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Monday, April 30, 2007


Imperialist domination: Just Say No!

Step one:
On Tuesday, BP PLC, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., France's Total SA and Norway's Statoil ASA will turn over their Orinoco operations to Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA. Chavez, who says he is reclaiming the oil industry after years of private exploitation, is expected to be accompanied by troops and workers clad in revolutionary red amid fly-bys by the military's new Russian-made fighter jets.
Step two:
President Hugo Chavez announced Monday he would pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Chavez wants to set up a new lender run by Latin American nations and has pledged to support it with Venezuela's booming oil revenues. The regional lender, which he has called "Bank of the South," would dole out financing for state projects across Latin America.
Don't let the door hit you in the backside on the way out of Venezuela, Señores Imperialistas!


Condi Rice: accessory to murder

I wrote it at the time (also here and here), but now documents made available by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reveal in writing the responsibility of Condoleezza Rice for the deaths of citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina due to the lack of available medical care. The State Department's International Donation Assessment lists the Cuban offer of 1,586 doctors and 36 tons of "unspecified equipment" (that would be the backpacks described in great detail by Fidel Castro and pictured here along with two of the doctors who could have saved lives), an offer made while Condi was still on vacation, attending Broadway shows and shopping for shoes.

And what does it say on the line next to that offer, in the column marked "FEMA/OFDA Action"? Instead of "Accepted" or "Declined" or "Approved," like most entries, it says "DoS?" Making it obvious, as if we couldn't have assumed this from the start, that the State Department was acknowledging that it itself would take responsibility for dealing with this offer, rather than letting FEMA handle it. Of course they didn't. And it seems a virtual certainty that people died as a result of their inaction. Or, more accurately, their action in deliberately ignoring the offer to avoid the possibility of enhancing Cuba's reputation among Americans (the most likely motive).


Sex in the Afternoon

White-tailed Hawks, photographed on the Texas coast near the mouth of the Rio Grande River (Boca Chica State Park)

There I was, innocently photographing a White-tailed Hawk on the top of a very distant and very tall Yucca (the Hawk had previously been identified in flight). That's the photo at upper left. A short while later I noticed the Hawk flapping its wings, and I started snapping a series of "action" shots, seen across the top row and then left to right along the bottom row. When I finished, my companions all exclaimed, "Wow, that was great!" Well, I had been observing the action through the viewfinder of my camera, and thought all I was photographing was a Hawk flapping its wings. Wrong! As my friends saw through their binoculars at the time, and as I saw later (and you can see here), what it was was s-e-x. I particularly love what seems, in the anthropomorphic view, the "triumphant" pose in the last shot (enlarged at the bottom).

Incidentally, it may look like the lone bird in the first photo is the same as the bird on top in the other photos. That's deceptive because male and female White-tailed Hawks look alike. so the bird in the first photo, seen from the front (or below if you will), is almost certainly the one on the bottom in the other photos, seen from the side, and is the female.

Males and females may look alike, but like a lot of large birds (gulls a common example), young birds and adults do look different. These can actually be identified from the photos as second-year birds. Adults are all white on the bottom and lack the dark throat clearly seen in the pictures; first-year birds have darker lower breasts, and white mottling on the head. No, I don't know any of this; I just looked it up.

Thus endeth today's nature lesson.


Kranti channels Fidel

Kranti, the lead character in Stephanie McMillan's Minimum Security, channels Fidel Castro's concerns about biofuel.



University of Texas Professor and activist Robert Jensen lays out the fundamental aspects of capitalism on CounterPunch today: capitalism "is a system that is fundamentally (1) inhuman, (2) anti-democratic, and (3) unsustainable." He ends with this:
One of the common responses I hear when I critique capitalism is, "Well, that may all be true, but we have to be realistic and do what's possible." By that logic, to be realistic is to accept a system that is inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable. To be realistic we are told we must capitulate to a system that steals our souls, enslaves us to concentrated power, and will someday destroy the planet.

But rejecting and resisting a predatory corporate capitalism is not crazy. It is an eminently sane position. Holding onto our humanity is not crazy. Defending democracy is not crazy. And struggling for a sustainable future is not crazy.

What is truly crazy is falling for the con that an inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable system -- one that leaves half the world's people in abject poverty -- is all that there is, all that there ever can be, all that there ever will be.


Obama the interventionist

Lots more evidence of Obama the interventionist, from a Washington Post op-ed. (Hat tip Politics in the Zeros)
He wants the American military to "stay on the offense, from Djibouti to Kandahar," and he believes that "the ability to put boots on the ground will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now face." He wants to ensure that we continue to have "the strongest, best-equipped military in the world."

Obama never once says that military force should be used only as a last resort. Rather, he insists that "no president should ever hesitate to use force -- unilaterally if necessary," not only "to protect ourselves . . . when we are attacked," but also to protect "our vital interests" when they are "imminently threatened." That's known as preemptive military action. It won't reassure those around the world who worry about letting an American president decide what a "vital interest" is and when it is "imminently threatened."
There's lots more.

In case it's not obvious, I'm singling out Obama because I think people have more illusions in him than other candidates. Nothing he's saying along the lines above is any different than Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or many (not all) of the others; it's just that he's got such a nice smile and is such a good speaker (the best in the bunch) that it's all too easy for people to overlook what he actually says.


Pity the poor 9-11 conspiracy "theorists"

Their precious "fire can't melt steel" "theory" (which in turn "proves" that the World Trade towers were blown up) just went up in flames, quite literally, on last night's 6:00 news, as millions of people all over the world watched a portion of a Bay Area freeway collapse after an overturned tanker truck fire "melted" (actually, softened sufficiently to cause a lack of structural integrity) the steel holding it up.

I'm sure they'll be in agony when they read this in today's paper:

The freeway collapsed more or less for the same reasons that the World Trade Center towers did on Sept. 11, 2001. The steel supports were baked at, and probably beyond, 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the point at which steel turns to rubber, said [University of California-Berkeley civil engineering Professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl], who studied the trade center collapse for the National Science Foundation.

"It's not to say the steel melted. Some portions may have melted, but the steel got soft, like rubber," he said. "When steel gets that warm, it loses its strength and cannot carry its load any more."
Ah, but don't worry, for conspiracy "theorists" there's always an out. I just saw an interview with an eyewitness (the guy who actually filmed the collapse, and no, he wasn't an Israeli) on TV, and he said from a distance he thought it was fireworks. Which "proves" that it wasn't fire that collapsed the freeway at all, but a controlled explosion (the "fireworks" he thought he saw), probably set by the government to make people think that fire can cause steel structures to collapse and hence disprove those pesky 9-11 "theories."

On another note, Gov. Schwarzenegger has magnanimously offered to alleviate the predicted massive disruption of commuting (this was a very strategically placed freeway interchange) by making mass transit free...for one day! Whoa, let's not go overboard, Governor. I'm talking, of course, about that world-famous "green" Governor, the one people are falling all over because of his supposed environmental consciousness. But free mass transit for a week, or, god forbid, permanently? That's way too "green" to even contemplate.

And, for an added bonus, the inspired silliness of Malvina Reynolds from 1959 (from her album "Malvina"), a song entitled "The Day the Freeway Froze" ("froze" not meant literally but referring instead to a massive traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeways).


Sunday, April 29, 2007


Some video recommends

Tonight ABC News broadcast a segment from Havana about Luis Posada Carriles and the upcoming trial. If you didn't see it, you can watch it here; 3 1/2 minutes long. Other than the introduction (which is critiqued at the link), it's a pretty good piece, and well worth watching.

Longer, but perhaps of wider interest, was the Bill Moyers Journal broadcast on PBS a few days ago (and practically the only thing I watched on TV in the last week), entitled "Buying the War" (transcript and video here ). It's mostly about my favorite subject, media coverage of the run-up to the war, and features, among many interviews, the two Knight-Ridder reporters who "got it right," Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. One of the most interesting (from a certain point of view) interchanges was this one:

WARREN STROBEL: How many times did I get invited on the talk-- how many times did you get invited on a talk show?

JONATHAN LANDAY: I think maybe on-

WARREN STROBEL: Yeah, not the big talk shows.


WARREN STROBEL: Not the big Sunday shows-

JONATHAN LANDAY: You know what? I'll tell you who invited me on-- on a talk-- on a talk shows- C-Span.
A really powerful, hard-hitting 90-minute show, and all of it is online. Highly recommended.



Audio Post of the Day: Oh America

Below you can listen to Oh America, a toe-tapping Holly Near song from her 1973 album "Hang In There," but this one's not just for listening, but for discussion. The storyline of this song is that, as she travels across America doing singing gigs, Near meets a variety of "good people" (basically, antiwar people), which restores her faith in "America," allowing her to sing the chorus, "Oh America, I now can say your name, without feeling bitter and without feeling ashamed."

So how do you feel about that (if you're a resident of a junior imperialist country like Britain or Australia or Canada or Italy or Germany, feel free to substitute that name; if you live elsewhere, just enjoy the song :-) )? I know I'm conflicted about it. Yes, of course there are progressive Americans, but is that enough to make you feel unashamed about being an American? Are Americans largely good, but just misled by the corporate media and other influences? Or are they just "fat and happy" (or plain old reactionary) and very much responsible for their own government and its actions? Did Holly Near reach a reasonable conclusion, or just find a good hook for the song?



The phony "antiwar" Obama

I've written about the phony "antiwar" Barack Obama before, but Thursday's Democratic Presidential debate (transcript) provided another bit of evidence. The first time the subject came up with him, he repeated a variation of what we had heard before:
Well, Brian, I am proud that I opposed this war from the start, because I thought that it would lead to the disastrous conditions that we've seen on the ground in Iraq.
In other words, he wasn't opposed to the war per se, and certainly not to the idea of launching an unprovoked war against a supposed "enemy" on specious grounds as part of an equally specious "war on terror" (on that subject, make sure to read the fascinating article by the otherwise execrable Zbigniew Brzezinski, arguably the single man most responsible for 9/11 outside of Osama bin Laden, on the bogosity of the "war on terror" and the very real climate of fear it has engendered with all its consequences). He was only opposed to launching an ill-planned, poorly led, and under equipped war. He'll do better.

And where will he do better? Quite possibly Iran. And why do I say that? Because for all his bluster about his pride about how he wouldn't have voted for the war against Iraq, here he is on the subject of Iran:

But, have no doubt, Iran possessing nuclear weapons will be a major threat to us and to the region.

Kucinich: (Interrupts to say they have no nuclear weapons)

Obama: I understand that, but they're in the process of developing it. And I don't think that's disputed by any expert.

Kucinich: It is disputed...
So here's Obama, repeating for all the world to see precisely the same sort of "mistake" that led to the war in Iraq - believing (or claiming to believe, anyway) "all the experts" (all the ones that the corporate media allows to appear on Meet the Press and similar talk fests) without considering the complete lack of actual evidence, willing to push this kind of nonsense on the susceptible American public. So even though he prefaced his remark by claiming, "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to initiate a war with Iran," we can see where his thinking lies, and the fact is, when push comes to shove, he'll claim, just like Bush, that it was Iran who "initiated" the war by daring to exert its national sovereignty to develop nuclear power (or even, should they decide to, nuclear weapons). Because, in the end, this is the rationale that will determine his actions when in office:
I think it is important for us to also recognize that if we have nuclear proliferators around the world that potentially can place a nuclear weapon into the hands of terrorists, that is a profound security threat for America and one that we have to take seriously.
And remember, "all options are on the table." But don't worry. He's "not planning to nuke anybody...right now." After Iran has tens of thousands of centrifuges enriching uranium, who knows? That just might be the time the "antiwar" Obama will decide it is time.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Quote of the day

Everybody's talking about the great performance by former Senator Mike Gravel at the Democratic debates (which I just watched tonight). He said quite a few things that needed to be said, but this was the best:
"You hear the statement, 'the soldiers will have died in vain.' The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. You know what’s worse than a soldier dying in vain? More soldiers dying in vain."
Will I be supporting him? Not bloody likely. Consider, for example, this quote:
"I’ve got to tell you, if I’m President of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices."
Couldn't bring himself to say "no preemptive wars period," could he? Anyway, his chances are less than those of Dennis Kucinich, and both, despite their own good intentions, are only going to siphon the energies of antiwar activists into an unproductive area, and from there to endorsing the "anybody but some really bad guy" Democrat, who will be for withdrawal. You know, someday. Of some troops.

But it was a great performance. :-)

Friday, April 27, 2007


U.S. government not only harbors terrorists, it allows them to associate with one another

The Cuban Five - five Cubans who came to the United States to monitor right-wing terrorist groups in Miami and who have now spent more than eight years in U.S. prisons for their pains - had a curious proviso as part of their sentence. Once released (or if released in the cases of the ones with life sentences), they were specifically prohibited from visiting places in Miami frequented by terrorists. At once both a curious admission that there are terrorists (that's anti-Cuban terrorism, of course, not the U.S.-government acknowledged "Muslim" terrorism) in Miami, as well as a curious acknowledgment that the Five were actually associating with (and monitoring) those terrorists and not the U.S. government (or is it an absurd implication that they actually were terrorists? Cuban government "spies" planning acts of terrorism against Cuba? I think not).

Anyway, all this is prelude to the outrageous release of a real terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, in advance of his equally outrageous immigration violation "trial" scheduled for May 11. This is a man who will be on trial for having snuck into the country. And who is he allowed to associate with in the meantime? Why, anyone he chooses, including the father of the man on whose boat Posada entered the country (and, presumably, on whose boat he could easily leave), men who are part of the notorious terrorist groups Alpha 66 and Commandos F-4, and others.

Imagine, say, the French government arresting and then trying Osama bin Laden on an immigration violation while refusing to extradite him to the U.S., and not only releasing him on bail while awaiting trial, but even allowing him to associate with known terrorists. The O'Reilly's and Hannity's of this world would probably be calling for nuking France. Really, it's hard to even imagine how big an outrage is being committed by the U.S. government.

On May 11, there will be demonstrations in El Paso and in cities across the country (and around the world) demanding the extradition of Posada to Venezuela to stand trial on 73 counts of murder, and denouncing the kid-glove handling of this terrorist by the U.S. government. I encourage readers to join me at one of those demonstrations.



Audio Post of the Day: Topsy II

Every song I post here can't be a political song; every once in a while we just need some plain old great music. "Topsy II" (pronounced "Topsy, Part 2") was recorded by Cozy Cole and his Cozy Cole Combo in 1958, and sold an unheard of one million copies. It just might be the best drum song ever recorded. This copy comes from one of my 45s (again, I say, young'uns - look it up!), with a little digital cleanup. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 26, 2007


A study in black and white (and brown)

Not all the "good birds" (arbitrarily defined as the birds you'd really like to see) are colorful, like the ones I've posted here in three recent posts. Many birds are colored with just simple blacks, whites, and browns, but they can be just as striking, as the three here. All of them spend their lives skulking around the reeds of marshes, and the casual observer is unlikely to see any of them, thanks to their coloration and their behavior. When you do, it's a real treat.

From left to right (and top to bottom): Sora, Clapper Rail, and Least Bittern, all photographed on South Padre Island (from the boardwalk adjacent to the Convention Center)


Green Jay

The Green Jay is one of those tropical species whose range in the United States only extends to the extreme southern tip of Texas. This one was photographed at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. And this picture, as striking as it is, doesn't even do justice to the richness of color, since it was photographed in the shade (I could never get a good shot of one in sunshine).

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Texas

Intelligent design? I think not. Fabulous design thanks to the laws of nature? Definitely.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Location, location, location

South Padre Island is in the extreme southeastern tip of Texas, just slightly to the north of where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. As such it, like nearby areas of Texas like Brownsville, forms the northernmost limit of some tropical species, that is, the only place in the United States where some southern species make it across the border. At the same time, it's situated such that it's the first landfall for birds migrating north across the Gulf. For both those reasons, it's one of the premier birding spots in the United States. In the course of probably an hour, I was easily able to see all four of these, and many, many more (73 different species during the day):

Clockwise from upper-left: Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Macro location is important, but so is micro-location. These birds were all seen while I was standing just outside the men's room door of the South Padre Island Convention Center. This morning's destination was an even more exotic (and quite famous!) location - the Brownsville Dump. A visual and olfactory treat!


Audio Post of the Day: We Hate to See Them Go

Another gem from Berkeley folk singer Malvina Reynolds, this one from her self-titled album released in 1977, one year before her death at age 78. The delightful fantasy of "the gentlemen of distinction" going into the army.

By the way, my sympathies to those of you with dial-up connections. I'm staying at such a place right now (wireless was promised, but doesn't exist), and it seems to be basically impossible without a lot more patience than I have to listen to these songs on a dial-up line. Sorry about that.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I think that I shall never see...

...a bird as colorful as a Painted Bunting.

Painted Bunting, South Padre Island, TX

Not perfectly focussed, but still worth posting. One more reason to save the planet.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Audio Post of the Day: 99 Luftballons

Not to get stuck in a 70's rut (see previous posted songs), "99 Luftballons," or "99 Red Balloons" was a protest song recorded in German in 1983 and in English in 1984. It tells the story of an apocalyptic overreaction by the military to seeing 99 red balloons floating into the sky. It may have seemed ludicrous at the time (and still does), but is it really that big a stretch to the "overreaction" of killing three-quarters of a million Iraqis in response to something that wasn't even as real as 99 red balloons - phantom weapons of mass destruction? Of course that wasn't the real reason for the invasion of Iraq, but let's no go there in this post.

"99 Luftballons" is sung by the singer (and group) Nena, pictured here. Below, I've run together the German version (which I prefer) followed by the English version into a single cut.


Sunday, April 22, 2007


Audio Post of the Day: High Flying Woman

A gem from the height of the women's movement, "High Flying Woman," from a Western Massachusetts band named The Deadly Nightshade from their first, self-titled album. Not as popular an anthem as Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," but way better. :-) Recorded in 1975.

Note: Patience required after clicking! Do not click the arrow twice!

High Flying Woman....


Friday, April 20, 2007


Bonus Audio Post: the real Barbara Ann

To help you wipe the taste of John McCain out of your mouths, here's the real "Barbara Ann," recorded by The Regents in March, 1961 on the Gee/Roulette label. Excuse the scratchiness; I applied maximal filtering but it was a pretty old (obviously) 45. It gets better after a bad start.



Vacation warning/Open thread

I'm off tomorrow on a week's trip, with only dial-up connectivity, and expect to have minimal contact with the news. I'll probably post occasionally, but in preparation, I've queued up a series of audio posts like the ones I've been posting in the last few days, so you'll want to at least stop by for those. Some good stuff on the way!

Catch you later; feel free to use this and the other audio posts as open threads.


Audio Post of the Day: World in Their Pocket

On days when you're despairing of the power of the ruling class, who, Bush's incompetence notwithstanding, can seem all-powerful and impossible to overcome, it's important to remember one thing...they've got the world in their pocket, but their pocket's got a hole.

"World in Their Pocket" was recorded in 1975 by the late great folk singer Malvina Reynolds, who was 75 at the time. It's from the album "Malvina Held Over."

Have a listen, and get inspired to be the hole.

And, don't forget, I'm still seeking feedback on your experiences with this particular mp3 delivery system, suggestions for better ones, and of course I'd welcome feedback on the whole idea of posting interesting old songs here (and on the particular songs themselves). I have practically an unlimited supply (not all digitized yet, of course) - hundreds of LPs and 45s, many of them out of print and otherwise unavailable.

Update: Courtesy of a commenter, I found what I think is a better site that allows embedded mp3s - esnips.com. Let's try that out (above).


Thursday, April 19, 2007


Understanding what the U.S. has done in the case of Luis Posada Carriles

Imagine if France arrested Osama bin Laden, and refused to extradite him to the United States on the grounds he would be tortured. Then imagine they refused to charge him with terrorism, but only with an immigration violation, and released him on bail. Now you'll have some idea of the situation with Luis Posada Carriles, with one exception - the United States does torture its prisoners, while Venezuela does not.

Tell Bush and Congress - Extradite Posada Now!



Terrorist on the loose in the U.S.

And the Bush administration put him there. Luis Posada Carriles, the Osama bin Laden of the Western Hemisphere, has been released on bail.

A selection of the 69 previous posts providing background on the developments in the case:

Last but not least, a YouTube video showing Posada's most notorious act of terrorism:



Audio Post of the Day: Abortion Song

At least some readers are probably too young to remember the days when abortion was illegal, but you hardly have to be in a rocking chair in the old age home to remember. This is a song recorded by the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band in 1972, entitled "Abortion Song," from the album "Mountain Moving Day," jointly recorded with the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band. Come to think of it, there are probably a lot of readers too young to remember women's liberation. Ah well. Listen and repeat after me in the light of the recent Supreme Court decision: "Never again."

As a bonus audio clip, if your stomach is up to it, go watch this short clip of John McCain singing "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys (that's his attribution, the original attribution would be the Regents) song "Barbara Ann." The man knows whereof he speaks, having honed his own skills bombing lightbulb factories in Vietnam.

Update: Fixed the link which went to the wrong song.



Why "fake news" is better than real news

Why did I have to learn about this incredible sequence of events by watching Jon Stewart's The Daily Show last night (and why didn't I notice it myself, you might ask?)?

On April 10, this was George Bush:

If Congress fails to pass a bill I can sign by mid-May...[s]ome of our forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended, because other units are not ready to take their places.
The bottom line is this: Congress's failure to fund our troops will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. Others could see their loved ones headed back to war sooner than anticipated. This is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me, it's unacceptable to our veterans, it's unacceptable to our military families, and it's unacceptable to many in this country.
On April 11, the very next day, Secretary of War Defense Robert Gates said this:
Effective immediately, active Army units now in the Central Command area of responsibility and those headed there will deploy for not more than 15 months and will return home to home stations for not less than 12 months.
The very next day!! And, dare I point out as Stewart did, Gates' action has yet to be denounced by Bush as "unacceptable." Because, his attempts to make this a political issue and shift the blame to the Democrats notwithstanding, this has nothing to do with politics, but necessity - they simply have no other option to continue fighting a war which the country does not want to fight than to force the soldiers they already have a firm grasp on into increasingly difficult situations. Hopefully this will backfire, since it seems guaranteed to ensure that even more soldiers will go AWOL. At least 10,000 have done so already.


Jaw-dropping story of the day: U.S. and Australia to swap refugees

I'll let WIIIAI tell the story:
The US and Australia have agreed to a refugee swap: Australia will take in Haitians and Cubans who have been captured at sea trying to reach the US and are currently held at Guantanamo, while the US will take refugees from Burma, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and elsewhere trying to reach Australia by boat (Australia has been bribing Nauru to operate as Australia’s Guantanamo). Both countries thus get to prevent refugees reaching their shores and then claiming asylum, while deterring refugees by treating them like shit (think how badly you have to treat people to stop them leaving hell-holes like Haiti, Burma and Afghanistan) in places where there will be little scrutiny of the conditions under which they’re held. It’s extraordinary rendition for refugees.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Audio Post of the Day: No More Genocide

Thanks to a new 30-foot audio cable which lets me connect my stereo system to my computer, I'm now in a position to do a lot more digitizing of my extensive LP (look it up, young'uns) collection. If anyone has any recommendations for free services that let you embed mp3's in a post easily, let me know in the comments; I really can't take the time to make YouTube videos out of every interesting song I'd like to post, as admirable an idea as that may be. The service I'm trying out with this post, box.net, seems ok, but you have to upgrade to a paid account to allow direct embedding. And the way it works, it allows you not only to listen but to download the file, which isn't really what I intended. Subsequently switched to "esnips.com" which allows direct embedding, as obvious below.

Anyway, today's music is "No More Genocide" by Holly Near, recorded in 1973 on her great antiwar album "Hang in There." Have a listen.



More on unseen deaths in Iraq

New information from the World Heath Organization sheds more light on the question of how many, and how, people are dying in Iraq. We learn that:
70 percent of Iraqis lack regular access to clean water, and 80 percent lack toilets that do not contaminate water sources, according to the report.

As a result of these multiple public-health failings, diarrhea and respiratory infections now account for two-thirds of the deaths of children under five, the report said. Twenty-one percent of Iraqi children are now chronically malnourished.
To repeat something I've said many times, deaths like these are included in the Johns Hopkins study (whose principal author, Dr. Les Roberts, is now the head of the program on forced migration and health at Columbia University, according to the article), but are not included in other "measures" of the death toll in Iraq, such as the Iraq Body Count numbers, even though they are "civilians" who dying. Unfortunately the article, although giving us that "two-thirds" figure, doesn't say how many children under the age of five are dying.

Hiding in the penultimate paragraph of the article is something else I've harped on many times:

The report cites the Iraqi government as saying that almost 70 percent of critically injured patients die in the hospital because of lack of staff, drugs and equipment.
So, again as a reminder, every time you read a story like the one in today's news headlined "4 bombs kill 160 183 people," don't forget that's only part of the story. because the article also reports that 179 243 people were wounded (and those numbers, as far as I can tell, exclude those designated as "insurgents" rather than "people"). Now not all of those wounded were "critically injured," but some certainly were, and of that unknown number, 70 percent will die tomorrow, or next week, and their deaths will not be reported in the papers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Socialism? Never heard of it.

Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! this morning interviewed Michael Albert, the founder of Z Magazine and Znet and the co-founder of South End Press. Goodman started out the interview with a rather relevant question:
It's a question that's been posed to social movements for years: We know what you oppose, but what's your alternative? My next guest is considered one of today’s leading thinkers on that very question.
Unfortunately she then spent 3/4 of the interview on Albert's past, why he was expelled from college, why he didn't join the Weathermen, etc. When they finally got around to the supposed topic of the interview, Albert starts by saying something very important, something I've written here as well:
Capitalism is a horrific system. Capitalism is a system that breeds an environment in which dignity is robbed, in which people are out -- nice guys finish last, in the words of a famous American baseball coach, or in my more aggressive formulation, garbage rises, meaning it's a competitive environment in which you care about others, you suffer. If you violate others, you advance.
OK, so far so good. Then he goes into his "answer":
MICHAEL ALBERT: And the question for me was always, starting right at the beginning in 1968, '67: what do we replace it with? If we're about changing this fundamentally, then we have to be about not just better values, people controlling their own lives, equity, justice, diversity, solidarity, we have to be about institutions that would make those values real. So parecon or participatory economics is a model --

AMY GOODMAN: You made up the word?

MICHAEL ALBERT: Yes, and it's not a brilliant choice, I'm told. It's an economic system, a set of institutions to accomplish production and consumption and allocation, stuff that makes up economics, and to do it in a way that the act of doing it gives people control over their lives, gives people solidarity with others, gives people an equitable share of the social output, gives people a range of options that's fulfilling. And so, the institutions that make it up are the key to it, and it represents an answer to the question, "What do you want?"
I linked to the ZNet page about "parecon" where, if you like, you can read more, since as far as I'm concerned, what Albert had to say on the air had virtually no information content.

But here's the point. I don't care if Michael Albert or anyone else has some vision of the future and how a non-capitalist society might be structured. But isn't he at least obliged to mention the word "socialism" when he's discussing non-capitalist alternatives, even if he thinks there's something wrong with it? The entire tenor of the conversation is that he's the first person ever to try to figure out an alternative to capitalism. Bollocks. And the fact that Goodman never even asks him a question like, "Well, aren't you talking about socialism?" is, whatever her personal politics, just plain poor journalism.


The U.S. lies about one of its "enemies"

Hold your shock:
Charges by the U.S. Treasury Department that a small bank in Macau knowingly laundered counterfeit U.S. currency on behalf of North Korea have no basis in fact, according to a confidential audit ordered by the government of the Chinese enclave.

The audit, obtained by McClatchy News Service, also suggests that the Treasury overstated claims that the bank laundered "hundreds of millions" in ill-gotten gains through Banco Delta Asia.

The audit's conclusions about the laundering of counterfeit currency are significant because they cast doubt on Bush administration claims that North Korea has engaged in state-sponsored counterfeiting and introducing these fake bills via Banco Delta.

Moreover, the audit confirmed that the only time Banco Delta knowingly handled counterfeit U.S. notes was in 1994 when its inspectors discovered 100 counterfeit $100 bills and turned over $10,000 to local authorities. That $10,000 is far from the $15 million in counterfeit U.S. currency the Bush administration in 2005 said North Korea was manufacturing annually.
And how long has this been known (not to us, of course)?
Ernst & Young presented the audit to Macanese banking regulators in December 2005 in response to concerns raised in Treasury's Sept. 20, 2005, proposed action against Banco Delta.
For more than a year, hundreds of stories in the press have taken the U.S. claims of North Korea counterfeiting money as simple fact. And for essentially that entire time, it has been known that the story was simply untrue.


On violence

Violent acts like the one at Virginia Tech have various causes, but there's no escaping that living in a society which promotes mass murder as a way to "solve our problems" (i.e., to have our way with the rest of the world) is a factor. How thoroughly does the atmosphere of violence permeate this society? Forget violent video games. Here's a headline from today's Business section of the San Jose Mercury News:
Intel unveils 20 weapons in AMD war
The continuation headline on the second page of the article offers a variation:
Intel: New artillery rolled out for company's war with AMD.
Delightful. Just delightful.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The best "democracy" money can buy

There was a lot of hoopla a few days ago when we learned that Barack Obama had received contributions from 100,000 different people and Hillary Clinton from 50,000. That would actually be a certain kind of demonstration of a sort of democracy, were it not for the bottom line - 86% of the actual dollar amount of Clinton's contributions, and 68% of Obama's (78% of all Democrats and 79% of all Republicans) came from people giving $1000 or more; roughly half (both parties) came from people giving $2300 or more. What fraction of the population do you suppose is in the financial position where they can afford to give $1000 to a candidate? Heck, "small" contributions in this survey are called "$200 or less," and what percentage of people could even afford to give $100? 86% of all money collected, by both Republicans and Democrats, came from people giving $200 or more.

The best "democracy" money can buy. Too bad you don't get much for your money.

(Hat tip to a diarist at Daily Kos)


Tragedy at Virginia Tech

More than 30 people are dead from a shooting at Virginia Tech. Words like horrendous, carnage, horrifying, tragedy, shock, are all being used, and rightfully so. Let me be the first (?) to display what some will undoubtedly call my insensitivity and point out that in Iraq, a country with less than one-tenth the population of the United States, this type of horrifying act has happened nearly every day since the United States and its partners invaded that unfortunate country four years ago. Every human tragedy that is happening in Virginia today, every parent that has lost a child, every person that has lost a spouse, every person that has lost a good friend, is repeated every day in Iraq. Every day. The scale of human tragedy taking place in Iraq is so great that it's all too easy to lose sight of it. Multiply what is happening today in Virginia by 25,000 (!!!) or so and you'll have some idea of its scale.


War is peace

This is what passes for "peacekeeping":
After initial reticence, Sudan has finally yielded to the United Nations and approved the second phase of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, which involves deployment of six attack helicopters.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Student loans

Aside from the fact that student loans per se shouldn't even be necessary (all education should be free, not just education through high school), in a world where student loans do exist, we find, to no one's surprise, that it suffers the same fate as medical care - capitalism giving us just as much bureaucracy, but at higher costs thanks to the "need" for profit:
In a fierce contest to control the student loan market, the nation’s banks and lenders have for years waged a successful campaign to limit a federal program that was intended to make borrowing less costly by having the government provide loans directly to students.
And how much profit are we talking about? Well, this should give some idea:
The companies have offered money to universities to pull out of the federal direct loan program.
Here's Capitalism 101 - companies don't offer money for something unless there is a return on investment. Here's another indication of the money involved:
President Bush’s budget reports that in 2006 for every $100 lent by private lenders, the cost to the government of subsidies, defaults and other items was $13.81, while the same amount lent through the direct loan program cost the government $3.85.
$10/$100 savings if the money is lent directly by the government - a whopping 10%. 10% of what? $69 billion.


Speaking of John McCain

And we were just speaking of him (see item below). McCain has made quite a name for himself as an opponent of "wasteful" government spending. He's usually picking on funding for museums, or scientists conducting experiments that don't seem to have direct relevance, or other such low-budget programs which are easy targets. Aside from not criticizing the biggest waste of all (the trillion-dollar war budget), I wonder if he'll have anything to say about this $176 million/year waste:
Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress.

Also, those who attended one of the four abstinence classes that were reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes. And they first had sex at about the same age as other students—14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education.
I won't be holding my breath.

Update: As if on cue, today's headline: "McCain assails wasteful spending." No mention of abstinence "education."


How to bring instant peace to Iraq

John McCain, and many others as well, claim that if the U.S. sets a withdrawal date from Iraq, the resistance (or, in his words, "insurgents") would just "lay low" until then. If you really believed that absurd proposition, wouldn't it be the simplest and safest way to bring peace to Iraq? Instead of escalating the war and bringing about increased deaths for Americans and Iraqis, just announce a withdrawal date. Then, in the time between now and then, there will be plenty of time to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure, train an Iraqi army, and all those other things necessary for a stable Iraq, all in the absence of any action from the resistance who will be laying low. And tens of thousands of people will be alive who would otherwise have been killed.

Hell, if worst comes to worst and the resistance comes back with a vengeance on the withdrawal date, you can always say, "ha, ha, I had my fingers crossed, we're not withdrawing after all," and in the meantime you'll have bought yourself a year of peace at a very low price.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Surely as much sense as walking through an Iraqi market wearing body armor, surrounded by 100 soldiers and protected by Apache helicopters and announcing it's a sign of "progress" in Iraq.


Medical care under capitalism - where does the money go?

Gee, where do you think?
When Blue Cross sells health insurance to someone who isn't covered at work, the company typically makes a 27 percent profit. By the time salaries and other administrative costs are accounted for, only half the money the company collects in premiums from that person goes for medical care.
You won't be surprised to learn that Blue Cross is the only major insurer opposing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "universal health care plan."

And how do they manage to make so much money? Well, here's one way:

The governor also wants to ban the practice of "cherry picking" young, healthy people least likely to go to the doctor, while denying coverage to others with even minor ailments.

That policy is legal - and not unique to Blue Cross. "The idea that you have to sell health insurance to any comer is antithetical to their business model," said Peter Harbage, a health care expert at the non-partisan New America Foundation who has advised the governor. "It's not how they make money."
I put Arnold Schwarzenegger's "universal health care plan," which was a phrase in the referenced article, in quotes above. Why? Because Schwarzenegger's proposal concerns health insurance, not health care. And, as the last quoted sentence makes rather clear, health insurance and health care are most definitely not the same thing. In large part they are, in fact, antithetical.


More hidden victims of U.S. imperialism

The fact that the injuries-to-deaths has gone from 2.6:1 in Vietnam to 16:1 in Iraq, thanks to improved body armor and battlefield medical care, is well-known, and the fact (but definitely not the exact number, which the military does its best to keep secret) that tens of thousands of members of the American military have received serious, life-changing injuries, is also well-known. But this article, by the author of a recently published book "Wounded: Vietnam to Iraq," takes it one step further. According to the author, who is a doctor:
About 1,800 U.S. service members, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, are now suffering from traumatic brain injuries caused by penetrating wounds. But neurologists worry that hundreds of thousands more - at least 30 percent of the troops who have engaged in active combat for four months or longer in Iraq and Afghanistan - are at risk of potentially disabling neurological disorders from the blast waves of IEDs and mortars, without suffering a scratch.

Here's why IEDS carry such hidden danger. The detonation of any powerful explosive generates a blast wave of high pressure that spreads out at 1,600 feet per second from the point of explosion and travels hundreds of yards. The lethal blast wave is a two-part assault that rattles the brain against the skull. The initial shock wave of high pressure is followed closely by the "secondary wind:" a huge volume of displaced air flooding back into the area, again under high pressure. No helmet or armor can defend against such a massive wave front.

It is these sudden and extreme differences in pressures - routinely 1,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure - that lead to significant neurological injury. Blast waves cause severe concussions, resulting in loss of consciousness and obvious neurological deficits such as blindness, deafness and mental retardation. Blast waves causing traumatic brain injuries can leave a 19-year-old private who could easily run a six-minute mile unable to stand or even think.
Note again the sentence in bold. These are "closed-head" injuries we're talking about, injuries we are not immediately obvious. And, what's worse, because of the nature of these injuries (explained in the article):
Despite the usual interventions and treatments, the majority of blast-injury patients who have neurological damage do not fully recover.
Omitted from the article is what should be an obvious fact - there are tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been present at similar explosions, and are subject to precisely the same injuries, but with even less medical care available to them.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Helping along that "rich get richer, poor get poorer" thing

This was a major theme of Peter Camejo's Green Party campaign for Governor of California, and now a new study shows he was right on the money:
Low-income Californians pay a disproportionately large share of their income in state taxes, while the Golden State's richest citizens spend a much smaller share on taxes, according to a joint study by two research groups.

The report, released five days before this year's April 17 tax filing deadline, showed that the state's strongly progressive personal income tax - demanding proportionately more from the wealthiest Californians and nothing from the poorest - falls far short of counterbalancing the regressive effects of sales taxes and excise taxes on items such as gasoline, tobacco and alcohol. Property tax is also regressive, according to the study.

"It's an upside down tax system: the more you earn, the less you pay," said Matt Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, based in Washington D.C.

The analysis found that the poorest 20 percent of Californians - with an average income of $11,100 in 2004 dollars - spent 11.7 percent of their income on all types of state taxes, both direct and indirect. The wealthiest 1 percent, with an average income of nearly $1.6 million, spend 7.1 percent on state taxes, and the next 19 percent spent 8 percent on state taxes.

Moreover, the report noted, 1,343 of the state's 449,277 households earning more than $200,000 paid no personal income tax in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available. They benefited from various tax breaks, including the research and development credit. The number of these high-income "no tax" returns had more than doubled since 1996, the research found.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Stopping a war against Iran

How can it be done? Click here to find out.

(And no, I haven't changed my position on the likelihood of this happening, but nor have I changed my position that one must act as if it's going to happen.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The end of "the end of history"

Dave Lindorff is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. Given some recent posts here about Fidel's writings on the environment as well as Cuban efforts to achieve sustainability, Lindorff's latest article is very much on point. Some excerpts:
It wasn’t too long that the death of socialism, the triumph of capitalism and the end of history were being widely hailed.

What a difference a few years and a few fractions of a degree in world temperature change makes!

We may still be contemplating the end of history, but of a different sort. It is suddenly becoming painfully obvious that the pursuit of profit and the philosophy of growth for growth’s sake and of dog eat dog is about to kill us all off.
What will save us is recognizing that the age of consumer-driven capitalism is over.

This is not an “inconvenient” truth we need to confront. It’s a terrifying truth.
In 1915, German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg wrote this:
Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration - a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat.
In common parlance, this paragraph is reduced to the phrase "socialism or barbarism." Nearly 100 years later, the stark reality of that option stares us in the face.


Don Imus

I'm barely aware of Don Imus. And I hardly need to comment on his (and his producer's) recent comments. But the main subject of discussion today seems to be whether his apology is sufficient, and on that subject, I just want to refer readers to this article from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Media), which details Imus' long history of similar remarks, and his history of quickly-forgotten apologies for those remarks. In all the discussion I've heard so far on the subject, I have yet to hear anyone other than FAIR lay out the facts so clearly.

Update: I see (from watching Keith Olbermann) that Matt Lauer on the Today Show did bring up the issue of past apologies.


"Let them eat cake" would be an improvement

Because in some places in the United States, attempting to feed the poor is an arrestable offense:
An Orlando activist was arrested this evening while he was feeding homeless people downtown.

Eric Montanez, 21, a member of Orlando's Food Not Bombs, had just finished serving food at Lake Eola Park when the 5:30 arrest took place, witnesses said.

Police said Montanez violated a controversial city ordinance that bars feedings in the park. Each group may only feed 25 people fewer. Their undercover officers said Montanez fed 30.
I'm not sure which is more amazing, that Orlando has an ordinance barring feeding people in the park, or that they actually assigned an undercover officer to count the number of people being fed (and, presumably, to photograph them for evidence in the trial).

As usual, one of the most interesting things about this story is to observe the press coverage of this event, which is surely as newsworthy as, to pick an item at random, the parentage of Anna Nicole Smith's baby. I first read about it in Granma. A Google search shows a handful of stories in Florida newspapers, coverage in a couple of papers outside the U.S., and, interestingly, coverage in CNN International, but not CNN itself. Not a single national U.S. media outlet appears to have mentioned the story.

Update: While we're on the subject of "compassionate capitalism," read this op-ed entitled, "What if John Edwards worked at Wal-Mart?" No, it isn't about the ludicrous hypothetical of a Wal-Mart employee wanting to run for President, but rather about the very unhypothetical situation of a Wal-Mart employee whose spouse has cancer and faces the prospect of dealing with that situation with what passes for medical "care" in the United States. (Hat tip to Cursor)


Coddling of terrorists continues...in the United States

In the latest development in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, a judge has set bail to allow him to be freed in advance of his immigration trial in May. The U.S. continues to defy international law and various treaties it has signed, which obligate the U.S. to either extradite Posada to Venezuela, where he is wanted for the murder of 73 people in connection with the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana airliner, or to try him themselves for that crime. It's worth remembering why they refuse to do so - because they claim Posada might be tortured in Venezuela. And why are they able to make that claim? Because at a preliminary hearing, Posada's lawyer and former partner (and fellow torturer) in the (old) Venezuelan secret police, Joaquin Chaffardet, testified that Posada might be tortured in Venezuela, and the U.S. government presented no testimony to counter that baseless claim, allowing it to stand unchallenged.

The news coverage of the latest development is infuriating. The Judge describes Posada as having ""a controversial past," and the Reuters reporter writes, "his past activities are viewed as terrorism by his opponents." Let's review, shall we? Posada is strongly implicated in the murder of 73 people in an airplane bombing. He admitted to a New York Times reporter that he was the mastermind behind a string of hotel bombings in Havana in the late 90's which killed one Italian tourist and injured many others. He was convicted of entering Panama in 2000 with 20 pounds of C-4 and a plan to blow up an auditorium where Fidel Castro was addressing hundreds of Panamanian students (and pardoned several months later by the outgoing Panamanian President who is now living, where else, in the United States). This is just part of the record of someone which Reuters thinks is "viewed as terrorism by his opponents," and the Judge thinks is "controversial." Do you really have to be an "opponent" of Luis Posada Carriles to think that blowing up an airplane in mid-flight is an act of terrorism? Is there really any "controversy" over how to characterize an attempt to blow up an auditorium full of people?

On May 11, Posada (if he hasn't fled the country by then or gone into hiding) will go on trial in El Paso. A demonstration demanding his extradition to stand trial in Venezuela will greet the trial - be there if you can.

Update And only this morning, this reminder blatant lie admission of guilt from George Bush:

"I vowed that if you harbor a terrorist you're equally as guilty as the terrorist."


Monday, April 09, 2007


Anti-Americanism on display in Iraq?

Coverage of the huge (more on that in a minute) anti-occupation rally in Iraq has been fairly limited on TV today; it's been vastly exceeded by the "preview" coverage of the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case (preview because the actual news will come out tomorrow). Nevertheless there has been some. CNN in particular insists, and persists, in calling Moqtada al Sadr "anti-American" and describing the rally as "anti-American." Nothwithstanding the fact that at least one American flag was burned, and some people walked over an American flag, there is nothing to indicate either that this rally is "anti-American" or al Sadr "anti-American." Both are anti-occupation, which is quite a different thing. al Sadr tells Iraqis not to cooperate or work for the Americans, not because they're American, but because their occupying his country. He wants Americans to get out of his country, not because they're Americans (I'm sure one day in the future he'll be delighted to see American tourists), but because they're occupiers. One of these days CNN and the rest will understand that. Probably after the revolution.

On the size, we have the usual talk of "thousands" in some cases, and "tens of thousands" when there's an attempt to be slightly more specific. AP, to its credit, does at least cite an Iraqi source, but then quickly attempts to counteract its credibility:

Brig. Abdul Kerim al-Mayahi, the Najaf police chief, said there were as many as 600,000 in the march, although other estimates were significantly lower.
Note the "some people say" nature of this sentence. Who made those "other estimates"? The same person who says that only 50,000 Iraqis have died because of the invasion? Obviously I wasn't there, and there aren't any aerial shots of the demonstration that I've seen, but this, from the AP report, is certainly indicative of the size of the march:
Iraqi soldiers in uniform joined the crowd of marchers which stretch for at least three miles and was led by a dozen turbaned clerics, a Sunni Muslim among them.
A march "at least three miles" long does not consist of "tens of thousands" of people, it consists of hundreds of thousands of people.

Questions of the size aside (although they're hardly irrelevant), could there possibly be a bigger story in the U.S. today? The U.S. is spending hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of Americans are dead, the country is deeply divided, political races (one of the mainstays of media coverage) hinge on the war, and here we have probably more than a half million Iraqis in the streets demanding the U.S. get out. Shouldn't the news of that event, and a discussion of its significance, be the dominating item in the news today? Apparently not, based on the media coverage I've seen.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Human rights in the United States

This is not a reality show, it's not a radio show stunt. This is actual reality in 21st century America. This is life for five men who are not even in jail (where conditions might in fact be worse), but on probation:

Because an ordinance intended to keep predators away from children made it nearly impossible for them to find housing, five convicted sex offenders are living under a noisy highway bridge with the state's grudging approval.

They have fishing poles to catch food, cook with small stoves, use battery-powered TVs and radios and keep their belongings in plastic bags. Javier Diaz, 30, has trouble charging the GPS tracking device he is required to wear; there are no power outlets nearby.

"You just pray to God every night, so if you fall asleep for a minute or two, you know, nothing happens to you," said Diaz, who arrived this week. He was sentenced in 2005 to three years' probation for lewd and lascivious conduct involving a girl under 16.
Just so you're clear, this isn't a location chosen by the men. This is a location chosen by the state. Just think for one millisecond what the response would be if the news came out that Cuba, or North Korea, or Iran, or Venezuela, or any of the other "evildoers" of the world, were deliberately "housing" people, even sex offenders, under bridges. And now listen for the sound of crickets in place of the talk shows screaming their heads off, thanks to the fact that this is in the United States, and not one of those other countries.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


The British soldiers talk lie

When British soldiers appear before cameras, be it in Tehran or London, they could be lying or reading what they're told to read in either situation. But consider just this one fact from their London appearance:
Held in isolation by guards who spoke no English, barred from talking to one another, and so bereft of information that they thought perhaps no one knew they were missing, "Some of us feared the worst," said Royal Marine Capt. Chris Air, 25.
Now, I realize that that "perhaps no one knew they were missing" isn't a direct quote, but it seems unlikely the reporter made that up. Assuming it does represent what the Capt. Air (or someone else) said, it is even remotely credible? How stupid are these Marines that they could in their wildest imagination believe that "no one knew they were missing"?

There's one other curious fact, something I've commented on before. The British insist, with great precision, that they were "1.7 nautical miles" inside Iraqi waters. If that's true, that's a pretty long way for armed Iranian ships to be penetrating inside Iraqi territory, isn't it? We're told "Although a British helicopter initially had provided air cover for the boarding operation, for some unknown reason it had left, Air said." But if the helicopter were anywhere in the vicinity, shouldn't it have been able to spot the Iranians heading toward the boarding party, and radio a warning back to the Cornwall? What exactly was the purpose of this "air cover" anyway? This may just be a matter of simple incompetence, or complacency, but it certainly is curious.

Friday, April 06, 2007


What invasion of Iran?

I wonder if anyone is feeling foolish today. Weren't we told there was going to be an invasion of Iran today? Don't believe everything you read (except on this blog, of course).


Unreported deaths in Iraq

I wrote something last October which today's news prompts me to write about again. I was out all day, and by the time I'm actually writing about it, it's become even more relevant, since Lenin's Tomb once again takes on the subject of the IBC "count" vs the Johns Hopkins estimate, and what I'm about to say bears directly on that.

Here's the sentence in the news which caught my eye:

At least 38 Iraqis also were found slain Thursday in bombings, shellings, gunfire and execution-style killings.
So why is that noteworthy? Because, just like every other time such news appears, what you don't see is a phrase like this: "Eight more people died in Iraqi hospitals as a result of wounds inflicted in yesterday's car bombing/last week's IED explosion/last month's market bombing." I don't know about you readers, but I can say honestly I have never seen such a statement in the news, which means that Iraq Body Count, which tallies news reports, can't possibly include such deaths.

And are these significant? Even without the benefit of the Johns Hopkins study giving us an estimate of the actual totals, we would know it is just from first principles. Take a look at American military deaths vs. injuries, with a ratio of something like 1:10. Everyone says that in previous wars, many if not the majority of those Americans would have died. But surely, the treatment of Iraqi civilians who are injured in attacks is no better, and likely much, much worse, than American soldiers received in Vietnam. So it's quite possible that for every Iraqi we read about in the papers who has died, as in the story cited above, another one, two, five, maybe even ten, died in hospitals the next day, the next week, the next month. And, of course, that's just people dying in the hospitals from earlier violence; it doesn't include people dying in the hospitals from lack of basic medical care, lack of medicine, etc. - people who, were the Iraqi medical system what it was before the West began an all-out assault on Iraq starting the first Gulf War, would never have died.

There's one other sentence in today's news which deserves highlighting, although it has nothing to do with the subject above:

British forces, whose bases are shelled almost daily, were pressing ahead with plans to hand over security control of Basra to Iraqi forces.
Note that these aren't soldiers out on patrol who are being attacked every day. These are the British bases which are being shelled almost daily. Certainly not something you read about very often.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Dick Cheney clarifies what "supporting the troops" means

It's not that I object to signs like "Support the troops, bring them home," but in general I try to avoid that phrase. Why? Because the people who demand that we "support the troops" really mean "support their mission," as Dick Cheney made very clear today:
"You cannot pursue this fiction that some of them [Democrats] like to pursue, that they 'support the troops,' but they're opposed to everything the troops are doing. That's just a non-sensical statement."
I do appreciate Cheney's honesty. I'd appreciate it even more if he and others like him would stop saying "support the troops" altogether and start saying what Cheney admits they mean - "Support the mission."

(Hat tip WIIIAI)


Capitalism impoverishes

Pope Benedict appeared to reach out to the anti-globalisation movement yesterday, attacking rich nations for having "plundered and sacked" Africa and other poor regions of the world.

An extract published from his first book since being elected pope highlighted the passionately anti-materialistic and anti-capitalist aspects of his thinking. Unexpectedly, the Pope also approvingly cited Karl Marx and his analysis of contemporary man as a victim of alienation.

"Our style of life [and] the history in which we are involved has stripped them and continues to strip them."
That "continues to strip them" is important; the opening paragraph of the article gives the impression it's all in the past. It most definitely is not.

In the quotes provided, the Pope focuses on Africa, although the indirect quote refers to "other poor regions of the world." Which is most certainly the case; capitalism's plunder is hardly limited to Africa. Nor is it limited to the developing world:

Pope Benedict went on to say that the poor of the developing world were not the only people who could be regarded as victims in need of help from a Good Samaritan. He said narcotics, people-trafficking and sex tourism had "stripped and tormented" many, leaving them "empty even in [a world of] material abundance".
This is the usual "morality" nonsense one expects from the church. It might come as news to the Pope, but poverty in the developed world is a lot bigger problem than narcotics and sex tourism.

It's fine that the Pope is reading and quoting Marx; I'd suggest he also read some Fidel to understand the problems the third-world faces today, and what the solution to those problems might be. "Plundering and sacking" has become a lot more sophisticated in the 21st century, but eternal cycles of debt, privatization of water, and the destruction of indigenous self-supporting agriculture are just as deadly as plain old "plundering and sacking" ever were. Not that there isn't plenty of that "sacking" still going on in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Hat tip to Politics in the Zeros)


The media's coverage of foreign affairs

Want a simple demonstration of how the media's coverage of foreign affairs is dictated in large part by the U.S. government official viewpoint? Consider this potentially rather significant item from today's news:
Venezuela assumed the presidency of the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council on Wednesday and demanded a major revamping of the institution, reported Prensa Latina.

On behalf of Venezuela, Ambassador Jorge Valero said the OAS should not only respond to the concerns of governments but also to the Latin American peoples’ demand for justice, equality and solidarity.
Back when the U.S. was trying to keep Venezuela off the U.N. Security Council, that story was covered intensely by the corporate media. But this story, which doesn't follow the script of U.S. foreign policy, is totally ignored. You can find it in Prensa Latina (link above), or Venezuelan sources, but you won't find it (at least as of this writing) in a single location in the U.S. corporate media.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Nancy Pelosi (DR-Israel)

Nancy Pelosi explains the "difference" between the Republicans and the Democrats:
She said that despite differences over whether to talk with Syria, "there is absolutely no division between this delegation and the president of the United States on the issues of concern."
Update: An even better quote from a different article:
"There is no division on policy between us and President Bush, be it on Israel, Palestine or Syria."


Supporting the troops revisited

In my review of the movie Sir, No Sir!, I wrote this:
If you watch Fonda in this film, at performances of her "FTA ('Free' the Army)" troupe before thousands of GIs, what you can see is someone who really supported the troops, in the sense of giving them the kind of support - emotional and political - that they really needed.
One of the highlights of that aspect of the film was the performance by Rita Martinson of a song entitled "Soldier, We Love You." The film contains part of that performance, but the extras contain the full performance. The extras run for nearly an hour and a half and have all sorts of interesting interviews and clips (e.g., a clip of "Hanoi Jane" and "Baghdad Cindy" speaking at a fundraiser for the film) which really make the DVD worth having or renting, even if you've already seen it in a theater.

As a bonus for readers (and, as soon as they discover it, all denizens of the Internets), I've put "Soldier, We Love You" up on YouTube; to atone for my sin of copyright infringment, I've embedded it within a plug for the movie. :-)

Update: Discovered a series of YouTube videos, which show excerpts from the movie (I think, I didn't watch them all). The first one in the series, though is not from the movie, and is more like a combination of a trailer or maybe teaser for the movie and a call to action. Well worth watching here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


More unsubstantiated claims about Iran

A few days ago, I took the AP to task for making this claim:
An Iranian opposition group claimed Saturday that Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines was planned in advance and carried out in retaliation for the U.N. sanctions imposed against the country.
They even admitted that the group offered no evidence to support its claim, but ran the story with this as the lead anyway!

Well, since I did that, I really have to criticize Patrick Cockburn for precisely the same kind of "reporting." Cockburn's story started as a front-page (full-page) headline in The Independent, and has since propagated to (among other places) CounterPunch, Politics in the Zeros, After Downing Street, and The Huffington Post. And it is a real story - the story of how the U.S. attempted to kidnap (yes, kidnap) two senior Iranian security officers on an official visit to northern Iraq. The problem is that after the headline makes the assertion that "The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis," the article then proceeds to devote 33 sentences to the first part of that headline, the actual story - the botched U.S. raid. And then, after that long setup, comes a single sentence to justify the second, attention-grabbing part of the headline:

The abortive raid Arbil raid provokd a dangerous escalation in the confrontation between US and Iran which ultimately led to the capture of the 15 British sailors and marines.
The problem, of course, is that like the MEK with their claim, Cockburn offers not a single word of support for this claim; as far as we can tell, it springs whole cloth from Cockburn's imagination. He doesn't even offer an "Iranian sources tell me" justification for the claim. Perhaps he’s projecting the way the U.S. or the U.K. would have responded to a similar action by the Iranians.

Is it possible that the Iranian capture of the sailors was a response to the raid Cockburn describes? Sure, it's possible, but that doesn't make it true, and it certainly doesn't justify anyone claiming it is true. If we want to make assumptions, it's just as reasonable, if not more so, to assume that the British action of sailing in or close to Iranian waters was a deliberate provocation designed to provoke an Iranian response. Whether or not the British were technically in Iranian waters (and it seems there is no clear international agreement on what those waters are), the fact that the British are boarding ships in an area of the Gulf which is close enough to Iranian waters (if not in them) to be potentially confused as such is in and of itself a provocation; there was clearly no reason for them to have to do that in order to "protect" Iraq from whatever they were protecting it from.


Rachel Corrie's voice silenced yet again

This time in Florida:
My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the controversial play about a young American activist who died after she was run over by an Israeli-operated bulldozer in the Gaza Strip, has been pulled from the lineup at Plantation's Mosaic Theatre after protests from some of the theater's subscribers and outside individuals.
It was canceled despite the fact that comments on a special blog set up by the theater were running 85 percent in favor of showing the play.

The article also lets us know about a very interesting development in Seattle:

A current, glowingly reviewed production at the Seattle Repertory Theatre is so successful that its run has already been extended; however, three Jewish groups took out ads in the play's program denouncing the play, and protesters have been handing anti-Rachel Corrie leaflets to arriving theatergoers at each performance.
Do you think there is any other subject in the world about which theater owners would let someone take out an ad in the program denouncing the play? I really doubt it. Although the concept is rather interesting. Can we take out ads in Army recruitment brochures denouncing the Army? I rather like the idea.

Some previous posts on this subject here and here.

(Hat tip to a diarist at DailyKOS)


Fill 'er up!

"Give me two tons of special corn"

Fidel Castro's first major return to the political scene since last July received a lot of press, much of it misleading. Most of the headlines were like this one from BBC: "Castro hits out at US biofuel use," and proceeded to make this claim: "He said George W Bush's support for the use of food crops in fuel production would cause 3bn deaths from hunger."

But that's not what the article says at all. Read the headline from Granma carefully:

More than three billion people in the world condemned to premature death from hunger and thirst
See that last word in the headline - thirst? That's there because this article isn't just about biofuels, although it starts there, but about the entire environmental situation facing the world, described by Fidel thusly:
"Some people will be asking themselves why I am talking of hunger and thirst. My response to that: it is not about the other side of the coin, but about several sides of something else, like a die with six sides, or a polyhedron with many more sides."
The article doesn't really quantify the "three billion" number in its headline, although if anything, this paragraph suggests it refers almost entirely to the water issue:
"In just 18 years, close to 2 billion people will be living in countries and regions where water will be a distant memory. Two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in places where that scarcity produces social and economic tensions of such a magnitude that it could lead nations to wars for the precious 'blue gold.'"
Back to biofuels, which got all the attention and is certainly the focus of the article. Fidel does the math:
It is known very precisely today that one ton of corn can only produce 413 liters of ethanol on average, according to densities. That is equivalent to 109 gallons...Thus, 320 million tons of corn would be required to produce 35 billion gallons of ethanol.

According to FAO figures, the U.S. corn harvest rose to 280.2 million tons in the year 2005.

Although the president is talking of producing fuel derived from grass or wood shavings, anyone can understand that these are phrases totally lacking in realism. Let’s be clear: 35 billion gallons translates into 35 followed by nine zeros!
On Democracy Now! this morning, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin talks about how, to a certain extent, rich Western countries are able to adapt to climate change, while the brunt of the effect is felt by the poorer countries who are unable to do so. This point is actually made much better, with far greater clarity about the consequences of that "adaptation," by Fidel:
Afterwards will come beautiful examples of what experienced and well-organized U.S. farmers can achieve in terms of human productivity by hectare: corn converted into ethanol; the chaff from that corn converted into animal feed containing 26% protein; cattle dung used as raw material for gas production. Of course, this is after voluminous investments only within the reach of the most powerful enterprises, in which everything has to be moved on the basis of electricity and fuel consumption. Apply that recipe to the countries of the Third World and you will see that people among the hungry masses of the Earth will no longer eat corn. Or something worse: lend funding to poor countries to produce corn ethanol based on corn or any other food and not a single tree will be left to defend humanity from climate change.
The other day, Al Gore testified in Congress. A general trend in both the questions and answers was about how "technology" can save us from the global warming crisis. Certainly not the Congresspeople, and not even for the most part Al Gore, wanted to deal with the possibility that we might have to actually change our lifestyles in order to deal with the problem. For example, responding to a question about automobiles, Gore's answer dealt solely with hybrids, fuel cells, etc. Not one word was spoken about mass transit! (At least in that answer; I didn't listen to the entire hearing and can't find a transcript online)

Some people may think that Fidel is being an alarmist, raising the idea that the U.S. wants to raid (in a purely economic way, at least at first!) the third world for its food resources to convert to fuel to keep its Hummers humming. Yes, what a preposterous idea. Kind of like killing hundreds of thousands of people in order to secure real fuel for the same purpose. Now who on earth would do something like that?

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