly deserve to be included in any comparison.

The other part of the comparison is equally false. Because, even just considering the number of Americans killed in Iraq, the number is well over 3,000, once we include government employees, contractors, and others. At the beginning of November, I counted 3,661, bringing us to at least 3,828 by now. And even that doesn't include the stateside suicides, spousal murders, and other tragic victims of this war.

The real "grim milestone" occured on March 19, 2003, with the death of the first Iraqi as the unprovoked, illegal assault on Iraq began. It's been downhill from there.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Hark, the herald heathen and pagan sings!

With Christmas waxing, Chanukah waning, and the Winter Solstice just past, I revisit an annual holiday tradition here at Left I on the News and bring you the real message of the season, courtesy of Jackson Browne's The Rebel Jesus:
We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
And if you don't think this isn't why the U.S. tries to crucify (both figuratively and literally) people like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, you aren't paying attention.

Complete lyrics here.


No child left behind

Don't expect to read about this in the corporate media:
Cuba will assign in 2007 22.6 percent of its Gross Domestic Product for public health and education, a figure that is four times the standard of the Latin American nations for those sectors.

Spending for health, education, culture, sports, security and social assistance represent 69 percent of the 2007 budget in the island.
A better world is possible.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


The great society

CVS Pharmacies have been running an ad recently which features an alleged CVS pharmacist, saying something like, "Many of my customers are having troubling deciding between paying their heating bill and buying medicine. I try to help them out by recommending lower-cost generic drugs whenever possible."

In the words of Dana Carvey's "church lady" character: "Well, isn't that...special." I can think of other words for the real-life situation. "Effed-up" comes to mind. So does "capitalism."


Those thoughtful Americans

So concerned about their neighbors:
Top Bush administration officials met this week to discuss Cuba's political future, with U.S. intelligence reports predicting that ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro may not have long to live.

President George W. Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley chaired the 90-minute meeting on Thursday that included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials, National Security Council press secretary Gordon Johndroe said on Saturday.

"We're engaged in an interagency process that is focused on a successful transition to democracy for the people of Cuba," Johndroe said.
Ah, so thoughtful. So concerned. Well, not quite:
He declined to provide further details about the meeting at the White House.
Yeah, you bet he did. Since admitting their actual plans might be illegal. There's a reason why their 500-page plan for Cuba contains a secret appendix, and why it specifically calls for the creation of a repressive apparatus to be created as part of their "transition," and why the list of Cubans targeted by that apparatus "will be a long one."

These people are serious. They think their best chance to overturn the gains of the Cuban revolution in more than a generation is coming, and they aim to take advantage of it, by hook or by crook. Or both.


Bobby Kennedy, Cuban socialist?

Hardly. But I was struck by this comparison. In a comment to the post below on the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, reader Paul Lyon posted this 1968 speech by Kennedy (source unknown):
"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product. For the gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of the carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for our people who break them. The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods, and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads.... It includes Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.

"And if the gross national product includes all of this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of public officials.... The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America—except whether we are proud to be Americans."
And, having just read that, I was struck by the comparison when I read this closing paragraph in a Reuters article about the current session of the Cuban National Assembly:
Cuba posted a record 12.5 percent growth rate for the year, using a unique method of calculation that adds free education, medical care and other social services provided by the state.
Yes, God forbid we should include education, medical care, and social services in GNP. Better to include advertising for cigarettes, the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads, and the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to children.

Friday, December 22, 2006


The "noble cause" - the cat's out of the bag

I wrote below about the "investment" part of Condoleezza Rice's latest comment, but here I want to focus on the rest of the sentence:
"This is a country that is worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor you will have a very different kind of Middle East."
Cindy Sheehan camped in a ditch in Crawford, Texas for weeks trying to get George Bush to tell her face-to-face what was the "noble cause" for which her son Casey died. Cowardly George couldn't handle it, of course. And I doubt Rice could either. But the comment above puts the question to rest once and for all - the U.S. invaded Iraq to "have a very different kind of Middle East." Not to eliminate the alleged (and non-existent) threat to the U.S. (or even "U.S. interests") of alleged (and non-existent) Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Not to remove an "evil dictator" who was oppressing his people. But to "have a very different kind of Middle East."

You may say, oh, we know this, that's the well-known PNAC (Project for a New American Century) line. Many others have said this. But this wasn't Condoleezza Rice speaking for PNAC. It wasn't an assistant, or an adviser. It was the U.S. Secretary of State, a position generally thought of as the second most important position in the U.S. government, speaking on the record in her official capacity. And now we know the "noble cause" for which Casey Sheehan, 2959 other American soldiers, hundreds of other American contractors, hundreds of nationals of other countries, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were "invested." It was to "have a very different kind of Middle East."


Robert Kennedy, CIA victim?

I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but here's one I can't resist passing on:
THE BBC in London and The Guardian newspaper announced sensational film footage and photos depicting three high-ranking CIA agents at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where the presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

The high-ranking agents held positions of authority in the CIA’s gigantic secret operations against Cuba during the 1960s, based at of the JMWave station in Miami, the agency’s largest at the time. Those identified include Gordon Campbell, who was chief of maritime operations for that crusade; George Joannides, chief of psychological warfare operations, and David Sanchez Morales, chief of special operations.

The report released is the result of three years of investigations carried out by filmmaker Shane O’Sullivan which revealed that in 1963 those high-ranking agency were assigned to the secret war against the government of Fidel Castro, with one of their objectives being to assassinate the Cuban leader.

The evidence has put the CIA/Cuban-born mafia group back in the limelight, and according to the U.S. Congressional committee investigation, that same group may have been involved in the assassination of the president in Dallas.
Read the whole thing here (in Granma) and here (at the BBC).

Here's a juicy tidbit from the BBC report:

David Morales was Chief of Operations [at JMWAVE] and once told friends:

"I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard."
Incidentally this report was broadcast on BBC on Nov. 21. Searching Google News and Yahoo News indicates that not a single American media outlet picked up the story.


Relative worth, part II

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted yesterday as saying that the effort in Iraq is "worth the investment." The monetary reference is pure capitalist thinking, but to be sure it's a perfectly correct use of the English language - investment can be of things other than money. And indeed, she was referring not just to money but to lives. American lives:
"I know from the point of view of not just the monetary cost but the sacrifice of American lives a lot has been sacrificed for Iraq, a lot has been invested in Iraq."
British or Italian or Polish (etc.) lives? They don't even count as part of the investment. Iraqi lives? What, are you kidding?

This is, needless to say, a perfect demonstration of the imperialist attitude toward the world. Rice says that it's "worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor you will have a very different kind of Middle East." Even if that were true, which is dubious on many counts, did she or her boss bother to ask the Iraqis if they were willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of themselves in order to create "a very different kind of Middle East"? We all know the answer.


U.S. "justice" and its idea of relative worth

A U.S. federal judge has just ruled that Iran has "partial responsibility" for the death of 19 Americans in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and assessed damages against the Iranian government of $254 million. The ruling is said to have been based largely on the testimony of former FBI Director Louis Freeh; I very much doubt that any actual evidence was presented.

A few years earlier, the U.S. government, in the person of the U.S.S. Vincennes, deliberately shot down a commercial Iranian airliner (flight 655), killing all 290 people on board. The Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters at the time, the attack was entirely unprovoked, the responsibility is completely uncontested, and the U.S. was without any question fully responsible for the deaths of those 290 people, not "partially" responsible. The compensation eventually paid in that case? $62 million. Well, that was the amount the U.S. agreed to pay, anyway. I haven't found any confirmation that it was actually ever paid. The attitude of the U.S. was summed up perfectly by then Vice President George H.W. Bush:

"I will never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are."

Thursday, December 21, 2006


The great society

What a great country the United States is! Why, the Congress has just passed a bill allowing teachers and other education workers to deduct up to a whopping $250 in out-of-pocket classroom expenses from their taxes. And this generous "benefit" extends all the way to...2007.

New values, anyone? Like a country where the government actually pays for things needed in the classroom, rather than forcing (for all intents and purposes) conscientious teachers to pay for them in the first place?

USA Today says that 3 million taxpayers took this deduction in 2005. If all of them spent $250 (many no doubt spent more), that would be $750 million in educational expenses coming out of the pockets of poorly-paid teachers rather than from the government. That's two-and-a-half whole days of spending on the war against Iraq and Afghanistan (not including decades of future payments for medical expenses, by the way).


State media

"If we had state media in the United States, how would it be any different?" - Amy Goodman
Two days ago, the news came out that the government is going to start illegally broadcasting its anti-Cuban propaganda stations TV and Radio Marti on commercial Florida stations. Honestly, I couldn't get that worked up about it, because, as Amy Goodman notes, CNN and friends already do such a good job broadcasting American propaganda that a real government station could hardly do better.

Case in point: this morning over breakfast (personal detail inserted for the benefit of George Will) I was listening to CNN's Pentagon reporter Jamie McIntyre reporting on Defense Secretary Bob Gates' visit to Baghdad (making him, at least temporarily, Baghdad Bob). The "line" was that Gates had met with "regular" American soldiers in Iraq and that all of them, without exception, had said that more troops were needed in Iraq. Now I don't know about you, but when I see a dozen soldiers eating breakfast with the Secretary of Defense, I assume they were not picked randomly from the entire population of soldiers in Iraq, but were a hand-picked, and most likely pre-briefed, group, just like the group that talked to George Bush via video phone in a famous incident (the one in which one of the main ones doing the talking was a P.R. specialist). Well, as I said, that's what I think, and probably what you think, but evidently the thought never occurred to McIntyre, since he never asked the obvious questions: 1) what do surveys actually show about the attitudes of soldiers in Iraq (answer: most of them think it's time to leave, not time to add more troops); 2) who were these soldiers and how were they selected; 3) can I speak to them privately and anonymously to get their real opinions? Evidently that would be too much actual "reporting" for government spokesperson CNN reporter McIntyre to deal with.

Nor is McIntyre alone; here's the Reuters treatment of the event which ran in the New York Times today, at least online:

On Thursday he had breakfast with ordinary soldiers to sound out their views on troop levels, a timeline for training Iraqis, sectarian leanings in the Iraqi security forces and the "caliber and discipline" of Iraqi soldiers and their military leaders.

"Sir, I think we need to just keep doing what we're doing," Specialist Jason Glenn told Gates.

"I really think we need more troops here. With more presence on the ground, more troops might hold them (the insurgents) off long enough to where we can get the Iraqi army trained up."

No soldier present said U.S. forces should be brought home, and none said current troop levels were adequate, as some commanders have argued.
Were these really "ordinary" soldiers as the reporter claims? How exactly does the reporter know that? Was the Reuters reporter given a chance to talk to them privately? C'mon, you know the answers to all these questions. But sadly, many of the people listening to or reading state media (CNN, The New York Times, etc.) don't.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


You can't handle the truth, part II

Before and after:

Proponents of this war simply can't handle the truth. A simple reminder of the number of Americans (much less the number of Iraqis!) is just too much for them to bear; they had to vandalize it and obliterate it from sight.


Unreality TV

People say that so-called "reality" shows are crowding out fiction from TV. But fiction can still be found - on the cable talk shows. I caught a few minutes of "Tucker" this afternoon while I was writing out holiday cards (had to slip in that personal detail to satisfy George Will). Here's how the conversation went (from memory):
Tucker Carlson: "Ahmadinejad has now proclaimed that Iran is a nuclear power [Ed. note: by which he clearly means that Iran claims to have a nuclear weapon; countries that merely have nuclear power plants are not called "nuclear powers"]."

Guest: "Now that Iran has committed not just to wiping Israel off the map, but also Great Britain and the United States..." [Ed. note: Wha-a-a-a-a-a?]
There was another guest, who I think may have been the "liberal," but no rebuttal to this utter nonsense was forthcoming.

Note to George Will - this "genius" has a one-hour television show. I have a few hundred readers a day. If you want to complain about something, there are plenty of opportunities.


Baghdad Burning, the radio show

Riverbend's important blog Baghdad Burning has been turned into book and a play. Now (hat tip to a diarist at Daily Kos) it's also a radio drama on BBC4 radio. It's a series of five 15-minute (or so) readings from Riverbend's blog, going on all this week (only two are online so far). The website warns it will only be online for seven days, so listen this week or next if you're interested.


Support Fairness (& Accuracy in Reporting)

One of the very first posts I wrote was one urging people to support FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Repeating what I said then:
Lots of commentators, including Left I on the News, can note the fallacies of one or another story that appears in the press. But FAIR is the only one which treats this like a science, analyzing every broadcast over a period of a year or even four years to reach a conclusion, or producing articles like the WMD article with dozens of carefully selected citations to illustrate their points. A subscription to Extra! is just $21 a year and well worth it. Treat yourself to a great magazine and support the work of FAIR: subscribe here.
This being "end-of-the-year donation season," I'll repeat the suggestion today. The latest issue, just arrived yesterday, features no less than five articles (plus sidebars) on the subject of Hugo Chavez (and Venezuela) and the media; I haven't had time to read it yet, but it looks like great stuff. Only one of the articles is online; you can only read the others if you subscribe to their magazine, Extra!. Well worth the "investment," and it is an investment, an investment in creating a new and better world.


George "not a genius" Will denigrates bloggers

George Will has an op-ed today entitled, "100 million bloggers won't be equal to one Thomas Paine."

He starts by making this claim:

Time magazine asked a large number of people to name the Person of the Year. They were in a populist mood and named the largest possible number of Persons of the Year: Everybody.
Readers of this blog know that's wrong on two counts. First, those who named the Time POTY weren't "a large number of people," they were a small elite group selected by Time. Second, as we all know, Time did ask a "large number of people" through their online poll, and those people named the person who really deserved the title - Hugo Chavez.

Will attempts to denigrate blogging by noting:

76 percent of bloggers say one reason they blog is to document their personal experiences and share them with others. And 37 percent -- soon, 37 million -- say the primary topic of their blog is "my life and experiences."
First of all, there's nothing wrong with documenting or sharing your personal experiences - people have been doing that for centuries. The fact that they can now do so instantaneously and publicly doesn't change things.

More important is what Will doesn't note - even if we assume that 76 percent of bloggers have nothing of general interest to say, that leaves 24 percent of 100 million people - 24 million people! - who are blogging about topics of general interest. I'm not sure what percentage of the population are "geniuses," but surely there must be many geniuses in a group of 24 million people. As it happens, according to an IQ test I took back in first grade (yes, that was a long time ago), I'm one of them. So what? You don't have to be a genius to have something important to say! Who is to say that one of the more erudite of current bloggers, genius or not, blogging in 1776, wouldn't have been the equivalent of Benjamin Franklin or Tom Paine? And surely, one can have important things to say even if one is not the equivalent of a Franklin or a Paine!

Which brings us to yet another misconception Will seems to be laboring under - that all these 100 million blogs are just out there together in one equal mix. Of course readers of this blog know that's nonsense. Quality, uniqueness, established reputation, or whatever other characteristic is relevant, causes blogs to be very much differentiated from one another. In the Truth Laid Bare rankings, this blog, with 695 visits/day, currently ranks 1057th in popularity. The 5000th blog only gets 75 visits/day; imagine how few the other 99,995,000 blogs get! (Again, not that there's anything wrong with that - if you write a blog about your own life, and only your friends and family read it, or if no one but yourself reads it and it serves only as your personal diary, what's wrong with that?)

Will, like most people being paid to share his opinions in public, has a visceral fear of those who do so for free. Be afraid, George Will, be very afraid. YOUR lack of "genius" is on display for all the world to see. Reporters will never be replaced by bloggers. Columnists like George Will most definitely will be.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


U.S. war on Iran gets one step closer

[First posted 12/18, 10:26 p.m.; updated and bumped (other new posts below)]

Reading between the lines:

Iran is to shift its foreign currency reserves from dollars to euros and use the euro for oil deals in response to US-led pressure on its economy.

In a widely expected move, Tehran said it would use the euro for all future commercial transactions overseas.

An Iranian spokesman said all its foreign exchange transactions would be conducted in euros and its national budget would also be calculated in euros as well as its own currency.

"There will be no reliance on dollars," said Gholam-Hussein Elham.
The entire world would be wise to follow suit. The use of dollars just gives the U.S. one more weapon in its arsenal to use against those it calls its "enemies" (who, without exception, haven't the slightest intention of attacking the U.S., but who unfortunately don't have that stance reciprocated).

Update: Well, that didn't take long:

The U.S. Central Command is aggressively planning a naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, including the addition of a second aircraft carrier, in response to a series of aggressive actions by Iran, U.S. military officials told NBC News on Tuesday.
No euphemisms, either:
CENTCOM plans to use 'gunboat diplomacy,' officials tell NBC News
And just what comprises a "series of aggressive actions"?
Its support for Shiite militants and shipments of improvised explosive devices into the country — recent military naval exercises in the Gulf, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Allegations of Iranian shipments of IEDs into Iraq have been slung around for quite some time now; no proof has ever been offered, nor, of course, is there any significant evidence that Iran is "pursuing" nuclear weapons. And the idea that Iranian naval exercises are anything but defensive in nature, and somehow constitute an "aggressive action," is preposterous. Of course, to the imperialists, anything other than rolling over on your back and exposing your belly is an "aggressive action."


Sean Penn, American hero

On censorship in America:
And should we speak truth, we stand against government efforts to intimidate or legislate in the service of censorship. Whether under the guise of a Patriot Act or any other benevolent-sounding rationale for the age-old game of shutting down dissent by discouraging independent thinking and preventing progressive social change.

The most effective forms of de facto censorship are pre-emptive. Systemically, we are encouraged to keep our heads down, out of the line of fire--to avoid the danger, god forbid, that someone in the White House, on Capitol Hill, or a media blow-hard might take a shot at us.

But, as a practical matter, most of the limits on creative expression and other forms of free speech come from self-censorship, where the mechanism of corporate clout offers carrots and brandishes sticks. We avoid a conflict before the conflict materializes. We reach for the carrots and stay out of range of sticks.

Decades ago, Fred Friendly called it a "positive veto"--corporations putting big money behind shows that they want to establish and perpetuate. Whether in journalism or drama, creative efforts that don't gain a financial "positive veto" are dismissible, then dismissed. We may not call that "censorship." But whatever we call it, the effects of a "positive veto" system are severe. They impose practical limits on efforts to bring the most important realities to public attention sooner rather than later...
On impeachment:
One in every 32 American adults is behind bars, on probation, or on parole as we stand here tonight.

Which is to say that, globally, the United States is number one at demanding accountability and backing up that demand with imprisonment. But, when it comes to our president, vice president, secretary of state, former secretary of defense...this insistence on accountability vanishes. All of a sudden, what's past is prologue. And we're just "forward-looking."
The same people who trumpet deterrence as a justification for punishment when we speak of "crime and punishment," will boast their positive thinking when dismissing the deterrent qualities of an impeachment proceeding.
We'll close with a brief quote from Jeff Spicoli:
So what Jefferson was saying was "Hey! You know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don't get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we'll just be bogus too."

Monday, December 18, 2006


Imperialism: money talks

Today's fun fact:
The US uses its aid budget to bribe those countries which have a vote in the United Nations security council, giving them 59 per cent more cash in years when they have a seat, according to research by economists.
(Hat tip Siratyst)


Hamas' position

Linda Jansen at Siratyst steers us to a very interesting interview just conducted with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. I'll let Linda to the excerpting:
R.R. [the German interviewer]: But the 2-state theory which the Americans are promoting – envisages a Palestinian state next to an Israeli state. Is this also absolutely: unacceptable for Hamas?

Khaled Meshaal: No. No. Let me say that the Hamas movement will only establish a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967 that includes the West of Jerusalem and the Westbank. Up till now Israel does not recognise this right for us. All the Palestinians are demanding is this right. But Israel keeps violating Palestinian rights and the West is unwilling to force Israel to recognise the Palestinian rights.
Even when President Bush talked about a Palestinian state, it was not clear cut. And Ariel Sharon and recently Ehud Olmert have made a lot of reservations about Bush’s proposal. They are rejecting the idea of an Israeli state within its 1967 borders. They want an Israeli state, which includes parts of the Westbank. Actually President Bush had even agreed to Sharon’s proposal for Israel to keep all of Jerusalem. And he agreed with Sharon to choose the right Palestinian leader who would accept all this.

R.R.: Have I understood you correctly that you would be prepared to negotiate with Israel and accept it within its borders of 1967, before it started its wars of aggression, stealing Palestinian land?

K.M.: Good, that has been made clear.

R.R.: In the West Hamas is generally depicted as being absolutely against talks with Israel and that Hamas only wants to drive the Israeli jews into the sea.

K.M.: This is not correct. Killing Jews is not our aim. For centuries we have lived in Palestine peacefully with Jews and Christians of all kind. We are fighting Israel because it occupies our land and oppresses our people. We are fighting Israel to finish this occupation. We want to live freely on our land just as other nations. We want to have our own country just like other people. But the Zionist movement came from all over the world to occupy our land. And the real owner of the land has been kicked out. This is the root of the problem.

Because of many factors, we now accept to build a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967. But that doesn’t mean that we recognise Israel. But we are prepared to make a long term truce with Israel. Accepting the status of Israel without recognising it.

R.R.: But, no recognition? Doesn’t that mean continued tensions and war?

K.M.: No. There are plenty of examples where no recognition does not mean war. China and Taiwan for example have not recognized each other but they trade and cooperate with each other. – By withholding a formal recognition we just don’t want to give Israel the legitimacy for having taken our land in the first place.
Meanwhile, phony Tony Blair is preaching about the "democracy" inherent in having Mahmoud Abbas call an illegal election to get the elected Hamas government out of office, not to mention the "democracy" inherent in using British (and American and Israeli) money to tip the scales in that election. All at the same time, of course, as talking about the "threat to democracy" in Lebanon, where people are peacefully protesting in huge numbers (somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the entire country) demanding the government resign (a perfectly legal, i.e., democratic, option in virtually every country in the world, even, believe it or not, the United States.)


The "White House"

It's commonplace to see the media (or others) referring to "the White House said this" or "the White House position is such." The words "White House" are pretty much used as a synonym for "the U.S. administration" or "the U.S. President." How amusing, then, to see this headline today:
White House backs off Bush's Iraq view
Whoa! How is that possible? I know some like to joke that Bush isn't really the one in control, but as I've argued before, he may be strongly under the thumb of Cheney or Rove or whomever else you'd like to point the finger it, but in the end, it was his name on the ballot in 2004, and it's he who has to give the order to launch an invasion or whatever else. So the idea that "the White House" and "Bush" disagree is just bizarre.

The story, as you might have guessed, is about the responses given by Press Secretary Tony Snow in a press conference. Some blogs, like First Draft for example, are obsessed with White House "gaggles" and press conferences. Which, I admit, can be an amusing pastime. But the reality, as I have argued before, is that the White House Press Secretary is an unelected person whose opinion and answers to questions are completely irrelevant. Beyond announcing the Presidential schedule or reading a statement written by the President, the idea that he should banter with the press and answer questions serves only to keep the press busy. He's frequently asked questions about what the President thinks about this or that? Who cares what he thinks what the President thinks? If the President wants to make a position known, let him speak. Otherwise, save the taxpayers some money and just post the official statements on a website and dispense with this charade.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


TIME "Person of the Year" Update

Feh. Even if they did name me as "Person of the Year." I'm sorry, I did not have more impact on the course of the world this year than Hugo Chavez did. Or a lot of other people.

They did manage to squeeze in a fairly interesting interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even if they do manage to smear him (before the interview; curiously the interview itself doesn't even ask the confirming questions) with "pursuit of a nuclear bomb" and "threatening to destroy Israel." As for Hugo Chavez, TIME clearly doesn't understand his historical significance. We'll see how a retrospective look back ten years from now treats their analysis.

Update: How badly does TIME not get it? This bad:

[Richard Stengel, Time's managing editor] said if the magazine had decided to go with an individual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the likely choice. "It just felt to me a little off selecting him," Stengel said.
As I explained (in, I believe, a comment to an earlier post), this betrays an incredible lack of understanding of the world. Everything that Iran is doing in the world which has placed them in the sights of U.S. imperialism - developing nuclear power, supporting various groups in Lebanon and Iraq, etc. - are policies of the Iranian state. They were all in place long before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with him. Chavez, by contrast, has had a personal affect on history. The course of not just Venezuelan history, but the history of Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and more, have all been effected by Hugo Chavez. If Richard Stengel had any consciousness of world events, rather than the typical U.S.-centric view of the world, he might understand these things.

Update: Thinking about it some more, I realize that the TIME editors don't even respect their own choice. When they put up their online poll, I made note of the obvious (and perfectly acceptable) fact that it wasn't a binding poll. But, considering that their choice of Person of the Year was us - bloggers, YouTubers, Wikipediasts, and the like, all of whom are the kind of people who were voting in their poll, and considering that they use the phrase "digital democracy" in their lead article, you would think they would at least mention the results of their online poll in their Person of the Year issue. You'd be wrong.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Chavez "Person of the Year" update

Hugo Chavez has now deservedly run away with the online voting for TIME Magazine "Person of the Year," with a whopping 35% of the vote, particularly impressive in an 8-person contest. His nearest competitor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has fallen back to 21%, with Nancy Pelosi a distant third at 13%.

Did our efforts, which moved Chavez from 25 points down to 14 points up (a 39% swing!!), and from 7th place to 1st, make a difference with TIME's editors? We'll find out Saturday night, which is when CNN says the "winner" (or, more accurately, "designee") will be announced, and we'll really find out when we read the TIME Magazine and see how the much of the truth about what Chavez has accomplished finds its way into the article, and how much its counterbalanced by the usual slanders and lies.

[History of the voting here and here.]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Taking the low road

I don't usually go in for this sort of thing, but really, how can you resist mentioning a story about circumcision reducing (by 50%) the risk of HIV, in which the chief spokesperson for the World Health Organization is named...(ahem)...Dr. Kevin De Cock.


Pinochet - two updates

Two updates I originally added to the post below, but now I'm bringing them up here for more visibility:

Second update: Glenn Greenwald gives us a view through the years of the Washington Post's editorial writings on Pinochet, and notes how far to the right the "mainstream" has moved over the years.

Another update: It occurs to me that some younger readers might not have seen the great Costa-Gavras film Missing, the true story of an American journalist who was "disappeared" in the wake of Pinochet's coup. See it.

Still another one: Richard Estes has an excellent post up at American Leftist covering many issues I haven't touched on. Well worth reading.


Iraq: the twice-lost war

Tom Engelhardt tell the fascinating story about how the U.S. lost the war against Iraq before it even started - during the war games:
In July 2002,...at the cost of a quarter-billion dollars, the Pentagon launched the most elaborate war games in its history, immodestly entitled "Millennium Challenge 02." These involved all four services in "17 simulation locations and nine live-force training sites." Officially a war against a fictional country in the Persian Gulf region -- but obviously Iraq -- it was specifically scripted to prove the efficacy of the Rumsfeld-style invasion that the Bush administration had already decided to launch.

Lt. Gen. Van Riper commanded the "Red Team" -- the Iraqis of this simulation -– against the "Blue Team," U.S. forces; and, unfortunately for Rumsfeld, he promptly stepped out of the script. Knowing that sometimes the only effective response to high-tech warfare was the lowest tech warfare imaginable, he employed some of the very techniques the Iraqi insurgency would begin to use all-too-successfully a year or two later.

Such simple devices as, according to the Army Times, using "motorcycle messengers to transmit orders, negating Blue's high-tech eavesdropping capabilities," and "issuing attack orders via the morning call to prayer broadcast from the minarets of his country's mosques." In the process, Van Riper trumped the techies.

"At one point in the game," as Fred Kaplan of Slate wrote in March 2003, "when Blue's fleet entered the Persian Gulf, he sank some of the ships with suicide-bombers in speed boats. (At that point, the managers stopped the game, ‘refloated' the Blue fleet, and resumed play.)" After three or four days, with the Blue Team in obvious disarray, the game was halted and the rules rescripted. In a quiet protest, Van Riper stepped down as enemy commander.
A determined resistance, be it in Iraq or Lebanon or elsewhere, can always resist better-equipped invaders. Unfortunately, even that knowledge doesn't deter highly motivated imperialists.


Good news from my favorite cartoonist

Minimum Security's Stephanie McMillan posts this on her journal:
As of now, Minimum Security is officially represented by United Feature Syndicate!!! Starting in mid-January, my cartoons will appear five times per week at comics.com. This is the only place they'll be available. If they generate a lot of hits for a year or so, then the syndicate plans to use that popularity to sell the cartoon to daily city papers.

The best part is, they love the politics of Minimum Security and say they wouldn't want me to tone it down at all.

So once they start appearing on comics.com, I hope you all will help me by clicking on them often!!!

This has been a long-time dream of mine. I can't tell you how many rejection letters I've received over the years from cartoon syndicates, United included. It's a lot.
Congrats to Stephanie! And I'm still recommending her book (see right-hand column) as a great holiday gift.


Political humor of the day (and some serious followup)

"There's a Holocaust denial conference going on in Iran right now. It's based on that book by Hitler, 'If I Did It'"

- Jay Leno
There are myths associated with the Holocaust, for example, the widely held perception that it was only Jews who were killed. This respectable site, for example, notes correctly:
The Holocaust is generally regarded as the systematic slaughter of not only 6 million Jews, (two-thirds of the total European Jewish population), the primary victims, but also 5 million others, approximately 11 million individuals wiped off the Earth by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Groups such as handicaps, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, political dissidents and others were persecuted by the Nazis because of their religious/political beliefs, physical defects, or failure to fall into the "Aryan" ideal.
The only error in that paragraph is the phrase "generally regarded," as you can see from another perfectly respectable, mainstream site, whose headline reads "The Nazi Holocaust, 1938-1945: 6,000,000 deaths," and which mentions only the death of Jews. Which, in my experience, is the far more "generally regarded" definition, and even more so in popular perception than in print.

Nor is the number "6 million" an absolutely known number any more than the number of deaths in Iraq or Darfur or many other places; it's actually the high end of various estimates. But that brings us back to the conference in Iran. Rejecting the idea that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, mostly in gas chambers, is akin to the American establishment (both Administration and media) rejecting the idea that 655,000 Iraqis (or "more than 480,000" as I prefer) have been killed because of the invasion of Iraq. Is there some kind of moral (or legal) difference if only 5 million Jews were killed, or even (to pick an absurd number) only 1 million, any more than if there have been only 200,000 Iraqis killed, or even 50,000? Some of the people at the Iran conference want to claim there were no gas chambers, and that the Jews died of typhoid. Let's accept this absurd idea for a moment (not completely absurd of course; many Jews did die of disease). So what? What were they doing in concentration camps in the first place? Were they all on the worst vacation ever? Again, very much akin to the question of who has killed the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Was it American forces? Shia death squads? Sunni insurgents? al Qaeda "suiciders"? What's the difference? Every one of them would be alive were it not for the American invasion.

For another analogy, one of the people at the conference wants to argue that the railroad tracks into Auschwitz couldn't possibly have carried as many people there as is claimed, in much the same way that people want to make the equally absurd (IMHO) claim that the Twin Towers couldn't possibly have been brought down by two airliners crashing into them. In both cases, I say, if your calculation says the result isn't possible, then you'd darn well better rethink your calculation! Because postulating even more improbable explanations for the end result does not get you anywhere. Indeed, while I'm sure some of my readers are going to find this analogy insulting, much of the "discussion" over the Holocaust reminds me very much of the "discussion" over 9/11 (that's the American 9/11, not the Chilean 9/11) - people starting with an "answer" which fits an agenda or a preconceived notion and working backwards to try to explain (or explain away) the facts.

Which is not to say that facts aren't routinely manipulated by the "powers that be" to fit their agenda, whether it's the alleged existence of WMD in Iraq or WMD programs in Iran, the number of deaths in Iraq or Darfur, the number of people buried in mass graves in Iraq, the number of Kurds killed during the Anfal campaign, the number of acres of palm groves and orchards razed in Dujail, the number of people at a demonstration in the United States, or countless other examples. Numbers can be off by one or even two orders of magnitude! "Facts" in the real world aren't as simple as facts in the laboratory! "Facts" are routinely manipulated for political purposes. But that doesn't allow us to simply dismiss every such fact as "unknowable" or wrong. And the fact that some facts, like the murder of six million Jews by Hitler, are used for political purposes (i.e., advancing the Zionist agenda in founding the state of Israel) doesn't automatically mean that the facts themselves were manipulated. It would be naive to think that the facts couldn't have been manipulated. It's just that, in this case, the data overwhelmingly demonstrates that they weren't. Just like the data for the number of people killed in Iraq. The data that the corporate media refuse to accept.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Pinochet - the whitewash begins

Just when you thought the corporate media couldn't get any worse, the Washington Post editorial staff weighs in on the death of Augusto Pinochet.
"For some he was the epitome of an evil dictator. That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with U.S. support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left"
Pinochet is not considered an "evil dictator" because he overthrew Allende, he is considered an evil dictator because he was an evil dictator, ruling with an iron fist, and killing and torturing thousands of innocent people. He could have overthrown Hitler and he'd still be considered an evil dictator. As for the "considered saintly" part, Allende's "saintliness" comes from his becoming a martyr because he was overthrown (and either was killed or killed himself, depending on what you believe). As a ruler, he was no more saintly than many other elected leftists throughout the years.
"Michelle Bachelet...suffered persecution during the Pinochet years."
Michelle Bachelet did not "suffer persecution." Michelle Bachelet was tortured, and her father, unmentioned by the Post, was tortured to death.
"It's hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America."
The re-privatization of industry and gutting of workers’ living standards under Pinochet’s reign of terror reduced 49 percent of the population to the poverty level by 1987. There has been a recovery since then, but the "economic miracle" for the capitalists was no miracle for the workers.
"Mr. Castro [to whom the Post is contrasting Pinochet] also killed and exiled thousands."
Hundreds (not thousands) of Batista's torturers were summarily executed when the Cuban Revolution took power. Executing police torturers may be opposed by those who oppose the death penalty under all circumstances, but it's hardly comparable to torturing and murdering thousands of political activists, students, and other categories of innocent civilians. As far as I know, no Cuban was "exiled," although hundreds of thousands did leave. By contrast, during Pinochet’s rule, one million Chileans fled into exile.

For a real appraisal of the lessons of Chile, I recommend this article from which a few of the facts in this post come. As for the Post, the words "liberal media" come to mind...accompanied by an ironic laugh.

Update: Richard Estes in the comments reminds me of a line from the editorial I had in my sights but totally left out of the post by accident:

"Salvador Allende['s] responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked."
Maybe the reason I skipped this one is because one is almost left speechless by such a formulation. Just the idea that there were conditions in Chile which justified a coup is preposterous (one does wonder exactly what "conditions" the Post is referring to), and the fact that the Post implicitly accepts the coup as legitimate with this sentence is almost beyond belief. Based on this precedent, I expect them to be advocating a coup against Fouad Siniora in Lebanon any day now, not to mention one against George Bush. Sure I do. What I really expect them to say, should something I don't expect to happen come to pass, is that "Hugo Chavez was responsible for creating the conditions for the 20xx coup."

Second update: Glenn Greenwald gives us a view through the years of the Washington Post's editorial writings on Pinochet, and notes how far to the right the "mainstream" has moved over the years.

Another update: It occurs to me that some younger readers might not have seen the great Costa-Gavras film Missing, the true story of an American journalist who was "disappeared" in the wake of Pinochet's coup. See it.


Ahmadinejad clarifies the meaning of "wiped out"

The standard meme, repeated in the article I'm about to cite here, is that Iranian President Ahmadinejad has called for Israel "to be wiped off the map." More than a year ago I wrote:
A reading of Ahmadinejad's statement suggests quite clearly that the "wiped off the map" is to be taken literally (i.e., that the political boundaries of the region should be redrawn), and not figurately as meaning "wiped off the face of the earth." He explicitly denies that he is talking about "A fight between Judaism and other religions," and explicitly describes the endpoint of the struggle in the Middle East by saying: "It will be over the day a Palestinian government, which belongs to the Palestinian people, comes to power; the day that all refugees return to their homes; a democratic government elected by the people comes to power." There is no talk of "driving the Jews into the sea" or "waging war against Israel" or anything remotely along those lines, merely the expression of support for the goal of a democratic Palestinian state.
Others, who could actually read the original in Farsi, argued for an interpretation of "eliminated from the pages of history," but I'd say that's virtually equivalent to what I wrote.

Now along comes Ahmadinejad, not particularly attempting to clarify the remark, but doing so anyway:

"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out."
Now I hardly need to remind readers that the Soviet Union was not defeated militarily (although the Nazis tried), but self-destructed with a large push from the imperialist world. Nor was the country "destroyed" in any physical sense. What it was was literally (well, nearly literally) "wiped off the map" (or "wiped out" in the latest formulation), that is, the words "Soviet Union" no longer appear on any current map. And in just the same way, Ahmadinejad (and millions more around the world) envision the word "Israel" being "wiped off the map" as a more just, democratic state takes its place.

Incidentally, although the Soviet Union per se was not physically destroyed, hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of former residents of that country have perished thanks to the replacement of the socialist economy with a capitalist one, with life expectancy dropping sharply.


Chavez "Person of the Year" update

[First posted 9 a.m. 12/8; updated and bumped; make sure to read below this item for other new posts]

Hugo Chavez up to 21%! Vote here if you haven't already! And spread the word! Ahmadinejad is toast! ;-)

Update: 22% and closing fast on first place!

First posted 9 a.m. 12/8; updated 12/9: 23% and just 2 points behind Ahmadinejad!

3 p.m. update: 24% and just 1 point behind!

11 p.m. update: Tied up at 25%-all!

6:30 a.m. Sunday update: Chavez takes the lead, 25-24! I remind you that when we started, if I remember correctly, Ahmadinejad had 33% and Chavez 8%. And this hasn't been a case of ballot-box stuffing, since you can only vote once (well, unless you're clever and suitably motivated).

10:00 a.m. Sunday update: Chavez increases his lead to 26-24!

8:30 p.m. Sunday update: Chavez running away with it - 28-23!

2:30 p.m. Monday update: Chavez increases his lead - 31-23! TIME Magazine had better get the message!

9:00 a.m. Tuesday update: It's a blowout - 33-22! Now be honest. How many of you thought I was too optimistic four days ago when I wrote "Ahmadinejad is toast!"?


Quote of the day

"No he wasn't saying anything like that."

- Miri Eisen, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
And what was Ms. Eisen talking about? This, from her boss:
"Iran...are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia."
A simple enough statement. But not to Ms. Eisen, who rushed to claim that by this straightforward statement, "[Olmert] did not mean to say that Israel possessed or aspired to acquire nuclear weapons." Well, whether he meant to (as in "was planning to before he opened his mouth") say it may indeed be an open question. That he did say it, rather clearly, isn't. Not to another prevaricator, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, who claimed that "Olmert had meant to categorize the four nations as democracies to set them apart from Iran, and was not referring to their potential nuclear capabilities or aspirations." Ri-i-i-i-i-ght. The phrase "aspiring to have nuclear weapons" was just an metaphor.

While we're counting the lies, let's add two more - Iran is a democracy, and, contrary to Olmert's claim (and the claim of every corporate media outlet and mainstream pundit) that "Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map," Iran has merely predicted (and certainly hoped) that the state of Israel (as a political entity, not a physical place) will not exist forever, but never once threatened any kind of military action to bring that about. Not once. Not with non-existent nuclear weapons, and not with any other kind of weapons.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Iraq: "Desperate" imperialists acknowledge capitalism isn't the answer

Talk about reversing course:
As Iraq descends further into violence and disarray, the Pentagon is turning to a weapon some believe should have been used years ago: jobs.

Members of a small Pentagon task force have gone to the most dangerous areas of Iraq over the past six months to bring life to nearly 200 state-owned factories abandoned by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Their goal is to employ tens of thousands of Iraqis in coming months, part of a plan to reduce soaring unemployment and lessen the violence that has crippled progress.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the top U.S. field commander in Iraq, said...the project to open the factories and stimulate local economies is long overdue and was born "of desperation."

The CPA initially hoped private investors would buy or lease the state factories, but that did not happen as security faltered and much of Iraq became inaccessible. As privatization hopes failed, the factories languished; some were in pristine form and others had been looted when the Pentagon task force examined them this fall.
Curiously enough, however, in this major article in the Washington Post, the question of who will actually own these factories is completely unclear (not to mention the question of what right the Coalition Provisional Authority had to abandon 200 state-owned factories in the first place). Since these were state-owned factories, one might assume that it would be the Iraqi state who has the right to re-open them, as well as the obligation to pay the salaries of the people who would be employed therein, but there's an implication (not clearly stated) in the article that it would be the Pentagon who would be paying the salaries and who, one can only assume, would be the implicit or explicit owner of the factory. But, as I said, it's definitely not clear. Of course, whether any of this will ever come to pass is also unclear.

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