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Friday, November 30, 2007


Olbermann vs. Chavez

A couple weeks ago, the generally agreeable and insightful (if hardly revolutionary) Keith Olbermann had this to say about Hugo Chavez in his "Worst Persons in the World" segment:
"The runner-up, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the non-stop coffee drinker who supposedly could go through his eight-hour TV talk show without a bathroom break. Please erase that image now. At the OPEC summit in Saudi Arabia, ending a TV interview there by saying, quote—this is translated—"Look, I have to go. For a while now I've needed to go to the bathroom. And I‘m going to pee. Do you want me to pee on you," unquote.

"Gosh, President Chavez, maybe you should have asked that before you started doing that to your own country‘s laws and citizens."
Huh? The quote itself, if true, could be evidence of nothing more than someone with a bad sense of humor, or it could imply something else (depending very much on who he was talking to). But the actual point is just ludicrous - Chavez has been "pissing on his country's laws and citizens"? How exactly has he been doing that? By distributing oil revenues to the citizens in the form of health care and other social benefits, or having them vote (what a concept!) on changes in the laws?

Tonight it got even more bizarre. Mitt Romney, who, like all the Republican candidates, has made clear his vehement opposition to illegal immigration, apparently said yesterday to the Tampa Tribune that of course this didn't apply to Cubans, where "the more the merrier." Analyzing this, Olbermann stammered out this (transcript mine; it won't be online until tomorrow):

"We sort of lump Venezuela and Cuba together in terms of dictatorships, and yet I guess Venezuelans...would apply [to immigrate, I guess?]...I don't know...it's...um...either I'm too complicated for it or it's too complicated for me."
What a revealing quote. First, there's the absurd bit about dictatorships. You all know how I feel about Cuba, but let's grant that it's conventional "wisdom" (or wis-dumb) that Cuba is a dictatorship. But, considering that Chavez has been repeatedly elected, how exactly he would qualify as a dictator is beyond me. And the rest of the quote actually illustrates that. Olbermann wanted to get out something negative about Chavez, but since what he had to say was complete nonsense, and he couldn't actually back it up with any actual facts or arguments, he got into stammering, and then spitting out the line about how it was all too complicated for his poor little brain.

No, Keith, it's not complicated. What is complicated, or hard to understand, is how someone with as much insight into the hypocrisy and lies of the establishment as yourself could fall right in step with their characterization of events in Venezuela.


Palestinian prisoner release update

Those Palestinian prisoners who, back on Nov. 19, Israel vowed would be released "ahead of" the recent summit? You'll remember that Israel immediately reneged on some of them. The rest? Still in jail.


Capitalism in a nutshell salt shaker

In today's news, public health advocates are calling for stricter regulation of salt content in food, while the food industry argues against it. Whether this particular call for regulation is correct or not isn't the issue; let's just assume it is, and understand what that tells us about the nature of capitalism and democracy. On the one hand, the interests of the vast majority of the people of the country. On the other, the financial interests of corporations. We're told that excessive salt consumption may be responsible for 100,000 deaths a year, along with increased health care costs. But that's not the food industry's problem, it's society's problem. The food industry has no interest in decreasing its profits in order to decrease society's health care costs. And even if the industry had enlightened executives who did care, under the corporate-influenced legal system we have in place, they couldn't do anything about it, because they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profits, so if they were to fail to argue against regulations which might decrease those profits, they would be opening themselves up to a class-action lawsuit by their shareholders.

Under socialism, the only relevant discussion would be that of the scientists, public health personnel, and so on. There could be a financial component to the discussion, but it would be about the financial impact on the entire society, taking all considerations into account - the production and sale of food and the health and health care costs of the food's consumers. And a rational decision can be made, as opposed to a decision made by those with the most money buying off politicians or running ads to scare the public.

Socialism is the only system where real democracy is possible.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Now that's how to fight a "war on terror"

The news from Pakistan - "President" Musharraf has promised to lift the state of emergency on Dec. 16. And why?
He said the emergency could be lifted because of successes against Islamic militants -- "the terrorists' back has been broken" -- and with a democratic transition to elections underway.

"The overall situation has improved considerably, the democratic system is functioning according to the programme, and terrorism has been controlled to a great extent," he added, speaking solemnly against a blue backdrop.
The state of emergency began on November 3, and in less than one month "terrorism has been controlled to a great extent" and "the terrorists' back has been broken." Wow! Musharraf, Musharraf, he's our man, if he can't do it, nobody can!

Incidentally, does anyone else wonder why, considering this remarkable success, the state of emergency can't be lifted today, instead of 18 days in the future?


Under-reported overflights

Press TV (and absolutely no one else, what a surprise) reports that the Israelis are at it again, violating Lebanese sovereignty:
The United Nations has denounced Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, calling on the regime to respect Lebanon's sovereignty.

"We have noticed intensive Israeli over flights over the last few days and we have urged that they be stopped immediately,” said Yasmina Bouziane, spokesperson for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Thursday.

She added that the Israeli over flights 'not only constitute a violation of Lebanese sovereignty, but also of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.'
On the other side of the ocean, there's a more interesting situation developing. I wrote two weeks ago, after a visit to Canada, that
The U.S. now "insists" (and Canada is happy to cooperate) that it receive passenger lists for all flights crossing its territory, i.e., for flights from Canada to Cuba.
Well, apparently that part about Canada being happy to cooperate wasn't completely true:
Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon has asked U.S. Homeland Security to exempt all Canadian airlines flying over U.S. territory from onerous new security rules.

The proposed U.S. Secure Flight Program would require airlines flying over U.S. territory to provide American authorities with passenger lists.

In an official submission to U.S. regulators, Cannon urges the Americans to weigh the threat posed by Canadian overflights that do not land at U.S. airports against the privacy and individual rights of passengers.
Of course, being Canadians, they asked ever so politely, and are rather unlikely to do anything about it should the U.S. refuse their request.


Republican debate and the (two) trillion-dollar question

I forced myself to watch the Republican "debate" last night ("debate" in quotes because apart from false, forced distinctions, there were and are few if any real differences between the candidates, and nothing that remotely qualified as a "debate"). The most obvious thing to say about it, which I haven't heard or read anyone (in the corporate media) say, is how phony the whole "YouTube" concept was. Sure, "real people" got to ask questions, but they were no more in control of the evening than were the people at Hillary Clinton events asking planted questions. It certainly wasn't YouTubers who decided that the first four questions (Transcript Part 1 and 2) would be on illegal immigration, or that we'd have multiple other questions on gun control and abortion and virtually nothing on Iraq (where the two questions were the somewhat bizarre - mostly for the answers - "how can the U.S. repair its image with Muslims" and "who will pledge to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq?" - are those really the questions most Americans are asking?)

But of all the things that struck me, and there were plenty (and I refer you to WIIIAI for the quick summary), the biggest was the two (plus) trillion-dollar question - the (conservatively) projected cost of the war in Iraq. There were multiple questions about the federal deficit, government spending, taxes, and such. In all the questions, and all the answers, only Ron Paul (with a claim that "our foreign policy is costing us a trillion dollars", which I'm not sure was his reasonably accurate citing of the entire defense [sic] budget for just one year, or an understatement of the total projected cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) noted the largest part of the problem. John McCain was on, as he often is, about spending "$3 million to study the DNA of bears" and later on about "$1 million for a Woodstock museum" but that fact that the so-called "war on terror" is costing not a thousand times (that would be 3 billion) but a million times more ($3 trillion by my estimate) didn't enter his brain. Asked (by random YouTuber Grover Norquist) if they would sign a pledge not to raise taxes, most would, but Duncan Hunter of all people said he wouldn't actually pledge to do so because "you could have an emergency, a time of war, and I think it would be wrong [to pledge not to raise taxes]." Um, Duncan, have you noticed that this is a time of war, a war costing trillions of dollars and running up the federal deficit like it's nobody's business? If not now, when exactly?

When asked where we're going to get the trillions of dollars needed to repair crumbling infrastructure in the U.S., the answers were bizarre. Giuliani talked about "long-term investment" but then immediately asserted that "Most of the time when we're spending money, as Senator Thompson said, we're spending the next generation's money and we shouldn't be doing that. Fiscal conservatism is about preventing that." Which may sound fine, but it's hardly going to get infrastructure rebuilt. Ron Paul, who did mention the war ("We as Americans are taxed to blow up the bridges overseas. We're taxed to go over and rebuild the bridges overseas while our bridges are falling down in this country.") then got just as bizarre as Giuliani - "We just need to take care of ourselves and get the government out of our lives and off our back and out of our wallets." So...what, exactly? Each of us should build our own bridges? Should the government be building bridges and other infrastructure or not, Congressman?

I've just scratched the surface on this one issue. But, with the exception of the otherwise deplorable Ron Paul, the complete and utter disconnect between deficit, taxes, failing infrastructure, and the spending on war, was simply astonishing. And, with the "YouTubers ask the questions, no reporter actually asks a follow-up or tries to pin down such logical inconsistencies" format (not that the real reporters do such a great job), no way to actually force someone to answer such a question. Of course, it's quite likely that someone did ask such a question ("How can you oppose raising taxes when we're spending trillions on the war and running up the deficit, and how can you claim that cutting a few million dollars here or there has anything to do with reducing the deficit in the face of the war spending"), but with CNN and not YouTubers in control, that question ended up on the cutting room floor, no doubt discarded (as I read they were) as a "Democratic 'gotcha' question."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Palestine: numbers tell a tale

I wrote recently about Palestinian prisoners promised to be released by Israel (actually the promise was that they would be released before the Annapolis meeting, but I can find no evidence that actually has happened). Anyway, today on Democracy Now, Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti provides some interesting statistics which provide perspective on that situation:
Well, that’s another joke or a misleading statement, because Israel is going to release 432 prisoners. Half of them have finished already half of their term. One-third have already finished two-thirds of their terms. But the most important thing is that during the same period of time, Israel has arrested 1,650 new prisoners. Since January, up ’til now, Israel released 900 prisoners, with -- including the 432 they will release this week. But during the same period of time, Israel has arrested 3,750 new Palestinian prisoners. So the total number of prisoners is increasing. And we are having now 11,500 prisoners in Israeli jails. Most of them are political prisoners, including ninety women, including 350 children that are kept in jail, including many leaders, including forty-six members of our Palestinian parliament.

And nobody is protesting against that. I mean, I feel very -- it’s really interesting when people speak about democracy, but at the same time not a single word is said about Israel arresting one-third of the members of the Palestinian parliament.
And he provides more statistics which are of interest:
Israel maintains 562 military checkpoints. They didn’t remove a single one of them. There are also 610 flying checkpoints that make the people's life miserable. It doesn’t allow freedom of movement. It prevents freedom of economy. It prevents people’s accessibility to health and education.

On average, a Palestinian is allowed to use no more than fifty cubic meters of water per year, while an Israeli illegal colonialist can use up to 2,400. We have to pay double the price for water and electricity. And we pay for our own water, which Israel controls. Out of 936 million cubic meters of water in the West Bank, Israel takes away 800 million.
I guess I missed when this subject got mentioned in Annapolis.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The right wing "debates" in Venezuela

This is an AP photo out today, a rather dramatic one I'd say, quite newsworthy. The AP caption reads: "An opponent [Ed. note: actually it appears like multiple opponents] to President Hugo Chavez, left, uses an iron stick to hit a Chavez supporter during a rally against the reforms to the nation's constitution proposed by the president in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007." Let's see how many newspapers run with this photo tomorrow, shall we?


What's the rush?

Israel, Palestinians vow to seek peace deal by late 2008
And, just to emphasize how very seriously George Bush takes all this:
At the [Monday night] dinner, with its menu of red and yellow beet salad and sea bass carefully selected to meet kosher and Muslim dietary guidelines, host Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, sat between Olmert and Abbas. Bush stopped by briefly to share a toast with the participants.
Well, wasn't that...special!


Political Humor of the Day

Hillary Clinton had a fundraiser the other day in San Francisco. Where was it held? A few doors down from the ANSWER office! Naturally it was greeted appropriately.

That was the humor part. The fundraiser itself wasn't so funny. Here's the group who was raising funds for her - the National Defense Industrial [note: not "Industry"] Association. "Strength through industry and technology" is their motto. Their magazine features such heart-warming articles as "Gun-Toting Ground Robots See Action in Iraqi Streets" and "Border Protection Agency Outlines New Plans for Unmanned Aircraft" and similar examples of "defense." Lest you have the slightest illusion about Hillary Clinton (I'm sure you didn't).


Jeppesen Airplanes in the U.K.

An update on yesterday's article - in today's news, we learn that Jeppesen has a U.K. office in Crawley, West Sussex, a few miles from Gatwick airport, from where they have been instrumental in arranging logistical support for dozens of torture flights. U.K. activists - you know what to do!

Of course the legal action has run into the usual Catch-22:

However, the US government is asking a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit because "to proceed would risk the disclosure of highly classified information" about the agency's methods.

According to Washington's arguments, that information would include "whether any private entities or other countries assisted the CIA", as well as the locations of any secret prisons and "the methods of interrogation employed".
What a splendid idea! You're a government wishing to do illegal, immoral things? Just declare all information about what you're doing "highly classified," so you can never be held to account for them. If only the Nazis had declared the gas chambers "highly classified," or Saddam had declared the Anfal campaign "highly classified," they never would have had to even stand trial, much less been hanged! Brilliant!


The right of return

With the Annapolis conference underway, articles in the corporate media (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post) make the briefest of references to the "right of return" as a "sticking point," but omit any historical context which might help a reader understand what was really behind this issue. Richard Becker at PSLweb makes up for the deficiency in an important article.

Here's one thing I learned, which isn't specifically on the question of the right of return, but on the point of the U.N. partition itself. It's a point whose significance won't be lost on those who have observed more recent attempts by the U.S. to bully and bribe the U.N. to do its bidding, be it on the subject of the invasion of Iraq (where they actually failed to bully and bribe sufficient votes) or sanctions against Iran (where they succeeded):

The two-thirds majority required to pass Resolution 181 [the partition resolution] was only achieved through intense U.S. pressure. The vote ended up 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions. The Truman administration leaned heavily on its neocolonies and client states, particularly the Philippines, Liberia, Haiti and Thailand, all of which initially opposed the resolution.

Without those four votes, the resolution would have failed. For narrow and short-term interests, the Soviet Union voted for the resolution. This represented a betrayal of the Arab anti-colonial struggle and one that did great harm to the socialist cause in the region. Later, the Soviet Union would become a major ally of the Arab national liberation movement.
As an aside, this kind of thing is just one of several reasons why the U.S. government is so adamantly opposed, to the point of blockades and invasions, to countries with independent foreign policies, be they socialist countries like Cuba, semi-socialist countries like Iraq under Saddam, or capitalist countries like Iran (and many others). Because having countries, however "insignificant" on the scale of world power, speaking out (or even - gasp - voting!) against U.S. actions is one of those "inconvenient" things that can't be tolerated.

Monday, November 26, 2007



The substance of what is happening tomorrow in Annapolis is hardly worth commenting on. And the form? The first thing the United States has done to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in George Bush's entire time in office, diplomats from 40 different countries are coming, and how long is the "conference"? A whopping one day long, less breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bathroom breaks. Have you ever been to a meeting of 40 people? It will be over by the time each one has introduced themselves! What a joke. Couldn't they even pretend to do something serious?

OK, just one word on substance. The actual news from the region right now is that Israel is preparing to escalate its genocidal assault on the Palestinian people of Gaza by cutting off electricity. And in all the coverage of tomorrow's meeting I've read and heard, I haven't read or heard a single word about that reality. Will it come up tomorrow? We'll see, but I seriously doubt it.


Jeppesen Airplanes

A "local" issue I've never written about, which is really a national issue, is the efforts of local activists in the San Jose area to stop the activities of a company called Jeppesen Dataplan. Jeppesen is one small but important cog in the U.S. torture machine, a company which has arranged flight schedules for the CIA's torture flights (in the news again today as it turns out). Local activists were instrumental in getting the ACLU to sue Jeppesen, are working to get the city of San Jose on record against their activities, and lots more.

This YouTube video describes the suit and the Jeppensen situation very nicely:

And this video, featuring the director of the Peninsula Peace & Justice Center Paul George (from whom the title of this post is stolen), describes just the latest action against Jeppesen, a "Moratorium" (3rd Friday of the month) activity, which drew a hundred people (including me) to downtown San Jose at lunchtime on Friday, Nov. 16.


"Progress" in Iraq - less than meets the eye, and more than meets the eye

It was just four months ago that news reports told us that 50,000 Iraqis were fleeing the country each month (two million all told). Not exactly a sign that Iraqis were happy with the status of their country. Then all of a sudden in the last few days we've been treated to articles and TV scenes of Iraqis returning to Iraq - 50,000 a month in October, an exact reversal of the situation just three months previous! Remarkable.

Also remarkable in its own way is an article from the New York Times which sheds light on that number. First, we learn that "the count covered all Iraqis crossing the border, not just returnees." We also learn that, after an "initial rush," the numbers have declined substantially, so that the amount of time it would take for two million people to return, which was already going to be 40 months (more than three years) if the 50,000/month rate held up, will be a lot longer.

But the most important thing we learn is why people are returning - "46 percent were leaving because they could not afford to stay; 25 percent said they fell victim to a stricter Syrian visa policy; and only 14 percent said they were returning because they had heard about improved security." Furthermore, the Iraqi government is paying people to return. And last but not least, people are still leaving at the same time that others are returning: "28,017 were internally displaced in October, according to the latest United Nations figures. In all, the United Nations estimates that 2.4 million Iraqis are still internally displaced." No figures on the number actually leaving the country, but with 28,017 (how on earth do they get such exact figures?) internally displaced in that one month, it's rather hard to believe that either some of those, or some others, didn't leave the country entirely.

Actually the real "progress" in Iraq - progress for the American ruling class - is getting closer, as this article reveals:

Iraq's government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.

The Americans appeared generally favorable subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments, according to the Iraqi officials involved in the discussions.

Preferential treatment for U.S. investors could provide a huge windfall if Iraq can achieve enough stability to exploit its vast oil resources.

The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.
As I've been noting for several years now - there are still 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, nearly 60 years after the "end" to that war "conflict."

Saturday, November 24, 2007


"Success" in Iraq?

I wrote the other day about the statistics showing attacks are down in Iraq and the concomitant trumpeting of "success" in Iraq. The graph at right, taken from Iraq Body Count (cue hisses and boos) provides a historic perspective on that - attacks almost certainly are down from their high point in 2006, but are still comparable to the three-year period from 2003-2005.

However...it is important not to draw the wrong conclusion. Sufficient imprisonment of enemies, application of brute force, building of walls, checkpoints, and so on, can certainly reduce or even eliminate the ability of the oppressed to act in response - just ask the Palestinians if you don't believe this. This doesn't mean the oppressed, or the occupied, will ever stop resisting their occupation, or become resigned to it, but it certainly is possible, as I said, to reduce their ability to respond in a concrete fashion to a minimal level.

But...and here's the point of this post...even if all violence were to stop in Iraq tomorrow, it is absolutely impossible to ever achieve "success" in Iraq. One million people (or, if you don't like that number, take the number 80,000 - it really makes no difference to the argument) are dead thanks to the invasion, millions more have suffered the pain and humiliation of exile. The lives of those dead people, and the life stolen from the living, can never be retrieved.

Depending on what happens in the future in Iraq, Iraq may be a gigantic tragedy or only an immense one. But it can never be a "success." Never.


More thoughts on SiCKO

Last night I watched the 80 minutes (!) of the very worthwhile set of "extras" that come on the SiCKO DVD, parts of which you can watch online if you only saw the movie in the theater. Watching them, and thinking more about the movie, I got more and more incensed at the absurd "critique" of the movie such as the Sanjay Gupta nonsense linked below. Quibbling over some obscure statistic in the film about how much Cuba spends on healthcare, or arguing over whether the healthcare systems of Canada, England, and France are perfection on earth, is so beside the point of this movie.

The central point of this movie isn't the excellence of other health care systems, it's the complete and utter immorality (and lunacy) of the American health care system. An estimated 18,000 people (some of them with insurance) die every year in the United States because they couldn't afford health care. That's a "9-11" every two months! We actually meet some of these people while they're alive, and now they're dead, murdered by capitalism and the greed and irrationality (from the point of view of the population) of the American health "care" system in particular. We watch people being dumped on Skid Row in Los Angeles when hospitals decide they can no longer care for them. Not because they're beyond treatment, but because no one's paying for it. This is what the film is all about, a sharp blow to the conscience of Americans to wake up and find a better way. And all some of the critics have to say is to "oh, but the lines are long in England and Canada, and Moore doesn't tell us that." Well, as Michael Moore has to say in one of those CNN interviews, sure the lines get a lot shorter when you take 50 million people out of line. Unfortunately, some of those people die as a result.

For an antidote, I've extracted the short interview with Dr. Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara's daughter who is a pediatrician in Cuba, from the film, and also the much longer interview with her found in the "extras" (so long I had to make it two parts to fit the YouTube 10-minute limit). In addition to health care, Guevara talks about concepts of "freedom," Americans (their ignorance and their lack of awareness of their real power), the veil, and (in Part 2), what it means to have a father who died when she was young, and what it means to live (and die) for something beyond yourself. Hopefully Moore and his company won't object to my sharing it here (including the last couple seconds of part 2, which are my addition, not Moore's).

[Apologies for the crappy quality of the videos, which is the fault of YouTube. The uploaded video was much better. Not sure what happened; usually this doesn't happen like this.] Update: - I updated Part 2 to a higher quality.

Update: It occurs to me that people, especially cynical Americans accustomed to hypocritical platitude-mouthing politicians and other public figures, may be skeptical listening to Guevara talk about how "every human life is precious." Should you be even slightly tempted in that direction, take a moment to remember that Guevara is part of the Cuban medical system which last year restored the eyesight of a destitute Bolivian peasant...who just happened to be the person who murdered Aleida's father, Che.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


"SiCKO" is slicko!

I had a lot to say (e.g., here and here) about Michael Moore's "SiCKO" (why the small "i"? I have no idea), mostly in conjunction with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta's utterly dishonest "fact-checking" of the movie (here, here, here and here). All that was, as is my usual practice of not seeing movies in theaters, without actually seeing the movie (not that anything I said actually depended on that).

Well, now I have seen the movie, and I can say: if you haven't seen it yet, do it! An enjoyable and enlightening film. It's quite obvious why right-wingers were so anxious to trash it, since any normal person could only join in the bewilderment of the people from Canada, England, and France laughing at the notion that a health care system should involve profit, rather than people's health, and any normal person could only be shocked and disgusted at the stories of Americans dying because they were denied care by their insurance companies.

How bad is it? Here's one thing I learned from the film: Canadians who are coming to the U.S., even for a single day, purchase medical insurance just in case something happens to them while they're in the U.S. because, unlike tourists in many (most?) other countries of the world, but just like Americans, if anything happens they'll be expected to pay for it themselves.


The power of the masses

Two juxtaxposed stories in the News in Brief section of the San Jose Mercury News today make for a nice demonstration of the power of the masses. In the first, "Tens of thousands of President Hugo Chavez's supporters filled the streets Wednesday [see picture, right, taken from Granma] to back his proposed constitutional changes." The changes won't be voted on until Dec. 2, but the fact that the corporate media in the U.S. is even reporting this demonstration is our first illustration of the power of the masses; previous pro-government demonstrations have been routinely ignored.

Our second demonstration is a bit more offbeat. A giant mass of Mauve stinger jellyfish - said to be...a dense pack of about 10 square miles and 35 feet deep (!) - attacked and killed the entire population of Northern Ireland's only salmon farm - 100,000 fish (!). In the words of Lucy Van Pelt in a different context: "These five fingers: individually they're nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold!"

Incidentally, you probably won't be surprised to learn that "until the past decade, the mauve stinger has rarely been spotted so far north in British or Irish waters, and scientists cite this as evidence of global warming." Further illustration of the power of the masses to influence events, unfortunately in a rather undesirable direction.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Iran makes the U.S. nuts

Read it and weep laugh:
Israel is trying to block the illegal flow of Iranian pistachio to its markets as a desperate move against Iran's peaceful nuclear program.

Washington has warned that the import of pistachio from Iran to Israel will hurt efforts to put pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program, Reuters reported.


Political Humor of the Day

George Bush says Pervez Musharraf "truly is somebody who believes in democracy."
Of course, coming from someone who has expressed envy for dictatorships, not exactly a surprising claim.

Skip reading the full article and just read the WIIIAI Cliff's Notes version for more.

For a second reading recommendation, which has not one iota of humor in it, read Iraq veteran Michael Prysner's tale of "The all-too-common story of a checkpoint in Iraq" which turned into "The night I learned which side I was on." Then try to remember the last time you read about one of these almost universally unreported incidents in the corporate media (or anywhere, for that matter).


Shop 'til you drop

Last night on TV I saw repeated advertisements for various stores, letting me know they would be open at 4 a.m. (!) on Friday to fulfill my after-Thanksgiving shopping desires (ok, not my desires, but somebody else's, evidently). In this morning's paper I find out those stores were actually pikers; a full-page ad from yet another store informs me that they'll be open starting midnight Thursday.

Fortunately the antidote was at hand, since this morning I listened to the "Reverend Billy" and Morgan Spurlock on Democracy Now!, talking about their new anti-shopping movie, "What Would Jesus Buy?"

The amusing timing of all this is that it all occurred two days after I saw this year's edition of something I've mentioned before - the Lamplighters annual Gala, where Gilbert & Sullivan songs are rewritten with a topical theme. This year's title was "Harry Patter and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief," and the plot revolved around the expiration of the 1500-year lease on the Hogwash School grounds (owned by the "Donn Auld," naturally), and the attempt by the evil Wal•de•Mart to buy the lease and turn the school into a superstore. One of the more relevant (to this topic) songs was sung not by Wal•de•Mart, but by the employees of another potential lessee, Gnome Depot:

To the tune of "Merrily ring the luncheon bell" from Princess Ida

House-Gnome's work is never done!
House-Gnome's work is never done!
Stocking shelves is not much fun
Cleaning up after everyone
Often wish I had a gun -
House-Gnome's work is never done, no, never done!

No place for bravery;
Work here is slavery,
Oh, how I hate this awful store.
And now it's a clean-up on aisle 4!

Yes, yes! We hate to clean up on aisle 4!

Life's but a misery
In retail bizzery
Scrub til the floors are spic and span.
But I must do it, I must do it, I must do it...
With no health plan!

Yes, yes! For minimum wage and no health plan!
You shoulda' been there!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I Can't Take It No More

Sometime in 1967 or '68, while the Vietnam War and its associated antiwar movement raged, I saw Creedence Clearwater Revival perform in concert at, if memory serves, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. 40 years later, another war (and antiwar movement) rages, and John Fogerty has come out with a dynamite and quite political album, "Revival." Much kudos to Fogerty, still rockin' after 40 years.

I've created a music video out of one of those songs, which I present here for your viewing and listening pleasure. Enjoy.


Israel: thinking is a crime

Just the other day I warned that Israel's talk of releasing prisoners wouldn't necessarily come to fruition. Well, they haven't released anyone yet, but they've already changed their minds about some of them:
An Israeli ministerial committee met to scrutinize a list of 441 Palestinian inmates who have been held in Israeli prisons and approved the release of 432 of their number.
And why did nine of them not make the "approved" list?
Eight of the nine prisoners whose release was rejected were found to have switched their allegiance from Abbas's Fatah faction to rival Islamist group Hamas.
Note that these men weren't "caught in the act" of doing something. They aren't even accused of planning something. This "change of allegiance" occurred in jail, so it only involves thoughts which these men have allegedly had. Nevertheless, it's enough to keep them in jail. Which, chances are, is about as good a reason as Israel had for putting them there in the first place.


American "justice"

An Iraqi AP reporter has been in jail for 19 months. And now:
The U.S. military plans to seek a criminal case in an Iraqi court against an award-winning Associated Press photographer but is refusing to disclose what evidence or accusations would be presented.
And how reminiscent does this sound of other "cases" the U.S. has mounted (Wen Ho Lee, Jose Padilla, James Yee, the list goes on):
The AP says various accusations were floated unofficially against Hussein and then apparently withdrawn with little explanation.
If a trial actually occurs, and that's a big "if," here's how fair it will be:
"At the moment, it looks like we can do little more than show up ... and try to put together a defense during the proceedings," [according to the lead defense lawyer]
And they dare criticize other countries!


Idiotic Republicans, maddening Democrats

Yeah, what else is new? Last night C-SPAN broadcast a 3-hour special on the embargo (blockade) of Cuba, featuring film and interviews of their own from Cuba, discussion with an American reporter (Gary Marx) who spent five years in Cuba, a half-hour call-in with Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, and finally a one-hour call-in discussion with two Congressmen - right-wing Florida Cuban Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and liberal Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern. It's not online at the moment, but they seemed to imply it would be.

The first part of the show was interesting, if somewhat irritating not so much for what it said, but for what it didn't say. The inability of Americans to visit Cuba was discussed by Marx and the moderator, but unless you were already knowledgeable about the subject, you could have easily not realized that the prohibition was entirely the doing of the American government, not of the Cuban government. Conversely, the need for Cubans to obtain travel visas to leave Cuba was discussed, but the almost complete prohibition on Cubans of any stripe - scientists, musicians, and so on, not to mention the wives of political prisoners held in the United States - from obtaining visas from the United States to visit the U.S. was never mentioned.

But the show really got annoying when the Congressmen came on. Diaz-Balart must have explained at least five times in almost identical language his "reason" for supporting the blockade - because it deprives Cuba of billions of dollars, and when Cuba had those billions of dollars (from the Soviet Union), look what they did - they killed Americans in Grenada and invaded Africa! Yes, he really said those things. And McGovern, the liberal? Not one word of rebuttal! All he had to say was, the blockade (they called it an "embargo" of course) is a "failed policy" ("failed" because it hasn't overthrown the government), and if we really want to "change things" in Cuba, the best way to do that is to drop the blockade and let American college students on spring break "invade" Cuba.

For the record, since neither McGovern nor the show's moderator were any help: the United States invaded Grenada (and not to "liberate Grenada" as Diaz-Balart claims but, at least nominally, to "protect" American medical students), where Cubans (a few soldiers, but mostly construction workers) were helping to build an international airport to bolster Grenada's tourism industry, an airport which was actually "designed by the Canadians, underwritten by the British government, and partly built by a London firm." And yes, some Americans were killed in that invasion (19 to be precise).

As far as Africa, it's even more maddening that McGovern had nothing to say on that subject. Even the corporate media acknowledges that Cuba's troops in Africa "kept Angola free, won independence for Namibia and hastened the end of apartheid rule in South Africa," and of course the venerated Nelson Mandela has said as much.

Does McGovern not know these things? Of course he does. But liberals like McGovern are so frightened about being "tarred" by association with Cuba that the thought of saying one word in Cuba's defense is simply too much for them to deal with, even on a subject like the end of apartheid. Instead, he retreats to the "safer" area of "Americans' Constitutional right to travel" and the "best way to change things in Cuba."


Monday, November 19, 2007


The soft bigotry of low expectations

Attacks are down in Iraq! You'll be hearing it over and over. Only (!!!!) 575 attacks occurred last week! And in June there was one week when the number of attacks was 1600, so that's a huge drop. By the way, that week in June, do you remember reading about 1600 attacks in one week? I must have missed it myself. Is 575 really a low number indicating "success" is just around the corner (if not already here)? Well, remember the event that "changed everything"? No, not 9-11, the attack on the Golden Dome of Samarra. Well, that week back in Feb. 2006 there were 700 attacks. Given what I expect is a week-to-week variance, just about the same as this week.

But the most interesting thing of all in the reports is the part you haven't really heard about at all: "The data released Sunday cover attacks using car bombs, roadside bombs, mines, mortars, rockets, surface-to-air missiles and small arms." Although in principle we're told that "the attacks were directed against American and Iraqi forces, as well as civilians," looking at the list of types of attacks, it seems highly likely, as we've known all along, that the majority of attacks are against American and Iraqi forces, not against civilians. You might attack civilians with car bombs, but you don't attack them with roadside bombs, mines, mortars, rockets, surface-to-air missiles, or even in general small arms. No, it is the presence of "foreign forces" - American forces - that are the principal source of violence in Iraq, just as they have been since the day they invaded. But you won't be hearing that analysis from any of the "pundits," who will all be too busy trumpeting the success of the "surge" to notice.

Nor do we read about virtually any of these attacks in the media, either, which cover almost exclusively attacks on Iraqi civilians. But astute observers (such as your humble blogger) have known all along of these other attacks. How? Because daily we read in the paper, in the one-sentence summary of the day's carnage, of "a soldier killed in a firefight in such-and-such a town." Yet there rarely is a report of that firefight itself, and never a report of the firefights which only resulted in injured Americans (or even dead Iraqi soldiers). It used to be commonplace for war supporters to complain about how the "good news" from Iraq wasn't being reported. The truth of the matter is, it's the bad news which is largely unreported. Only the "worst" of the bad news, the deaths of American soldiers or the car-bombings which kill a dozen Iraqis or more, make the news. The rest? Make room for Britney!


Alison Bodine update

Late Saturday night, antiwar activist Alison Bodine, originally prevented from re-entering Canada because of a box of antiwar material in her car, was forced to leave Canada. Testifying to the importance of this case, just before midnight on Saturday, 70 people accompanied her to the border. They vow to continue the fight, both legally and politically, demanding that her two-year ban be lifted and she be allowed to return to Canada.

Your help is still needed for the political part of the fight. Petitions, letters, emails, and so on are all needed, as are speaking engagements to help spread the word (the day before she left, Bodine was able to address the BC convention of the NDP, again, testimony to the importance of this case).

The antiwar struggle should know no borders!


Israeli double-talk

The lead:
Israel vowed on Monday to freeze the construction of new settlements in the occupied West Bank and said it plans to free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners ahead of a key US peace meeting.
The reality:

On the subject of prisoners, Israel is proposing (they haven't actually done it yet, mind you, and there are a lot of things they have said they were going to do - like the item we're coming to - which never actually got done) to release a grand total of 450 prisoners. They are holding...11,000 "detainees" (not actually "prisoners" since the vast majority have been convicted of precisely nothing, just like the vast majority of detainees being held by the Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere). Like the absurd "no-fly" list which consists of 750,000 people, the idea that there are 11,000 Palestinians who have committed a crime as "serious" as even throwing a stone is absurd. The majority are in prison because they dared to oppose the Israeli occupation of their land.

On settlements, Israel was committed not to build "new" settlements since the "roadmap" in 2003 (and of course they're committed not to build any settlements at all under international law). Now, four years later, Olmert says "We have committed ourselves under the roadmap not to build new settlements in the West Bank and we will not build any." I guess he forgot the word "more" as in "any more." But what is a "new" settlement exactly? Not anything that can be remotely construed as part of an existing one: "Under no condition will we strangle the existing settlements." New houses, yes. New settlers, yes. But "new settlements"? Not if they're allowed the same definitional flexibility that George Bush uses to define "torture."

The AP story on this news items includes a bit of humor:

[Israel] stopped short of American demands to halt construction in existing settlements before a crucial U.S.-hosted Mideast conference.
"Demands"? Wouldn't "pro-forma request to keep up appearances" be a little more accurate? When you "demand" something, and you're holding the power the U.S. holds (to the tune of billions of dollars, U.N. vetoes, provider of weapons, etc.), a "demand" is usually accompanied by an "or else" clause. I must have missed that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Politics in America

Laurie David and Gene Karpinski report at Huffington Post:
Over the past ten months, presidential candidates have made 16 appearances on Meet the Press. In the nearly three hundred questions [host Tim Russert] has asked the candidates, not once has he uttered the words "global warming." Not once.

At the two debates Mr. Russert has moderated, he has found time to discuss a national smoking ban, the drinking age, Bible verses, baseball, and even UFOs but not once did he ask how candidates would address the climate crisis.
Venezuela, meanwhile, is having an intensive, country-wide debate on modifications to its Constitution. That serious political discussion is widely referred to in the U.S. media as "undemocratic" or an effort to establish a "dictatorship."

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Political Humor of the Day

Live from the writers' strike picket lines (after being discovered in the pouch of a marsupial), it's "Not the Daily Show".

Update: Some in the comments seem to think that writers aren't workers, subject to the power of the corporations (the studios) like any other worker. For them, this link.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Life in the United States, Part II

The other day we learned that 25% of all the homeless people in the United States (and that's a lot of people) are veterans, with 1500 of those veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Way to "support the troops," folks.

Tonight's news reports that here in Santa Clara County, one of the richest counties in the country (home to Apple, Google, Cisco, eBay, and many more), deaths of homeless people rose sharply from 48 last year to 71 this year (which isn't over yet, of course). There are 900 homeless children in this county. Meanwhile, more than 900 Google employees have become multimillionaires (the two founders are, as you probably know, multibillionaires).

And we also got an update on hunger in the U.S. on tonight's news. Those figures in the post below this one, precise to two decimal places? They might be precise, but they're not accurate. Why? Because they're based on census data and don't include homeless people! So they very much form a lower-bound on the real number of people going hungry in America.


Life in the United States

In today's news:
Overall, 35.52 million people [in the United States], including 12.63 million children, went hungry [in 2006] compared with 35.13 million in 2005.
Needless to say, in the richest country in the world, there's not a reason in the world that a single person should go hungry. Oh wait, there is one. It's called "capitalism."


Canada's "independence"

Two posts below reflect different aspects of Canada. In a post earlier today, we learned about Canada excluding (or trying to exclude) antiwar activists from simply being in Canada, whereas a few days ago I wrote about Canada's stance on Cuba, so markedly different than that of the U.S. with its citizens allowed to freely travel back and forth to Cuba, and with Cubans allowed to travel to Canada. That difference was highlighted to me all the more, not just by the presence of several Cubans (including the Cuban Ambassador to Canada) at the meeting I was attending, but by the huge "Viva Cuba" signs I saw on bus shelters as I walked around Toronto, and on a billboard I passed on the way to the airport. At first I thought the solidarity groups were doing a heck of a job, until I realized that they were advertisements placed by the Cuba Tourist Board in Canada to encourage travel to Cuba.

But Canada, and this didn't just start under its current right-wing leadership, shouldn't be confused with some kind of anti-imperialist country. Although it certainly wouldn't have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq all by itself, it was (and is, bearing in mind I'm speaking about the government and not the people) delighted to send troops to Afghanistan to help project "Western" power around the world. It has a long record of oppressing its own indigenous people (see this brochure for numerous articles on the subject, or, more generally, articles from Fire This Time). And, as I learned at a meeting I attended, even that policy on Cuba has a "gotcha" for Americans. The U.S. now "insists" (and Canada is happy to cooperate) that it receive passenger lists for all flights crossing its territory, i.e., for flights from Canada to Cuba. The idea that that has anything to do with U.S. "security" is laughable - if something ever got past Canadian security, and someone hijacked a plane and crashed it into a building in the U.S., surely the passenger list would be available for inspection. Not to be paranoid (and not that I've flown from Canada to Cuba, I haven't), but it seems highly likely this is one more way to prevent Americans from going to Cuba, and nothing more.

Canadian independence? Like Gandhi's "Western civilization," it would be a nice idea.


"Power-sharing" and "democracy" in Pakistan

I've been meaning to write about this for a few days, but hadn't gotten around to it. Just as well, because Fatima Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto's niece, knows a heck of a lot more than I do, and says what I was going to say and more much better. All I was going to say was, "What on earth does Bhutto returning to Pakistan and 'negotiating a power-sharing agreement' with Musharraf have to do with 'democracy'?" You can't "negotiate" "democracy." As I said, Fatima Bhutto says that, and lots more.


Antiwar activist ordered out of Canada

During my recent trip to Canada I was made aware of the case of Alison Bodine, a leading antiwar and Cuba solidarity activist in Vancouver, who was attending the same Cuban Five solidarity conference that I was. Alison is a U.S. citizen who was recently returning to Canada (where she was until her recent graduation a student at UBC), and was refused entry because her car contained a box of antiwar and Cuban Five literature! She returned later without it and was allowed into Canada, but when a Canadian friend tried to bring the same material across the border, it was confiscated, and when Alison returned with the receipt to retrieve it, she was arrested! Several hearings later, she has been ordered to leave Canada by Nov. 17 (three days from now) and excluded from reentry for two years. Not for anything she actually did, but fundamentally, for being an antiwar activist.

Your help is needed urgently to demand that the charges against Alison be dropped. Some things you can do:

Incidentally, Alison is not the only dangerous person Canada wants to protect its poor citizens from associating with. Right around the same time (a month ago), Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, two well-known antiwar activists, headed to Toronto (where I've just returned from) to an antiwar conference, were detained, questioned and denied entry.

Stop the removal of Alison Bodine! Add your voice to her defenders today!


Environmental disasters

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, 58,000 gallons of oil into the Bay; on virtually the same day, 560,000 gallons were spilled into the Black Sea. Tens of thousands of birds are already dead, and the extent of the environmental damage is of course even more extensive than just that.

But here's the thing to remember - all of that oil was due to be burned up and sent into the atmosphere anyway! That's not to say that the contribution that much consumed oil would have made to other environmental problems (air quality, global warming) would have been worse than those generated by the spill. But it is to say that fundamentally, the problem isn't oil spills, it's oil use. And, in the case of the San Francisco Bay spill, at least, it's a direct consequence of the fact of non-local production (or non-local consumption, depending on your point of view) of goods. This has nothing to do with xenophobia, or thinking that American workers are more deserving of jobs than Chinese workers. But when Chinese workers (just as an example) produce goods for American consumers, it's not just a question of outsourcing, it's also a question of depleting a nonrenewable resource, with consequences whether there are accidents in the process (like oil spills) or not.

To the capitalists who own the companies, none of this matters. They're insured against oil spills (to an extent, anyway, although it's doubtful the crab fisherman who have now had their livelihood severely impacted, or others who will suffer financially will be appropriately recompensed), and the excess profits they make off the backs of poorly-paid Chinese workers more than make up for what they spend on transportation costs. But to the rest of us, the inhabitants of the planet, it matters very much. Local production/consumption isn't possible for all food or all other products. But to the extent that it is, it is an essential part of where the economic system of this planet has to go. And it's a direction which will never be possible under capitalism.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The battle of the foreign ministers: Rice vs. Mottaki

Secretary of State ("Foreign Minister" in the language of most countries) did some ranting and raving today on the subject of Iran:
"In the rise of an aggressive Iranian regime, we see that violent extremism is evolving in new and dangerous ways -- ways that make it a threat not only to the people of one nation or one race or one religion but to everyone in the Middle East. Increasingly the government of Iran is putting itself at the head of this violent extremism rising."
OK, let's hear from those "aggressive" "violent extremists" themselves. Remarkably, today's Miami Herald carries an op-ed by the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr (note: spellings vary) Mottaki. It's worth reading the entire thing, clearly the ravings of a lunatic and a violent extremist. A few excerpts:
"Consider my country, Iran, which has not invaded any country in the past 250 years. After decades of struggle against dictatorship and foreign domination, we secured our freedom and independence in 1979 by establishing a political system of our own choosing.

"Iran does not need nuclear weapons to protect its regional interests, and such weapons have no place in Iran's security strategy. It seeks to win the confidence of its neighbors and has remained within the confines of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"With regard to international terrorism, Iran, as a victim of terrorism, condemns it in all its forms. But the same double standards are apparent here. The United States has used and is still using extremist organizations to promote its foreign policy goals.

"Iran has always considered regional stability to be in the vital interest of its own security and development."
Had enough of those rantings of a violent extremist yet? Wait, I think we've come to the part that has the U.S. ruling class so exercised:
"The world deserves better. A just global order must be defined in terms of peace and security, alleviation of poverty, a fairer distribution of wealth, better protection of the environment and respect for local cultural particularities. We can build a global order based on justice, one that negates the current unipolar order by developing tolerance for diversity instead of seeking imposition and assimilation. Such an order will be culturally inclusive and less hegemonic, encompassing states, nonstate actors and social groups to minimize violence and maximize economic well-being."
Now that's extremism, at least in the eyes of the ruling rich of the world.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Now that's civil disobedience

I'm not a big fan of symbolic civil disobedience, the kind where people get arrested pretty much just to get arrested. Civil disobedience aimed directly at the war and warmakers, however, is a different thing entirely. Yes, it would still have to be repeated on a massive scale and over and over again to actually affect the ability of the U.S. to fight its wars. But it is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I'm a travelin' man

On my way to a conference in Toronto about the Cuban Five. On the plane, I got to see the new Hairspray, really enjoyable, with many memorable songs (even better than my previously favorite John Waters musical, Cry Baby, although it's a close call thanks to Johnny Depp). Having enjoyed the original Hairspray so much, I hadn't gone out of my way to see the musical, but that was a mistake now rectified (thanks to the airlines).

Anyway, all this is leading to a point: at one point in the movie, Tracy Turnblad says she'd like to be President some day, and when asked the first thing she'd do, she says, "I'd make every day 'Negro Day' [the once-a-month day when blacks are allowed to dance on the 'Corny Collins' show]." And the response - the station manager calls her a "Communist." Make no mistake, it's a label (especially with a small "c") that should be worn with pride, as "insults" like that one make clear over and over again. "Whenever there's a cop beatin' up a guy..."

I arrive in Toronto and jump on the "Rocket Bus" to the subway into town. I strike up a conversation with the driver, who asks where I'm going. A conference on Cuba, I reply. Really, he says, I was just there last month. OK, here's the point of this little story: he spent a week on Varadaro Beach, had a great time, all for... $540 ... including airfare!

It sucks to be an American. A fact also driven home to me when I handed over $60 at the currency exchange booth and got $48 or so back.

The revolution is so overdue!


Violence in Venezuela - reading between the lines

Reports in today's news have it that "Masked gunmen opened fire on students returning from a march." Later on we're given the number 80,000 for the number of people, not all students, ("an estimated 80,000 anti-Chavez demonstrators—led by university students") in this anti-Chavez march (I have private reports from someone on the scene who says "10,000 tops," but that's a minor issue).

So they "opened fire on students," eh? And what happened? "Antonio Rivero, director of Venezuela's Civil Defense agency, told Union Radio that at least eight people were injured, including one by gunfire, and that no one had been killed."

I'm sorry, if you "open fire" on a crowd of 80,000 people, even a blind person could hit more than a single person with one of their bullets. Who these gunmen were, or what they were up to, is anyone's guess, but it's 100% obvious that, if this story of gunmen has any truth to it at all, that they were firing guns in the air, not "opening fire" on the crowd.

Indicative of the protesters belief in democracy, by the way, is this: "The protesters demand the referendum be suspended." Which provides a rather clear indication that the opposition expects to lose the democratic vote, knowing that their position is a distinct minority, and that their only hope to "win" is to disrupt the country (or provoke another coup attempt) prior to the vote.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Dual audio post of the day

Skippy reminds me that tonight is the Country Music Awards. In honor of the CMA's, a 1975 song from The Deadly Nightshade about the dilemma of a feminist about to lose her independence to marriage - "Something Blue":
Something Blue.mp3

And, it turns out, tonight is also the Environmental Media Awards. For most people, "environmentalism" these days involves trying to preserve the planet for human habitation. "God Bless the Grass," another 1975 song from Malvina Reynolds, serves to remind us that the planet (and some other living components) is more resilient than we are, and that something as strong as concrete can be overcome by something as weak and fragile as grass. The planet may well have a longer existence than "civilization":

God Bless the Gras...



Things left unsaid

George Bush is in the middle of a press conference (with Nicolas Sarkozy). Asked about a possible double-standard with U.S. treatment of Burma vs. Pakistan, Bush replied (quoted from memory),
I just spoke with President Musharraf [ed. note: for the first time since the coup] and told him we want him to have elections as scheduled, and to take off his uniform.
Not one word about stopping the crackdown, releasing the thousands of prisoners, restoring the Constitution, etc.

Asked about differences between France and the U.S. on the invasion of of Iraq, Bush reminded the audience that both France and the U.S. supported U.N. resolution 1441, demanding that Iraq "disclose and disarm," and claimed that it was in support of that resolution that the invasion took place. No follow-up noting that both disclosure and disarmament had occurred took place (nor that 1441 did not authorize an invasion of Iraq).

Updated with exact quotes:

On Pakistan:

"I spoke to President Musharraf right before I came over here to visit with President Sarkozy. And my message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform. You can't be the President and the head of the military at the same time."
On Iraq:
"I just want to remind you that 1441 was supported by France and the United States, which clearly said to the dictator, you will disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences."
And, for a bit of "humor," this:
"If you lived in Iraq and had lived under a tyranny, you'd be saying, god, I love freedom -- because that's what's happened."
Of course, if you lived in Iraq and now you're dead, you probably aren't saying much about anything. And if you lived in Iraq and now you've been given the "freedom" to flee the country, I doubt the words "I love freedom" are coming to you either.

Further update: Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room" claims Bush said he told Musharraf that "emergency rule has to end." Go read the quote for yourself. He said no such thing.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Not-so-extraordinary rendition

Tonight PBS broadcast a story about America's "torture taxis" and various people who have been "rendered" and tortured. Remarkably, however, one of the most interesting aspects of the story wasn't in the film at all, but is revealed in, of all places, an ABC News blog. This is, in the words of Colin Powell at the U.N., "the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al Qaeda." What the latest news unveils is that this "information" was provided after the subject was held in a coffin for 17 hours, and then beaten until he provided "information" on the links between Iraq and al Qaeda. And here's the most surprising part:
Last September, these red-hot CIA cables were declassified and published by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but in, a welter of other news, one of the most important documents in the history of rendition had passed almost without notice by the media. As far as I can tell, not a single newspaper reported details of the cable.
Nor, we should note, did a single member of the Senate Intelligence Committee make sure this information did not go unnoticed.

Note that the CIA cables in question appear to have been sent in February, 2004, after the invasion of Iraq. However, it seems highly unlikely that they had any greater reason to believe the alleged "intelligence" in February, 2003, given the source of the "intelligence."

Never to be forgotten:

"My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

- Colin Powell at the U.N.
Also never to be forgotten - one of the people who refuted those claims (and for his pains was called a liar by Powell), Iraqi Gen. Amer al-Saadi, remains in jail without charges to this day as far as we know. Colin Powell remains a free man.


Political Anti-Humor of the Day

In Pakistan, 3000 lawyers are now under arrest. I trust that will put an end to the lawyer jokes for a while, at least in Pakistan (of course there won't be many from Leno, Letterman, Stewart, or Colbert for a while for a different reason).

On a media note, I just heard CNN International's Zain Verjee employ the term "political prisoners" to describe the detainees, which certainly seems accurate. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post (nor, I'm guessing, pretty much anyone else in the corporate media) uses the term.


Political Humor of the Day

Q: Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?

MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.

- Dana Perino, White House spokesperson, falling for what I'm pretty sure was intended as a trick question when she was answering questions about the coup in Pakistan.
Think Progress notes some of the things that appear to have slipped Perino's mind.

Monday, November 05, 2007


The real "surge" in Iraq

In today's news about "success" in Iraq:
The number of internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Iraq grew by 16 percent in September — to 2,299,425, the Red Crescent said. That figure has skyrocketed since the beginning of 2007, when less than half a million people were listed as displaced.

"In addition to their plight as being displaced, the majority suffer from disease, poverty and malnutrition," the Red Crescent reported.
And, by the way, if any of them actually die because of that "disease, poverty, and malnutrition," you will only see those deaths reflected in studies like the ones conducted by Johns Hopkins scientists (the "Lancet" studies), not by those (e.g., Iraq Body Count) who only report of the so-called violent deaths that are reported in the English-language media. Why "so-called"? Because death from disease and malnutrition can be no less violent. The violence may be less intense, but it lasts a lot longer.


That "whole truth" thing again

A few days ago I noted that news coverage of demonstrations in Venezuela against proposed Constitutional changes had failed to note that these changes were subject to a referendum of the Venezuelan people, democracy at its finest. The coverage was true, but not the whole truth.

And the other aspect of that "not covering the whole truth" are the things that get left out entirely. The other day we had an example locally, when the San Jose Mercury News failed to print a word about the 30,000 people who demonstrated against the war in nearby San Francisco (even while printing an article about similar numbers of people demonstrating in Venezuela). Today we return to Venezuela to note a demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people in support of the proposed Constitutional changes there. There is an AFP story on the event, although I can't find a word of coverage in any American newspaper, and there was certainly no coverage on the nightly news last night.

"All the news that's fit to print"? Not this story, because it doesn't "fit" with the imperialist line that Chavez is a dictator, squelching democracy in his country, a "threat" for whom a two minutes hate must be regularly orchestrated. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating in support of such a man? Wouldn't want to let people know about that!

Needless to say, this is not a new phenomenon. Back in June exactly the same thing happened - anti-government demonstrations covered in the American corporate media, much larger pro-government demonstrations ignored (except, curiously enough in that case, by FOX News!).

Sunday, November 04, 2007



Interesting lead sentence in today's New York Times article on the suspension of the Constitution in Pakistan:
For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.
Can you really "promote democracy" (leaving aside the absurd idea that that is George Bush's actual motivation or intention) through the "orchestration" of a foreign power?

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Short attention span theater

Only in America could someone who did absolutely nothing after reading this:
Bin Laden determined to strike in US
come back a few years later and say with a straight face, and with little fear of being called on it by the media or anyone else:
"Some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters."
And don't I wish there was anyone in Washington responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers [sic] and Code Pink protesters. If only.


The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

There's a reason that second phrase is there, and that's because a half-truth can be awfully close to a lie. CNN reported earlier an AP story which describes how Venezuelan police today dispersed a student demonstration against changes in the Venezuelan Constitution. As far as I know the article contains "the truth" and "nothing but the truth." What it doesn't contain is the whole truth, because nowhere in the article or on the CNN broadcast is it made clear that these proposed Constitutional changes must be submitted to, and ratified by, a referendum of the entire voting population of Venezuela. Really, it doesn't get more democratic than that, but you'd never get that idea from hearing or reading this report.

Update: Interestingly enough, the complete AP story, published in the Miami Herald, includes the following sentence (albeit four paragraphs from the end):

To take effect, the reforms must be approved by voters in a Dec. 2 referendum.
Even more interestingly, that paragraph was removed by CNN from the AP article, even though the three final paragraphs, the ones following that important one, were left in. One might conclude that this was a deliberate decision by CNN to mislead its readers.


No person left behind

107 people are now dead in the Caribbean in the Dominican Republican, Haiti, and Jamaica. The storm also hit Cuba hard:
Muddy rain-swollen waters overflowed a dam in Cuba, washing into hundreds of homes, over highways and knocking out electricity and telephone service. Dozens of small communities were cut off.
But there have been no deaths (so far, anyway). Why? Because in Cuba there's not just a (real) "no child left behind" policy, there's a "no person left behind" policy:
Cuban soldiers went door to door in low-lying areas and evacuated about 14,000 people.
This is what real "national security" is all about - when the job of the armed forces is to protect the lives of the people, not the profits of the rich.


"Iranian" weapons in Iraq: Paging David Copperfield!

Despite years of claims of Iran supplying weapons to resistance forces in Iraq (going back at least a year and a half), there continues to be the little matter of proof. It now appears that the services of magician David Copperfield are being employed, because those weapons are managing to cross the border...without being seen!
"It's fair to say that no one has caught anyone red-handed bringing in lethal aid across the border," said Major Anthony Lamb, who oversees training of Iraqi border enforcement units.

"Hundreds of searches are carried out every day, but as yet, there hasn't been a direct seizure of lethal aid."

Since the invasion in 2003, the United States has built hundreds of "forts" along Iraq's borders, including more than 60 along a 500-km stretch along the edge with Iran in the south.

Each fort is manned by 12 to 40 guards who carry out frequent patrols, although the frontier, heavily mined since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, is not fenced. The Iranians have guards all along their side too, visible in the near distance.

As well as the forts, there are two battalions of Iraqi border commandos trained to hunt down smugglers and staunch the flow of illegal goods into the country.

At the two official border crossings in the south, where as many as 300 trucks a day arrive from Iran, customs and border police have managed to crack down on the movement of drugs, illegal cars, banned perishable foods and other illicit goods.

But so far, nothing approximating a rocket has been found.
Sadly, this actual information will do nothing to change "conventional 'wisdom'" which takes it as a simple fact that Iran is arming Iraqi resistance fighters and militias. After all, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." What a brilliant masterstroke of Donsense (tm) that was! No evidence of Iraqi WMD? "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." No evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapon program? "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." No proof of Iranian weapons in Iraq? "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." No proof that virtually anyone held in Guantanamo is guilty of a crime? "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." No evidence of any crimes committed or being planned by an American citizen which might justify wiretapping? "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." And on and on.

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