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Tuesday, July 31, 2007


How the CIA works

Remember how Lee Harvey Oswald was photographed entering the Cuban Embassy in Mexico, and how that fact is used to implicate Cuba in the assassination of John Kennedy? Keep that in mind when you read what follows.

On Miami radio recently (as reported in Granma International), the founder of the anti-Cuba terrorist group Alpha 66, Antonio Veciana Blanch, confessed to having been part of a CIA-originated and organized plot to assassinate Fidel Castro during a visit to Chile in 1971. Of course, we know there have been hundreds of plots to assassinate Fidel, the vast majority with the involvement of the CIA. But what caught my eye about this story was how the plot involved casting suspicion on the Soviet Union as having been responsible for the action:

"Somebody suggested to me: who’s going to be blamed for Castro’s death... Who’s going to make the public announcement? Let’s put the blame on the Soviet Union... That seemed like a good idea to me."

"The ‘Islander’ was told to go to a house just to ask for an address... "An alleged Soviet agent was living there.

"He was a professor at the Central University of Caracas who was also a KGB agent... and there was a photographer who took photos so that if there were deaths on our account, it could be stated that these people had been working with the KGB."
Something to keep in mind.

Monday, July 30, 2007


When is an accidental civilian death not an accident?

With a hat tip to WIIIAI, I refer readers to a most interesting article by Mark Benjamin in Salon, which touches on many issues that have been discussed here over the years. We're told that there used to be a "magic number" of 30 - if you hit 30 as the anticipated number of civilians killed, the airstrike had to go to Rumsfeld or Bush personally to sign off. It's interesting that it's a fixed number, obviously based on anticipated negative public relations value. It doesn't matter if you're aiming for Saddam Hussein, or a small unimportant platoon of Iraqi soldiers, and it doesn't matter if the chance of success of the strike at hitting the real target is 100% or 10%, the "magic number" is still 30. Which indicates that the number had nothing to do with proportionality (as required by international law), just p.r.

Incidentally, this business about "needing approval" is itself entirely p.r., designed for the suckers in the cheap seats. Because here's the bottom line:

Every high-CD target was ultimately approved except two structures holding foreign journalists, the Al-Rasheed hotel and Saddam's Ministry of Information.
And why were those two targets ruled off-limits? Because the bad p.r. value of killing journalists is even greater than that of killing random Iraqis or Afghans (not that it stops them from killing journalists one-by-one, but the mass killings would definitely be bad form).

We read:

What these rules mean is that killing civilians is legal -- as long as the deaths are the result of a strike at a legitimate military target. And it also means that some unknown percentage of civilian deaths from airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan are not accidents.

"'Accident' is not the right word," said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, which works to help remunerate civilians caught in the crossfire. "They call them accidental deaths, but they are not," said Holewinski. "They know what they are doing."
And actually, as I've written a long time ago, there's another factor. Because even if you aim bombs at a known military target with no civilians present, you know that there is a certain error rate in dropping bombs - even so-called "smart bombs" do fail, even when aimed properly at a correctly-identified target. So if you drop a million pounds of bombs on Afghanistan this year, or a half-million pounds on Iraq (extrapolating in both cases from six-month numbers), then even a 1% failure rate (and the rate is much higher than that) means that you know in advance that thousands of pounds of bombs are likely to fall in places you don't intend. And again, that's assuming you correctly identified the target in the first place. A huge "if."

One interesting fact in the article - in Afghanistan, aerial bombing has doubled in 2007 compared to 2006; in Iraq, is has increased nearly four-fold.

Back to the accidents:

The cold, hard math of estimating collateral damage for preplanned strikes includes a calculation of the precise number of expected civilian deaths from each bomb, and it is made every day for every strike in the air wars over Iraq and Afghanistan. This grisly number is what must be weighed against the military value of the target in question.
Except for the big "but":
These kinds of deliberate targets, however, represent a minority of the airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much more common is the second category of airstrike: close air support. These are hastily arranged attacks from the air to relieve troops on the ground under enemy fire.
And in these "hastily arranged attacks," many of which seem from anecdotal observation to occur at night, the chances of even assessing the likely "collateral damage" are slim:
When troops are in a firefight and need immediate help from the air, decisions have to be made quickly, with greater emphasis on protecting U.S. forces. Steps are taken to minimize civilian deaths, but there simply is no time for a formal collateral damage assessment. Often there is only limited information on where any vulnerable civilians might be. "In those kinds of circumstances," [Col. Gary Crowder, the deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar] said, "that is where you see most of the civilians being killed."
On a different subject, in a comment a few posts down, I wrote:
For some reason the media (which means the military feeding them information) is always very careful to just use "NATO" [when talking about Afghanistan]. It could still be U.S. pilots doing the bulk, if not all, of the flying and bombing (although I suspect the British are in on it as well).
Here's what this article has to tell us about that:
In an unconventional and complicated arrangement in Afghanistan, roughly 32,000 NATO-led troops are conducting stabilization activities there. Meanwhile, approximately 21,000 U.S. service members are conducting counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, currently spearheaded by the 82nd Airborne Division and special operations units. Commanders from NATO and Operation Enduring Freedom both call in airstrikes, carried out almost exclusively by U.S. aircraft getting their air-tasking orders from Crowder's shop in Qatar, the Combined Air Operations Center.
What a strange thing to read. Every single article in the press that appears about fighting in Afghanistan refers to killing "Taliban" and is framed as an action against "terrorism." Who is NATO "stabilizing" Afghanistan against if not "Taliban terrorists"?

Incidentally, one of the main sources for this article is Marc Garlasco, who was "the Pentagon's chief of high-value targeting at the start of the war," and has now morphed into "a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch," which helps to account for statements like these:

"And yes, the U.S. is doing its darnedest to make sure they don't ... But when it really comes down to it, they are still dropping the bombs, so it is incumbent on them at all times to do their best and follow international law to make sure they are not killing innocent civilians." On whether they are succeeding in preventing civilian deaths, Garlasco said, "I really think they are trying very hard. It's tough."
And perhaps Marc is right about the "trying very hard" part, although I seriously doubt it. But whether they are or aren't, it's just further proof that there's only one proper answer - U.S. and allied forces have to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, now.

Update: One pet peeve I forgot to mention. In discussing the Johns Hopkins study and its estimate of 655,000 "excess" deaths in Iraq, the author writes, "The study, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins and derided by the Bush administration as not credible..." This is "factual," in the sense that the Bush administration did deride the study as "not credible," but they had absolutely no basis for their position. They simply said the study was not credible, which does not allow their "opinion" to be cited as some kind of counterweight to the study itself. The simple act of citing such a claim gives it a credibility it simply does not deserve.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Mellow Yellow Jersey

In "honor" of the Tour de France, and associated events, we offer for your viewing (and listening) pleasure "Mellow Yellow," by Donovan:

At the time the song was recorded in 1966, it was reputed that if you scraped out the inside of banana skins, most notably the ribs, dried them in the sun, and smoked them, the result would be akin to smoking marijuana (but legal!). Chalk that up as a failed experiment (Wikipedia confirms my first-hand observations).

Perhaps if we had tested its performance-enhancing capabilities... ;-)


"Withdrawal" - check the (not so) fine print

Last night on the news, a segment was introduced by the anchor with these words (quoting from memory): "While politicians in Washington debate withdrawal from Iraq, the military is moving ahead with its own plans for withdrawal." Sounds intriguing, tell me more. Cut to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno explaining how "withdrawal" will work. Six extra brigades were added in Baghdad as part of the surge. If the current (alleged) trends of progress continue, then starting next March, then will be withdrawn, one brigade per month.

Which means that, by September 2008, the U.S. will have "withdrawn"...back to its troop levels in January of this year.

Caveat auscultator!

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Killing "Taliban"

Day after day for the last week, reports in the media have talked about "50 Taliban killed" or similar numbers. Today there's a different headline: "Dozens of Afghan civilians die in air raids: residents." NATO airstrikes have killed "between 50 and 60" civilians.

If this were "just" yet another case of NATO (or "coalition forces" in Iraq) bombing and killing civilians, it would hardly be worth blogging about. What prompts me to write is this:

A spokesman for British forces in Helmand said there was an ongoing operation in the province, but denied there had been any civilian casualties around Girishk.

"We have no reports of any such incidents in Girishk yesterday at all. There have been no people taken to the hospital ... in relation to anything around Girishk," said Lieutenant-Colonel Charlie Mayo.

"Because the Taliban don't wear uniforms like us, as soon as they are killed, they are called civilians, the key is are they male or female and if they are male, what age are they?"
So now you can go back to the articles you read yesterday and the day before and the day before that about how many "Taliban" were killed, and understand the official NATO definition of "Taliban": any male between the ages of 13 and 70. You can also understand, as you could have anyway, that it's kind of hard to distinguish someone's age or sex when you're dropping bombs on them from thousands of feet in the air, which means that even with that rather loose definition of "Taliban," it doesn't represent the slightest impediment to NATO attacks.

Friday, July 27, 2007


"Progress" in Iraq

Supporters of the continuing war and occupation in Iraq repeatedly talk about "progress" in Iraq, and always seem to find something, be it some momentarily improving metric or just some anecdotal impressions, to "prove" their assertion. But surely the best judges of progress in Iraq are the Iraqi people, not American politicians and pundits. And how to assess the opinion of the Iraqi people? Conversations with Iraqi leaders, which is one method preferred by the aforementioned Americans? Obviously not an impartial group. Polls? A questionable method in the circumstances.

No, the single best method is to look not at what Iraqis are saying, but what they are doing. Because when you vote with your feet, that's a lot harder vote to cast then a vote with your purple finger. And not only have a whopping two million Iraqis fled their country, but 50,000 more leave each month.

When 50,000 Iraqis are returning from exile each month, that will indicate "progress" in Iraq. Although progress toward what I'm not exactly sure.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Asymmetric warfare, asymmetric language

Why is it you would never see the words "asymmetric warfare" used in an article like this:
A Palestinian militant group says three of its men have been killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip.
No, "asymmetric warfare" only seems to be mentioned when the weapon is an IED or a suicide belt. Mathematically, asymmetry cuts both ways. When discussing the asymmetry of the letter "G", for example, the left half (or the top half) is just as much part of the asymmetry as the right half (or the bottom half).

In politics, though, it doesn't work that way. The ones with the real power are the "normal" ones; it's the ones fighting back with slingshots, or their bodies, or some lesser weapon that are always the ones engaging in "asymmetric warfare." Funny, that.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


More "guilty until proven innocent"

Last year I came to the defense of cyclist Floyd Landis, who, thanks to the wheels of justice which turn at the speed of an novice cyclist riding the Alpe d'Huez, is still waiting for his case to be sorted out a year later. So naturally I have to say something about today's bombshell:
Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen was removed from the race by his team after winning Wednesday's stage, the biggest blow yet in cycling's doping-tainted premier event.
Now keep in mind that, as the yellow jersey leader for nearly two weeks now, Rasmussen has been drug tested every day and, as far as has been announced (and it would have been announced!), has passed them all. So what's the "evidence" against him? This:
The expulsion, which Bergsma said was ordered by the Dutch team sponsor, was linked to "incorrect" information that Rasmussen gave to the team's sports director over his whereabouts last month. Rasmussen, who also has been suspended from the team, missed random drug tests May 8 and June 28, saying he was in Mexico. But a former rider, Davide Cassani, told Denmark's Danmarks Radio on Wednesday that he had seen Rasmussen in Italy in mid-June.
First of all, we had previously been told not that he "missed a random drug test," but that he hadn't informed his team where he was every single day, which is required in case they decided to administer a random "out-of-competition" test. This is the first I've read he actually missed a test; I question if that's true. Second, "mid-June" is not June 28! It's quite easy to be in Italy in "mid-June" and be in Mexico on June 28! Heck, you can be in Italy on June 27 and in Mexico on June 28. Why on earth would Rasmussen make an easily disprovable claim of having been in Mexico ("show us your ticket receipt") when he could just as easily say he just forgot to send an email announcing his whereabouts to his team, if he really was in Italy? And how can his team sponsor even dare to describe his information as "incorrect," rather than "questioned"? Does this ex-rider have a grudge against Rasmussen? Is he being paid by a rival team? I have no idea, and I doubt the sponsor even took the time to ask such questions.

Why do I make a thing about this? Because the whole "guilty until proven innocent" with respect to drugs in sport is, in my view, very much tied in to the same trend in society, which ends with "Iraq has WMD unless they can prove they don't" and "let's bomb this building even though we don't know who's in it because there might be some 'bad guy' inside and we can't take a chance." Am I stretching here? You can decide for yourself. I don't think so.

This is also part of the "corporations have all the power" (yes, even more than before) trend in society. Michael Rasmussen is an employee of the RaboBank squad (and indirectly of RaboBank, the team sponsor), and their "rights" are everything, his, nothing. They decide what they think is in their best interest. The fact that they might be ruining the career, and the future earning potential, of an individual, is not their problem, any more than it was the problem of the Phonak team when they destroyed the career of Floyd Landis, or of United States Government when they destroyed the career of Muhammad Ali (for different reasons, to be sure).

By the way, does that mean I conclude that Rasmussen might not be guilty (of what, I'm not sure)? No, I don't have enough facts to make a conclusion like that. But until there are more facts than are in evidence (and so far there are virtually no facts in evidence), he must be presumed innocent.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Safe haven

One brief "fact check" of the Bush speech discussed in the post below this one, a fact check which is more than a simple fact check but which, like the dissection of the "we're fighting them over there etc." meme, has a very serious side. Bush three times said this: "If we were to cede Iraq to men like this, we would leave them free to operate from a safe haven which they could use to launch new attacks on our country."

But the attacks of 9/11 weren't planned from a safe haven in Afghanistan - they were planned from totally unprotected (except by anonymity) locations in Germany and South Florida. A "safe haven" is relevant to, say, a guerrilla movement which is amassing an army in such a safe haven, hoping ultimately to overthrow a central government. But al Qaida isn't amassing troops for an armed insurrection against the U.S. government, and putting together teams of 10 or 20 people for a terrorist action doesn't require a "safe haven," just good cover.

The "safe haven" theory might apply if, say, al Qaida was intent on amassing a force in Iraq to invade and overthrow the government of Saudi Arabia, although there's no evidence that's remotely in the cards (or that it would have the slightest chance of success). As it applies to threats to the United States, the "safe haven" theory is complete nonsense.


Bush gives important speech

Consisting primarily of two words: "al Qaida." 95 times in fact. Speaking to his usual audience today (a captive and presumably supportive crowd on an Air Force Base), Bush launched a major offensive aimed at supporting the contention that Iraq really is the "central front in the war on terror" and that the people the U.S. is fighting in Iraq really are "the same people who attacked us on 9/11" (and no, even I don't think Bush thinks they're really the exact same people, but he does think and claim that they're part of the same organization).

This paragraph, from the end, pretty much sums up the speech:

"I've explained the connection between al Qaida and its Iraqi affiliate. I presented intelligence that clearly establishes this connection. The facts are that al Qaida terrorists killed Americans on 9/11, they're fighting us in Iraq and across the world, and they are plotting to kill Americans here at home again. Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of al Qaida in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat. If we were to follow their advice, it would be dangerous for the world -- and disastrous for America. We will defeat al Qaida in Iraq."
There were, as you might imagine, more than a few holes in the speech, starting with the fact that quite a few paragraphs in which the justification (that al Qaida in Iraq and al Qaida "central" are really the same thing) was supported began with these words: "According to our intelligence community." Of course this is the same intelligence community which was not just convinced, but, at least as far as their opinions were conveyed to the American public by the Bush administration, were convinced with absolute certainty that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (and I remind readers that not only didn't they have WMD, they didn't even have any weapons of mass destruction programs, which was the fallback position), and were convinced with absolute certainty that Iraq had a close relationship with al Qaida. So any sentence beginning with the words "according to our intelligence community," has to be treated with an entire salt pond full of salt. Bush's claim that he "presented intelligence that clearly establishes this connection" would better be stated as that he "asserted that intelligence clearly establishes this connection."

But, as much as I could poke holes in the speech, that's not the fundamental problem with it. The fundamental problem is precisely the "we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" mentality. Imagine if two thugs from rival mobs came into your house and started a knock-down, drag-out fight, destroying your furniture, knocking holes in the walls, killing your children ("by accident"), and when you went to the one who claimed he was on "your side" and asked him what he was doing, he said, "I'm fighting this guy here so I don't have to fight him in my house." Well, thanks an effing lot, pal! Chances are rather than being grateful for that, you'd wait until he wasn't looking and pop him one.

Iraqis have as much right to life as Americans do! And day after day after day, forgetting entirely (although how could you) about the Iraqis (not to mention Afghans) being killed by American bombs, another hundred or so Iraqis are being killed by suicide (and remote control) bombers, which are the direct consequence of the great "flypaper" theory that Bush was praising in his speech. "The homeland" may have been spared any terrorist attacks since 2003, but two other "homelands" are taking it on the chin instead. And to Bush, and to far too many others, this is a perfectly moral alternative. And even of the others who object, it's not because they object to the Iraqis being killed instead of "us," but because they don't believe (with good reason) that the members of "al Qaida in Iraq" would be headed for our shores were American troops to leave Iraq.

There is one nice strawman paragraph I'd like to quote:

"Some note that al Qaida in Iraq did not exist until the U.S. invasion -- and argue that it is a problem of our own making. The argument follows the flawed logic that terrorism is caused by American actions. Iraq is not the reason that the terrorists are at war with us. We were not in Iraq when the terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. We were not in Iraq when they attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. We were not in Iraq when they attacked the USS Cole in 2000. And we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001."
No George, Iraq is not the reason that "the terrorists" are at war with us. Have you forgotten that what Osama bin Laden claims to object to is the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia (and the Middle East in general), and the Israeli occupation of, and the American support for the occupation of, Palestine? No, I doubt he has, but he certainly wasn't going to mention it either.

Two other things he didn't mention, which is interesting because this was a long speech - 3631 words. But of those, the words "Iran" and "Pakistan" do not appear at all. Iran, because this speech was all al Qaida all the time, and the American people can't handle two bogeymen at the same time, at least not in the same speech. But Pakistan is an even more curious omission, especially considering the nexus for the entire policy which is contained in this statement:

"If we were to allow this to happen [by leaving Iraq], sectarian violence in Iraq could increase dramatically, raising the prospect of mass casualties. Fighting could engulf the entire region in chaos, and we would soon face a Middle East dominated by Islamic extremists who would pursue nuclear weapons, and use their control of oil for economic blackmail or to fund new attacks on our nation."
I'll skip the part where Bush predicts the future; his success at that in the past has been non-existent. But the part about nuclear weapons is the interesting bit. Because the prospect of "Islamic extremists" getting their hands on nuclear weapons is at least an order of magnitude higher, and probably more, due to the fall of the Pakistani government than to some other government (an al Qaida led Iraq) developing them. Look at how the U.S. and Israel are threatening to bomb Iran because they claim Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But they're holding off, not just because they're tied down in Iraq, but because Iran is a major power, with a large army and plenty of armaments. Now contrast that to some mythical al Qaida government, which will not own a single plane, a single attack helicopter, a single tank, etc., and if they ever so much as spell the word "nuclear" on a blackboard, the U.S. and its allies would bomb them to kingdom-come (indeed, if al Qaida were to come to power in Iraq, that would happen anyway, nuclear weapons being developed or no). I'll leave it to readers to judge if this is all just a cover story, and if that "control of oil" is what this is really all about.

But back to Pakistan. Lots of people have been (rightfully) worried about a U.S. attack on Iran, but in the last few days we've heard increasing talk of the U.S. sending troops to Pakistan, and I think that's far more likely. Remember that sending troops into another country to attack al Qaida (and topple the host government in the process) was a "no-brainer" for the U.S.; and now we're told (and it might actually be true) that al Qaida is in Pakistan, and we know the central government of that country can't do anything about it, so surely the case for sending troops there is just as high, especially because they'll be "invited" there by our ally (the one with his arm twisted behind his back). And Bush would probably perceive it as immensely helpful to the Republican cause in the next election as well.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Down with Chavez!

Well, now we know the real source of opposition to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela:
Many wealthy Venezuelans fear second homes, yachts or other assets could be seized as Chavez advances his Bolivarian Revolution, a movement named after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar. Chavez denies any such plans.
Yes, it wouldn't do if those wealthy Venezuelans couldn't aspire to becoming part of "Richistan."


Global warming: let's not rush into anything

In today's news:
The fervor to do something about global warming has reached new heights this summer, as huge crowds worldwide vowed to reduce carbon emissions during Live Earth concerts on every continent. These days, everyone from Wal-Mart to the Vatican is going green.

But the reality has been very different on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Last month, supporters of a plan requiring utilities to produce 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources - solar, wind, biomass - said they had more than 50 votes. But they didn't have 60, the hurdle an idea must clear in the Senate to remain alive, so that proposal did not even come up for a vote.

The Senate did take a significant action by voting to increase fuel efficiency in new vehicles by 40 percent to average 35 mpg by 2020, long a legislative goal of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. It would be the first time Congress has imposed standards in 32 years - but so far, the House has yet to take any action.
So the big "action" taken by the Senate (not the House) is to ask for vehicles to get 35 mpg...13 years from now. But remember, that's the standard for new vehicles being sold. The average age of cars on the road is around ten years, so for this change to accomplish anything, even if passed today (which, to repeat, it wasn't), changes (in just this one area) wouldn't take full effect for another 20 years. Well, heck, it's been 32 years since any update in these standards anyway; wouldn't want to rush.

As discussed in a previous post, what's really needed is a massive increase in mass transit. Instead of that, however, the trend towards increasing fares on existing mass transit systems (and hence decreasing ridership) increases, because they have to "pay for themselves." Mass transit has to be massively available, and free, if we're serious about decreasing dependency of the burning of fossil fuels.

A massive increase in availability of mass transit would probably take decades (although plenty could be done in short order to expand existing service), but making mass transit free could be done overnight. In fact, I know exactly where we can find $144 billion in the coming year to fund it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


The rules of engagement

Another one of those "we said, they said" situations: American attack helicopters bomb a village, and either kill six "fighters" or else two men, two women, and seven children, depending on whether you believe the group with no credibility or the people on the ground.

But the real interesting part of this story is the implicit statement of the rules of engagement in the final paragraph:

"The adversary is ruthless and puts no value on human life and will endanger innocent civilians - women, children - by hiding and cowering in buildings they take over," read a statement from Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, spokesman for U.S. forces north of Baghdad.
In other words, the U.S. military admits to being fully aware of the possibility, if not indeed the likelihood, that an unknown number of non-combatants (a.k.a. "innocent civilians") might be pulverized by the bombing, and not being willing to withhold fire (indeed, almost certainly not giving it a second thought) in the circumstances.

Compounding the situation, by the way, is that this was a nighttime bombing, thereby assuring that A) the chances of civilians being in their homes was increased by an order of magnitude; and B) the possibility of the U.S. military knowing what they were dropping their bombs on was decreased by an order of magnitude. No matter. Not to them, anyway. To the dead Iraqis and their families, and to the Americans who are going to die because of the increased anger of the Iraqis caused by just this one incident, it matters very much indeed.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


CNN breakthrough!

I just heard an anchor on CNN refer the "so-called surge." And here I thought it would take a full year before they acknowledged that an escalation which lasts that long can't be called a "surge."

What's next? A reference to the "so-called war on terror"? Now that would be a breakthrough!


Justice for Cubans? Not likely

I haven't previously written about the case of the Cuban child whose mother, who brought the child to the U.S., has been declared an unfit parent, and whose father, still living in Cuba, is trying to regain custody, as would be normal under any circumstances other than the fact of the father living in Cuba (and the U.S. government being involved).

Today's news provides some indications of the "justice" the father is likely to obtain:

For months, the U.S. State Department refused to grant the birth father permission to enter the country to fight for custody -- until the Miami judge pushed to get him a visa. Yet in court, DCF [Department of Children & Families] has accused him of 'abandoning' his daughter because he didn't arrive sooner.

A psychologist recently insisted that the Cuban man tell his daughter, with whom he's had only supervised visits, that he is her father. When the news made her yell and cry, a caseworker complained the father's visits were emotionally harmful.
And, although the Miami Herald did report the details above, this, from the same article, indicates the press atmosphere the father confronts:
To complicate matters, he's a Cuban national whose country has spent almost a half-century telling tales about the evils of American life.
Right. As if A) that's the principle pre-occupation of the Cuban government; and B) the things they have to say about "American life" (mostly about American foreign policy, with occasional notes about health care) are just "tales" and not the unfortunate truth.


Israel releases 255 hostages

Or, in the language of the corporate media, "prisoners." "Hostages" is a better term since the vast majority have never been charged with or convicted of any crime, and of the ones that have, many are guilty of "crimes" like belonging to a group that opposes Israeli occupation.

As has happened on more than one occasion, McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder) reporter Dion Nissenbaum provides some facts you won't find anywhere else:

There are still nearly 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Of the 250 freed Friday, two-thirds had been scheduled to be released within the next 30 months. Only 10 had more than six years on their sentences. And, since Israel announced its intention to free these 250 prisoners, its army has arrested or detained at least 475 more, according to United Nations statistics.
The Washington Post, AP, and Reuters all mention the nearly 10,000 prisoners, but not the rest of the information. The New York Times does say that "those freed had an average of three years left on their sentences," but doesn't note that Israel has recently arrested nearly twice as many Palestinians as they released.

One of the released prisoners Abdel Rahim Malouh, 61, described by the Times as "deputy chief of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which killed an Israeli cabinet minister six years ago." They neglect to mention that the murder of Rehavam Ze'evi was an act of retaliation for the extrajudicial murder (a.k.a. "targeted assassination") of PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa with two rockets fired by an Israeli helicopter while he was sitting at his desk in his office. If you read the sentence from the Times carefully, you'll note that the released Malouh was only guilty by association; there was no evidence he was involved with the death of Zeevi. Then again, there's no actual evidence against the vast majority of people being held by the U.S. in Guantanamo, either.

Friday, July 20, 2007


When did you stop beating your wife?

If you answer that famous trick question by saying, "I promise not to beat my wife in the future," isn't that pretty much a de facto admission that you have in the past, even if it might not be a legal admission of guilt?

With that in mind:

President Bush signed an executive order Friday prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment, including humiliation or denigration of religious beliefs, in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Conditions of confinement and interrogation practices could not include:

o Torture or other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation and cruel or inhuman treatment. [Ed. note: huh? Torture can't be comparable to torture?]

o Willful or outrageous acts of personal abuse done to humiliate or degrade someone in a way so serious that any reasonable person would "deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation.

o Acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of an individual.

The order also says that detainees must receive basic necessities, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extreme heat and cold and essential medical care.
Almost all of these things, as we know, have been practiced in the past (and almost certainly the present).

This is all basically for show, however, since it's all based on a law passed last October:

The legislation said the president can "interpret the meaning and application" of international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts.
In other words, anything you hear about today can be re-"interpreted" by the President any time he (or she) chooses (assuming it wasn't transmitted to the field with a picture of the President's fingers crossed in the first place).

The actual executive order isn't online yet.


Local pride

The San Jose Mercury News reports today that the Toyota Prius is now the number one selling car in Santa Clara County (which is more or less the same as the region known as Silicon Valley), far ahead of the rest of the country. The Prius represents just 1 percent of car and truck sales so far this year nationwide, but 5.3 percent in Santa Clara County.

None of this is any surprise to me. Since I've been driving a Prius since September 2000 (the month they became available), I've always been quick to notice others on the road. And while there are six or seven on my block, and it is a rare occasion when I'm in my car and don't either pull up behind or next to a Prius at a stop light, or park next to one, whenever I go any place else (I can think of trips to New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, and the Carolinas in the last few years) I'm lucky to see one in an entire week.

The Mercury News quotes someone as claiming this reflects a "higher level of education [that] reflects a higher level of understanding of the terrible consequences of global warming," and I'm sure there's a some truth to that. I think there are actually three bigger factors: 1) a general environmental consciousness of Californians, and specifically a concern about air pollution (a Prius is a "SULEV" - Super-Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle) which is a far more immediate concern than global warming; 2) a preponderance of engineers and other scientific types in the area, who are generally more up on technology (and hence know, as a remarkable number of people I've talked to don't, that you don't have to plug in a Prius); and, of course, 3) a large number of reasonably well-paid people who can afford to buy a new car (although the 1 percent vs. 5.3 percent comparison only reflects people who are buying new cars).

Anyway, in virtually all things I'm an internationalist. On this particular subject, I'm happy to indulge in a little local pride. :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2007


What will be killing the people of the world?

[Updated and bumped to the top (newer posts below this one); see below]

Let's start with this, which is talked about in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," but this comes from an article (pdf) by Caltech Chemistry Professor Nathan Lewis in the latest issue of Engineering & Science magazine:

The melting of Greenland's ice pack has been much in the news, but let's talk instead about the melting of the permafrost. No climate model has that nonlinear effect built in, because we have no experience of it in human history. Permafrost is the (until now) permanently frozen soil of the tundra, and as the ice crystals in it melt, itreflects less light and turns darker, absorbing more light, and that melts more permafrost. Helium dating of trapped bubbles in the permafrost shows that we're melting permafrost now that hasn't been melted in 40,000 years. And there's enough CO2 and methane (another greenhouse gas) trapped in the permafrost to have the greenhouse gas levels not go up by a factor of two but by a factor of 10.

The world was there at least once before, most recently in the Permian era 250 million years ago. There was a massive release of isotopically light carbon from unknown causes, and CO2 levels rose by a factor of 10. (The fast release rate and the isotope ratio suggest it was some sort of self-catalyzing event, such as permafrost melting, as opposed to, say, a volcanic release.) Temperatures spiked for on the order of tens of thousands of years, and the fossil record shows that about 90 percent of the species on the planet went extinct.
Even capitalism hasn't caused the deaths of that many people...yet!

So, where are we going with this? Lewis' article is a lengthy exploration of energy sources, energy needs, and the CO2 production consequences of all of those. There are lots of calculations, estimates, and assumptions involved, and if this is a subject that interests you, read the article. Here are some excerpts:

Although major uncertainties remain, most climate-change researchers set 550 ppmv as the upper limit of what would lead to about a two degree- Centigrade mean global temperature rise. This is projected to have significant, but possibly not catastrophic, impacts on the earth's climate. For example, the coral reefs would probably all die. But we, as humans, would probably be able to adapt, at some level, to such a change. On the other hand, most people in the modeling effort feel that 750 ppmv or higher would be quite serious.

If we want to hold CO2 even to 550 ppmv, even with aggressive energy efficiency we will need as much clean, carbon-free energy within the next 40 years, online, as the entire oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear industries today combined—10 to 15 terawatts. This is not changing a few lightbulbs in Fresno, this is building an industry comparable to 50 Exxon Mobils.
Many cynics on the left think Al Gore is just a secret shill for the nuclear power industry. Perhaps he is. Here's what Lewis says about nuclear:
We could go nuclear, which is the only proven technology that we have that could scale to these numbers. We have about 400 nuclear power plants in the world today. To get the 10 terawatts we need...we'd need 10,000 of our current one-gigawatt reactors, and that means we'd have to build one every other day somewhere in the world for the next 50 straight years.

There isn't enough terrestrial uranium on the planet to build them as once-through reactors. We could get enough uranium from seawater, if we processed the equivalent of 3,000 Niagara Falls 24/7 to do the extraction. Which means that the only credible nuclear-energy source today involves plutonium. That's never talked about by the politicians, but it's a fact...We'd need about 10,000 fast-breeder reactors and, by the way, their commissioned lifetime is only 50 years. That means that after we choose this route, we're building one of them every other day, or more rapidly, forever.
Lewis discusses the problems with carbon sequestration (I'll let you read that if you're interested), the limited potential of hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind (not that any of those should be ignored, no more than energy savings through efficiency, just that none of them are remotely enough to fully solve the problem), and ends with the promise of his own specialty, solar. According to him, just six 400 square kilometer (!) areas of photovoltaics, more or less one per continent, could supply enough energy to power the globe. But there are problems with that too, when it comes to converting the sunlight to hydrogen fuel (either for simple storage of the energy, or for use as a gasoline substitute for vehicles).

His conclusion is a bit depressing, but only because he's completely bound up in a capitalist economic model:

I haven't talked much about economics, but I will say that it's easy to prove, thinking 100 years out, on a risk-adjusted net-present-value basis, that the earth is simply not worth saving. It's a fully depreciated, four-billion-year-old asset.
I'm leaving out the slightly more optimistic part, where he posits that a solution may be possible. But, as he concludes:
I leave it to you to decide whether this is something that we cannot afford to do, or something at which we simply cannot afford to fail. Remember, we get to do this experiment exactly once. And that time, like it or not, is now.
Interesting (and vitally important) stuff.

Update: I'm reminded by something read elsewhere about a point I left out (there's a lot in this article). While the article does make clear that "individual solutions" (e.g., stop drinking water out of plastic bottles) won't solve the world's problems, they do make a difference, and there's one that isn't as widely recognized as some others - buying locally produced food, something that is more important (for the planet, anyway) than buying organic food:

In our highly mechanized western agricultural system, the energy embedded in food—to run the farm and grow the food and transport it to the supermarket and put it in the refrigerator—is 10 to 20 times the energy content of the food itself. And the farther you live from the food source, the more embedded energy you consume...This means that just keeping us fed requires one to two kilowatts.
Since each American uses an average of 10 kilowatts of energy, that means that a whopping 10-20% of the energy you consume (if you're an American) is used simply to transport your food to you. This is, as you may remember, one of the key lessons the Cubans learned, the story talked about in the movie "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


You gotta' believe!

People say believe half of what you see
Son, and none of what you hear

- I Heard It Through the Grapevine, words and music by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
Or not.
For more than a year, the leader of one the most notorious insurgent groups in Iraq was said to be a mysterious Iraqi called Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

As the titular head of the Islamic State in Iraq, Mr. Baghdadi issued incendiary pronouncements. Despite claims by an Iraqi Interior Ministry official in May that Mr. Baghdadi had been killed, he appeared to have persevered unscathed.

On Wednesday, the chief United States military spokesman here, Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, provided a new explanation for Mr. Baghdadi’s ability to escape attack: he never existed.
And if you now believe what the U.S. military has to say, go back and read the lyric at the top. Even the New York Times admits this is part of a U.S. psy-ops operation:
The general’s briefing was part of an American effort to counter the psychological aspects of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s campaign as well as the military ones. The news conference seemed tailored to rattle the 90 percent of the group’s adherents who are believed to be Iraqi by suggesting that they were doing the bidding of foreigners.
As an aside, the lyric at the top is one of my favorite rhymes of all time, because of the way, which is hard to tell from the printed (or electronic) page, but easy to hear in the song, that "son" very intentionally rhymes with "none."

Update: The Los Angeles Times is even more skeptical:

There was no way to confirm the military's claim, which comes at a time of heightened pressure on the White House to justify keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.


Earth First!

With the post below this one above discussing the future of the planet, it seems appropriate to post another song from Darryl Cherney and the Chernobles "Real American" album - Earth First! Let's just say it's not what you think. :-)



What is killing the people of the world?

With a hat tip to Cookie Jill over at Skippy, one more addition to my list of threats that are more significant than terrorism:
An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two. Some cases are more serious, and CDC estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases each year.
And no, Cookie Jill's cookies are not involved in this problem in any way whatsoever. :-)

Update: And from the comments on the linked post, an even bigger threat:

According to the CDC, bacterial infections acquired in hospitals kill at least 90,000 people per year in the U.S.


Two cases of murder, two standards

In the news today, a professional quarterback is charged with dogfighting. In the news, we read (and hear) words like "gruesome" and "sick" to describe the deaths of some of the dogs involved, although interestingly, the charges are "competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines," not animal cruelty. I won't repeat any details here, but no doubt "gruesome" and "sick" are very much warranted.

As they are in another case in today's news, the trial of Marines for the murder of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha. In that case, the details are equally "gruesome" and "sick":

Inside, he found a bed with two women and four or five children on it. "They were scared," Mendoza said. He backed out of the room and told Tatum what he found. But Tatum told him to shoot the women and children, Mendoza testified.

"Was he joking?" asked prosecutor Lt. Col. Paul Atterbury. "He was very serious," Mendoza said.

Tatum then entered the room, Mendoza said. Mendoza heard rifle fire and later saw all of the occupants dead, he said.

Another squad member, Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz, testified under immunity Tuesday that Tatum left a telling signature on a gift to the parents of the Marine killed by the roadside bomb. All the squad members signed a pack the young man had owned, he said. Near Tatum's signature were 24 hatch marks -- the number of civilians killed at Haditha -- and an inscription reading, "This one's for you."
Except for one thing - you'll be hard-pressed to find any media applying the words "gruesome" or "sick" in this case. And if you visit the appropriate right-wing sites (I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader), I suspect you'll find some describing these Marines as having been "defending our freedom."

Of course there are many equally "gruesome" and "sick" murders going on all the time in Iraq, some committed by Iraqis and the occasional "foreign fighter" - those are labeled "terrorism." Others are committed by American pilots flying thousands of feet in the air - those are labeled "air strikes." The results are no less "gruesome" or "sick."


Two threats, two standards

There are many threats in this world which kill people, but two get the most press these days - global warming, and terrorism. But with the release of the latest National Intelligence [sic] Estimate, it's interesting to compare the standards employed in both cases. When it comes to global warming, even abundant scientific data, and the consensus of the overwhelming majority of the world's scientists, isn't enough to convince some people and to produce much in the way of real action to halt the threat. We need "absolute proof," don't you know, and even then we have to be assured that any solution can be done without affecting profits.

But when it comes to terrorism, the standards are rather different. Here's just one item, for example:

Lebanese Hezbollah, rarely considered likely to attack in the United States, now "may be more likely to consider" doing just that in response to a perceived threat from American forces to itself or its sponsor, Iran.
Really? Based on what? Based on pure speculation, that's what. Not to mention a heavy dose of political bias, trying to provide some cover for the politically desired conclusion that Hezbollah and Iran are "evildoers."

Then there's a nice dose of plain untruths added in as well:

The estimate said bin Laden's organization will "probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland."
I'll try to suppress my gag reflex upon reading about the "homeland," excuse me, the "Homeland," and just say that I know of absolutely no evidence that al Qaeda in Iraq has ever said any such thing.

Speculation and unsupported claims like these would be laughed out of the room if they were applied to global warming. When it comes to terrorism, though, no such standards are required.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Senate votes to authorize continued occupation of Iraq

[Updated; see below]

The Senate has just finished voting on what some (observers and Senators) may think is an innocuous amendment - the Cornyn Amendment which expresses the sense of the Senate that Iraq not become a failed state and a safe haven for terrorists. Introduced by Republican John Cornyn, the Amendment was immediately given a strong endorsement by Sen. Carl Levin, and was supported by all leading Democrats (Clinton, Obama, etc.). The final vote was 94-3, with only Robert Byrd, Tom Harkin, and one other (I missed who) "no" vote.

So why do I call this a vote to authorize the continued occupation of Iraq? Because, as I wrote last Friday, the "vote against withdrawal" in the House, and the one which is about to (or not) take place in the Senate, has a Catch-22 in it. Despite calling for a "reduction of the number of Armed Forces in Iraq beginning not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and shall complete the reduction and transition to a limited presence of the Armed Forces in Iraq by not later than April 1, 2008," that vote also listed as one of the continuing missions, "Engaging in actions to disrupt and eliminate al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations in Iraq." And now the Senate has underscored that mission by nearly unanimously declaring it the "sense of the Senate" that Iraq not become a "safe haven for terrorists."

Combined with the language already in the withdrawal bill, the just-passed Cornyn Amendment totally guts any meaning from the withdrawal, especially given the fact that the Administration (and the media, for that matter) describe virtually all actions being taken in Iraq as actions against "terrorists."

There has been talk of a vote to "deauthorize" the war. And indeed, all the original rationales for the war have evaporated, so rescinding the original authorization might make sense. Unfortunately, the Senate today then voted to "reauthorize" the war under a new rationale - preventing Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. And everyone who voted for that amendment are part and parcel of that reauthorization, and have the blood of those who die from this day forward on their hands.

Update: In thinking about this, I think I emphasized the second part of the amendment (the part about the safe haven for terrorists) but missed the significance of the first part (the "failed state" bit). Because if the Senate has voted 94-3 that Iraq "must not become a failed state," there's only conclusion you can draw from that - U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until Iraq is "stable" and can "defend itself." Which, just like the safe haven part, is essentially a prescription for an indefinite occupation, which has just been endorsed overwhelmingly by the Senate.

Monday, July 16, 2007


"Relatively modest Cuban medical programs"

The other day I wrote about George Bush attempting to brag about "the hard work we’re doing in the neighborhood" in the medical and education fields, and his possibly record chutzpah in comparing that "hard work" to the "relatively modest Cuban medical programs.

Today, Cuban President Fidel Castro trains both figurative barrels on these absurd claims. Here are just a few interesting facts picked out of the article:

On the "brain drain" I wrote about the other day:

Everyone knows that the United States' specialty concerning education is the brain drain. The International Labor Organization has indicated that "47 percent of people born abroad that complete their Doctorate in the United States stay in that country."

Yet another example of the plunder: "There are more Ethiopian physicians in Chicago than in all of Ethiopia."
On Cuban educational programs (which have been honored by the U.N.:
Our "Yes I Can" method of teaching people to read and write is today available to all Latin American countries, free of charge, and the countries that choose to use the program receive support to adapt it to their own characteristics and to produce the printed materials and the corresponding videos.

Countries such as Bolivia are implementing the program in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara. The numbers of those who have learned to read and write there in just one year exceed the number of those who have been taught to read and write by the empire in all of Latin America, if indeed there is anyone. And I am not speaking about other countries like Venezuela which has accomplished veritable heroic deeds in education in a very short time.

"Yes I Can" is of benefit to other societies outside the Western Hemisphere. Suffice it to say that New Zealand is using the program to eradicate illiteracy in their Maori population.
On Bush bragging about training 100 Central American doctors in a center in Panama:
Instead of having one training center for medical professionals in Central America, which has trained about 100 –and we’re glad for this-- our country today has tens of thousands of students from Latin America and the Caribbean on full scholarships who spend six years training as doctors in Cuba, free of charge. Of course, we do not exclude any American youth who take their education very seriously.
On Bush bragging about "the Comfort, 'one of the best medical ships in the world that had just called on port in Panama after visiting Guatemala.'":
The Comfort, with over 800 people on board, that is, medical staff and crew, will not be able to look after great numbers of people. It is impossible to carry out medical programs episodically. Physical therapy, for example, in many cases requires months of work. Cuba provides permanent services to people in polyclinics and well-equipped hospitals, and the patients can be cared for any time of day or night. We have also trained the necessary physical therapy specialists.

Let’s just see how the Comfort will make out in Haiti, providing health services for a week. There, in 123 of the country’s 134 communes there are Cuban doctors working alongside ELAM graduates, or Haitian students in the last year of medical school, fighting AIDS and various tropical diseases.


Brave new world

Well, not really new, just "improved," and bravery doesn't actually enter into it either:
The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It's outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.

The Reaper is loaded, but there's no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.
And, as we all knew:
The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers.

It's another sign that the Air Force is planning for an extended stay in Iraq, supporting Iraqi government forces in any continuing conflict, even if U.S. ground troops are drawn down in the coming years.
I said it wasn't new, just "improved," but the improvement is more than quantitative:
At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size - 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan - is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons.

While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons _ or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.

"It's not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command's air component, said of the Reapers. "It's an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability."
"Kinetic" - Pentagon argot for destructive power - is what the Air Force had in mind when it christened its newest robot plane with a name associated with death.

"The name Reaper captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said in announcing the name last September.
And about those "standards" the U.S. military talks about, where they are oh-so-careful not to drop bombs on civilians? Yeah, sure:
The Reaper is expected to be flown as the Predator is - by a two-member team of pilot and sensor operator who work at computer control stations and video screens that display what the UAV "sees."
So, as we have seen time and time again, someone will be determining from thousands of feet away (well, actually thousands of miles away, but the camera will be thousands of feet away) if the object in someone's hand is a gun or a shovel. If it's a shovel, they'll have to ascertain whether the person is going to bury an IED or just the family dog who just died; if it's a gun, they'll have to figure out whether it's an "insurgent" or just an Iraqi policeman on his way to work. But don't worry, anyone killed who can't be labeled an insurgent (which rules out most of the victims already) will be labeled an unavoidable "accident," or the death will be blamed on those pesky resistance fighters who have the nerve to live there.

Ah, but don't worry. The Marines (and surely the Air Force will soon follow) have announced they are stepping up the "values" training they give to recruits from 24 hours to 38 (by comparison, "the Army provides about 24 hours of instruction on core values and ethics, the Air Force 7 1/2 hours and the Navy about five hours."). Some of that, however, includes such all important subjects as "don't drink and drive, never sleep on guard duty, don't fraternize with officers." As for the more "serious" part of the training, this should give you some indication: "No one is prematurely judging guilt or innocence," according to Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway. But alas, he wasn't talking about the standards that the Marines need to apply before killing Iraqis and Afghans, he was talking about the guilt or innocence of the Marines who committed a massacre in Haditha.

Don't worry, Gen. Conway. In the brave new world of the "Reaper," only a tiny handful of your forces will need to concern themselves with ethics. And chances even those jobs will be privatized anyway.

Friday, July 13, 2007


The House vote on "withdrawal"

[Updated; see below]

I wrote that the House vote yesterday in favor of "withdrawal" was significant, if only in a symbolic sense. I still think so. But the text of the bill is now online, so one can now judge how much it would be significant in a real sense, even assuming that the Senate passed the same bill and the Congress overrode the President's veto.

The main "action" in the bill is this:

The Secretary of Defense shall commence the reduction of the number of Armed Forces in Iraq beginning not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and shall complete the reduction and transition to a limited presence of the Armed Forces in Iraq by not later than April 1, 2008.
Unfortunately, "a limited presence" is nowhere defined. However, it can be inferred from the next section, which discusses reporting requirements by the President:
(3) As part of the justification required by paragraph (2), the President shall, at a minimum, address whether it is necessary for the Armed Forces to carry out the following missions:
(A) Protecting United States diplomatic facilities and United States citizens, including members of the Armed Forces who are engaged in carrying out other missions.
(B) Serving in roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions.
(C) Engaging in actions to disrupt and eliminate al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations in Iraq.
(D) Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces.
The thing that's most interesting is C. Because, although Congress isn't ready to call for the U.S. to stop training Iraqi forces, nor to cease protecting U.S. diplomatic facilities (although actually I believe that function is pretty much being conducted by mercenaries even today), this bill has been described as a withdrawal of all "combat forces." But point C makes clear it's nothing of the sort, because the Bush Administration describes all of its offensive (accent on either the first or second syllable, take your pick) actions as part of an attempt to "disrupt and eliminate al-Qaeda." So it seems clear that, the bit about "limited presence" notwithstanding, nothing in this bill requires the withdrawal of a single American from Iraq.

But it is still significant. :-)

Update: To show how much this is all about politics and posturing, however, consider the latest headline: "New GOP bill challenges Bush Iraq policy." And how does it do that?

It would require Bush to submit by Oct. 16 a plan to "transition U.S. combat forces from policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" to a narrow set of missions: protecting Iraqi borders, targeting terrorists, protecting U.S. assets and training Iraqi forces.
But (see above), that's precisely the "narrow set of missions" that the bill that just passed the House envisions. And yet:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid balked at the proposal because it would not require Bush to implement the strategy. He said he prefers legislation the Senate will vote on next week that would order combat troops to be out of Iraq by next spring.
Well, I haven't looked at the language of the Senate bill, but if it mirrors the House language, as I expect it does, it does no such thing.


Companies (and the U.S.) on trial

While Michael Moore is busy putting health "care" corporations on trial figuratively in his new movie, two very real courtroom battles are taking place in different corners of the country against other corporations guilty of murder.

In Alabama, it's the Drummond (Coal) Co. on trial for complicity in the murder of three Colombian unionists:

In 2001, paramilitary hit men pulled three union leaders off buses in this roasting-hot swath of northeastern Colombia and shot them dead. In a shadowy conflict where gunmen often kill union activists, the slaying generated little attention, even as the dead men's families accused their American employer of having ordered the hits.

Now, six years later, the spotlight is on Drummond Co., the Alabama-based coal producer that employed the men. This week, in a federal court in Birmingham, the company has begun defending itself in a civil suit in which the families of the slain union members are seeking unspecified damages for their deaths. Drummond has denied allegations that it ever worked with paramilitary groups or played a role in the deaths.

The case marks the first time an American company has gone before a jury in a U.S. court for alleged abuses committed abroad. The trial is expected to generate scrutiny from other federal benches and the Supreme Court, which in 2004 upheld a ruling that foreigners could sue in American courts for abuses abroad -- but under narrowly defined legal boundaries. A key question is whether federal courts will be inclined to hold corporations responsible under the arcane 18th-century law -- called the Alien Tort Claims Act -- that was used to take Drummond to court.
Drummond says "they didn't know" but they're lying:
Among the witnesses who have come forward here is Edwin Guzman, a former Colombian army sergeant whose unit, the Popa battalion, deployed hundreds of men inside Drummond's installations.

Guzman said in an interview that Drummond provided transportation to paramilitary units and that the company's chief of security coordinated military-paramilitary operations. The Popa's former commander, Col. Hernán Mejía, was cashiered and is being investigated for having allegedly collaborated with paramilitary groups.

Guzman said Drummond officials knew full well how the paramilitary groups operated.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, it's the Caterpiller (Tractor) Co. on trial not only for the well-known (worldwide) murder of Rachel Corrie, but for the murders of eight Palestinians as well (technically, for "aiding and abetting human rights violations"). Caterpillar, as I'm sure readers know, sold bulldozers to Israel knowing full well that they were being used to demolish the homes of Palestinians (and anything or anyone that got in their way). In that case, interestingly enough (but not surprisingly), the U.S. Government has stepped in on the side of Caterpillar, filing an amicus brief and arguing in court that a ruling in the case would undermine U.S. foreign policy.

And indeed, that's the truth. In both of these cases, while corporations are the immediate targets of these lawsuits, U.S. foreign policy is very much on trial.

Update: And just in case you thought the situation in Colombia was in the distant past:

The second time gunmen came to kill labor union leader Alberto Bautista was early July 5, just as he was stepping out of his outhouse to get ready for work.

Amnesty International, in a report last week that quoted figures from Colombia's National Trade Union School, said that between January 1991 and December 2006, 2,245 trade unionists were killed, 3,400 threatened and 138 'disappeared.'

This year, union leaders say, 19 labor activists have been killed.

Thursday, July 12, 2007



Ya' gotta' love it:
President Bush always said he would wait to talk about the CIA leak case until after the investigation into his administration's role. On Thursday, he skipped over that step and pronounced the matter old news hardly worth discussing.

"It's run its course," he said. "Now we're going to move on."


House votes for eventual partial withdrawal

It certainly doesn't represent what I want, and I don't think it represents what most of the American people want, and I don't think they really have the courage of their convictions in the sense of backing it up (e.g., by refusing to vote more funds for the war when the time comes), but nevertheless today's vote is significant:
The Iraqi government is achieving only spotty military and political progress, the Bush administration conceded Thursday in an assessment that war critics quickly seized on as confirmation of their dire warnings. Within hours, the House voted to withdraw U.S. troops by spring.

A few hours after Bush's remarks, Democratic leaders engineered passage of legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops to begin within 120 days, and to be completed by April 1, 2008. The measure envisions a limited residual force to train Iraqis, protect U.S. assets and fight al-Qaida and other terrorists.
Why, despite my reservations, do I say this is significant? Because the world is as much about perception as reality, and the vote is billed as "House votes to withdraw troops" and while that may be a false perception, it still reinforces the idea of a real withdrawal in the minds of the public. Yes, you can argue the other way as well (this just deceives the public into thinking the vote was for withdrawal, when it wasn't), but I don't see it that way.

I'd love to see the actual text of the bill, but it's not online as I write this. Not that it matters. Because it isn't going to pass the Senate anyway. Which cynics will say is one reason the House voted for it. :-)


Putting the green in "green business"

If you live within driving distance of a Whole Foods, chances are you might shop there. They've got lots of organic food and other foods lacking in artificial ingredients, etc., and a general "green" consciousness. Their CEO, however, is interested in a very different kind of "green":
The chief executive of Whole Foods Market Inc. wrote anonymous online attacks against a smaller rival and questioned why anyone would buy its stock, before Whole Foods announced an offer to buy the other company this year.

The postings on Internet financial forums, made under the name "rahodeb," said Wild Oats Markets Inc. stock was overpriced. The statements predicted the company would fall into bankruptcy and then be sold after its stock fell below $5 per share.

In February, Whole Foods announced it would buy Wild Oats for about $565 million, or $18.50 per share.

The company acknowledged that the postings by "rahodeb" were written by CEO John Mackey.
Amazingly, there is no talk of prosecuting this money-grubbing crook for fraud; this only came out because the FTC is seeking to block the purchase of Wild Oats on antitrust grounds.


Clueless quote of the day

"The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room. The question is, will we be wise about how we pay for health care. I believe the best way to do so is to enable more people to have private insurance. And the reason I emphasize private insurance, the best health care plan -- the best health care policy is one that emphasizes private health. In other words, the opposite of that would be government control of health care."

- George Bush, speaking in Cleveland on July 10
I hardly need to point out that emergency rooms are not only an expensive and inefficient means of providing health care, but they don't provide any sort of preventive care, prenatal care (nor deliver babies, as far as I know), and so on. Thinking (and there's a word I'm using as loosely as possible) that "people have access to health care in America" because "you just go to an emergency room" is beyond preposterous. Is it any wonder that with this kind of an attitude, more money is spent per person on health care in America than anywhere else in the world, as Michael Moore has so capably reminded all of us? (More on the limitations of emergency rooms here)

Note also the rest of the quote the claim that private health insurance is "the opposite of...government control of health care." Now I happen (as a recent post laid out) to believe in public ("government") health care. But the movement (limited as it is) in this country at the moment is hardly for that, it's for "single-payer," that is, government-paid health insurance, not government-provided health care. Bush knows more people oppose the latter, so he conflates the two to increase their opposition to the former. Which demonstrates that he's not quite as dumb as he looks or sounds (but he's still pretty dumb, as the statement about emergency rooms demonstrates).


Support the troops!

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, 'A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi.' You know, so what?"

- Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26
There's really not much I can add to The Nation exposé of what U.S. troops really do in Iraq, or the Democracy Now! interview with one of the authors and some of the interviewees.

Of course I (and many others) have written on this subject many times, the callous and fundamentally racist disregard for the lives of non-"Western" people, the shoot-first, ask questions later (or, more accurately, never) policy, the "kill, kill, kill" mentality, but nevertheless this article may prove extremely important in exposing these issues to a much wider audience (not to mention providing lots of solid testimony about these routine atrocities).

That last linked post includes these opening lyrics to Holly Near's GI Movement (from her 1973 album "Hang In There"):

Were here to talk to soldiers
We know that you won't be still
You're tired of US policy
Of kill, pay me, kill, kill, kill
Here's the song itself:


Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Vignettes from the "surge"

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:
In the Ubaidi neighborhood in the eastern part of this city, American soldiers hired a local Iraqi to clean the Porta-Potties at their combat outpost. Before the man could start, members of the local Shiite militia threatened to kill him.

Today, the Porta-Potties are roped off, and the U.S. soldiers, who could not promise to protect their sewage man, are forced to burn their waste.
I'll leave all interpretations of symbolism and metaphors to the reader.


Nuclear weapons in Iran!

Well, within the standard 12-mile limit, anyway:
Nearly half of the U.S. Navy's 277 warships are stationed close to Iran.

Positioning two aircraft carrier groups in the gulf gives the United States the capability to operate 24 hours a day and potentially conduct about 180 daily bombing and surveillance operations over Iran.

It also means the United States may be deploying nuclear weapons, believed to be aboard some of the ships in the aircraft carrier groups, within 10 miles of Iran's shores.
Do you remember what happened when another country stationed nuclear weapons 90 miles from the United States?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Dr. Sanjay Gupta, weasel

I missed taping it, but this morning Dr. Sanjay Gupta admitted that he made a mistake in transcribing, and that "Sicko" really says that Cuba spends $251 per person, not $25. But then he notes, as if it's significant, that the WHO says Cuba spends $229 per person, and says (quoting from memory), "I just don't know why Moore doesn't use the real numbers."

What a weasel! First of all, Michael Moore explains on his website that he chose to use the U.N. numbers ($251). But more importantly, a scientist such as Dr. Gupta should understand what I tried to explain by example in the post below - the idea that there is a "real" number or a "correct" answer to the question "How much does country X spend on health care?" is simply unscientific. This "fact" isn't a fact like the speed of light - it's an assumption-based, definition-based estimate of a moving target. And implying that someone who arrives at a different answer than you is "fudging the facts" is, as Moore states, nothing short of libel.

Update: Fact-checking myself. I've got the video now. My quote from memory of Gupta above wasn't accurate, but I do believe it represents the essence of what he had to say. You can judge for yourself:


Spotlight on: Barack Obama

If you have any kind of lingering belief that Barack Obama represents something positive, please read Pierre Tristam's detailed analysis of Obama's latest article in Foreign Affairs.

If you don't, and you don't have any friends who do, don't bother. :-)


More uncounted victims of the U.S. war on Iraq

Local news carries the story of a young (21-year-old) man from San Jose named Roberto Causor Jr., just killed in Iraq. Roberto already appears in the list of victims of the war. But if you read all the way through the article to three paragraphs from the end, you learn about two more victims:
Just before he returned to Iraq in early April, the family gathered one last time at his aunt's house. He talked about his girlfriend in Texas - the first girlfriend his cousin Maggie ever approved of, a woman who became pregnant with his child during that trip. Using his grandmother's recipe, his aunt made Causor's favorite enchiladas.
Could the writer change the subject any more quickly? From a child who will be born an orphan (there is an assumption there, I admit) to his aunt's enchiladas in just a few words. Wouldn't want to dwell on that little bit of unpleasantness.


"Relatively modest Cuban medical programs"

The Miami Herald (in conjunction with George Bush) provides a nice laugh with a headline, "Bush turns on charm for Latin America," in which we learn that Bush just hosted a group of 150 Latin American community groups and 70 U.S.-based organizations in order "to tell the world that [the U.S.] really does care about Latin America." Nothing like P.R. to substitute for facts.

But this wasn't funny:

The administration often complains that many of its programs go unnoticed in the region while relatively modest Cuban medical programs or Venezuelan soft loans for oil purchases get big headlines in local media.
"Relatively modest Cuban medical programs," eh? Let's consider the news from just the last two weeks. Just yesterday, Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine graduated hundreds of new medical professionals from across Latin America, all educated at no charge. Also yesterday, Evo Morales inaugurated the fifth of 20 hospitals that Cuba is donating to Bolivia this year. Just a few days ago, we learned that 3200 Panamanians have had eye surgery in a facility donated to Panama by Cuba, and staffed by Cuban medical personnel. A week ago, a new facility was opened in Ecuador staffed by Cuban medical personnel; more than 16,200 eye operations have already been carried out in two other similar facilities. All told, Cuba's Operation Milagro eye-surgery project in Latin America has restored the sight to some 700,000 people with curable eye diseases.

"Relatively modest Cuban medical programs" indeed.

I think it's safe to say there are plenty of people in the United States who would be delighted to be on the receiving end of such "relatively modest" medical programs. Indeed, eight of them were - new doctors educated at the Latin American School of Medicine, who in turn will be transferring the benefits of those "relatively modest" programs to those they will serve in America's poor communities.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Ominous headline of the day

From the Jerusalem Post:
Time running out for strike against Iran

Predicting that sanctions will ultimately fail to stop Teheran's nuclear program, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of Military Intelligence's Research Division, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that time to launch an effective military strike against Iran's nuclear installations was running out.
Expect Joe Lieberman (D I-Jerusalem) to pick up the call tomorrow.


"Fact-checking" Michael Moore, single-payer, and more

In the post below this one, Michael Moore goes up against not just Wolf Blitzer, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta "fact-checking" him as well. Gupta says quite straightforwardly that "[Moore] did fudge some facts," but the evidence for that is rather lacking. The one I want to focus on here is his claim that "Sicko" says the U.S. spends $7000 per person on health care, and Cuba $25, whereas the "real" numbers are $6096 and $229, respectively. Moore defends his numbers in the clips, but I'd like to ask a broader question (to which I don't know the answer).

What are those numbers? What are the "health care costs per person"? Were the numbers taken from the same year? Perhaps the most recent data were from 2004, and Moore applied an inflation adjustment, and Gupta didn't.

Or perhaps they're from different studies with different assumptions and include different things. Do they include, just to pick something at random, the costs of eyeglasses? Personally, I can no more function without glasses than some people can function without medicine. If glasses are included, do we count only the times you really "need" new glasses when you get a new prescription? What if I were (note the subjunctive, please) to buy expensive designer prescription sunglasses? Are they included?

When it comes to a comparison with Cuba, what exchange rate was used? An "official" one? A "real" one, whatever that might be? And even if they agree on the exchange rate, do they take into account that Cuban medical personnel are paid less than American personnel, because their living expenses are much lower? Perhaps Gupta adjusted for that, and Moore didn't. Who knows. Moore says he'll be posting a defense of his numbers on his website, so perhaps we'll learn the answers.

Or let's ask more serious questions, in conjunction with my title question of "single payer." "Single payer" is a common phrase here, but in Cuba (and to a lesser extent in other countries with a National Health Service), they don't just have "single payer," they have "single receiver." If you look at the Cuban budget, I can imagine they're a top line item labeled "health care," and under that is not just the cost of medical personnel and medicine and bandages and so on, but also the cost of building hospitals, running medical schools, and everything else having to do with medical care. Are those things included in the U.S. numbers? I doubt it, frankly.

In the last year or two, two huge new medical facilities (one Blue Cross/Blue Shield, one Kaiser) opened within a few miles of my home. If BCBS and Kaiser borrowed money to put those buildings up, as I suspect they did, is that money found in those health care expenditures? And whether it is or not, were those two facilities the highest priority need for health care? Both of them are spiffy new places. I haven't been in either one, but I'm guessing they have nice art on the walls, fancy atria, and all sorts of nice attractive aspects. But perhaps the country would have been better served had they been just a little less fancy, and with the money that was saved, a new clinic built in a small town in the rural South which has none. Of course, that couldn't happen, because that's not BCBS of California or Kaiser's responsibility or concern. Or perhaps they shouldn't have been built at all, and instead the money used to construct and run a new medical school. Again, not their problem. Cuba just graduated 2200 new health professionals from Cuba and 24 other countries (including the United States), while the U.S. (and many Western countries) have chronic shortages of doctors, precisely because it is not something that can really be addressed on a national level. Nor will it be if "single payer" is just that, and not "single receiver" as well.

Postscript: By the way, that shortage of native-born doctors, which has suddenly become the focus of attention in Britain for the wrong reasons, is not a recent development. Forty years ago I had a summer job in a hospital, and I remember that even then, many of the doctors were foreign, because then as now, there simply weren't enough places in American medical schools to fill the need. Not that I have anything against foreign-born, foreign-trained doctors; I've certainly been treated by enough of them over the years. But I do think that it behooves any country to train enough doctors to meet its needs, and on the other side of the coin, the brains that are being drained from those other countries are undoubtedly contributing to worse medical care there.

Update: Moore's fact-checking demolishes Gupta's claims.

Further update: Cuba is actually building 20 new hospitals this year...in Bolivia!


Michael Moore vs. Wolf Blitzer: it's a massacre

A few days ago I critiqued CNN's absurd "fact-checking" of Michael Moore's "Sicko" with the shocking news that "free" health care isn't actually free, and that it's paid for by taxes. Today, for the first time in three years, Moore appeared on Wolf Blitzer's "The Situation Room" on CNN to defend himself and his movie. While he was at it, though, he decided to take on Wolf Blitzer, CNN, the entire mainstream media and its subservience to their corporate advertisers, the war in Iraq, and lots more.

It was really something to watch, "reality TV" at its most real. I've put it up on YouTube in two parts (the whole thing is 15 minutes long). We're told there will be a second interview tomorrow, an extension of today's, which Moore only agreed to do as a pre-recorded segment under the proviso that not a word be edited. Once you watch today's performance, you'll understand why he did so.

Go get 'em, Michael!

For more thoughts on this, see the post just above this one.


"Defending our freedom and way of life"

I already wrote about the absurdity of George Bush comparing the war in Iraq to the American Revolution - "We were a small band of freedom-loving patriots taking on the most powerful empire in the world." - and thinking that he represented the former and not the latter.

But there was another aspect of his July 4 speech which wasn't particularly new for him, yet is commented on all too infrequently. Bush made this claim:

"Like those early patriots, you're fighting a new and unprecedented war -- pledging your lives and honor to defend our freedom and way of life."
Now I, for one, don't actually believe Bush. I don't believe he thinks that the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting "to defend our freedom and way of life." But whether he does or not is irrelevant - that is his public rationale. And so we must ask this question - how is it possible that he, and the supporters of the war who buy into that rationale, could not think that "defending our freedom and way of life" isn't worth sending another 50,000 troops to Iraq and another 50,000 to Afghanistan? Surely, if events in the world were such a threat, then no price would be too great to pay, no effort too large to spare, to defend "our freedom and way of life." There aren't another 100,000 troops to be had, you say? Surely, if the evil hordes from China, or Russia, or Iran, or, for that matter, Canada, were pouring across the U.S. border bent on attacking "our freedom and way of life," another 100,000 troops, if not another million, could be had for the task, could they not?

Indeed, one searches in vain for Bush even raising the cry that more troops are needed in the armed forces at a time when enlistments are down. In that speech to the West Virginia Air National Guard, which was typical, Bush goes out of his way to praise a man who has been deployed seven times since 9/11 and is about to start his eighth deployment. But in just one sentence in the entire speech, a mild "We need for people to volunteer to defend America," does Bush even mention the need for enlistments, and it's not even a call to Americans to enlist, just a simple declarative statement.

The emperor has no clothes. And the wars the U.S. are fighting are not being fought to "defend our freedom and way of life."

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