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Sunday, September 30, 2007


The Democrats on Iran

This is what passes for a "good" position on Iran in Democratic circles:
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson said Sunday it would be "enormously unwise" for the Bush administration to take military action against Iran before it gets out of Iraq.
And remember, this is a guy who claims he wants to get U.S. troops out of Iraq faster than the leading candidates. Now we know why.


The meaning of Lieberman-Kyl

There's been a lot written about the Lieberman-Kyl amendment that passed the Senate the other day 76-22, with Hillary Clinton voting for it and Barack Obama shamefully absenting himself from the vote. Most of the attention has been on its designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization" and the implications that has for the possibility of a war against Iran (since the Senate has already given its approval for a "war on terror"). Amazingly, some Democrats are even bragging about how sections 3 and 4 were excised from the amendment before its passage:
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies;
But these deletions, while some kind of improvement, still don't detract from what the amendment accomplished in giving an imprimatur to war against Iran. Consider point 2 for example, which remains:
(2) that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from turning Shi'a militia extremists in Iraq into a Hezbollah-like force that could serve its interests inside Iraq, including by overwhelming, subverting, or co-opting institutions of the legitimate Government of Iraq;
After all, if this is our "vital national interest," then whatever it takes to defend that "national interest" is surely acceptable.

So, even as amended, there can be no doubt that this amendment was a strong endorsement by the Senate, including half of the Democrats, for war against Iran. But actually, the reason I'm writing here is to call attention to the one section of the amendment which has been pretty much overlooked - section 1:

(1) that the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in particular with regard to the capability of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to pose a threat to the security of the region, the prospects for democracy for the people of the region, and the health of the global economy;
What does that mean to you? I tell you what it means to me - that the Senate has just endorsed not just war against Iran, but an indefinite presence in Iraq, now justified as preventing Iran from "posing a threat to the security of the region."

Saturday, September 29, 2007


In Prison My Whole Life

The trailer for a new documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal:


The Blackwater massacre: the victim's story

Lots of coverage in the media about the most recent Blackwater massacre of 11 Iraqi civilians, the banning/un-banning of them, etc. Little to no coverage of the victims. McClatchy's Leila Fadel (discussed here a few days ago) went to meet with them, and writes about them on her blog (not yet published as far as I can tell):
It all starts to run together sometimes. But the things that will stay with me over my break are Afrah's tears. I sat in her home this past week to talk about her mother Ghania. Afrah was the woman's favorite among her eight children. Often her sisters would complain that she and Ghania were always together.

Afrah talked about her kindness, Ghania would hide away her favorite foods for her or pick up clothes or trinkets from the market that reminded her of her daughter.

Ghania is gone, killed at the back of a bus by what witnesses said were bullets from Blackwater security guards on Sept. 16 in Nisour square. While they protected Americans Iraqis died, witnesses said.

No one has come to this tiny home in Hurriyah to ask this family what happened. No investigators from the Ministry of Interior or the U.S. Embassy or the joint U.S. and Iraqi commission. No one has asked them about compensation or what this has done to their family.

Ghania died while she held her 27-year-old daughter in her arms in the back of a bus, protecting her from the bullets.

Her family lives in a tiny two-bedroom home where instead of doors, sheets of cloth conceal the rooms from each other and the home from the street. Her poor husband can't think about anything but his loving wife. They spent 40 years together and at night when everyone has gone home he sees her in front of him. No one else can put up with his stubborn personality, she love him, she alone.

He tries to stop his mind and goes to the street in the dead of night and chain-smokes. But his love and need for her has grown since her death. Nothing will be enough to compensate this 67-year-old for his loss.

For Afrah, the image of her mother's body in the back of a pick up truck with two other bodies is engrained in her mind. She wakes up and sleeps with it in her mind.

When her mother died she kissed her and turned to God, "We belong to God and we return to God," she prayed. But I see the pain in Afrah's tears.
Update: The author (Leila Fadel) notes in the comments that an article (this one) was published yesterday which discussed several of the victims at length, although how much publication the article got is in question; as I note in the comments, it did not appear in the paper I read in print, the San Jose Mercury News. The article was more extensive (quoting more victims), but less personal and moving than the Fadel's blog entry above.


Headline of the day

Iran labels CIA 'terrorist organization'

Iran's parliament on Saturday approved a nonbinding resolution labeling the CIA and the U.S. Army "terrorist organizations," in apparent response to a Senate resolution seeking to give a similar designation to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The hard-line dominated parliament cited U.S. involvement in dropping nuclear bombs in Japan in World War II, using depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting the killings of Palestinians by Israel, bombing and killing Iraqi civilians, and torturing terror suspects in prisons.
This particular article is an AP article, but I saw the story earlier today on something I just discovered called Press TV, which appears to be a sort of "Iranian al-Jazeerah." Their goals:
1- To break the global media stranglehold of western outlets.
2- To bridge cultural divisions pragmatically.
3- To highlight the versatility and vitality of political and cultural differences, making up the human condition.
Sounds good to me. They actually broadcast streaming video online, but I couldn't get it to work myself (didn't put that much effort into it).


Bushian logic

It doesn't quite have the solidity of Aristotelian logic:
"We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it."

- George Bush, yesterday
Kirstie Alley acknowledged that she had a weight problem. She had a long-term goal of losing 50 pounds. But until she actually committed herself to a course of action (Jenny Craig), setting that goal didn't mean a thing.

You solve problems by laying out a course of action, not by "setting a goal."

Friday, September 28, 2007


John McCain: POW, war criminal

John McCain is trying to revive his campaign by running an ad playing up his status as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. So naturally I'm obligated to remind my readers that that status was achieved at the price of being a war criminal - a pilot obeying illegal orders to bomb a lightbulb factory, and not only someone who obeyed illegal orders, but who has subsequently given his endorsement to such attacks on civilian targets.

As I wrote back in 2005: "John McCain - war criminal then, war criminal now, war criminal forever."


The role of women

Amidst all the hubbub over what Ahmadinejad said (or didn't say, depending on one's interpretation) at Columbia about homosexuals, what he had to say there and at the U.N. (PDF) about women was barely mentioned. At Columbia, it was the classical, Biblical view of women on a pedestal: "Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them." At the U.N., he started his speech discussing the "challenges facing mankind." #2 was "Widespread violations of human rights, terrorism, and occupation." And #1, the place he started his speech? "Organized attempts to destroy the institution of the family and to weaken the status of women." Yes, on "social issues" he'd be quite comfortable on a stage with the Republican Presidential candidates, although unlike half of them, he at least believes in evolution (I think!).

But I'm not writing this to insult religious fundamentalism; that's an easy target. No, I'm writing this because the other day I was browsing through a bookstore and picked up a copy of Bill Bryson's latest book, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," which is his portrait of growing up in the '50s in the United States (something I share with Bryson). And what did I read in the very first chapter, which reminds us in the West that if you think people like Ahmadinejad (and the right-wing in America) are living in another century, you're right, but it isn't the 16th century, it's the 20th? This: "Up until Pearl Harbor, half of the 48 states had laws making it illegal to employ a married woman." So the next time you're looking down your nose at another culture or even part of your own, try looking in a mirror. Or a history book.

I first become politically active not the antiwar movement, but in the women's movement in the early 70's. One of the key figures in the struggle at that time was Bill Baird. Baird was imprisoned in 1965 and 1966 (hardly ancient history; I was a senior in high school) for teaching birth control and distributing abortion literature in New York & New Jersey; and was the central figure behind the Supreme Court decision of Eisenstadt v. Baird, which allowed unmarried people the right to use birth control...in 1972 (following the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut which provided the same right for married couples).

No, neither of these examples is in the same league as stoning someone to death for adultery, say. But they do remind us that the "superior" Western culture has its own history (and present!) of reactionary attitudes and laws as well.


Ahmadinejad at Columbia; Bush at ?

Rosa Brooks today discusses the faux-bravery of Columbia President Lee Bollinger's "introduction" of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and notes that real bravery would involve giving a similar introduction to another President (guess which one) for whom this would be even more appropriate:
"You, quite simply, [are] ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated....I doubt you will have the intellectual courage to answer [our] questions...I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes so much of what you say and do....Your preposterous and belligerent statements...led to your party's defeat in the [last] elections."
She also compares Ahmadinejad's willingness to face a hostile audience with Bush's:
This week, a global audience saw Iran's "petty and cruel dictator," as Bollinger called him, courteously parrying questions from hostile students -- something viewers won't see our democratically elected president doing.

So fine, let's congratulate ourselves for showing Iran just how many freedoms we have in America. But when we get done congratulating ourselves on our fancy freedoms, let's figure out why we can't be bothered to put them to use.
Update: Gotta' love it: just heard that Ahmadinejad has invited George Bush to come to Tehran and speak at an Iranian university. Maybe he read Brooks' column!


Lyrics of the day

The latest from Bruce Springsteen (to be released next week):
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
We don't measure the blood we've drawn anymore
We just stack the bodies outside the door
The wise men were all fools
What to do

- Bruce Springsteen, "Last to Die"
Update: Bruce, this morning on the Today Show:
This is a song called Livin' In the Future. But it's really about what's happening now. Right now. It's kind of about how the things we love about America, cheeseburgers, French fries, the Yankees battlin' Boston... the Bill of Rights [holds up microphone, urging crowd to cheer] ... v-twin motorcycles... Tim Russert's haircut, trans-fats and the Jersey Shore... we love those things the way womenfolk love Matt Lauer.

But over the past six years we've had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeus corpus, the neglect of that great city New Orleans and its people, an attack on the Constitution. And the loss of our best men and women in a tragic war.

This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here happening here.

So right now we plan to do something about it, we plan to sing about it. I know it's early [in the day, as he was performing], but it's late. So come and join us.
You can watch and listen (to the speech and the music) here; start with "Living in the Future."

And, aside from the political comments that start the show, few songs have political content and send chills up my spine like "My Hometown."

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Ahmadinejad aids Latin America...with U.S. money

Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Bolivia and Venezuela this week. And whaddya know:
The closer ties are viewed with alarm by the opposition in Venezuela and Bolivia, and by Washington. U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, said they remind him "of the relationship that Fidel Castro had with Russia." He urged Washington to reach out more to a region analysts say it has largely ignored since 9-11.

Toward that aim, a bipartisan bill is being introduced in the U.S. Congress on Friday that would establish a 10-year, $2.5 billion program aimed at reducing poverty and expanding the middle class in Latin America.

The program would bring more stability in the long run and help the United States "re-establish leadership in the hemisphere" by increasing development assistance by more than a third, said bill co-sponsor Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.
You have to love the U.S. commitment to establishing "leadership in the hemisphere" - $250 million/year, less than one day's spending on the war in Iraq. Don't go overboard, fellas!


Tim Russert and the Democratic debate

I'll start with the unexpected kudos. I can't stand Tim Russert, but I'll give him credit for doing a good job of exposing the "antiwar" Democrats for the "continue the war but pretend you don't want to" people they really are. "We'll just keep some troops there for counter-terrorist actions"? That means all the troops, because every single Iraqi killed by U.S. troops is labeled a "terrorist." Bottom line - when you can't commit to having all U.S. troops out six years from now, you aren't against the war and occupation.

Now for the crap. I'll leave out the standard Russert "gotcha" questions, and the less said about the inane "what's your favorite Bible verse" the better. No, what really pissed me off was the old torture question - "We get the #3 guy in al Qaeda, we know there's a big bomb going off in America in three days, and we know this guy knows where it is. Don't we have the right and the responsibility to beat it out of him?" All the candidates assured us they wouldn't sanction torture (although one wonders how many would change their position if the conventional wisdom was that torture does work). But not one of them challenged the ludicrous premise of the question. How do you "know" there's a big bomb going off in America in three days? Did al Qaeda publish an ad in the New York Times informing us of that? And how do you "know" that this guy knows where it is? How do you even know he's "the #3 guy in al Qaeda" for that matter?

The point is, this is precisely the kind of "knowing" things that helped justify the war against Iraq in the first place ("We 'know' they have weapons of mass destruction"). It's precisely the kind of "knowing" that is pointing the way to an attack on Iran ("We 'know' they are developing nuclear weapons).

Want to save lives the sure way, no torture required? Get the hell out of Iraq!


Blackwater responsible for the death of 11 811 Iraqis

(At least!). To the surprise of no one who has been paying attention, and with the usual alacrity that the U.S. Congress follows up on such matters (that is to say, none), a Congressional Committee has concluded:
Blackwater USA triggered a major battle in the Iraq war in 2004 by sending an unprepared team of guards into an insurgent stronghold, a move that led to their horrific deaths and a violent response by U.S. forces, says a congressional investigation released Thursday.
That battle killed, we are told, 200 insurgents and an estimated 600 civilians (the "11" in the headline refers to the Iraqis that Blackwater mercenaries killed directly two weeks ago, which led to their banning (quickly replaced by their non-banning)).

It's worth reprinting an article I posted from Ha'aretz shortly after the massacre of Fallujah three years ago to remind ourselves of what happened in Fallujah:

During the first two weeks of this month, the American army committed war crimes in Falluja on a scale unprecedented for this war. According to the relatively few media reports of what took place there, some 600 Iraqis were killed during these two weeks, among them some 450 elderly people, women and children.

The sight of decapitated children, the rows of dead women and the shocking pictures of the soccer stadium that was turned into a temporary grave for hundreds of the slain - all were broadcast to the world only by the Al Jazeera network.
Mass graves in Iraq? Thank Blackwater (and the government that chose to privatize the war and hire them in the first place).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Great line of the night

He's probably used it before, but I hadn't heard it. Paraphrasing from memory (I'll correct it later):
"You can have a President who has opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, opposed every bill funding it, opposed the Patriot Act, supported non-profit single-payer health care, or you can have a President...who's tall."

- Dennis Kucinich, in tonight's Democratic debate
Update: The Washington Post has a 1250-word, 88-sentence article on the debate. Here's the very last sentence in the article:
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) also participated in the debate, which was aired on MSNBC.
And yes, that is the only mention of Kucinich in the article. The Post wouldn't want to give too much coverage to the most progressive candidate on the stage.


Why the U.S. government hates Cuba: Pérez Roque slams Bush

There are many reasons why the U.S. wants to overthrow the government of Cuba, and bring them the "liberation" of Capitalism. One is that the idea that it is possible to run a country based on people's needs, not profit, is an idea that they very much fear spreading (and all the more so now that that spreading encompasses natural-resource rich countries like Venezuela and Bolivia).

But a second, which is also one of many reasons that the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to overthrow its government, is that the U.S. fears the existence of countries with independent foreign policies, countries which, because they aren't subordinate to the United States, can actually stand up in an international forum and deliver a speech like the one below (PDF) delivered yesterday at the United Nations by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque (for an earlier powerful speech by Pérez Roque, see this).

In the main, prepared part of his speech, Pérez Roque has a lot of important things to say, like this:

If a small country defends and upholds its right to independence, it is accused of being a rogue State; if a power launches an attack against a country, it is said that it "liberates" them. A fighter against foreign aggression is a terrorist; an attacking soldier is a "freedom fighter." That is the media war, the swindle of truths, the tyranny of a one-track mind in a globalized world.
Pérez Roque also addresses issues including poverty, disarmament, debt cancellation, reform of the Security Council, and more. But the portion I wanted to reproduce at length is what he had to say about the United States and George Bush specifically: [Emphasis added]

Read it below, or watch it here:

This was supposed to be the end of my statement as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, the shameless and gross behavior of the US President in this hall, yesterday morning, now forces me to utter a few remarks on Cuba's behalf.

With a foul language and an arrogant tone, President Bush insulted and threatened some ten countries; he gave orders, in a firm and authoritarian fashion, to the General Assembly; and with such bossiness never ever seen in this hall, he dished out terms and judgments on a score of countries.

It was an embarrassing show. The delirium tremens of the world's policeman. The intoxication of imperial power, sprinkled with the mediocrity and the cynicism of those who threaten to launch wars in which they know their life is not at stake.

The President of the United States has no right at all to pass judgment on any other sovereign nation on this planet. Having powerful nuclear weapons offers no right whatsoever to tread upon the rights of the peoples of the other 191 countries that are represented here.

And the determination and courage of the peoples should not be underestimated when it comes to defending their rights! After all, what prevails is not the power of cannons but the fairness of the ideas that you fight for. The bullish and menacing President should have already learned it by now.

Sovereign equality of States and not "regime change." Respect for sovereignty and not unilateral certifications of good behavior. Respect for International Law and not illegal blockades and wars.

President Bush talked about democracy, but we all know that he is lying. He came into office through fraud and deceit. We would have been spared his presence yesterday and would have listened to President Al Gore talking about climate change and the risks to our species. We also recall how he brazenly supported the coup d'etat against the President and the Constitution of Venezuela.

He talked about peace, but we know that he is lying. We remember very well when he threatened 60 or more countries, which he called "dark corners of the world," saying that he would wipe them off the face of the earth with pre-emptive and surprise attacks. Bush is a strange warrior who, from the rearguard, sends the young people of his country to kill and to die thousands of kilometers away.

He talked about human rights, but we know that he is lying. He is responsible for the death of 600,000 civilians in Iraq; he authorized tortures at the Guantánamo Naval Base and at Abu Ghraib, and he is an accessory to the kidnapping and disappearance of people, as well as to the secret flights and the clandestine prisons.

He talked about the fight against terrorism, but we know that he is lying. He has ensured complete impunity for the most hateful terrorist groups which, from Miami, have perpetrated heinous crimes against the Cuban people.

President Bush attacked the new Human Rights Council. He is bleeding through the wound; he is grunting his helplessness. He is haunted by the shamefulness that, during his term in office, the United States cannot even look forward to being a member because elections are through secret ballot. Cuba, in turn, was elected as a founding member of the Council with more than two-thirds of the votes.

He talked about cooperation, development and prosperity for the rest of the world, but we all know that he is lying. He has been the most selfish and reckless politician we have ever seen. In a world that this year will bear witness to the death of 10 million children under the age of 5 through preventable diseases, his self-seeking and empty proposals of yesterday are but a sick joke.

President Bush has no moral authority or credibility to judge anyone. He should be held accountable to the world for his crimes.

There are boundaries to both arrogance and hypocrisy. There are boundaries to lies and blackmail. Cuba rejects and condemns each of the devious words uttered yesterday by the President of the United States.

Mr. President:

Cuba appreciates the solidarity received from this General Assembly in its struggle against the blockade and the aggressions that it has been forced to endure for nearly five decades.

Cuba thanks all those who have supported its tenacious fight against terrorism and have raised their voice in favor of the release of five Cuban anti-terrorism fighters unjustly imprisoned in the United States.

Cuba will fight, along with all the members of the Non-Aligned Movement, in order to achieve a more just and democratic international order, in which our peoples can exercise their right to peace and development.

We may be accused of being dreamers, but we are fighting with the conviction that today's dreams will be tomorrow's realities.

We are fighting with the conviction that even when there are men without decorum, there are always others who have in themselves the decorum of many men and carry in them a whole nation, as well as human dignity.

Thank you very much.


Baghdad Blogging

Many of us lament the loss of Riverbend of Baghdad Burning fame as a perceptive voice for what is "really" happening on the ground in Iraq. While it's not a one-for-one replacement, I've just stumbled upon something well worth keeping an eye on - a blog entitled Baghdad Observer, which is written by Leila Fadel, McClatchy's Baghdad bureau chief. Fadel is a young Lebanese-American woman, following in the footsteps of an earlier McClatchy Baghdad bureau chief, Hannah Allam, also a young Arab-American (Egyptian if I recall correctly) reporter (who also has a blog, written from her current station in Cairo).

Fadel's blog contains all sorts of interesting stories. The Sept. 18 post, for example, discusses the question of how many people have died in Iraq. Unfortunately, as discussed below under the title "Holocaust deniers by the dozens," her thoughts on the subject didn't reach the readers of McClatchy newspapers. In that same post, she reports (again, just to her blog readers) about a U.S. General who tried to get her to stop reporting that Sunnis and Shiites were killing each other, the facts be damned. Another post, also unpublished (so far, anyway), has her interviewing juvenile prisoners in Iraq, noting how they all showed signs of abuse (torture if you prefer), and that none knew why they were in prison.

Check it out.


Evo Morales speaks

This morning, Democracy Now! broadcast a long interview with Bolivian President Evo Morales, which is certainly worth listening to/reading. But in some respects, the more interesting (and surprising) interview was the one that occurred last night on The Daily Show. Surprising because this was perhaps the most serious interview Jon Stewart has ever conducted; one got the impression he was more cowed and awed by the presence of Evo Morales than he ever has been in the presence of, say, Henry Kissinger or Madeleine Albright or Bill Clinton, or even another "President" he has interviewed, Pervez Musharraf.

I don't believe there's a transcript, so I transcribed parts of it which I present here. First, a lesson in class politics:

Jon Stewart: How does a poor farmer without high school education become the first indigenous President of Boliia?

Evo Morales: I understand that we all have rights. It's not just professionals and intellectuals who can become President, people who have other experiences, who have a working life as well, can also become President. Therefore indigenous persons can also become President.

Stewart: In Bolivia...[PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER]...In America, it's a little rigged.

Morales: So if it's rigged, something needs to be done to change that. [APPLAUSE]
By the way, Morales (and Stewart) seem a little confused about politics in America. If only it were "professionals and intellectuals" who became President!

And second, a more or less nonsensical non-question from Stewart, revealing his conventional American "wisdom"-reflecting antipathy to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, followed by a very interesting answer from Morales:

Stewart: We have a tendancy to group the South American leaders. If you visit Castro, if you visit Chavez, then we all of a sudden get...scared. And so that understanding and dialog is important for us to open up as well.

Morales: I know that we're different not only within nations but among nations as well. Those difference among the various nations must be respected. But what better among political leaders, Presidents, or with social movement leaders, then coming together to think about how we can support life and humankind. And it's my sense that in this new millenium it should be the millenium of life. And from here, or from Cuba, Venezuela, Europe, Africa, we need to create and come together to save lives and to save humankind.

In recent days at the United Nations I have heard a lot of talk about global warming, climate change, but they don't say why, where all that is coming from. There appear to be few political leaders or movements that say where is all this coming from. Perhaps from a Western culture. Perhaps excesses in relation to industry. Or perhaps because of excessive luxury. Excessive consumption. And if we all think about humankind, we need to figure about how we can change that situation.

And I personally know that there are Presidents and countries that send troops abroad to save lives, but there are also countries and Presidents that send troops abroad to take away lives. If we compare these two things and weigh these two things, certainly we're going to come to the conclusion that in this millenium, the key guideline must be to save lives.

And please don't consider me to be part of the axis of evil. [LAUGHTER]
Update: The entire Morales interview is now on YouTube, although it won't last long because it will be removed for copyright violations, as I have found out (Comedy Central does not allow reposting its shows on YouTube, but it does have it's own archives online where you can watch some past shows or segments).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Castro: a "cruel dictator"?

Not to be outdone by Lee Bollinger insulting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George Bush went to the U.N. today and insulted Fidel Castro by calling him a "cruel dictator."

I won't bother to argue to "dictator" description. If you know enough about Cuba, you know that there is a large leadership team, and a democratic system by which decisions are taken. Fidel Castro does not "dictate" what happens. However, it is obvious that he is at once a very strong personality and at the same time a brilliant political and social thinker. Clearly he has, and has had, a major influence on the course of events in Cuba, and that's probably putting it mildly. So if someone wants to call him a "dictator," ok, it's not worth arguing about, although you'd have to say it's a funny criticism coming from a man who on more than one occasion has expressed a desire to be a dictator.

No, it's the "cruel" part I have to take exception to. Before getting to Fidel, we pause to remember that the accuser (Bush) was the one who was described by conservative Tucker Carlson (i.e., not one of Bush's enemies) as having "mocked" Carla Faye Tucker as he was about to put her to death. So accusations of "cruel" coming from him, a man who signed the death warrants of 155 people, are a cruel joke.

But Fidel? A man who has devoted his life (and I mean every day of his adult life, not the days in between clearing brush on his ranch and going fishing) to bettering the lives of the people of his country? A man whose leadership has given Cubans the lowest infant mortality in Latin America, the best education in Latin America, a leadership in scientific fields (2% of the population of Latin America but 11% of the scientists) such as biotechnology, "cruel"? A man whose leadership has led his country to send doctors all over the world offering both regular and emergency medical care to poor people in need, to send doctors to help after Hurricane Katrina hit the country whose leadership wishes him dead, and even to train (for free!) medical students of that country so they can return to treat poor people who otherwise might not have adequate health care? This man is "cruel"?

Again, a cruel joke. And worse, of course. Because behind it lies the deadly policy of blockade, attempted assassination and other acts of terrorism, imprisonment of those who dared to try to prevent that terrorism, and more. You want cruel? The U.S. just denied once again (for the eighth time) visas to Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez, wives of two of the Cuban Five (an interview with Olga broadcast yesterday on WBAI here). One man serving life in prison in the United States, another 15 years, both completely unjustly, and the U.S. government led by George Bush has denied them the right to see their wives for more than nine years, in contravention of all international law and human decency.

"Cruel"? That's cruel.


Holocaust deniers by the dozens

Lots of criticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his comments on the Holocaust. The mass murder and death that has been going on in Iraq since the U.S. invaded (not to mention the millions fleeing the country)? That, you won't hear so much about. Sure, on a day by day basis, you'll hear about a car bomb killing 15 Iraqis, or whatever. But the totals? Not so much. George Bush? As far as I know December, 2005 was the only time he even deigned to offer an estimate (an absurd and unsourced "30,000") of the number of Iraqi civilian dead, and that in response to a direct question (which he didn't answer, since the questioner asked about all Iraqis, not just "civilians"). The refugees? Nothing I can find there either.

The New York Times did run an article in October, 2006 when the Lancet article appeared with its estimate of 600,000, but that was it - a one-day story. The rest of the U.S. media was pretty much the same.

In George Bush's defense, even if I call what is happening in Iraq a "holocaust," I couldn't really call him a "holocaust denier." Why? Because no one in the corporate media ever even bothers to ask him about it. No question, no denial. Although I would say he, like most war supporters, are in denial about the havoc they have caused.

Update: When I started this post, I had intended to include one other "holocaust" in it, but forget. But just now I'm listening to the "Holocaust denier" himself, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the U.N., and he reminded me (because he's talking about it) of what I left out. As he said, quoting U.N. statistics, every day 50,000 people die worldwide because of poverty - 18 million a year. A real holocaust. A preventable holocaust. A holocaust happening every year. And a holocaust which the likes of George Bush and the corporate media and all those casting stones at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad don't give a moment's thought to. Although once again, they don't really have to "deny" it, since the subject never comes up. George Bush, for example, in his address to the U.N. today, mentioned the word "poverty" three times. The only mention of people dying, however, came in a reference to "genocide" in Darfur.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Ahmadinejad: a "dictator"?

Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University today. I'll probably have more to say on his talk later, after I find a transcript, but I just wanted to make a quick comment on what seems to be the lead (and the headline on CNN): Columbia President Lee Bollinger saying, "you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

What a splendid example of the depths of ignorance about Iran. Ahmadinejad is not only the duly elected President of a country (unlike, arguably, George Bush), but if there's one thing he's not, it's a "dictator" (or a "tyrant," which is a description I heard listening to one of the cable news channels). Indeed, one of his very first acts in office, allowing women to attend football (soccer) matches, was met with strong opposition from the Ayatollahs and was quickly overturned. A dictator? Hardly.

The funny thing about this is that before the media was filled with the story lines of Iran arming Iraqi resistance forces and Iran developing nuclear weapons, the story line was all about how Ahmadinejad was politically very weak within Iran. Not exactly consistent with being a dictator. Then again, when your main aim (Bollinger) is name-calling rather than the rational discussion your university is supposed to be about, the truth (or logic) isn't really the point.

Friday, September 21, 2007


The un-selfconscious New York Times

Writing about the demonstrations in Jena yesterday, The New York Times reports:
Although the starting incident occurred about a year ago, the case has been slow to join the national conversation. After Mr. Bell’s conviction, though, the details spread quickly on the Internet, text messaging and black talk radio.
"Slow to join the national conversation" indeed, thanks to establishment media like the New York Times. I'm willing to stand corrected, but the first mention I can find of events in Jena in The New York Times was...a week ago, on Sept. 14. The Washington Post? Aug. 4. If you wanted to hear about it earlier, you would have been better served by a news organization the Times failed to mention - Democracy Now!, which first covered the story on July 10. But the very first news source of global scope (I assume it was covered in local papers which aren't on the Internet)? A British paper, the Guardian, which first reported the story on May 20. Curious, that.

The Times also reports that there were "more than 10,000" demonstrators. Yes, there were. A lot more:

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Profiles in Courage

The Senate has just voted 72-25 for an amendment condemning the ad from MoveOn.org which referred to "General Betrayus." On first glance, the "liberals" mostly voted against it (Kennedy, Boxer, etc.) while the other Democrats (e.g., Feinstein) and all the Republicans (including such supposed "good Republicans" as Collins) voted for it. Hillary Clinton voted against it, as did liberal Barbara Boxer, but Barack Obama abstained. Was he not there? No, because there's more to the story:
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, another contender for the Democratic nomination, did not vote, although he voted minutes earlier for an alternative resolution by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. That resolution condemned the MoveOn ad as an "unwarranted personal attack," but also condemned political attack ads that questioned the patriotism of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., both Vietnam veterans.
The bizarre part of this story, aside from the "profiles in courage...not" of the Democrats, is what is unsaid. Of all the institutions in this country which are untrustworthy, and deserve personal "attacks on the honor, integrity, and patriotism" (certainly the first two), it's the U.S. military. Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, Haditha, "no civilians were killed" (match that quote to a thousand different incidents) - the U.S. military has an unmatched record of lying and covering up. The idea that challenging the integrity of one of their representatives is beyond the pale is, well, beyond the pale! At least my pale.

Update: Just as a point of interest, looking at the list it appears that Sen. Russ Feingold was the single member of the Senate who took the principled stand of voting against both of these amendments. And, just after I wrote the post above, I sat down for lunch and turned on CNN, only to see a MoveOn.org ad about how George Bush has "betrayed us" because there will be the same number of troops in Iraq in 2008 as in 2006, after Americans "voted to end the war." Of course the ad placed all the blame on Bush and none on the Democrats, in typical MoveOn fashion, but their quick "counter-attack" and reuse of the "betray us" meme is to be commended.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Why translations are dangerous

When I cross-posted the item below about Iran on Daily Kos, it naturally brought forth one or more commenters raising the old bogeyman, "Ahmadinejad said he wants to wipe Israel off the map." As an object lesson of how poor translations can be, this article appeared today on the English version of Prensa Latina, about another issue I'm involved in:
Cuban anti-terrorist Fernando Gonzalez was taken from Waseca Prison in Minnesota to Terre Haute, Indiana, denounced Free the Five International Committee on Wednesday.
No, the Committee (which happens to be the National Committee, not the International Committee) did not "denounce" this information, it announced (or perhaps "pronounced") the information. You, if you're a native speaker of English, probably realized this error immediately, but to the obviously non-native speaker who did this translation, evidently the mistake was not obvious.

The point is simple. Whenever you read something that was originally written or spoken in a different language, you should be very careful before jumping to any conclusions based on the translation.


Iran's nose strikes Israel's fist

Gilbert and Sullivan's "topsy-turvydom" has nothing on the real world.

In today's news, this completely unremarkable and perfectly justifiable remark from the deputy commander of Iran's air force:

"We have drawn up a plan to strike back at Israel with our bombers if this regime (Israel) makes a silly mistake."
Defending yourself if you're attacked. What a concept! Well, you might have thought that he threatened to nuke Tel Aviv (with those non-existent Iranian nukes) from the reaction:
White House press secretary Dana Perino called Alavi's comment "unhelpful."

"It is not constructive and it almost seems provocative."
Provocative? To announce you will respond if attacked?

The Israeli reaction was even more topsy-turvy:

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, "Unfortunately we are all too accustomed to this kind of bellicose, extremist and hateful language coming from Iran."

"We take the threat very seriously and so does the international community," he added.
But don't underestimate the effect of this kind of response, even if it seems (and is) completely irrational. This morning I was listening to the well-respected (and generally fairly neutral) interviewer on local morning news, Ross McGowan, interviewing David Barsamian, the author of a new book entitled "Targeting Iran." McGowan not only repeated the usual canards about Iran (denying the Holocaust, threatening to wipe Israel off the map) but even threw in a "making threats against the United States" (which Barsamian rightly pointed out was nonsense). And the fact that someone like McGowan, definitely not a right-wing ideologue, could just casually toss off a statement like that, indicates how deeply the slanders against Iran have penetrated the American psyche.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Sept. 15 Antiwar Demonstration: The Speeches

The rally portion of the demonstration against the war in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15, organized by the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, was broadcast on C-SPAN2, but isn't archived there. I missed the original broadcast on Sunday, and only caught (and recorded) the rebroadcast on Tuesday, which I believe (not sure) may have been somewhat shorter (fewer speeches). I've broken up the video into a series of speeches which you'll find below. All are good, although if you only have time for one, start with the last one - Adam Kokesh of Iraq Veterans Against the War (the order is the order in which the speeches were given).

Brian Becker, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition National Coordinator:

Tina Richards, Grassroots America:

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard (Partnership for Civil Justice, member of the ANSWER Steering Committee) & Cindy Sheehan:

Ramsey Clark:

Ralph Nader: (click here if this one doesn't appear; it seems to be having trouble because it was a few seconds longer than 10 minutes)

Essam Omesh, President of the Muslim American Society:

Michael McPhearson, Executive Director, Veterans for Peace:

Liam Madden and Garett Reppenhegen, Iraq Veterans Against the War:

Adam Kokesh, Iraq Veterans Against the War:

Monday, September 17, 2007


The lesser of two evils

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer provides a nice lesson in the meaning of the phrase "lesser of two evils" in today's news, while discussing George Bush's nominee for Attorney General:
"For sure we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of U.S. attorneys, but he's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee."
The old "show them Attila the Hun and they'll vote for Genghis Khan every time" trick - Democrats fall for it every time.

So how good is "a lot better"? Here's some substance:

Although Mr. Mukasey backed the White House by ruling that Mr. Padilla could be held as an enemy combatant — a decision overturned on appeal — he also defied the administration by saying Mr. Padilla was entitled to legal counsel.
Wow, that is defiant. What's next? A ruling that it's ok to hood defendants, as long as you use silk cloth? Waterboarding is ok, but only if it's lemon-scented water? Let's face it, once you rule that U.S. citizens can be held indefinitely without charges as "enemy combatants," it's just one more illustration of the old joke - we know what you are, we're just deciding on the price (no offense to prostitutes, who are way more principled than Chuck Schumer, George Bush, or Judge Mukasey).

Update: Bush, announcing the nomination:

"He knows what it takes to fight this war effectively."
Is that really the role of the Attorney General?


Political Humor of the Day

It's an old bumper sticker, but you don't see it on the comics pages of your newspaper very often:

Vic Lee

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The media vs. the antiwar movement

It's an old story, but has to kept being told. The media, representing the ruling class in this country, doesn't just play a neutral role. When it comes to movements challenging authority, like the antiwar movement, they play a decidedly negative role.

Let's start with some pictures:

On top are two pictures (taken in different directions) taken from an online AP photo collection of yesterday's events in Washington, D.C. I have two friends in DC, both of whom described (as did the organizers) the crowd as a "solid 100,000," and the pictures on the top seem to reflect that kind of "sea of humanity." On the bottom is a screen capture of the C-SPAN coverage of the "Gathering of Eagles" counter-demonstration. Being charitable, and assuming that there was an equal crowd on the other side of the C-SPAN camera, there were a couple hundred people there.

And the media? My local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, picked up the Washington Post article. Before you even got to the article, though, you were greeted with two large pictures. The one on top showed a handful of counter-demonstrators with their "give victory a chance" signs, and the second one showed more counter-demonstrators being confronted by a single antiwar demonstrator with his "end the war" sign.

The article was more of the same. The first (and only!) antiwar demonstrator quoted in the article is quoted as saying "it's time for the peace movement to take the next step past protest and to resistance," which is fine, but doesn't say anything about the issue. In contrast, the description of the Gathering of Morons Eagles demonstration includes this text (not a quote, this is the reporter): "Their message: The Iraq war can and is being won, and the troops need unqualified support." That's followed by a quote from one of the counter-demonstrators - "We just want a chance to show America we don't agree with the vocal minority," with no indication in the article about the glaring inaccuracy of that word "minority."

You might think this was an aberration, but The New York Times is almost a duplicate. The very first quote we read is not from the speakers or one of the 100,000 marchers, but from one of the handful of counterdemonstrators - "What troubles me, the thing that is so dismaying, is they don’t realize the big picture." Only in the final paragraphs of the article do we hear from Brian Becker, one of the organizers of the demonstration, and two of the demonstrators.

As far as numbers, it really was the same old story. The Washington Post was "live-blogging" the demo with several reporters. The lead reporter (Marc Fisher) claims to have counted the demonstration and arrived at the seemingly preposterous (and much too precise) 6,850, but did peg the counterprotest accurately as "several hundred." Other estimates of the counterprotest I saw and heard went from "just under a thousand" to "two thousand," which, based on what I could see on C-SPAN (pictured above), was a vast overestimate.

The AP started their report by talking about "thousands of demonstrators," but later resorted to this: "Organizers estimated that nearly 100,000 people attended the rally and march. That number could not be confirmed; police did not give their own estimate. A permit for the march obtained in advance by the ANSWER Coalition had projected 10,000." This isn't the first time I've seen this kind of news reporting based on permits. What an absurd idea! If they're willing to accept ANSWER's word for things, surely their word for how many actually showed up should be a lot more accurate than their advance prediction of how many they expected to show up, especially given the multi-organizational, multi-city nature of the event. The only possible reason to mention the permit is to provide some kind of justification to report a smaller number. The Washington Post had this: "Organizers of the antiwar event said tens of thousands turned out. A law enforcement official, who declined to be identified because authorities no longer provide crowd counts, estimated the gathering at closer to 10,000; the march permit obtained in advance by ANSWER had projected that number." Of course the organizers did not say that "tens of thousands" turned out, they said "100,000" turned out. And, like the AP, the Post uses ANSWER's advance projection to justify their anonymous and scurrilous "police but not really" estimate.

I'm not mentioning the TV coverage. That's because, as far as I saw, there barely was any. Nothing new there. C-SPAN did carry it, but I only caught the last part, because the C-SPAN schedule the day before said they would be broadcasting the Gathering of Morons Eagles event (which they did), but not the antiwar demonstration (which, as it turned out, they did).

Saturday, September 15, 2007



It's been a long time since I wrote about the wall most people know about - the one Israel is building on the West Bank as both a separation barrier and a land grab. But less well known are the walls the U.S. is building in Iraq, the ones which, if "sectarian violence" is decreasing (which is doubtful), probably take more of the credit than the so-called "surge." Even less well known are the protests occurring against the wall. I found this picture while looking through AP photos about antiwar protests:

The caption reads:

An Iraqi boy flashes an anti-US slogan as US soldiers watch a protest in Baghdad on 12 September 2007. Some one hundred people held a protest against the concrete wall (background) separating Ghazaliya and Shula districts, built by US forces.(AFP/Ali Yussef)
I could find only a single story about the protest, from AFP (via the BBC):
Hundreds of Iraqis have staged a protest against the building of a dividing wall between a Shia district of Baghdad and a Sunni area.

Residents of the Shula and Ghazaliya districts waved Iraqi flags and chanted slogans rejecting both the proposed separation and the US occupation.

Carrying banners reading "No to the dividing wall" and "The wall is US terrorism", the protesters issued a statement demanding that Iraqi authorities intervene.

Hassan al-Tai, a leader of the Sunni Tai tribe, demanded the Iraqi government act against those "planting division and sectarianism amongst Iraqis".

Friday, September 14, 2007


Breaking: Justice in Jena?

Mychal Bell's only remaining conviction has just been thrown out by a Louisiana appeals court.


Glass half full

Reuters: "Iraq leaders failing to meet key goals: White House" - "the White House told Congress on Friday that Iraqi leaders had failed to meet half of their key goals..."

Washington Post - same exact news item, different headline: "White House Cites 'Satisfactory Progress' on Iraq Goals" - "The White House said today that Iraq has made "satisfactory progress" toward meeting nine of 18 political, economic and security benchmarks..."

It would be the classic glass half full, half empty situation. Except for one thing. Both stories are wrong, because the glass is actually not only completely empty, but broken.


Language lessons

A "surge," as in "storm surge," is by definition a temporary phenomenon. Anyone who ever used the term "surge" to describe the escalation of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which includes not only the Bush Administration but the vast majority of the media as well, is forbidden from using the words "withdrawal" or "reduction of force" to describe what is proposed to happen in Iraq (emphasis on "proposed" because it is no more guaranteed than any of the many other previous predictions about force reductions). I'll accept "the ebbing of the surge" or the "end of the surge."

Al Qaeda, whatever delusions they or the Bush Administration may have, is not "at war" with America, nor did they "attack America" on 9/11 nor is the U.S. fighting in Iraq to prevent them from "attacking America." They committed a terrorist attack in America; that attack was no more a threat to the United States than Hurricane Katrina (actually, it was a lot less of a threat). Even Japan, which was (and is) an actual country with an actual army and navy and air force arguably did not "attack America" in the sense of planning to occupy or seize control of Hawaii (which was a territory at the time), much less the mainland, although they obviously did attack the American military. Al Qaeda and its sympathizers are certainly hoping to commit further terrorist attacks in America or against Americans elsewhere. They are not planning to "attack America."

The other day seven American soldiers were killed in what the U.S. military and the U.S. press insist on describing as a "traffic accident." This is almost certainly not an "accident":

The U.S. command said the accident occurred in the Baghdad suburb of Shula when soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade were in an armored transport truck on their way back from a raid in which they had captured three insurgents suspected of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.

"The unit was returning to base after the raid when their vehicle apparently lost control and fell approximately 50 feet from a highway overpass," the military said in a statement.
I'm sorry, the only "accidental" reason you drive off a highway overpass is that you are drunk (not likely in this case) or that your brakes failed (even then, you'd have to be on a curving overpass). Isn't it far more likely that either the truck was driving excessively fast to escape pursuing attackers, or the driver was shot as he was driving, or the truck's steering mechanism was damaged in the firefight which probably accompanied the raid, or some similar "non-accidental" cause? Two things are absolutely certain - none of the seven would be dead had they not been sent to Iraq in the first place, and there wouldn't be any insurgents "suspected of attacks on U.S. soldiers" if there were no U.S. soldiers to attack.

Update: Forgot one - "new." In response to various reporters and anchors I've heard discussing Bush's latest speech, Bush did not present a "new plan" or a "new strategy" or "new tactics" last night - there was nothing "new" about it other than a new catch phrase ("return on success"). The so-called "surge" was arguably a new tactic, and forging alliances with former enemies in al Anbar province was arguably a new strategy. But those "new" things occurred many months ago. Last night was a continued implementation of a strategy already in progress, not anything "new."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


"Foreign special forces"?

I was just listening to Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker hold forth at the National Press Club (a location, by the way, where the questioning is scarcely more vigorous than it was before Congress). Describing the "takedown" of a car-bombing ring, Petraeus attributed the success to "foreign special forces," which he elaborated as "not American or Iraqi."

Who do you suppose he meant? (cough-Israel-cough)


Fidel Castro, terrorism, the media, and the Cuban Five

Fidel Castro's latest column, entitled "The empire and its lies," unfortunately (unfortunate from my point of view, because it hurts his generally impeccable credibility) delves into the events of 9/11, embracing the idea that a plane did not hit the Pentagon and that the Twin Towers didn't collapse because they were hit by planes. And the bulk of the news coverage which has mentioned this column has dwelt exclusively on that aspect of the column, including such patently false statements as "No passenger that perished [at the Pentagon] has turned up, either."

There is, however, a more interesting section, in which Fidel describes how Cuban security agents helped foil an assassination plot on Ronald Reagan's life:

A highly confidential report submitted in the summer of 1984 to an agent responsible for the security of Cuban representatives in the UN warned of a possible assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan by a far-right group in North Carolina. Upon receiving it, we immediately informed US authorities. Our official suggested that we deliver the information via Robert C. Muller, head of security of the US mission to the United Nations, with whom we maintained contact to ensure the protection of Cuban delegations visiting the international organization.

The assassination was planned for an imminent date, for Reagan's visit to North Carolina, as part of his re-election campaign.

We had all of the information at our disposal. We had the names of those implicated in the plot; the day, time and place where the assassination was to take place; the types of weapons the terrorists had and where they were being kept. In addition to all this, we knew where the elements who were plotting this were meeting and had a brief account of what had been said at a meeting.
Further details about how the plot was then foiled and the plotters arrested follow, which you can read in the original. Curiously, there is an AP story datelined Havana which covers this aspect of the column, but it appears in print (as far as I can see) only in the Miami Herald of all places. Another AP story, also datelined Havana, appears in such newspapers as USA Today, and only mentions the 9/11 material, and that emphasis is true throughout the media coverage. Reuters dwells on 9/11, finally mentioning the foiled Reagan assassination in two short, final paragraphs; the Guardian gives similar weight to the stories. With the exception of the Miami Herald, every single headline I've seen emphasizes the 9/11 angle. [Update: Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room" predictably also honed in on the 9/11 angle while interviewing Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon]

Coincidentally, the day that Fidel Castro has informed the world of how Cuba helped foil a terrorist plot against a hostile President of the United States is also the ninth anniversary of the arrest and incarceration of the Cuban Five, five Cuban men who likewise were in the United States gathering information about terrorist plots, in order to prevent such plots from being carried out. Unfortunately for them, the President whose life they were protecting (among other targets) was Fidel Castro, and instead of honoring them for risking their lives to prevent terrorism, the United States put them in jail where they have remained ever since.


Notes on the propaganda surge

Petraeus, Crocker, and various war supporters have all adopted the same line - things were really bad in 2006, but now they're getting better. Here's the question - was there a single one of those people who said "things were really bad in 2006"...in 2006?

Jon Stewart, who just a few nights before put on one of his typical "fawn-fests" with a military guy who co-wrote the "Counter Insurgency Manual" with Petraeus, actually nailed it last night. He first showed a clip of Petraeus saying the following (in response to being asked when troops could be reduced below 130,000): "Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous." He then followed that with a very long clip of Petraeus doing precisely that, asserting exactly what would happen following a "rapid withdrawal" - "disintegration of Iraqi security forces, rapid deterioration of local security initiatives, al Qaeda, etc., etc."


He-said, they-said reporting

I just heard the following news item on CNN (quoting from memory): "President Bush is soon to announce a 30,000 troop reduction for next spring. Democrats say this is just the reversal of the troop buildup."

While it is true that "Democrats" may say that, it also happens to be the truth (and a rather obvious one as well). Does it really have to be attributed to "Democrats"?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Reality vs. Gen. Petraeus

I'll be the first to admit that anecdotal evidence can be used to "prove" a lot of things. Nevertheless, it's interesting that the BBC chooses to run this story on the day Gen. Petraeus is testifying to Congress, under the headline "Iraqis untouched by US surge."
"I haven't left my home in two months," says Kulsoom, a medical student who lives in east Baghdad with her family.

Only a few family members ever go out, for daily essentials. Otherwise they stay at home, day after day.

But they would agree with Gen Petraeus that there has been a drop in violence since the American troop surge.

"There are fewer attacks," says Kulsoom. "Now it is only four or five killed a day in our area. It used to be 20 or 30."

"But we are still afraid. Nothing has really changed."
And this is someone who describes herself as "the optimistic one in my family."

More from the article:

"We only get two hours of electricity a day," says Kulsoom. "One in the morning, one in the evening."

The Americans send out constant press releases to journalists talking of new projects to improve the power system. But the situation is as bad as ever.

Even this lower level of violence is still shockingly high. Iraqis still get kidnapped every day.

Gen Petraeus told Congress that the number of car bombs was down by half from the start of the year. But they are still running at a rate of three a day.

Kulsoom says 60 or 70 of her classmates have left [the country] in the past 18 months, many of her professors too.


Quote of the day

"A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

- Comedian Kathy Griffin, accepting an Emmy award


The Petraeus report hearings

What I've discovered in the last two days is that there's a limit to the amount of pontificating and positioning that one person can stand listening to, so I have no intention of delivering any kind of long analysis. One thing I just heard, however, speaks volumes about Gen. Petraeus' credibility, moreso than any arguments over statistics about the number of "sectarian" killings in Iraq.

Ultra-right wing Senator James Inhofe wanted to make the point that Iraq was connected to "terrorism," if not to the 9-11 hijackers per se, by talking about numerous "terrorist training facilities" that existed in Iraq, including Salman Pak "where they trained terrorists to hijack airplanes." Unfortunately for Sen. Inhofe's point, that allegation has been completely discredited by the CIA, the DIA, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

And Gen. Petraeus' response? Not a word. He was happy to let Inhofe's lie sit on the table, unchallenged.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Israeli neo-Nazis

The story of a group of Israeli neo-Nazis has hit the news and presumably shocked the world. But it shouldn't be that shocking; there are right-wing thugs everywhere.

What caught my eye were two aspect of the story. One is the description of the group as "racist and anti-Semitic." Got to get that "anti-Semitic" in there. But who were the targets of the group? "Religious Jews [Ed. note: by which they mean the ultra-conservative, orthodox Jews who don't even serve in the Israeli military, not Jews who attend synagogue on Friday night], foreign workers from Asia, drug addicts, the homeless and gays." The standard targets of right-wing thugs everywhere - immigrants, the poor, the weak. The fact is, these thugs are only one step removed from their more respectable counterparts, the kind who populate the podium at a Republican Presidential primary debate, or who spread their message of hate via countless media outlets.

The other interesting aspect was this:

All eight had loose connections to Jewish heritage. They did not identify themselves as Jews and their families had come to Israel to escape hardships in the former Soviet Union, police said.

Under the Israeli "law of return," a person can claim automatic citizenship if a parent or grandparent has Jewish roots. Authorities say that formula allowed many Soviets with questionable ties to Judaism to immigrate here after the Soviet Union disintegrated.
Not Jewish? Questionable ties to Judaism? Maybe your grandparent had "Jewish roots"? No problem, come on in. But the international law of return, the right of return, which belongs to the millions of Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) evicted from their land by Israeli aggression, is treated as laughable by "civilized society." Although it is the only just solution to the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict," it's chance of being implemented barring a worldwide revolution is as close to zero as possible.

But let non-Jewish skinheads from Russia come live in Israel? No problem, as long as they'll take the jobs that Palestinians used to do. Indeed, continuing the ethnic cleansing of Israel by eliminating all contact with Palestinians was precisely why Russian immigrants were encouraged to immigrate to Israel.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Strange quote of the day

"This is a man on a run, from a cave, who's virtually impotent other than these tapes."

- George Bush's "homeland security" adviser Fran Townsend, referring to Osama bin Laden
This is the adviser to the man who said just yesterday:
"If al Qaeda bothers to mention Iraq it's because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive us out and to develop a safe haven. And the reason they want a safe haven is to launch attacks against America, or any other ally."
So the U.S. is occupying Iraq and on its way to spending well over a trillion dollars, not to mention destroying civil liberties in America and causing Americans to live in a permanent state of fear, to prevent an organization led by someone who is "virtually impotent" from launching attacks on America.

Get your story straight, guys.


Quote of the day

"It is a moral disgrace. He is not a person of intellectual merit; he is not an academic. As a policy-maker, his only claim to fame was, at best, flawed and morally corrupt. On the grounds of intellectual judgment and moral character, he would seem to be a markedly inappropriate choice. This should be treated as a collective embarrassment."

- Stanford Professor of American history Bart Bernstein, reacting to the news that Donald Rumsfeld has been appointed a visiting fellow at Stanford's ultra-right-wing Hoover Institute, where he will participate in a task force of scholars and experts studying "post-Sept. 11 ideology and terror."
Well, you can't say Rumsfeld isn't an expert in terror. Or post-Sept. 11 ideology for that matter. It's just that what the Hoover Institute task force means by those terms, and what I have in mind, are rather different things.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


"Shoot first, ask questions later": America in Iraq

An article about an ongoing in the Haditha massacre case wants us to believe this:
Does a U.S. Marine serving in Iraq have the right to shoot first and ask questions later if hostile forces could be nearby?

The question is at the heart of the case against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 27, the U.S. Marine accused of leading a November 19, 2005, massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha.

Witnesses who were on patrol with Wuterich in Iraq have testified that he told them to "shoot first and ask questions later" as they followed up the killing of a popular Marine in their unit.

"This is not what we do," Wuterich's former commanding officer, Capt. Alfonso Capers, testified on Wednesday when asked about the "shoot first" remark attributed to Wuterich that day. "It says everybody is expendable."
Of course the "ask questions later" part is a complete joke. If only. As for the "this is not what we do" part, that's an even bigger joke, as the latest American massacre in Iraq demonstrates:
U.S. airstrikes on a Shi'ite neighborhood in Baghdad overnight killed at least 14 people including one woman and destroyed 11 houses, Iraqi police and residents said on Thursday.

The U.S. military said U.S. special forces called in the strikes after coming under fire from gunmen on rooftops during an operation against Shi'ite militants suspected of killing local police and Sunni Arabs.

Two police sources said 14 people were killed and nine wounded in the air attack on Washash, a poor Shi'ite neighborhood in western Baghdad's Mansour district. They said the operation took place in the early hours.

Reuters television footage showed at least 11 buildings caved in or leveled in three adjoining streets in the densely packed neighborhood.
You really don't have to "ask questions" to know that if you drop bombs on a densely packed neighborhood in the middle of the night when people are home sleeping, that you are going to kill civilians.

As for the presence of "gunmen on rooftops" firing on the U.S. special forces, they may or may not have even been "Shi'ite militants" who may or may not have killed local police and Sunni Arabs. As the article notes, "Many residents were sleeping on the roofs of their houses at the time, trying to keep cool in the oppressive summer heat." If armed people suddenly showed up on the street in the middle of the night, it would be perfectly understandable for residents to start firing warning shots (or real shots) in defense against a preseumed attack from unknown assailants (unknown because the residents aren't equipped with night-vision goggles).

I've said it before and I'll say it again - when the U.S. is still dropping bombs on the capital city of a country, then A) the U.S. is not in control; B) any talk of "Iraqi sovereignty" is a joke; and C) the Iraqi military, without attack helicopters and warplanes, is never going to "take over" the role of the U.S. military (which is a good thing).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


It's capitalism or a habitable planet - you can't have both

From the Guardian (with a hat tip to Lenin's Tomb):
There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. A cap on this and a quota on the other won't do it. Tinker at the edges as we may, we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system.

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature.

In reality, power concentrates around wealth. Private ownership of trade and industry means that the decisive political force in the world is private power. The corporation will outflank every puny law and regulation that seeks to constrain its profitability. It therefore stands in the way of the functioning democracy needed to tackle climate change. Only by breaking up corporate power and bringing it under social control will we be able to overcome the global environmental crisis.


The latest Iraqi refugee

...is someone you probably know.


The German terrorist plot

Don't get me wrong - there are terrorists, and the people just arrested in Germany quite likely are the real thing, with real murder of innocent civilians in mind. But that doesn't justify false reporting and hyping, starting with this incredibly misleading headline: "Germany foils 'massive' attack on US citizens."

First of all, the headline implies at attack was practically in progress. The facts (as I'll come to in a minute) are hardly that. And the alleged targets were Frankfurt airport, hardly a place where an attack would be focussed on "U.S. citizens," and the US military base in Ramstein, which seems highly unlikely to be penetrated by people using a suicide car bomb.

But about those targets? German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung asserted that the threat had been "imminent". But the same article informs us that Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning told journalists that "there were no concrete targets," without which it seems rather unlikely that any attack was "imminent." And that business about Frankfurt airport? That's pure speculation by the German police, according to Hanning.

Unlike other recent terrorist scares, this group actually had amassed explosives, and was clearly hoping to do something, somewhere. But a "massive," "imminent" attack on "US citizens"? Hardly.

Update: An AP article sheds further light on that "imminent" attack:

As a token of the intense surveillance by German police, prosecutors said that during the investigation they were able to replace the dangerous peroxide in the containers with a harmless solution without the knowledge of the suspects.
So that "attack" was not only not imminent, it would also have been a complete dud.


New York Times vs. New York Times

The New York Times editorializes today for some vague, unspecified withdrawal ("Congress needs to insist on a prudent formula that will withdraw American forces and limit the hemorrhaging."), which is a good thing (or would be, if that "prudent formula" actually involved cutting funds, and not some timetable with enough caveats to be ignorable by Bush), but seems to have problems with its own news coverage.

Today, in an editorial: "Mr. Bush pumped up his headlines by suggesting continued gains in security could allow for a reduction in troops."

Yesterday's news article headline: "Bush, in Iraq, Says Troop Reduction Is Possible"

Today's editorial: "But this is a cruel tease and a pathetic attempt to repackage old promises. Mr. Bush has been dangling that same as-soon-as-possible drawdown for years. The Pentagon had a plan to do just that in 2004."

Yesterday's news article: not a word noting the same thing, which is fact, not opinion.

Today's editorial: "Bush’s eight-hour stopover in Iraq on Sunday won him major play in the news media, including photos of smiling American military forces with their commander in chief."

Photo accompanying yesterday's news article (at least online):

Today's editorial: "We suppose Mr. Bush could claim one success for his visit: he did manage to get Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to visit the Sunni-dominated province."

Left I on the News: No, Times editorial writers, Bush's "success" was in getting ruling class mouthpieces like your paper to print and broadcast exactly what he wanted them to, up to and including the picture of him with smiling American military forces, today's editorial notwithstanding.


The coming troops cuts in Iraq

Following on yesterday's misleading stories about George Bush talking troops cuts in Iraq, today Reuters can't even read it's [Ed. note: that should be "its," but I'm leaving it as is as a way of punishing myself and hopefully precluding future occurrences] own article properly. The article starts with this "information":
The U.S. military commander in Iraq has suggested he will recommend a cut in U.S. troop numbers around March when he delivers long-awaited testimony to Congress next week.

General David Petraeus' comments are the latest sign that U.S. commanders believe President George W. Bush's decision to send an extra 30,000 soldiers to Iraq earlier this year has improved security enough to warrant a reduction in force levels.
Got that? Petraeus will likely recommend a reduction in force because "improved security" warrants it.

But just three paragraphs later, we read an actual quote from Petraeus:

"The surge will run its course. There are limits to what our military can provide, so, my recommendations have to be informed by -- not driven by -- but they have to be informed by the strain we have put on our military services," Petraeus said.

"That has to be a key factor in what I will recommend," he told ABC News in Baghdad in an interview broadcast late on Tuesday.
So in reality, the reduction in force has nothing to do with "improved security" and everything to do with the "strain" on the military, the "key factor" according to Petraeus himself.

And, while Reuters doesn't have a long enough memory to remember it, this post from Daily Kos reminds us Defense [sic] Secretary Gates said last April that the "surge" could only last until next spring because of limitations on troop availability. So the anticipated coming (six months from now!) "reduction" (back to the "pre-surge" levels) was anticipated from the start.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The state of the world

Australia has 1,500 troops in Iraq, but needs 5,000 police and troops to protect George Bush...from Australians. Even that's not enough. Evidently he needs the "law" as well:
Police launched a court battle Tuesday against a planned protest by up to 20,000 people, organized by the Stop Bush Coalition, saying it posed a serious threat in a city under an unprecedented security crackdown.
"Serious threat" of what? Letting public sentiment be on display, and possibly even glimpsed for 15 seconds on the evening news?


Iraqis (heart) Americans

"I jeopardized my life every day to get low-fat yoghurt for Americans."

- Ihab Rifaat, a supply manager for USAID in Baghdad who has had to flee Iraq after repeated death threats from militants
Another comment from Rifaat sheds even more light on the role of the U.S. in Iraq:
"I can never go back to Iraq. It's like I have a tattoo on me that says, 'Worked for U.S.'"
Two other stories in the news also tell us a little more about the relationship of Americans and Iraqis. This one reports on documents released as part of an ACLU lawsuit:
New documents released Tuesday regarding crimes committed by U.S. soldiers against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a troubling pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions.

They show repeated examples of soldiers believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens.
Sure, how could that not be within the law? After all, they're the American occupiers; the locals are...not.

And last but not least, the the Marine awaiting court-martial for killing a fellow sentry, an Iraqi soldier. The Marine, who murdered the Iraqi with his bayonet (10 wounds), claims "self-defense" because "he thought the Iraqi, who was wearing a ski mask, smoking and talking on a cellphone, may have been signaling to an insurgent sniper." Wouldn't the best self-defense be to duck? Or use your rifle butt to knock the cell phone and cigarette out of the Iraqi soldier's hands? The truth, almost certainly, is that this soldier, who had seen three of his fellow Marines killed a few days earlier, was just seething with anger against Iraqis, and took his anger out on the nearest target.

An interesting aspect of this case is this: "Holmes told the Iraqi to put down his cigarette and cellphone and that when he refused, a fight broke out." But Holmes didn't speak Arabic and the Iraqi didn't speak English, another fact which speaks volumes about the relationship of Americans and Iraqis in Iraq.

I'm sure I don't need to mention that all indications are that this court-martial will go nowhere, and lead at best (and probably not even that) to the dismissal of the Marine from the corps. It's probably just as likely he'll get a medal.

Monday, September 03, 2007


Withdrawal! Not.

Network after network, news outlet after news outlet all seem to have adapted the same ludicrous lead to George Bush's trip to Iraq, as in this one from AP:
President Bush raised the possibility Monday of U.S. troop cuts in Iraq if security continues to improve.
"Raised" the possibility? This hypothetical has been U.S. policy since the day of the invasion! Doesn't anyone remember "as Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down"? I'm pretty sure 98% of my readers do, but it certainly appears there isn't a single reporter for the corporate media who does, based on my viewing and reading today.

Not to mention not understanding the concept of the hypothetical. Bush saying he'll withdraw troops "if security continues [sic] to improve" hardly justifies a headline reading, "Bush sees possible troop cuts in Iraq"; a headline reading "Bush sees possible indefinite occupation at current or higher troop levels" would be just as accurate.


Bush's "surprise" visit to Iraq

A real "surprise" would be if Bush were to make a pre-announced visit to Iraq. Or if he were to acknowledge that the need to make "surprise" visits to Iraq rather belies his claims of progress.

CNN's reporter just informed viewers that Bush landed in Iraq in broad daylight and touted that as a sign of progress. But just moments before, she had noted that the airbase Bush landed in has a 10-mile perimeter secured by 10,000 troops, so Bush would hardly have been in danger even if advance notice of his visit had been published in the Baghdad Times. But CNN needed to do its part to help out; I wouldn't be surprised if the bit about the broad daylight landing was a "talking point" distributed by the White House press office.

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