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Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Polls and the media

I'm going to cite something I heard from Katty Kay on BBC World News tonight, but it could very well have been from dozens of different newscasters (or print pundits) on any number of media outlets. Talking about the collapse of Rudy Giuliani, she noted that there was a real lesson to be learned here about believing the significance of polls. And how long did that lesson stick? Not as far as the very next sentence, which was about how happy Republicans were, because a new poll shows John McCain beating either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama easily.


Chafee's blockbuster

Former Senator Lincoln Chafee, the only Republican to vote against war with Iraq, is shedding a little more light on the decision to vote for war against Iraq:
As Mr. Bush pressed insistently for war, Chafee requested a meeting with CIA brass to examine the evidence against Saddam Hussein's regime. "Sooner or later, I have to vote on this war, show me everything you have," Chafee requests of the CIA.

"What they had, I discovered as the meeting stretched into an hour, was next to nothing," recalls Chafee. "They showed me what they had with little comment and no enthusiasm. Someone handed me one of the infamous aluminum tubes, the kind we were told Saddam was using to enrich weapons-grade uranium while plotting mushroom clouds over America, the 'smoking gun' that Condoleezza Rice warned about.

"I looked at the aluminum tube, looked at the analysts and thought, I can go buy one of these at Adler's Hardware," the Providence hardware emporium, writes Chafee.
And Chafee has plenty to say about the role of the Democrats:
"I find it surprising now, in 2008, how many Democrats are running for president after shirking their constitutional duty to check and balance this president," writes Chafee. "Being wrong about sending Americans to kill and be killed, maim and be maimed, is not like making a punctuation mistake in a highway bill.

"They argue that the president duped them into war, but getting duped does not exactly recommend their leadership. Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment."

Chafee writes of his surprise at "how quickly key Democrats crumbled." Democratic senators, Chafee writes, "went down to the meetings at the White House and the Pentagon and came back to the chamber ready to salute. With wrinkled brows they gravely intoned that Saddam Hussein must be stopped. Stopped from what? They had no conviction or evidence of their own. They were just parroting the administration's nonsense. They knew it could go terribly wrong; they also knew it could go terribly right. Which did they fear more?"
Democrats like Clinton (and Edwards) were not "duped." They were willing accomplices, figuring that if the war went "wrong" (i.e., lasted for years at a cost of trillions and hundreds of thousands of lives) they would pay little price (safety in numbers), but if the war went "right" (over quickly with little cost in lives and a new long-term, inexpensive supply of oil) they would pay a huge political price if they had opposed to it. "National security" had nothing whatsoever to do with it (and, of course, the same is true on the Administration side).


Israeli "law"

In Israel, the Supreme Court asserts that Israel is "required to act against terror organizations in accordance with the norms of international law and abstain from deliberately harming the civilian population located in the Gaza Strip," which might sound encouraging if it wasn't part of a decision which does exactly the opposite, that is, to reject the petition of Israeli human rights groups which claimed that the Israeli sanctions constitute collective punishment and target civilians in violation of international law. As if the whole point of the sanctions was not precisely to inflict enough pain on the civilian population to force them to change the behavior of their leaders.

Actually the decision is even stranger, since the court says "We emphasize that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a murderous terror group." Surely if that were true, that is all the more reason not to punish the civilian population, since they are (according to the Court) under the control of a "murderous terror group," and therefore should bear no responsibility for what is happening.

Meanwhile, back at the U.N., to no one's surprise, the U.S. prevented any condemnation of Israel's obvious violation of international law, even in a resolution which also condemned Palestinian rocket fire. According to the U.S., the resolution made Palestinian rocket fire and collective punishment too "equal": "It is imperative not to equate acts of self-defense with terrorist rocket attacks" according to the U.S. representative. Personally, I'd say it's imperative not to equate the acts of the oppressed with the acts of the oppressor, but that's just me.


Political Humor of the Day: Mallard Fillmore?

Yes, Mallard Fillmore. As much as I hate to promote the generally beyond repulsive Mallard Fillmore (Bruce Tinsley), with whom my agreement in the past has been limited to our mutual enjoyment of Veronica Mars, today's cartoon definitely reflects my views of the 2008 election campaign:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The Democrats at the Misstatement of the Union

In the audience:
When Bush proclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt," Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated.
Thinking about voting for Obama? Oh yeah, he's great on the last war (not really, as Clinton points out, his votes on it since in Congress have been identical to hers, i.e., continued funding), but how about the next one?
When Bush warned the Iranian government that “America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf” Obama jumped up to applaud. Clinton leaned across Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seated to her left, to look in Obama’s direction before slowly standing.
I didn't see any of this, but I did note at several points that Nancy Pelosi was clapping vigorously long after Dick Cheney had stopped (ok, he has a weak heart, but still...). Of course, if you were under the impression that the Democrats were actually an opposition party, you weren't listening to (or reading) their "rebuttal," which was all about how we're all just "Americans," "working people and business-owners" alike.


More than 2000 American children sentenced to life without parole

In at least 132 countries, children cannot receive sentences of life without parole. In the 13 countries other than the U.S. that retain this harsh punishment, there are only about a dozen individuals serving the sentence.

And in the U.S.? There are at least 2,225 people serving life without parole in U.S. prisons for crimes committed before they were 18-years-old. Most were convicted of murder. But, shockingly, 26% (nearly 600 people) were sentenced for "felony murder," meaning they didn't actually commit the murder themselves, yet they'll be spending the rest of their lives in prison.

And, while politicians and pundits discuss "playing the race card," here's where race really comes into play:

Nationwide, Black youth receive life without parole sentences at a rate estimated to be 10 times greater than that of white youth (6.6 versus 0.6). In California, Black youth are 22.5 times more likely to receive this sentence than white youth. In Pennsylvania, Hispanic youth are 10 times more likely to receive the sentence than whites.


Meanwhile, in Somalia...

...back in that other country that was at least semi-stable before the U.S. and its allies decided it needed "help" in the form of an invasion:
At least 10 people [Press TV says 22] have been killed and more than 55 injured in clashes between insurgents and government forces in a residential area of the Somali capital.
And does this remind you of another country that is practically a "success" according to the Bush Administration and much of the media?
Ethiopian troops intervened in Somalia just over a year ago, when they helped government forces oust Islamists from much of southern Somalia.

Since then it is estimated that 60% of Mogadishu's residents have fled their homes.


The amazing lies that will not die

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about the amazing lie that will not die - the "We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in" lie that has been repeated on numerous occasions by George Bush. The corollary of the lie is the claim that Saddam Hussein/Iraq claimed that they had WMD, when of course the completely incontrovertible fact is that Iraq was proclaiming loudly and publicly that they did not have WMD (in 2003; no one claimed they had never had them).

None of that appears to have been good enough for CBS, however, as Robert Parry documents in this article. Both lies, it appears, were well in evidence out of the mouth of CBS reporter Scott Pelley during a "60 Minutes" segment two nights ago.

That old saw from Mark Twain that "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on"? Evidently it was a gross understatement. These lies have been to the moon and back again while the truth is still searching for its boots, I'm afraid.


Bush on Iraq

With a hearty hat tip to Daily Kos blogger Daisy Cutter, I note that George Bush signed the defense spending bill into law yesterday, while asserting in a "signing statement" that he was planning to ignore section 1222. And just what is section 1222?

No funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act may be obligated or expended for a purpose as follows:

(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.

(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.
And how did the press do on reporting this interesting development? Crickets (although they managed to report extensively on Secretary of Defense [sic] Robert Gates' statement of a few days ago that the U.S. wasn't interested in permanent bases).


The real news?

Someone just drew my attention to a new "network" (?) called "The Real News," which is promising regular viewer-financed broadcasting without government or corporate funding or advertising. I just watched the 11-minute promo which looks intriguing, although whether this will have the impact of, say, Democracy Now!, is open to question. But it looks like something worth checking out.


Can you have too much mass transit?

Apparently, yes. I've written before about the capitalist death spiral approach to mass transit:
...raise the rates to make a profit, ridership drops, raise the rates some more to make up for it, ridership drops, cut the number of trains or buses, thereby reducing the frequency and providing even less incentive to use it, ridership drops some more, continue until death.
There are, however, rare exceptions to that rule, and San Francisco has been considering becoming one of them. Alas, it won't be happening:
Eliminating fares on San Francisco's Municipal Railway - an idea Mayor Gavin Newsom wanted explored - would worsen delays, overcrowding and financial burdens on the already strained transit system.

The consulting team hired by the city, led by Sharon Greene & Associates, looked at what happened when other jurisdictions adopted free transit programs. In larger cities, such as Austin, Texas, Trenton, N.J., and Denver, ridership increased by nearly 50 percent.

If that happened to Muni, which now provides nearly 700,000 trips on an average day, the annual operating and maintenance costs would rise by nearly $69 million. Muni's annual budget is about $670 million.

The extra costs would come from paying more drivers, maintenance and cleaning crews, supervisors and security guards.

In addition, the city would have to add an estimated 267 buses and streetcars to its fleet of about 1,000 at a cost of approximately $537 million. New storage and maintenance yards also would be needed to accommodate the new vehicles.
Less pollution, more jobs (for drivers, maintenance crews, and workers in bus factories), and all at an annual cost of $69 million plus interest on bonds used to finance the new buses. Can't have that.

Just for a point of reference, San Francisco's population of 750,000 or so is 0.25% of the U.S. population. The U.S. is currently spending approximately $150 billion/year on the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan (we won't even go into the complete military budget), making San Francisco's share $375 million/year. Enough to not only pay for the increased operating costs of a free mass transit system, but enough to cover all of the capital expenses in under two years, without even the need to sell bonds.

By the way, in case you're thinking of moving to Austin or Trenton or Denver to take advantage of those free transit programs, forget it:

The experiments in Trenton, Austin and Denver were abandoned, and higher costs were cited as just one reason.

Monday, January 28, 2008


The chutzpah of the Union

George Bush:
"We have seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan."
May, 2004 - The U.S. bombs a wedding party in Iraq, killing 45 people, including women and children.

Last week, in Gaza - Israel, most likely using U.S.-supplied planes and bombs, bombs an unused building in a residential neighborhood, in Gaza, killing one woman and wounding 46 more at a wedding party next door.

George Bush:

"In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories."
In 2006, the first free elections in a decade were held in the Palestinian territory, elections which were won by Hamas. Since that day, the United States and its allies have done everything possible to undermine and reverse that effort of Palestinians who were attempting "to determine their own destinies," with the cornerstone of that effort the use of terror - the attempt to inflict physical, economic, and psychological damage on a civilian population in an attempt to force them to change the political decision they made.

George Bush:

"America is opposing genocide in Sudan."
But the guy who died yesterday who committed genocide in East Timor and slaughtered a million people in his own country? We honor him.

George Bush:

"America is leading the fight against global hunger."
The State Department adds about a specific case:
U.S. policy toward Haiti is designed to foster and strengthen democracy; help alleviate poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition.
And how's that working out? Let's see:
It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.

With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a one-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.


The Suharto whitewash reaches new lows

First posted 1/28, 7:57 a.m.; updated, see below

In today's New York Times (and in other papers, such as the San Jose Mercury News, where the same article is reprinted), Seth Mydans writes of Suharto, "he was one of the most brutal dictators of his time, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people." Tens of thousands??!!! Even in the same New York Times, another longer article by Marilyn Berger describes in detail the 500,000 to one million Communists who were killed when Suharto took power, the hundreds of thousands of East Timorese killed following the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, and the tens of thousands of others killed during Suharto's reign of terror. All of which adds up to "tens of thousands" according to Mydans, who evidently flunked math.

Berger's article is really no better, however, since despite its more or less accurate accounting of the death toll under Suharto, it persists in maintaining a complete blackout on the U.S. role in those murders. The simplest and most widely acknowledged of facts, such as the meeting between Suharto and President Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger the day before the invasion of East Timor, at which the U.S. gave a green light for the invasion, goes unmentioned.

Today's Democracy Now did its best to rectify the omissions, although understandably, because of her personal role in the events (being severely beaten by the Indonesian military), Amy Goodman focuses more on the invasion and repression in East Timor than on the more extensive extermination of the Communists. For more on that, I highly recommend The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie I haven't seen since it was released in 1982 but which haunts me to this day, not only for the absolutely tour-de-force (and Oscar-winning) performance by Linda Hunt, but also for its particularly brutal ending.

Update: And, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, FOX News just reported on Suharto's funeral, describing him as a dictator who "is reported to have killed thousands of his leftist opponents." Thousands!!

Sunday, January 27, 2008


The "non-existent" humanitarian crisis in Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he won't let a humanitarian crisis develop in Gaza. But the Los Angeles Times does a nice job of informing its audience that that crisis already exists, and how the breakthrough at the border, as important as it has been to the lives of individual Gazans, is no solution to the broader problem:
Malah abu Lashin lay in the intensive care unit of Nasser Children's Hospital here Sunday, her frail 20-month-old body attached to a ventilator, an oxygenator and an intravenous pump.

The lifeline that kept those devices functioning was equally fragile: a tenuous flow of electricity from a generator with just enough diesel in the tank to last 10 hours.

"If the power goes off, we can pump those machines by hand," said Anwar Sheikh Khalil, the Palestinian hospital's director. "But we could not keep her alive that way indefinitely."

Malah's doctors are struggling to help her overcome a congenital muscular weakness and breathe on her own before Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip causes the lights to go out.

Gazans dealt the blockade a blow last week by toppling a border wall and pouring into Egypt to shop. But their vital public services -- including medical care, electricity, water supply and sewage treatment -- remain severely crippled by Israeli sanctions, according to Palestinian officials and international relief agencies.

Mahmoud Daher, a health officer for the World Health Organization in Gaza, said 105 essential medicines were no longer available in Gaza, including drugs needed by 135 hospitalized cancer patients.

At the Nasser hospital, doctors said eight premature babies had died in the past two weeks, including one who needed blood-clotting agents that the hospital lacked -- a tragedy obscured by the televised scenes of jubilant Gazans swarming past Egyptian guards at the border.

"After feeling imprisoned for so long, it has been a psychological relief for Gazans to know that there is a way out," said John Ging, head of the U.N. Relief Works Agency office here. "But it does not resolve their crisis by any stretch of the imagination."
If Olmert really doesn't believe there is already a crisis (which is dubious to put it mildly), here's one reason why that might be so:
The issue came before Israel's Supreme Court as it heard an appeal Sunday by Israeli human-rights groups for an injunction against the fuel supply cuts.

Rafik Maliha, the Gaza power plant's project manager, said he prepared testimony for the court that Israel's promise to deliver 580,000 gallons of diesel fuel to the power plant each week would leave it operating well below its 80-megawatt capacity and without reserves.

But Israeli border police delayed Maliha and another Palestinian power company official for four hours at a Gaza-Israel crossing, and they missed the hearing.


Another death, another whitewash

First posted 1/27, 10:20 a.m. Updated; see below

In addition to George Habash, today saw the death of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. The press notes his brutality:

Former Indonesian President Suharto, the U.S. Cold War ally who led one of the 20th century's most brutal dictatorships over 32 years that saw up to a million political opponents killed, died Sunday.
Suharto was vilified by historians, rights groups and his critics as one of the world's most brutal rulers and was accused of overseeing a graft-ridden reign.
Aside from that brief reference to "U.S. Cold War ally," though, you'd never get the idea that the U.S. had any involvement, either in the coup which brought him to power and killed nearly a million people, nor in the invasion and slaughter in East Timor, and other atrocities, not to mention helping keeping him in power with economic and military aid. In fact, the U.S. and Australia as well were up to their eyeballs not only in the coup which brought Suharto to power, even giving Suharto lists of Communists and the weapons to finish them off, not to mention giving approval for the invasion of East Timor and much, much more. Not that this is the first time this kind of whitewashing of the U.S. role in backing Suharto has occured; FAIR noted similar efforts ten years ago.

As bad as the media's behavior is in this regard, of course it can't match the reaction to Suharto's death from the U.S. and Australian governments:

Cameron Hume, the U.S. ambassador in Jakarta, said Suharto was a close ally who led his country through a period of "remarkable" development.

"Though there may be some controversy [Ed. note: !!!] over his legacy, President Suharto was a historic figure who left a lasting imprint on Indonesia and the region," Hume said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Suharto an "influential leader" who presided over the world's fourth most populous country, and its largest Islamic nation, during critical times.

"The former president was also a controversial figure in respect of human rights and East Timor and many have disagreed [Ed. note: Ya' think?] with his approach," he added.
The New York Times did actually run a major article on Suharto today, written shortly before he died. Was it about his brutal history, and the U.S. involvement in it? Of course not, it was about how "some people here say it is not doctors and machines that have kept him alive, but an unseen cosmos of mystical forces," and about how Suharto stood out "for his devotion."

Update: National broadcast news update: ABC News refers to Suharto's record of a million "opponents" killed, but neither mentions any U.S. involvement/support, nor the fact that most of those opponents were Communists. CBS News uses the words "dictator" and "U.S. ally," but doesn't even mention "brutality" or a million dead, much less describe the nature of those killings.


Sick political joke of the week

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday that Israel would not let a humanitarian crisis develop in Gaza. (Source)
Because, on top of all the other consequences, 70 hospital patients having died in Gaza as a direct result of the siege doesn't constitute a "humanitarian crisis" according to Olmert (or according to the U.S. government or any of the candidates for President, for that matter).


George Habash dies

George Habash was the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist, secular, nationalist Palestinian group. In all the obituaries in today's papers, only the New York Times manages to explain that context to its readers, even while trumpeting the title "Palestinian Terrorism Tactician" in its headline. AP (and the Washington Post which ran the AP story), Reuters, and AFP all manage to describe Habash as a "radical" and in some cases as a "revolutionary," but studiously avoid the words "Marxist" and "secular" (wouldn't want to confuse the "radical Islamist" storyline). The Los Angeles Times managed one quick reference to "nationalist" and "Marxist," but quickly moves on.

Some excerpts from the New York Times article:

Mr. Habash remained a determined Marxist who continued to denounce Arab governments he felt were too closely aligned with the West and Palestinian leaders he suspected were ready to make concessions to Israel. In an interview in 1970, he remarked that he would not accept money from Arab countries that "stink of American oil," and he frequently argued that victory over Israel would only come when the traditional Arab governments had been replaced with revolutionary regimes.

The struggle of the Front, he said, was "not merely to free Palestine from the Zionists but also to free the Arab world from remnants" of Western colonial rule. All Arab revolutionaries, he said, "must be Marxist, because Marxism is the expression of the aspirations of the working class."


Activism isn't always pleasant

Friday's San Francisco demo against the Israeli "seige"/collective punishment of the people of Gaza took place in miserable conditions. As such, it was the palest fraction of the miserable conditions which Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank (not to mention refugee camps elsewhere) have been experiencing in some cases for nearly 60 years.

More photos of Friday's demo. A demonstration like this might seem futile - no press coverage occurred, who knows if the employees at the Israeli consulate inside even knew it took place, much less reported it to their government or cared. But solidarity is never out of place. If one Palestinian sees this picture and has their resolve to resist occupation strengthened, it will have been worth it. And even if none do, the strengthened resolve on the part of the participants, and everyone else who knew this action was taking place, or sees these pictures afterwards, will be that little bit more strength in the world movement to put an end to the criminal oppression of the Palestinian people.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Obama on Israel

A position which is undoubtedly precisely the same as all the other major candidates, not to mention the U.S. government itself, but here it is in print; I've added emphasis to one sentence which might have made this my "Political Humor of the Day" item were it not so deadly (literally) serious:
Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.

I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condenm the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel...

All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this... Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.

The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks... If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.


Barack Obama
United States Senator
Just in case you were wondering.

And, just in case Senator Obama is reading, here's one of those civilians on whom the impact has been minimized:

He is, of course, one of the lucky ones - he's still alive. As Cuban Ambassador Isidoro Malmierca, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement noted in the recent U.N. debate, more than 150 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, have been killed during the last six weeks. Senator Obama (or even the readers of this blog) may not have read about the NAM denunciation of the seige of Gaza, though, since it wasn't reported in a single Western newspaper. Someone speaking on behalf of 2/3 of the member states of the United Nations, and 55 percent of the world's population is of little interest to the Western media, since those aren't the "right" 2/3 of the world's countries nor the "right" 55 percent of the world's population.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


For those who were hoping for some Kucinich magic

Or at least for a little more shaking up of establishment views if they ever let him back in the debates, hope no more:
Democrat Kucinich quits White House race
Which leaves candidates who get even less press than Kucinich: Cynthia McKinney and Gloria La Riva. Yes, John Edwards does talk a good game on many issues, particularly labor and working class issues, and personally, I actually believe he's sincere in those views, but his vote for the war (even if renounced) and subsequent funding of the war, and the fact that he still believes, for example, in maintaining the U.S. blockade of Cuba and travel restrictions on U.S. citizens who wish to visit Cuba, along with his usual (usual for a capitalist politician) "strong support for Israel" and all that entails, make him completely unacceptable.


Say NO to collective punishment

The list of cities where demonstrations will be held this Friday and Saturday against the Israeli collective punishment of the people of Gaza has grown. Be there!

There will even be a major demonstration in Israel. Meanwhile, in collaborationist Egypt, hundreds have been arrested for holding "illegal protests against Israel." This is, no doubt, the kind of thing that George Bush was referring to during his visit to Egypt a week ago when he praised Egypt's "strong, constructive support for the [peace (sic)] process."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


A picture is worth a thousand words

[Updated; see below]

From the Times (U.K.) (hat tip Lenin's Tomb), who learned that Hamas had spent months slicing through the heavy metal wall using oxy-acetylene cutting torches before setting off explosive charges last night in 17 different locations to bring down the 40ft wall, allowing 350,000 Gazans into Egypt and breaking the blockade.

Now that's what you call "direct action"!

Update: Thursday morning, on the local KTVU news show "Mornings on Two," host Ross McGowan was interviewing former Secretary of State (and current Clinton adviser) Madeleine Albright about her latest book, and asked her about Bush's "peace plan." Her answer: she was very concerned because of the destruction of the wall and the flooding of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Egypt, and she didn't know what the consequences of that would be. Israel keeping 1.5 million Gazans in the world's largest open-air prison, and then inflicting further collective punishment by trying to starve them to death (and worse, cutting off electricity and medicine resulting in the death of many critically ill people)? Not her concern. The world's largest jailbreak, made by people whose major concern was buying food and medicine? Major worry to Ms. Albright.


The MADness of the "war on terror"

MAD Magazine (December 2007) explores the question, "Are we winning the war on terrorism?" Click the image to get a larger one you can actually read (note: depending on your browser, it may give you scroll bars, or it may shrink the image to the size of your browser window, in which case, you can either enlarge the window, or save the image to disk and open it with a graphic program).

Just to give you a taste, here are two of my favorites:

Terrorists already have millions of allies who are willing to poison our water. We call them American industries.

Our only cohesive plan to get rid of the terrorists who hate our freedoms is to get rid of those freedoms.


The cost of war

The cost of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan has been staggering to the peoples of those countries. But it's also a lot higher to Americans than most people think, or that the government and the politicians and the media would like you to know about:
The Pentagon officially reported 72,043 battlefield casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan through Jan. 5, 2008. In addition, VA hospitals and clinics have treated 263,909 unplanned patients from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. On top of that, VA reported 245,034 disability claims from veterans of the two wars.
The 72,043 breaks down like this (valid through Jan. 5, 2008):

Wounded, Injured, Ill8,26459,40767,671
Total Casualties8,73563,30872,043

Readers know from my many posts that these numbers don't even include all Americans, only uniformed ones, and also don't include other members of the "coalition" - British, Italians, and so on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


News shocker of the day

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Source)
I'm pleased to see that the study didn't let the enablers of those lies off the hook:
"Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, 'independent' validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq," [the study] said.
Although, at least judging from the news article, there is another group of enablers who escape unscathed - the Democrats and Republicans in Congress.


The "antiwar" Obama

I've written before about the bogus "antiwar" stance of Barack Obama, whose "opposition" to the invasion of Iraq was entirely founded on practicalities and not on principles:
"I am proud of the fact that I opposed this war from the start. In 2002, I said this was a bad idea. It's going to cost us millions of dollars and thousands of lives. We don't have a strategy for getting out."
Today I was listening to the recent interview he gave to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the one in which his references to Republicans as having been the "party of ideas" for "the last 10, 15 years" and his semi-explicit praise of Ronald Reagan have drawn criticism from not only Hillary (and Bill) Clinton but also, and in more analytic form, from Paul Krugman.

But while I was listening to the one-hour interview (I searched high and low for a transcript but couldn't find one, so I transcribed what follows myself), I found some very interesting comments about war. Start with this (around 21:00 into the interview if you want to view it yourself):

"I didn't come of age in the battles of the 60s. I'm not as invested in them...Even when you discuss war, the frame of reference is all Vietnam. Well, that's not my reference. My frame of reference is 'what works.' Even when I first opposed the war in Iraq, my first line was, 'I don't oppose all wars,' specifically to make clear that this was not just an anti-military, 70s love-in kind of approach, rather, that I thought strategically it was a mistake for us to go in."
So not only does Obama confirm that it was simple "strategy" and a need to do "what works" that made it a mistake to invade Iraq, not anything like, God forbid, morality or even international law, but he suggests that the opposition to the Vietnam war was some kind of hippie-dippy, peace and love opposition to "all wars" as opposed to the opposition to imperialist wars of aggression and occupation that it was.

Now combine that with this (from around 43:00 in the interview), where he talks about what he's looking for in a Vice-President. After first talking about the possibility of a "bipartisan" ticket, and how the main thing in the way might be the lack of a "serious Republican" who would agree to run with him, he then talks about the qualities he's looking for:

"I would want somebody with competence in areas where I am weaker. The obvious would be military experience. I'm very confident about serving as Commander-in-Chief in terms of my judgments in terms of what our strategic interests are, and so that's the area that I'd be concerned about, but I think having somebody who intimately understood some of the more tactical issues surrounding military deployments, or, conversely, also understands the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, because moving that and changing that can be a very difficult thing."
So evidently the most desirable criterion for Obama's Vice President is someone who can help him fight the wars he'll be glad to launch, just as long as they "work."


Gaza - why now?

The fact that a major escalation in Israeli aggression towards the people of Gaza has taken place is obvious, but what is less obvious is...why now? There certainly was no single precipitating event, as there was in 2006 with the capture of Gilad Shalit (which in turn was precipitated by a series of Israeli attacks).

Yesterday on Flashpoints, Mark Turner of the Research Journalism Initiative spoke with Nora Barrows-Friedman (at 10:50 into the show, if you download it or listen online where it is archived) about one possible cause for the escalation which has been largely overlooked although it is no secret - a large natural gas field in Palestinian waters off the coast of Gaza.

Natural gas was discovered off Gaza in 2000, and British Gas (BG) began developing the estimated 1.3 trillion cubic meter field under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. At first, the plan was to pipe the gas to Egypt, but under pressure from Tony Blair, the plan was altered so that some of the gas would be piped to Israel, providing 10% of Israel's annual energy needs at a value of $1 billion to the Palestinian Authority. Needless to say, with the election of Hamas in 2006, Israel refused to allow the deal to proceed (and, needless to say, even though the deal involves Palestine and a British company and Palestinian waters, Israel has total control over what happens, just as they refuse to even allow Palestinian fishermen to fish Gaza's waters).

So what was the precipitating event for this escalation? On January 8, BG announced it would be closing its office in Israel, and that it would redirect negotiations in the direction of the Egyptian pipeline, thereby depriving Israel of an inexpensive (inexpensive because the Palestinians don't have the negotiating clout of, say, Venezuela) and captive source of a significant source of its future energy needs, and thus magnifying Israel's need to precipitate the fall of Hamas and head this potential development off at the pass.

Is this the only or even main cause of the escalation? I couldn't say, but it's certainly one about which I, for one, had no idea.

And, whatever the reason, we need to act to protest Israeli war crimes! "Silence is complicity" in the words of Martin Luther King. ANSWER has announced a series of demonstrations around the country for this Friday and Saturday. The Muslim American Society has announced a rally for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. (possibly in conjunction with ANSWER; the date and location are the same). The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has announced an emergency aid convoy and is seeking funds. No doubt there are other actions planned; please post any you know of in the comments.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


More Israeli war crimes, more media complicity

On Friday, this was how one of the latest Israeli actions was described:
Israel bombed the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza
News reports described the building as "empty at the time," but did note that "one woman was killed and at least 30 others nearby were wounded."

It turns out, though, that there was more to the story, which is now making its way into some papers, though certainly not into the broadcast media:

The building, in a residential neighborhood flanked by the apartments of well-to-do residents, had been empty since it was severely damaged in a July 2006 airstrike.
So the building wasn't just "unoccupied," but "unused," and it wasn't the "Hamas-run Interior Ministry," but an building formerly used (and still owned) by the Interior Ministry. And, not only that, but a building located in a "residential neighborhood," where, as it turns out, a wedding was in progress:
An Israeli warplane attacked the downtown offices of the Palestinian Interior Ministry, flattening one wing of the empty building, killing a woman at a wedding party next door and wounding at least 46 other civilians, some of them children playing soccer in the street, hospital staff and witnesses said.
And why was this building attacked? Evidently it was not a military target, since it was an unused building. No, it was an act of pure terrorism - "sending a message" through bombing:
Even though it was unoccupied, it was seen as a symbol of Hamas authority.
But it isn't just me who says so, it's a U.N. official, who correctly described the Israeli actions as war crimes:
A United Nations official in Geneva on Saturday condemned Israel's actions, particularly the bombing on Friday of an empty Hamas Interior Ministry building in a Gaza City neighborhood. Shrapnel from the missile strike killed a woman and wounded up to 46 people, some of them children, who were celebrating at a wedding party next door.

The official, John Dugard, who works on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the Israelis who were responsible "for such cowardly action" resulting in civilian casualties "are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes." He said that the attack on the building "near a wedding party venue" was carried out "with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians."
And where did I read Dugard's statement? Of the major media, only in the New York Times, but even there, the Times does not acquit itself well. The headline to the article reads "Israeli Airstrike in Gaza Kills 2 Hamas Members," and not until well in the article do we read that a U.N. official has leveled the rather serious charge of "war crimes" against Israel, rather a more newsworthy item than the death of yet two more Palestinians at Israeli hands. Talk about burying the lead! Also known as complicity.

As an aside, the Israelis are still describing this building, unused for more than a year and a half, as "a Hamas headquarters."

Friday, January 18, 2008


Stop the presses! The economy is tanking!

Seemingly out of the blue, the Bush Administration and the Congress are talking about some sort of tax relief or tax rebates. The words you hear are "urgent," "immediate," "quickly," and so on. Congress has to act "immediately" to get out this money to taxpayers "quickly." Here's my question: did no one in Washington see this coming, say, a month ago, or three months ago, so that they could have acted in a considered fashion, rather than acting like a sudden emergency has developed? For sure there are tens of millions of people outside of Washington who could have told them that.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Military recruiting? Just say "no"

Would that the Democrats got the message. In one of the clearest demonstrations of where the leading Democrats stand on war and imperialism, the Democratic debate Tuesday night featured Tim Russert trying (and succeeding with) one of his "gotcha" questions with this:
There’s a federal statute on the books which says that, if a college or university does not provide space for military recruiters or provide a ROTC program for its students, it can lose its federal funding.

Will you vigorously enforce that statute?
And the answers:
Sen. Clinton: "Yes, I will."

Sen. Obama: "Yes."

Sen. Edwards: "Yes, I will."
The next morning, Democracy Now invited the excluded Rep. Dennis Kucinich to answer the same questions (and, in typical DN fashion, unneccessarily replayed the answers from the other three, cutting into Kucinich's time and DN's unique contribution). His answer: "Absolutely not."

Now perhaps the three people who are the "serious" candidates (serious in the sense of having a finite chance to win) for President wanted to avoid saying "no" like Kucinich, especially since they're vying for an office whose current occupant has made it a habit of flaunting his allegedly "above-the-law" status, and thought that saying it was ok for the President to ignore the law might come back to haunt them. Perhaps. But then, at the very least, they might have said something like, "You know, as President, I'll have a Constitutional mandate to obey all they laws, but when it comes to enforcement, there's always a question of priorities, and I would definitely instruct the Executive Branch to make enforcement of this law the lowest possible priority." Or they might have said, "Yes, I would have to enforce the law as required by the Constitution, but I would make it a top legislative priority to have this outrageous law repealed."

They could have, but they didn't. Oh sure, they all quickly switched the subject to how much they care for veterans, and want to make sure that people who sign up for the military "get the resources and the help that they deserve," and so on. But when it comes to ensuring a continued stream of fodder for future imperialist wars, they're all in complete agreement that that is a higher priority than providing funding for colleges and universities, which they're all willing to see cut off should the schools not do their part for imperialism.

Update: WIIIAI points out in the comments another subtext of this question and discussion - gay rights, with many of the schools having banned ROTC and military recruiters in the first place because of the military's discriminatory policies. A fact none of the candidates got around to mentioning.


Thinking really different(ly): a socialist for President

While the Republicans argue over which of their candidates can be the most bellicose and vociferously pro-war, and the Democrats try to decide which of their three candidates can be the "kinder, gentler" face of imperialism (or at least pretend to be), and the Green Party debates running either Cynthia McKinney or a series of more-or-less unknown but no doubt equally progressive candidates, today the Party for Socialism and Liberation announced that my good friend Gloria La Riva will be its candidate for President of the United States in the 2008 election.

As an activist attending rallies and such in the Bay Area, I've known of (and heard) La Riva for many years, and have mentioned her here (and here) on more than a dozen occasions. I've come to know her in the last few years because we work closely together in the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Gloria is a tireless (and I mean that literally, not figuratively) activist on behalf of many causes (brief bio here), and may well be the only American who has ever spoken before the giant (million plus) May Day rallies in Havana not once but twice.

Why do socialists run election campaigns? In the United States, anyway, it's clearly not to win. Here's the PSL take on the subject, but my own spin (and perhaps condensed version of that article) is simple - it's a great way to get out the message. And here I speak from personal experience. In 1972, I was walking through Harvard Square and came across a Socialist Workers Party campaign table handing out literature for their Presidential candidate, Linda Jenness. Since I was already a committed feminist and active in the women's movement (yes, that's right), the focus on abortion rights caught my eye. That was the very first contact I ever had with a socialist, much less the socialist movement, and I've been a socialist ever since.

As an interesting side note, here's Gloria's Wikipedia entry, which notes that she was the Workers World Party candidate for Vice-President in 2000 (as well as in other elections). Why is that interesting? Because she and her running mate, Monica Moorehead, got 1804 votes in Florida that year. Fortunately most people were busy blaming Ralph Nader for Al Gore's loss (rather than blaming Al Gore himself or Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, and ChoicePoint, the real source of Gore's loss in Florida), so Gloria's role got overlooked. :-)

The campaign video:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Thinking different(ly)

"Think different" used to be Apple's (arguably ungrammatical) slogan, but it emphasized the company's nature to innovate in both software and hardware in dozens of ways I won't bother to enumerate here. Yesterday was the kick-off of MacWorld in San Francisco. Arriving in time for the opening of the exhibits (I don't need to hear Steve Jobs opening speech in real-time; it's online a few hours later), as I neared the building I first found Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and a companion whizzing by me on his Segway (illustrating one of the flies in the Segway ointment, by the way; the Woz could use a bit more exercise), and less than a minute later, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom walked by. Inside, the major sighting was Apple's literally unbelievably thin new MacBook Air. But, as Arlo Guthrie says 15 minutes into "Alice's Restaurant," that's not what I came to talk about.

No, the real jaw-dropping celebrity moment came that night when I watched the keynote on my computer (Mac, of course). And there, at the end of the video, just before the end of the video, was, not the "Group W bench" (if you're not getting all these references, you need to re-listen to "Alice's"), but Randy Newman singing "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country." At least, that's the title of the song. The words? Well, they're a different story. The last chorus begins with this:

The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
(The online lyrics I found say "ending," although I hear "ended" in this version of the song). Anyway, if you can name me any other billion-dollar corporation that would have someone singing this song at their major corporate event, an event in which they are trying to convince millions of people to buy their products, well, I'd like to know about it. Letting Randy Newman sing this song at your corporate event? That's "thinking different(ly)."

Anyway, here's the video, taken from the online webcast, and subtitled by me (using iMovie, of course), with some modifications from the lyrics posted online to match the actual singing. I've left in the Jobs' introduction just to emphasize that this isn't Randy Newman singing on Saturday Night Live or on his own video, but at a major public corporate event.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Quote of the day

If you can follow the antecedents and the syntax in this you are doing very well (actually you must be on drugs, and I don't mean "performance-enhancing" ones), but the end (in bold) is all too clear:
Q Just a couple quick follow ups on Iran. On the NIE, did you -- were you, in effect, distancing yourself from the conclusions of the NIE, and these guys --

THE PRESIDENT: No, I was making it clear it was an independent judgment, because what they basically came to the conclusion of, is that he's trying -- you know, this is a way to make sure that all options aren't on the table. So I defended our intelligence services, but made it clear that they're an independent agency; that they come to conclusions separate from what I may or may not want.
The nerve! Don't they know they're supposed to start from what George wants and work backwards? How dare they think that a "National Intelligence Estimate" is supposed to be based on "intelligence" (in both senses of the word)?


"Threats" from Iran

You may have heard that the Boris Karloff-like "I am coming to you...You will explode after...minutes" "threat" to U.S. warships in the Straits of Hormuz quite possibly came from "a heckler widely known among sailors in the region by the ethnically insulting term 'the Filipino Monkey.'" Although if you read the San Jose Mercury News like I do, you would have had to have been paying close attention, since after days of banner headlines about the Iranian "provocation" and Bush's bellicose response, this particular story was buried in the fine print well inside the paper.

On a nearby page, but far more prominent in size, was a story today about the proposed U.S. arms "sale" (no doubt at least partially subsidized by U.S. taxpayers) to Saudi Arabia. And while the Iranian "provocation" was being exposed as a likely "heckler" on one page, this more "serious" story was busy pushing the counter line, but oh-so-subtly:

The sale is a key element in the U.S. strategy to bolster the defenses of its Arab allies in Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing majority Sunni Muslim Gulf nations against threats from Shiite Iran.
Here's the thing: the only "threat" that "Shiite Iran" has uttered against anyone, much less the "majority Sunni Muslim Gulf nations," is its "threat" to retaliate against the United States or Israel should it be attacked. Other than that it has threatened no one in the slightest. But any reader of this article will now have the information safely stowed away in their subconscious that Iran is making "threats" that need to be countered (with precision-guided bombs, no less).

And of course you noted the completely gratuitous attempt to play the religious angle, as if Iran has designs on attacking Saudi Arabia because one is majority Shia and the other majority Sunni. To the extent that their are tensions between the two, and no doubt there are, they have everything to do with the fact that one of the two is the lackey of U.S. imperialism and the other its foe, and nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Racism in the news

No, this post isn't about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's about the latest "scandal" sweeping the news - the alleged use of steroids by a number of performers, all of whom (all the names I've heard, anyway) are black - Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Timbaland and Wyclef Jean. But the possession and consumption of human growth hormone is not illegal! How can there possibly be a "scandal" about people consuming drugs which are legal?

But here's the real kicker - news reports about the story refer to "performance-enhancing drugs." Really? You sing better on steroids? Do you blog better, too? Maybe I should look into this stuff.

Give me a break. A lot of people on the left cried "racism" when the steroid scandal touched such stars as Barry Bonds, and to the extent that that scandal totally bypassed the generally (or perhaps entirely) white owners of the teams, many of whom had to have been aware of what was going on, they were right, although that hardly excuses what amounts to cheating on the amount of the athletes. But when it comes to smearing someone like Mary J. Blige or 50 Cent for perfectly legal activities, I can't help but think the story is racist to the core.


The hidden victims of U.S. imperialism

I've written before about some of the hidden victims of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan - the spouses and others murdered by returning vets suffering from PTSD (or just suffering from an excess of testosterone and rage fueled by years of shooting and being shot at). Now the New York Times (and yes, folks, this is why bloggers will never replace news organizations, who have the resources to do such things) has made an attempt to quantify those victims, at least with a minimum number:
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.
Needless to say, members of the military do commit murders like other people, but these rates are even excessive compared to the rate for military people in previous years:
The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.
I'm a little unclear on the different numbers (121 according to the material quoted above, 349 here); evidently I'm missing something, I'm not sure what. And unfortunately the article provides no statistics on a comparable civilian population, adjusted for age and sex. It seems highly likely these numbers are much higher, but it would be nice to see them.

Incidentally, researching this post I came upon this old post on the tragic death of Sgt. Frank Sandoval, a brain-injured vet who appeared to be making a good recovery until he died during a second operation, eight months after his injury and leaving Iraq. I was skeptical, but his death was indeed listed by the DoD an an "Iraq death," so for those who insist that the DoD doesn't include such people, you're wrong. But who they don't include, for sure, are people like Krisiauna Calaira Lewis and Richard Davis and Noah P. Gamez, all just as surely victims of these wars of aggression.


Race, gender, and politics

This morning on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman hosted a debate (or "conversation" if you prefer) between Gloria Steinem, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University and Obama supporter, on the subject of race and gender in politics. Apparently Steinem upset Harris-Lacewell with an op-ed in the New York Times in which she hypothesizes that Obama would never have achieved the success he has had he been a black woman. Despite the fact that the subject of "black women" came up repeatedly during the 40-minute or so debate, and despite the fact that the "Headlines" segment of the show had featured a quote from potential Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, Goodman never once asked Steinem or Harris-Lacewell about McKinney, nor did they mention her. Nor, by the way, did the discussion cover a single "issue" other than Clinton's vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq. The context of the discussion suggested that Steinem would probably support any female candidate ("female human being" in Steinem's rather bizarre language) running and Harris-Lacewell any black, which then begs the question of why Goodman didn't ask how they felt about the possibility of Condoleezza Rice running for President.

On the actual issues front, a different story. Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times featuring an article which led its web page with this headline: "Label the unions divided over Clinton and Obama." John Edwards has been endorsed by four national unions representing millions of workers: the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the United Steelworkers of America, the United Mine Workers of America and the Transport Workers Union. His name does not appear in the article. Just in case you were laboring under the misconception that the media's job was the report the news, rather than shape it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Silliness of the day

Vic Lee

Personally, I'd prefer Bush as a target, but that's just me.


Non-sequitur of the day

On MSNBC this morning, their "military analyst" Col. Jack Jacobs was discussing the "provocation" in the Straits of Hormuz. Here was his concluson:
"This is precisely why we have ships patrolling the Gulf, to prevent these sorts of incidents."

Friday, January 11, 2008


The air war in Iraq

Here's the lead from today's Los Angeles Times article about the latest airstrikes in Iraq (emphasis added):
U.S. warplanes hammered suspected Sunni militant hide-outs on the southern outskirts of Baghdad on Thursday as part of a wide-ranging military assault on Al Qaeda in Iraq around the country.

American aircraft dropped 49,000 pounds of bombs on the lush farm region of Arab Jabour, said military spokeswoman Maj. Alayne Conway, who called it "one of the largest airstrikes since the onset of the war."
So the mere suspicion that there were "militant hide-outs" was enough to launch "one of the largest airstrikes" since the war began. But way down in the 23rd and nearly last paragraph (it was the last in the copy I read in print), we get to this:
[Defense Secretary Robert M.] Gates said he believed that Al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely eliminated from Baghdad and Anbar province, and has been squeezed into northern provinces.
So AQI has been squeezed into northern provinces, and "largely eliminated" from areas further south, yet this circumstance warrants "one of the largest airstrikes since the onset of the war" south of Baghdad. Hmmm.

I was particularly amused by this section of the article:

A spokesman for an Awakening Council...said Thursday that civilians had been trapped in the Arab Jabour region by the heavy military activity in recent days.

Alaa Ithawi, the spokesman, said the Americans had told Arab Jabour residents to move 10 days earlier, but not all had done so. He acknowledged that extremists operated in the area, but said the bombings risked alienating more people.

"People are admitting there are gunmen, but to have civilians as targets is a crime against humanity," Ithawi said.

There was no way to confirm his allegations.
Which allegations couldn't be confirmed? That targeting civilians (or targeting a civilian area without making the slightest effort to determine if civilians are still present) constitutes a crime against humanity?

Out now! All out. And that means especially the air force. This story, incidentally, points to the fallacy of the argument that the U.S. can't withdraw "immediately." Sure, it will take some time just logistically to evacuate all the troops. But the U.S. could stop offensive (in both senses of the word) actions like this anytime they wanted. And the incident also points to the fallacy of the position of those, like most of the leading Democrats, who claim they want all troops out of Iraq "except for anti-terrorist activities." Because, as I've written many times before, all the actions of the U.S. armed forces are described as "anti-terrorist" in nature, just like the actions of the Columbian armed forces against the FARC, the Israeli armed forces against Palestinian resistance fighters, and many other struggles around the globe. The position of wanting to continue "only" anti-terrorist activities in Iraq is one more of those "last refuges of scoundrels."

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Political Humor of the Day

The State Department praised Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for the release of two hostages by a guerrilla group Friday Thursday, but barely acknowledged the role of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez."(Source)
Uribe, of course, is the one who did his absolute best to scuttle the release by interfering with Chavez' role in the negotiations.

By the way, less than a week ago the headlines in the same paper read:

Hostage saga embarrassment to FARC, Chavez
Think we'll be reading a retraction?


Don't worry, it's only "151,000" dead

Forget about my post below showing that the "151,000" dead in Iraq is really four times more than that. This study appeared yesterday. It did appear in various papers (at least online; I can't check print editions). But as I write this, just before noon on Thursday, the information doesn't appear (if it ever did) on the front pages of the Washington Post, New York Times, or Los Angeles Times websites (and no doubt many, many more). It doesn't appear anywhere I can find on the liberal Huffington Post website, and, aside from my diary and three others, hasn't been mentioned yet on the liberal Daily Kos website either, certainly not by any of the "front-pagers."

Draw your own conclusions.


Brief note on comments

Haloscan seems to be taking very long today (and recently). I posted a comment on the thread below, and it didn't appear for more than an hour. So if you post a comment and it doesn't appear, don't be surprised and don't repost it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


151,000 deaths in Iraq?

The World Health Organization has now published an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine new study on deaths in Iraq, and the study has gotten the official stamp of approval from the Washington Post. Here's their lead:
A new survey estimates that 151,000 Iraqis died of violence in the three years following the U.S.-led invasion of the country. Roughly nine of 10 of those deaths were a consequence of U.S. military operations, insurgent attacks and sectarian warfare.

The survey, conducted by the Iraqi government and the World Health Organization, also found a 60 percent increase in nonviolent deaths -- everything from childhood infections to kidney failure -- during the period.
I haven't had time to do a complete analysis, but right off the bat you can see some problems. First, note that both the news articles and the report itself quantify only the 151,000 deaths from "violence." This does make it clear how inaccurate the methodology of Iraq Body Count (its much lower numbers relying on published media reports, and counting "civilians" only) is, but it's very misleading with respect to the earlier Johns Hopkins studies. Why? Because the Johns Hopkins study was a study of "excess deaths," not deaths by violence only. Unfortunately, although the WHO study says they "found a 60 percent increase in nonviolent deaths," they don't quantify how many that amounts to, so comparing its 151,000 total to the Johns Hopkins study is difficult indeed.

Also, note the March June 2006 end date. Nothing wrong with that, the study had to end sometime, but there's no attempt, either in the press or in the study itself, to project from that number or even to mention it. 21 18 months have passed since March June 2006, and a lot more Iraqis have died (indeed, official numbers have said that last year saw an even higher Iraqi death toll than the ones that preceded it). Clearly, then, the "151,000" number, which is now going to assume the role of gospel, is starting out incorrect, even if it was correct as of March June 2006.

But the biggest problem is the non-violent death problem. There seems to be an idea that only violent deaths "count," as if people dying from poor public health conditions, poor nutrition, or poor health care are somehow less dead, or as if the increase in their numbers is any less attributable to the invasion. Consider Table 3 from the study. For all ages, subtracting out the violent component gives 3.07 deaths per 1000 person-years from disease and other non-violent causes before the invasion, and 4.92 after, a 60% increase. Violent deaths went from 0.1 to 1.09. I'm no statistician, but even though that's a 10-fold increase, the absolute increase of 1.85 deaths per 1000 person-years from non-violent causes would seem to be 70% larger. So if there were 151,000 additional violent deaths by March 2006, my crude calculation (which I am very willing to have corrected by a real statistician) gives 256,000 deaths from non-violent causes, for a total of 407,000 Iraqis dead as a result of the invasion by March June 2006. That's three years of data, which means it's 11,300/month. Add an another 21 18 months and that's another 238,000 203,400 people, for a grand total of 645,000 610,000, more than four times higher than the number you're now going to be hearing bandied about in the corporate media.

One hell of a lot of people. Or, to be blunt about it, former people. They're dead now.

P.S.: Shall we start a poll as to when the first time a reporter will ask George Bush about these numbers? I'll place my bet on "never."

Update: First misinterpretation: Democracy Now! this morning reports that "a new study shows that 151,000 Iraqis have died." No, the new study shows that 151,000 Iraqis have been killed by violent means through June 2006.

Second misinterpretation, from The New York Times: "W.H.O. Says Iraq Civilian Death Toll Higher Than Cited." No, the WHO study has nothing to do with "civilians," it has to do with "Iraqis." The only appearance of the word "civilians" in the NEJM paper is in conjunction with mentions of Iraq Body Count, which does count only "civilians." The Times further confuses deaths with violent deaths, reporting that "The World Health Organization said its study...indicated with a 95 percent degree of statistical certainty that between 104,000 and 223,000 civilians had died." It did no such thing. It indicated that many Iraqis had died from violence. Quite a different thing.

Small correction: Just caught myself in one math error. Somehow I thought that the study ended in March, 2006; it actually ended in June, 2006. That means I added in three too many more months of deaths. I should have added in 18 months, for a total of 610,000 deaths, not 645,000.

Another update: I just checked the Democracy Now website, and it's worse than I wrote above. Like the NY Times, they report (inaccurately on three counts!): "A new study of the civilian death toll since the U.S. invasion of Iraq has put the number of Iraqi deaths at 151,000." Not "civilians," not the "death toll," and not "since the invasion". This from the most progressive news organization with reasonably mass distribution in the entire country.


"Anti-semitism" - the last refuge of scoundrels

Such an easy charge to hurl, and so useful as a tool against your enemies. This from today's Miami Herald:
Venezuelan Jews, long uneasy with the Chavez government's alliances with Iran and other Middle Eastern countries that espouse anti-Israel views, are concerned that the government is sponsoring anti-Semitism in this hemisphere, a prominent journalist said Tuesday.
Note the quick seque from "anti-Israel views," which is reasonably accurate (although "pro-Palestinian" would be more accurate) to "anti-Semitism." And the evidence? For one, the country's allegedly "fast-dwindling Jewish population." No statistics to back up that claim, however, nor any recognition that a lot of rich people have left Venezuela thanks to their (hopefully correct) perceptions of the future directions of the country, and that if the Jewish population of Venezuela is really "fast-dwindling," it likely has nothing whatsoever to do with "anti-Semitism." Nor, for that matter, any recognition that there is a large, stable, and un-persecuted Jewish population in Iran which speaks to the question of whether there is a correlation between "anti-Israel" view and "anti-Semitic" views.

Oh, but there's more. There's an article from 2006 from an allegedly "government-linked" newspaper (I assume that means it supports the government, since it's not actually owned or run by the government) in which an article "debates whether it will be necessary to 'expel [the Jews] from the country.'" Clearly not exactly an ongoing debate or a more recent reference would be available, even if this is true and not completely taken out of context. Oh, and an article (date unspecified) that "accuses Jews of being involved in the murder of a government prosecutor." Not "the Jews," mind you, just "Jews." Which, out of context, tells us nothing. Were these just random individuals being accused of murder, who are in passing noted as Jews? Did they organize their plot (if they did) out of the Jewish Community Center? Who knows.

Last but not least, this:

Venezuelan government intelligence services twice have raided the country's most important Jewish center in a vague, ultimately unsuccessful search for weapons. Publications of the government's cultural ministry run articles entitled 'the Jewish Question,' along with a Jewish star superimposed over a swastika.
Talk about "vague." What was the context of the search for weapons in the Jewish center? Was it in conjunction with the murder of the prosecutor, perhaps? And what does "the Jewish Question" discuss? For all we know, it's a pamphlet explaining to Venezuelans that opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine has nothing whatsoever to do with, and is in no way a justification for, anti-Semitism.

In the end, I think we can judge the character of these charges from this:

Eppel drew connections between the anti-Semitism and Chavez's alliance with the Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also stridently critical of the United States. 'Chavez actually believes he is going to defeat capitalism and the U.S.,' Eppel said.
As I said at the beginning, this is really all about political opposition to Chavez, and using the epithet of "anti-Semite" to attempt to tar him and by extension his program, and quite probably nothing whatsoever to do with any real anti-Semitism in Venezuela. No doubt there are anti-Semites in Venezuela, as there are in Miami and everywhere else, but I seriously doubt there is any evidence that Hugo Chavez or anyone is his government is supportive of such attitudes.


"Provocation" in the Gulf, Part II

Hooman Majd (an Iranian expatriate, writer, and long-time executive in the music business) has seen watched the video and listened to the audio and concludes, as does the Iranian government, that it's a fake (especially the audio, not to mention the lack of video evidence of these "white boxes" allegedly being strewn about the ocean). Personally, watching the video, it looks like some Iranian teenagers out joyriding in their family's speedboat. Which is why I found this so particularly amusing:
The Iranian fleet of high-speed boats charged the U.S. warships and threatened to blow up the Navy convoy as it passed near but outside Iranian waters, according to Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, the top Navy commander in the Gulf.
"Fleet"? If that was a "fleet," my bicycle constitutes a "tank corps." In naval terms, a "fleet" is a large collection of warships, not a handful of speedboats. Three or four speedboats is a "flotilla," not a "fleet."

Look, I'll grant that, after the U.S.S. Cole attack, U.S. ships are wise to keep an eye on small boats in their vicinity. But if this really were a repetition of the Cole attack, the attackers would hardly be on the radio warning the target in advance.


When outing CIA agents was a heroic act

Valerie Plame was outed by George Bush, Dick Cheney and their minions in a cowardly attempt to protect and promote their dirty not-so-little war in Iraq. But back in the 70's, Philip Agee was a courageous ex-CIA agent, outing a lot more CIA agents, in an open and heroic attempt to put an end to dirty little wars around the world. Here's what he had to say about his actions:
In 2003, he drew a distinction between what he did and the exposure of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a prominent critic of President Bush's Iraq policy.

"This is entirely different than what I was doing in the 1970s," Agee said. "This is purely dirty politics in my opinion."

Agee said that in his case, he disclosed the identities of his former CIA colleagues to "weaken the instrument for carrying out the policy of supporting military dictatorships" in Greece, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

Those regimes "were supported by the CIA and the human cost was immense: torture, executions, death squads," he said.
Philip Agee, dead at age 72, was a long-time defender of Cuba and the Cuban Five, touring the world as recently as last year on speaking tours. Here are two worthwhile articles he wrote at the time for CounterPunch and the Guardian. Philip Agee, presente!


Quote of the day

"We can tell the drug and insurance industry that while they get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair."

- Barack Obama, in his concession speech last night in New Hampshire, transcribed from the video
Wow, way to set the barrier low! How many seats would be ok, Sen. Obama? 3/4?


True Lies: Schwarzenegger's intentional innumeracy in California

[First posted 1/7/08, 6:46 pm; updated (see below) and bumped]

It's been a while since I turned to one of my pet subjects - innumeracy. Local TV has been running frequent repetitions of ads for an against Propositions 94-97 which authorize a major expansion in Indian "gaming" (a.k.a. "gambling"). The pro ad features Arnold Schwarzenegger, telling voters that these propositions will solve our budget woes because they will contribute $9 billion to California's coffers, an amount at least the same order of magnitude as the current projected budget deficit of $14 billion.

There's just one teensy-weensy, itty-bitty problem with this analysis. The estimated $9 billion is the estimated income over 20 years!!! A fact Arnold and the propositions proponents "conveniently" neglect to mention. The clear implication of the ad is that this agreement will bring in $9 billion a year. The clearly wrong implication.

What I always wonder when this happens, which is not just once in a blue moon, is how someone picked 20 years. Why not 10? Why not 25? Why not 50? One thing for sure - they definitely didn't want to quote the number for one. Because then the number of people voting for the proposition might decrease by, let's say, a factor of 20.

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: I was wrong. I just watched the video online, and Schwarzenegger does say "over the next two decades" during the course of his pitch. But it remains true that he repeats "billions and billions" over and over during the course of the ad (and not "millions and millions") leaving what, for me at least, was a very incorrect impression.

ADDENDUM TO THE ERRATA - Mea not so culpa:

I haven't seen the Schwarzenegger ad since I wrote the correction above, but over breakfast I did just see another "pro" ad, this one featuring police officers and firefighters touting the propositions. And this ad very clearly on the screen says "$9 Billion for California" with nary a mention of 20 years. I presume that's why I got precisely the same message from the Schwarzenegger ad, although it's also possible the version I saw online wasn't the same as the broadcast version. In any case, this other ad is definitely, and in my opinion intentionally, misleading.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Ron Paul - racist, sexist, anti-gay

Ron Paul, the guy that Jay Leno and Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart love to shmooze because he's so interesting. Ron Paul, who leftists and others love to flirt with because he's against the war in Iraq.

Ron Paul - racist, sexist, anti-gay, rabidly anti-communist, and thoroughly reactionary. In a recent post, I said (in so many words) "why worry about his past when his present is so objectionable?" But now it turns out a lot more of his past has come to light. And it's pretty revealing about a man I just heard tell Jay Leno last night how his views have stayed constant over the years. Here are some excerpts to get started, and the original source.


How bad is the economy?

AT&T's shares fell 5% today because their customers aren't paying their bills.


Class war declared

As usual, the ruling class realizes it's war long before most of the working class, excuse me, the "middle class":
Chamber of Commerce vows to punish anti-business candidates

The group indicates it will spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it put out in the last presidential cycle.

Alarmed at the increasingly populist tone of the 2008 political campaign, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is set to issue a fiery promise to spend millions of dollars to defeat candidates deemed to be anti-business.

"I'm concerned about anti-corporate and populist rhetoric from candidates for the presidency, members of Congress and the media," [Chamber President Tom Donohue] said. "It suggests to us that we have to demonstrate who it is in this society that creates jobs, wealth and benefits -- and who it is that eats them."
I believe Donohue may have been a speechwriter for Marie Antoinette in a former life.

Tired of eating your job? Here's a better idea:


More Clinton Political Humor of the Day

This one courtesy of Jay Leno, reading from a 94-year-old woman's obituary during his "Headlines" segment:

Should you not be able to read it, the final sentence of the obituary reads: "With her passing, Ethel's final wish was ultimately granted when she did not have to see Hillary Clinton become President."

Had she only lived a little longer, she might have been able to stop worrying.


Capitalism kills

...a lot. The latest in a long-running series:
More patients die in the US from diseases that could be treated by timely intervention than in any other leading industrialised country, a study by senior health academics showed on Monday.

"If the US performed as well as the top three countries in the study" - France, with 65 deaths per 100,000, and Japan and Australia, both with 71 per 100,000 [the U.S. rate is 110] - "there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths per year," the authors write in the journal Health Affairs.

The study looks at preventable deaths below the age of 75 and found that while most countries had made big strides in reducing them over the past decade, with an average fall of 17 per cent, the US experienced only a 4 per cent decline.

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