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Friday, February 29, 2008


Picture of the Day

Nuttall's Woodpecker (male)
McClellan Ranch, Cupertino, CA


Find yourself Another Country

Buddy Miles, who drummed with Jimi Hendrix, the Electric Flag, and others, has died. In his honor, have a listen to the Electric Flag's song, "Another Country," with lyrics starting:
If I could lose
All my troubles
By running away
No, no I wouldn't stay
No I wouldn't
Find yourself another country.
No doubt we all feel that way sometimes, whether it be personal troubles or the troubles of the world. Keeping up the fight, sometimes in the face of very long odds indeed, is a difficult proposition.

And, if you haven't had enough Buddy Miles and the Electric Flag, here's an earlier post of their hit, "Killing Floor."



Killed while playing soccer

Two of the four young Palestinian boys killed yesterday by an Israeli airstrike while playing football (soccer)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


The cost of war

Faced with the latest estimate that the final cost of the war in Iraq will be a whopping $3 trillion, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto says:
"$3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn't his slide rule work that way?"
Well, personally I would use a calculator to solve this problem, not a slide rule, which isn't very good at addition and subtraction. 3000 people (more or less) were killed on 9/11 in the most spectacular terrorist attack we're likely to see, an attack that surely succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of any terrorist. A few hundred a year, most of them not Americans, would have been the likely result of doing nothing (beyond the "norm"). A reminder similar to what I've said before:
Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.
As for the "attacks that have already been prevented," I'm personally unconvinced that any of them rose to the level of anything even remotely resembling "attacks," rather than just wishful thinking, but even if it were true, none of those attacks were prevented by the invasion of Iraq.

On the other side, there are the 5000 dead Americans and "friends" (British, etc.) from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (I know that neither Bush nor Fratto, nor, sadly, the vast majority of Americans, give a rat's ass about the million dead Iraqis and Afghans). So the equation is $3 trillion + 5000 (and counting, clearly) - some probability of a few hundred dead a year (plus a much smaller probability of a larger number killed). If we like, we can convert the $3 trillion to the number of people whose lives would have been saved had the money been spent on better health care, and perhaps we'll even allow for some of the $3 trillion having been spent on, e.g., better airport and port security. We do not subtract out the 9/11 dead, by the way, because the invasion of Iraq (nor of Afghanistan) didn't prevent those; that horse had already left the barn.

All in all, a pretty poor "investment."


Hey, hey, EOJ*, how many kids did you kill today?

Four, so far, anyway. 27 Palestinians killed in the last two days alone.

And the New York Times continues its "balanced" coverage. After mentioning both Palestinian rocket attacks and Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes in the lead paragraph, the Times proceeds with three long paragraphs about Ashkalon (the Israeli city attacked by rockets), where no one was even hurt, before returning to the deaths of Palestinians. They did manage to include one picture from Gaza along with a picture from Israel today, but still haven't seen fit to trouble their readers with pictures of dead or even injured Palestinians. Since they haven't managed, I'll help them out here:

Mohammed al-Borai, aged six months,
one of the children killed by the Israeli army in the last 24 hours

Ha'aretz (link above) notes the dropping of any pretense that Israel is just aiming at people allegedly on their way to fire rockets:

Early Thursday evening, an Israel Air Force helicopter attacked a police roadblock near the Gaza City home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in which Palestinian officials said one person was killed and four others wounded.

The attack appeared to be aimed at sending a message to Hamas, one day after the IAF targeted Haniyeh's empty office, as the heavily populated area is not used to launch rockets.
So a random person is killed and four wounded to "send a message." Although Israel has been compared to the Mafia, I don't even think the Mafia did (or does) things like that. Horses, yes, if the Godfather is to be believed, but not random people.

*EOJ: Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem (sorry, best I could do)

Update: Following up more on the post below this one than on this one, I find myself shocked by the Los Angeles Times headline, which reads "Hamas answers Israeli airstrikes with rockets." I guess we'll file that under "the exception that proves the rule."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Fair and balanced news from the Middle East

Headline in the New York Times: "Hamas and Israelis Trade Attacks, Killing Several." And who were those "several"? The first Israeli killed by a Palestinian rocket attack in nine months, and eight Palestinian "militants" and civilians, the first eight Palestinians killed by Israel since...probably yesterday.

And what two pictures are run with the story? One of a presumably injured Israeli woman being carried, and the second showing some Israelis taking cover in Sderot. Pictures of dead Palestinians? Evidently a little too balanced for the Times.

The rocket attacks, by the way, as the article actually admits, came in response to an Israeli airstrike which killed five Palestinians. Following the rocket attacks, another round of Israeli airstrikes in a residential area killed a 5-month-old Palestinian boy. I'm sure those Israeli women are so proud.

And in response to the death of a 5-month-old boy and seven other Palestinians, what does the U.S. government have to say? Condoleezza Rice urged Hamas to end its rocket attacks. Not a word urging Israel to end its orders of magnitude more deadly airstrikes and other attacks. Not a word. I'm sorry, she did say something: "I am concerned about the humanitarian conditions there and innocent people in Gaza who are being hurt." She's "concerned." Not, however, concerned enough to actually urge the Israelis to end the blockade of Gaza and end their attacks. Just "concerned."

Update: Today's Reuters story on the events illustrates my point even more strongly. Here's the lead, which invokes the standard "Palestinians provoke, Israel responds" line:

Israel responded to the death of an Israeli in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip by stepping up air strikes on Thursday that raised to 17 the number of Palestinians killed in the territory in the past two days.
The fact that there was a deadly Israeli airstrike which preceded the rocket attacks is mentioned much later in the article, but without any linkage, despite the fact that Hamas, as noted in the New York Times article, made clear that the rocket attacks were a response to the first airstrike.


The industrial size pot calling the grain of sand black

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is purchasing 'three or four times' more weapons than he needs [100,000 AK-103's and 104's], a top U.S. intelligence chief said Wednesday, but there is no evidence so far he is providing arms to Colombian guerrillas.
Yes, and he ought to know, since he's the one in charge of planning the attack for which the weapons will be needed.

Much further down in the story, and away from the headline, we find Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, revealing that he knows very well what the weapons are intended for:

"We have seen them go into armories," he said. "And we do hear discussion within Venezuela about using asymmetric kinds of capabilities and tactics and empowering the population in some way, in a home guard sense."
What a radical concept - empowering the population to repel an attack. Hugo Chávez has learned the lessons of the Bay of Pigs (and of Allende's Chile), and is prepared to repeat the former and not the latter. Maples knows this very well, of course, which is why he's beating the scary drums of Venezuela having "too many weapons." As long as there is imperialism in the world, you cannot have "too many weapons."


Whose terrorism?

A really excellent and fact-filled article by Noam Chomsky on the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Moughniyeh.


The phony "war funding cutoff"

Headlines trumpet "Senate advances bill to cut Iraq funding" and the articles tell us that "The measure, by Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, would cut off money for combat after 120 days." Really? Here's the text of the bill:
(c) Use of Funds- Effective 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and except as provided in subsection (d), no funds appropriated or otherwise made available under any provision of law may be obligated or expended to continue the deployment in Iraq of members of the United States Armed Forces.

(d) Exception for Limited and Temporary Purposes- The prohibition under subsection (c) shall not apply to the obligation or expenditure of funds for the following limited and temporary purposes:

(1) Conducting targeted operations, limited in duration and scope, against members of al Qaeda and affiliated international terrorist organizations.

(2) Providing security for personnel and infrastructure of the United States Government.

(3) Providing training to members of the Iraqi Security Forces who have not been involved in sectarian violence or in attacks upon the United States Armed Forces, provided that such training does not involve members of the United States Armed Forces taking part in combat operations or being embedded with Iraqi forces.

(4) Providing training, equipment, or other materiel to members of the United States Armed Forces to ensure, maintain, or improve their safety and security.

(5) Redeploying members of the United States Armed Forces from Iraq.
Well, #5, I'm all for (or I would be if it actually meant bringing them home, instead of, as the "antiwar" members of the Senate actually mean, "over the horizon" in Kuwait or Qatar). As for the rest, isn't that what it is claimed the U.S. is doing? As I've written many times before, every action in Iraq is described as being against al Qaeda. Here's today's very typical coverage:
Insurgents targeted passenger buses north of Baghdad on Tuesday, as a suicide bomber killed at least eight people west of Mosul and gunmen seized 21 men traveling through Diyala province...The latest Iraqi bloodshed Tuesday highlighted the slow-going, punch-counterpunch nature of the U.S.-led campaign against Al-Qaida in Iraq... The U.S. military said it killed seven members of Al-Qaida in Iraq and captured three insurgents during a firefight Monday.
Proof that those seven dead were actually members of Al-Qaida in Iraq? The media doesn't ask for any, dutifully serving their role as U.S. military stenographer. And the likelihood that if this bill were to pass (which is highly unlikely in any case), that it would lead to a single change in military actions in Iraq or in spending? Pretty much zero. Note that the bill has nothing to do with actual appropriations, only with how money that the Senate has already voted for is to be spent. Needless to say, if they really wanted to "cut spending after 120 days," all they had to do was to lower the amount they voted for in the last round to cover #5 only - withdrawal from Iraq. They didn't.


American democracy in action

Congress has now asked the Justice Department to investigate whether some baseball player took steroids. Meanwhile, any investigation of how a President and his entire Administration lied the nation into a war with the resulting death of more than a million people is still "off the table." There just "isn't time" for that impeachment business, you know, it would get in the way of all those important things Congress is doing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Collective punishment in Gaza

The U.N. reports on just one of the many consequences of the blockade of Gaza:
John Holmes, United Nations emergency relief coordinator, warned that humanitarian conditions had grown increasingly grim since Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power in June. Most industrial and agricultural activities in Gaza have collapsed, leaving more than 80 percent of the population dependent on food aid, he said. Rates of anemia and diarrhea among children, meanwhile, have skyrocketed by 40 percent and 20 percent over the past year.

"The effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified...It amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law."
Hillary Clinton presents herself as a children's advocate. Think she'll speak up on behalf of these children? Yeah, me neither.


NY Times on Cuba: speculation yes, news no

The New York Times writes about recent events in Cuba:
In his first state reception as Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro met Tuesday not with leftist Latin American leaders like Hugo Chávez and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, nor with Chinese officials, but with the secretary of state of the Vatican, a traditional enemy of Communism and a critic of Cuba’s record on human rights.

Mr. Castro’s decision to begin his tenure by meeting the Vatican’s top diplomat, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a possible go-between with the United States and Europe, reflects his practical, no-nonsense style as well as his greater willingness to put ideology aside to achieve his goals than his brother often showed.
The rest of the article is more endless speculation about the differences between Raúl and Fidel. What it's missing is actual news, or even any credibility in the speculation. Cardinal Bertone's visit, as it turns out, was a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the visit to Cuba by the Pope John Paul II, a visit which was of course hosted by...Fidel Castro. So much for the speculation about how this visit says anything whatsoever about the differences between Raúl and Fidel.

But there was more actual news from this visit. Let Granma tell the story:

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of State of His Holiness Benedict XVI, reiterated in Havana the words of Pope John Paul II during his visit to Cuba in 1998, when he called the U.S. blockade against the island unjust and ethically unacceptable.

In a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque after a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cardinal Bertone added that the restrictions imposed by Washington constitute oppression of the Cuban people and violate their independence.
Funny, I missed those details in the New York Times story. Perhaps because they weren't there.


More looking-glass world, this time from North Korea

The New York Philharmonic played in Pyongyang. AP informs its readers that North Korea is an "isolated nuclear power that considers the U.S. its mortal enemy." Considers? I don't know about you, but a country which labels another one part of an "axis of evil" and implicitly threatens to attack it with nuclear weapons surely must be an actual "mortal enemy."

But the "looking-glass quote" in the article comes from U.S. diplomat William Perry:

"You cannot demonize people when you're sitting there listening to their music. You don't go to war with people unless you demonize them first."
Gee, I just can't imagine the U.S. demonizing anyone, unless it's Saddam Hussein. Or Slobodan Milosevic. Or Fidel Castro. Or Hugo Chavez. Or Mohammar Khaddafi. Or Kim Jung-Il. Or whoever else is this week's "next Hitler."

As for listening to the music of one's "enemies," I remind Mr. Perry that it was the U.S. which refused to allow a 77-year-old Cuban musician from even entering the country to receive an award, much less play music.


The food crisis

When Fidel Castro returned to the scene last July with his first appearance as a regular columnist, the corporate media scoffed at this claim that "More than three billion people in the world [might soon be] condemned to premature death from hunger and thirst," as a result primarily of the rush to convert to biofuels. Since then, there has been widespread realization that Fidel was being far from alarmist.

The U.N. Food program is considering cutting food aid because of the rising price of food - 40% overall in just one year. Wheat prices are skyrocketing, as this graph shows, due to a number of causes, but high on the list the conversion to corn for biofuel:

[Actually, there's a bit of confusion; a picture caption in the article claims wheat prices up 83% in a year, but the graph clearly shows a rise of 250%]

Although you won't find it in the article linked above, last night's BBC World did mention the figure of "billions" of people who may be in serious trouble because of this crisis. Like so many other problems, this is one that capitalism - production for profit rather than need - can never solve.

Monday, February 25, 2008


The first Kennedy

Some say Obama is "the next Kennedy." Here, from a new book entitled "Bush and the CIA's Dream Team," is a reminder of the first Kennedy:
"The Cuban Revolution disorganized the security plan that the US had established for the continent. The armies were trained to fight an external enemy, in this case from the Soviet Union, since they were in the middle of the Cold War. When the Cuban Revolution triumphed, they had not even received one bullet from abroad. The US therefore said the problem is within; that’s when J.F. Kennedy created the Doctrine of National Security and the 'internal enemy.' Then the Latin American armies were forced to change. They were no longer just protected the borders; they were going to fight that enemy. And we saw the dictatorships, 'the missing,' and the massacres in the 1970s."
Of course it was also under Kennedy that CIA-backed Cuban exiles, with the aid of U.S. air cover, invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, and also under Kennedy that the CIA made numerous attempts on the life of Fidel Castro.


International law and Kosovo

Jeremy Scahill reminds us, among many other things, that while U.S. politicians, including Hillary Clinton, condemn the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Belgrade as an "outrageous violation of international law," it was the Clinton administration war against Yugoslavia which included the almost-certainly deliberate bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade which killed three Chinese citizens, two of them journalists, and wounded 20 more.


What is killing the people of the world?

Here's something I wrote in September, 2003:
The U.S. has started (although not yet finished) two wars and killed tens of thousands of people pursuing its "war on terrorism." Is terrorism the #1 problem facing humanity? You would certainly get that idea listening to George Bush, or the U.S. media for that matter.

Here are some random facts I scrounged from the web. This is a table I would love to see someone with more time and expertise expand on, in order to paint a fuller picture, but here's my start:

Imagine a world in which several hundred billion dollars were spent on public health or nutrition instead of war. Instead of killing thousands of innocent people, millions of lives could be saved (and, quite probably, the threat from terrorism reduced at the same time). If only Halliburton were in the health-care business.
And here's the latest addition to that list: "An estimated 388 million people will die from chronic disease worldwide over the next 10 years, according to World Health Organisation figures," with many of those 39 million deaths a year attributable to preventable causes such as obesity (the focus of this particular study). "Insufficient physical exercise is a risk factor in many chronic diseases and is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths worldwide each year." Remarkably, the study predicts that "obesity could shorten the average lifespan of an entire generation, resulting in the first reversal in life expectancy since data collecting began in 1900."

Saturday, February 23, 2008


U.S. allies in the news

Saudi Arabia's religious police ordered the arrest of 57 youths this week claiming they flirted with girls in malls in the city of Mecca.

Members of the commission, known as the Muttawa, patrol public areas to ensure the kingdom's brand of ultra-conservative morality is enforced, and this includes strict segregation of the sexes.

The Muttawa also cracked down on Valentine's Day by banning florists from selling red roses.
Interestingly enough, the source of this news is Iran's PRESS TV.


This isn't Israel

I got the latest issue of The Nation magazine in the mail today and found this ad (at right) on the back cover. Yeah, sure, "this is Israel," just a nation where good-looking women wield power, no doubt with the touch of a mother cradling her baby in her arms.

No, this is Israel:

A 2-year-old child died at a Gaza hospital today after the Israeli authorities barred his transfer to a hospital abroad for further medical treatment. His death raised the number of Palestinian patients who have died due to the siege of Gaza to 98, including 17 children, including some as young as 1 1/2 months.
And this is Israel:
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.
And this is Israel:
The Israel Air Force struck at the home of a Hamas activist in Gaza City before dawn Wednesday, killing six people and wounding top Hamas commander Mohammed Def. A mother and four children were among the dead and at least 24 people were wounded.
And this is Israel:
Israel was placed on high security alert Wednesday, hours after Israel Defense Forces artillery shells struck a residential area in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun early Wednesday, killing at least 18 Palestinians and wounding dozens of others. Eight children and seven women were among the dead.
I'll stop. The Israelis, unfortunately, won't, no matter whether they're led by gruff old war criminals like Ariel Sharon or terrorists like Menachem Begin or attractive women like Tzipi Livni. Not on their own, anyway.


Hillary Clinton's flip-flop on Cuba

First posted 2/22, 12:57 pm; updated and bumped

One of the minor differentiations between Clinton and Obama is that Obama calls for minor change in U.S. Cuban policy (reverting it back to what it was in 2004, when Cuban-Americans had fewer restrictions on travel to Cuba and monetary remittances to their relatives), while Clinton calls for maintaining the status quo (with both saying that any other changes in policy depending on "changes" in Cuba which they approve of).

But back in 2003, there was an interesting vote in Congress, in which both House and Senate voted to end the travel ban on all Americans, and then the conference committee reconciled the "differences" between the bills by striking that provision, on which both bodies agreed, altogether. Here's the Senate vote on that bill, which was on a vote to table so that a "Nay" vote was a vote to end the travel ban - Hillary Clinton voted "nay," meaning that at that time, she was in favor of an end to the travel ban, no preconditions of changes in Cuba required. It's interesting to see which Democrats voted the other way (i.e., for the travel ban) - Corzine from Cuban-heavy New Jersey and Graham and Nelson from Cuban-heavy Florida, then Democrat-in-Name-Only (and now no longer Democrat) Joe Lieberman, and current Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. Barack Obama, of course, wasn't in the Senate in 2003, so his opinion isn't recorded.

Incidentally, the reason that travel ban was ostensibly removed in conference committee was the threat of a veto of the bill by George Bush. Considering that a majority of both houses of Congress have expressed their strong support for an end to the travel ban, a very easy position for both Obama and Clinton to take would be to promise not to veto such a bill if passed again. Neither has done so. Nor, by the way, have the Democrats even brought up the bill again since they took control of Congress.

Update: Reading Fidel Castro's latest column, I discover that Clinton isn't alone in flip-flopping on Cuba. David Brooks' latest column, quoted by Fidel, informs us that "Barack Obama...as candidate for Senate in 2003, was in favor of lifting the embargo." Then again, Obama used to be in support of the Palestinian people as well, as least more than the "average" U.S. politician. The closer they get to power, the further to the right they move.


Gotta' love that "straight talk" quote of the day

"We understood that he [McCain] did not speak directly with him [Paxson]. Now it appears he did speak to him. What is the difference?"

- John McCain attorney and spokesperson Robert Bennett
Does it get much "straighter" than that? Ugh.

Friday, February 22, 2008


And you thought the U.S. had a monopoly

Israeli parliament member Shlomo Benizri, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, says homosexuality causes earthquakes.

"Why do earthquakes happen? One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset (parliament) gives legitimacy, to sodomy," he explained. (Source)
Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson, move over!

I don't have the complete transcript of Benizri's remarks. I wonder if he took note of the striking correlation between the number of gays and the number of earthquakes here in the San Francisco Bay Area. You have to admit, his theory holds as much water as, say, "intelligent design" or the "Young Earth" theory.


Quote of the day: "Change! Change! Change!"

Fidel Castro reflects on the U.S. Presidential candidates responding to his announcement:
I enjoyed watching the embarrassing position of all the candidates for the United States presidency. One by one they were obliged to announce their immediate demands of Cuba in order not to risk losing a single voter.

Half a century of blockade seemed little enough to the favorites. "Change, change, change!" they cried in unison.

I am in agreement, change! but in the United States. Cuba changed a long while ago and will follow its dialectical route. "No return to the past ever!" exclaim our people.

"Annexation, annexation, annexation!" responds the adversary; that is what they are really thinking deep down about when they talk of change.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Cuba is holding an election Sunday

...which, evidently, is the way you establish a dictatorship:
Jorge Ramos (Univision): A question for you, Senator Clinton. Would you be willing to sit down with Raul Castro or whoever leads the Cuban dictatorship when you take office at least just once to get a measure of the man?
I'm sure I don't need to bother to point out that neither Obama nor Clinton took issue with that characterization.

Update: Looking again at the transcript, I found this gem from Clinton:

"You know, just this week -- it's a good example -- ...we had a change in government in Cuba or at least the leadership; we've had the elections that, you know, should have happened, that haven't happened, and just change the leader the way they do in Cuba."
First of all, there have been two rounds of elections that according to Clinton "haven't happened" in Cuba, and second of all, what on earth is she talking about when she says "just change the leader the way they do in Cuba"? What precedent does she have in mind?

Additional update: I really shouldn't leave Sen. Obama out of this discussion. Last night's debate revealed that his claim that he'll make a personal visit to Cuba has a rather large element of sophistry to it:

"I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time."
Does anyone really think Cuba is going to meet with President Obama to discuss that agenda? Maybe if the agenda also concerns "human rights, releasing of political prisoners, and opening up the press" in the United States. Will President Obama agree to that agenda?


Kosovo's "independence" - the next step

150,000 Serbs demonstrated against Kosovo's declaration of independence today, and then a smaller number proceeded (and, as I write this, are still proceeding) to attack the U.S. embassy. And on CNN, William Cohen, Secretary of "Defense" [sic] under liberal icon William Clinton, is calling for more NATO troops to be sent to Serbia. Cohen, of course, played a large role in the bombing of Serbia which led to the first stage of Kosovo's "independence."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


U.S.-backed baby-killing continues in Gaza

A 2-year-old child died at a Gaza hospital today after the Israeli authorities barred his transfer to a hospital abroad for further medical treatment. His death raised the number of Palestinian patients who have died due to the siege of Gaza to 98, including 17 children, including some as young as 1 1/2 months.

Last year, exactly two Israeli residents of Sderot were killed by Palestinian rocket attacks which the siege of Gaza is allegedly aimed at stopping; five more were killed elsewhere for a total of 7 Israelis.

Not including the 98 patients who died without the use of bullets, 373 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gun or rocketfire in 2007; 35 percent (131) were civilians. That's "good news," because it's down from the 657 Palestinians killed by IDF fire in 2006, 54 percent of whom (355) were civilians.


Quick reads

Gary Leupp elaborates on events in Kosovo, greatly supplementing what I wrote below. You do know that the KLA, now leading the "independent" Kosovo, was characterized by the U.S. as ""without any questions, a terrorist group" in 1998, don't you? That was shortly before the U.S. began openly supporting them.

A report in Israel finally forced to light reveals:

More than one-third of West Bank settlements were built on private Palestinian land that was temporarily seized by military order for "security purposes."

The settlements in question...have tens of thousands of residents, and many have existed for decades. A security source termed this a "difficult statistic" that is liable to cause trouble for Israel both in Washington and its own courts.

International law allows the seizure of occupied territory, but only for military needs. Instead, Israel built many of the settlements via such seizures.
Even though Denzel Washington is perhaps my favorite actor, and even though I was on the debating team in high school, I was prepared to pass up "The Great Debaters," until I read this review. I'll just quote one paragraph:
The most poignant scene, one that has or will resonate with the oppressed from South Central to Pine Ridge to Iraq, is one where James Farmer Jr., when debating the validity of civil disobedience with white Harvard students, talks of the right of the oppressed to resist by whatever means necessary. He says, "I have a right, a duty to resist, with violence or with civil disobedience. You should pray I choose the latter."
And finally, this "blast from the past" from a man who is now the favorite of liberals like Daily Kos and MoveOn.org, about a man who they consider a pariah:
"I know that some in the party have differences with Joe," Senator Obama said, all but silencing the crowd. "I'm going to go ahead and say it. It's the elephant in the room. And Joe and I don't agree on everything. But what I know is, Joe Lieberman's a man with a good heart, with a keen intellect, who cares about the working families of America."

Then, with applause beginning to build, he finished the thought: "I am absolutely certain that Connecticut's [by which he means the Democratic primary voters in a primary in which liberal Ned Lamont was challenging, and eventually beating, Lieberman] going to have the good sense to send Joe Lieberman back to the United States Senate."


The Cuban looking-glass

There have been numerous articles in the press and on TV about the response of people in the U.S. to Fidel Castro's decision not to stand for re-election; not a single one of them that I've seen has managed to quote a single supporter of the Cuban revolution.

But the coverage reached a new low today in this article in the San Jose Mercury News, which supplemented a Washington Post article (linked above) with its own local reporting. And, without correction, they quote Jennifer Echeverri, a San Jose resident of Cuban descent who owns the restaurant Habana Cuba in San Jose, as saying: "Someday, after Fidel Castro dies, Raul Castro probably would allow legal travel of Cubans to the United States and Americans to Cuba."

Excuse me? Is she, or the Mercury News editorial board, aware that legal travel of Americans to Cuba is restricted by the American government, not by the Cuban government? And is she aware that Cubans wanting to travel to the United States are routinely denied visas to do so by the U.S. government, unless (oh irony of ironies) they arrive here illegally? For example, in 2005 Cuban scientist Dr. Vicente Verez Bencomo was prevented from receiving a prestigious award for his development of a flu vaccine (a rather timely subject, by the way!) at the Tech Museum right here in San Jose due to a visa denial. The year before that, 77-year-old Ibrahim Ferrer, star of the Buena Vista Social Club, was denied a visa to attend the Grammy Awards, because it would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States" according to a law designed for "terrorists, drug dealers and dangerous criminals."

And, even more tragically than these two cases is the case of two of the wives of the Cuban Five, who have been prevented from visiting their husbands in U.S. prisons for ten years, in gross violation of international law and elementary human decency.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Close encounters of the Condor kind


Fidel "resigns"

First posted 6:41 a.m.; updated and bumped up

Why can't people, including liberals, get things straight? Listening to Democracy Now! this morning, both host Amy Goodman and guest Peter Kornbluh joined most of the corporate media in claiming that Fidel Castro "resigned" today. He did no such thing; what he did, as he clearly explains, is to decline to run for re-election as President ("President of the State Council" officially). Failing to explain that properly is a political decision, because it implies that Fidel has not been re-elected repeatedly during the last 49 years, but has been unilaterally holding on to an office from which he could only depart by "resigning" (or dying). Lyndon B. Johnson also declined to run for a second term (in a move that was probably more surprising than Fidel's decision today), and I doubt you'll find a single reference to him "resigning" the Presidency.

Goodman made a second error during the program which is also quite common. Describing the positions of the two Democratic Presidential candidates, she noted that Obama is for removing travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans (but not on other Americans) to Cuba, and then claimed that Clinton had the "politically expedient" position of maintaining the status quo so that she "wouldn't lose a single Cuban-American vote." But that's exactly backwards, because the majority of Cuban-Americans support the removal of travel restrictions (and remittance restrictions) on themselves, which is precisely the Obama position. So, whether or not he adopted the position out of political expediency, about which I have no evidence, objectively speaking it is Obama who has the "politically expedient" position, not Clinton.

Update: Reader Catherine provides us with Obama's statement on the event (no doubt Clinton and McCain have similar things to day):

"Today should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba's history. Fidel Castro's stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba.

"Cuba's future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime. The prompt release of all prisoners of conscience wrongly jailed for standing up for the basic freedoms too long denied to the Cuban people would mark an important break with the past. It's time for these heroes to be released.

"If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades. The freedom of the Cuban people is a cause that should bring the Americans together."
Clinton's campaign recently accused Obama of "lifting" (note: not "plagiarism" as all the media have been reporting over and over) "lines" from Duval Patrick. I charge him with lifting these lines from every American President, Democrat and Republican, for the last 45 years.

Additional update: Incidentally, the Miami Herald, probably one the most anti-Cuban newspapers in the country but also the one which follows the news from Cuba most closely and prints more of it, actually gets it right, when it opens its lead article on the subject with "Fidel Castro's decision not to seek reelection as president..."

Additional update: How absurd does this get, and how accurate is the point I was making in this post? I just heard, on the local FOX-owned KTVU noon news (not "FOX News"), the announcer (mis)inform his audience, "There are no new elections scheduled in Cuba." Of course the entire point of Fidel's announcement is that there is an election coming up on Sunday, not a general election, which already took place, but an election nonetheless.

Yet another update: CNN was "surveying" the response of blogger's to Fidel's announcement. Both blogs they quoted were right-wing blogs. What are the odds? Hey CNN, look left!


Picture of the Day

Black-crowned Night-Herons (note the strange capitalization) aren't a particularly challenging photographic target. They're fairly large, not people-shy, and spend a lot of time standing stock-still in visible locations. Nevertheless, they're one of my favorite birds, with their striking appearance which is sort of a cross between a penguin and, thanks to their hunched appearance (they do have necks, they just rarely extend them), a thug standing on a street corner. I thought this picture of a BCNH sitting in a pine tree overlooking a creek in Santa Barbara, was particularly striking.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Santa Barbara

Monday, February 18, 2008


"Antiwar" Obama, again

I was at a family dinner yesterday, having a hard time convincing some Obama supporters that Obama has promised to increase the size of the military. I guess it isn't something he talks about regularly, and maybe a lot of people aren't aware of it. I myself, in telling them about his policy, actually understated his proposal by a factor of three.

But Obama's proposal is no secret; here it is in black-and-white from the Obama for President website:

Expand the Military: We have learned from Iraq that our military needs more men and women in uniform to reduce the strain on our active force. Obama will increase the size of ground forces, adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.
So that's a total of 92,000 more he plans to add to the military (and, needless to say, pay for with money that could be used to hire nurses, teachers, or all sorts of other people who could fill critical needs in our society).

Incidentally, the website also informs us tht "Obama will give our troops new equipment, armor, training, and skills like language training." It neglects to tell us, however, how he plans to pay for these things.


Kosovo's independence

In today's coverage of Kosovo's declaration of independence, there are some interesting things to note. First, we see reference to Kosovo's population being 90% Albanian. But only in the Guardian did I find any indication that that "90%" figure used to be a lot lower, before 200,000 Serbs and Roma were forced to flee Kosovo in the aftermath of the NATO bombing; 10% of the population of the country.

We're also told that "NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists, which killed 10,000 people." Naturally, no source is given for the number 10,000, which is interesting for several reasons. First of all, the U.S. assault on Yugoslavia was justified by claims that more than 200,000 people had been killed in Kosovo; later, a Canadian team spent six months digging up graves in Kosovo and came up with a grand total of...86 bodies. A U.N. court has ruled that no genocide took place. No mention of any of these facts can be found in today's coverage. The truth, that the U.S. NATO assault on Yugoslavia had nothing whatsoever to do with preventing "genocide" and everything to do with breaking up the last state in Europe professing allegiance to "socialism," was most certainly not mentioned.

Finally, a note on "democracy" and "dictatorship." According to today's news, the United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. How? By a vote of Congress? No, by the simple declaration of George W. Bush. No debate, no discussion. Very democratic.

Friday, February 15, 2008


McCain's "heroism"

In recent posts we've looked at "meddling" from both sides. "Heroism" is much the same thing. Republicans and Democrats alike view John McCain as a "hero," whatever they think of his current political stands. I have discussed on several occasions the fact that McCain's plane was shot down as he was bombing a light-bulb factory - committing a war crime.

Fidel Castro, in his latest thoughts on McCain, has a personal perspective, which goes not to the question of McCain's fitness for the office of President, but to the more general question of "one person's heroic act is another person's war crime":

I was housed in the former residence of the French Governor of all Indochina when I visited Vietnam in 1973, a country where I arrived on September 12 after the agreement between the United States and Vietnam, to which you referred. There I was visited by Pham Van Dong, the Prime Minister at the time, who wept as he remembered the human and material sacrifices imposed on his country; from there I left to visit the South –not yet totally liberated– up to the McNamara Line, where the steel bunkers had been taken by the Vietnamese combatants, despite the bombings and the continued U.S. air attacks.

All the bridges along the road, without exception, between Hanoi and the South visible from the air, were destroyed; the villages razed, and every day the cluster bomb grenades dropped for that purpose, were blowing up in the rice paddies where children, women and even very old people were working to produce food.

A great number of craters could be seen in each one of the entrances to the bridges...

We flew over Nghe-An Province where Ho Chi Minh was born. In that province, as well as in Ha Tinh, two million Vietnamese starved to death in 1945, the last year of World War II. We landed in Dong Hoi. A million bombs were dropped over the province where that destroyed city lies. We crossed the Nhat Le on a raft. We visited an assistance center for the wounded of Quang Tri. We saw numerous captured M-48 tanks. We took wooden roads over what was once the National Highway that had been destroyed by bombs. We got together with young Vietnamese soldiers who covered themselves with glory at the Battle of Quang Tri. Calm, resolute, seasoned by the sun and the war, a slight tic quivered the eyelid of the battalion captain. No one knows how they could have stood up to so much bombing. They were worthy of praise. On that same afternoon on September 15, returning by a different route, we picked up three wounded children, two of which were in very serious condition; a 14 year old girl was in a state of shock with a metal fragment in her abdomen. The children were working in the fields when one of their tools accidentally touched a grenade. The Cuban doctors [Ed. note: real heroes rarely described as such] accompanying the delegation cared for them directly for hours and saved their lives. I was a witness, Mr. McCain, to the heroic deeds of the bombing raids on North Vietnam, the same ones you are so proud of.


Meddling is as meddling does

I challenged readers to find instances of the U.S. corporate press using the word "meddling" (or "creating mischief") to describe the actions of the U.S. government, as opposed to the actions of our [sic] enemies [sic]. Of course, elsewhere in the world, things are viewed rather differently, as this article from Granma illustrates:
President Evo Morales called Monday on the Bolivian Armed Forces to remain alert to confront internal and external enemies, after the disclosure of new cases of US meddling in the Andean nation, reported Prensa Latina.
"Meddling" indeed!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Short takes

Venezuela has halted delivery of oil to Exxon-Mobil after $12 billion of its assets were frozen. And in the same article which reports this, we're told:
Meanwhile, PDVSA also announced that it was selling a 20-million-barrel petroleum "tank farm," or storage facility, in the Bahamas to First Reserve Corp., an investment firm with offices in Greenwich, Conn., plus Houston and London. Terms were not disclosed, though news reports put the sale price at $900 million.

The sale of the storage terminal 80 miles off the coast of Florida seems likely to feed rumors that the Venezuelan oil giant is strapped for cash and is resorting to the sale of assets to meet its short-term operating obligations.
Really? Because I'd say that a lot more likely explanation is having $12 billion of your assets frozen, and figuring that's a darn good time to sell off assets you still have your hands on before some other court freezes them as well.

On the other side of the world, we ask "what is wrong with this news?":

The Pentagon is trying to assess whether a low-level flight by a Russian bomber over American warships in the Pacific Ocean last weekend was a sign that Moscow is returning to a worrisome "Cold War mind-set," a top Defense official told Congress Tuesday.

Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials want to know why a Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" bomber flew over the aircraft carrier Nimitz and other U.S. vessels in international waters near Japan.
American aircraft carriers and their F-18 fighter-jets thousands of miles away from home? Business as usual. Russian planes a few hundred miles off their own coast? A "provocation" and a return to a "Cold War mind-set."

The Middle East isn't the only place that U.S. military forces need to get out of.

And finally, somewhere in the middle of those two events, fascist anti-Semities are rearing their ugly heads in Europe (Hungary in this instance). The left, almost entirely on the basis of its defense of the rights of the Palestinian people to their homeland, is routinely accused of "anti-Semitism," when the fact is that the left has been historically a major opponent of anti-Semitism, whereas pro-capitalist rightist forces like the Hungarian Guard described in this fascinating article are the major source of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, back in the land of "free speech" and "democracy," a doctor is being fired for having the audacity to treat an unconscious antiwar protester, and then for the further audacity of filing a complaint against a policeman who threw her against a wall. Read the details and add your voice to the protest against her unbelievably unjust firing here.


Assassination in Syria

A leading Hezbollah militia leader was assassinated with a truck bomb in Syria. I can safely predict that, unlike the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, there will be no international outcry nor any demand for a U.N. investigation of the murder, even though a foreign government (Israel, obviously) is the leading suspect in the assassination.

Two sentences in the Los Angeles Times article I was reading caught my eye:

It [the war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006] also led to questions about whether Syria would continue meddling in Lebanese politics as it quietly attempted to ease its bellicose stand with Washington.

Iran, a key Hezbollah ally believed to have regarded Mughniyah as a strategic asset for creating mischief in the region, blamed Israel.
Note two things about this. First, both of these sentences are unattributed, that is, they are being presented by the author of the article as simple conventional wisdom. Who "questions whether Syria will continue meddling"? Who "believes Mughniyah [the assassinated leader] is a strategic asset"? "We" do, apparently.

Of course, the even more striking aspect of these sentences is the pejorative and trivializing nature of the charges. Hezbollah's purpose in life, apparently, is to "create mischief in the region." Syria is "meddling in Lebanese politics." What utterly despicable people, the reader is being told; they kill people just to "create mischief" and "meddle."

$1000 to any reader who can find a news article in the Los Angeles Times or any other leading corporate outlet describing U.S. behavior "in the region" as "creating mischief" or "meddling."

Update: Allan Nairn's similar take on the event, headlined "Mafia Rules in the Middle East," with his bottom line: "If you're big enough, you can whack guys."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Fidel on McCain on Cuban "torturers"

[Updated; see below]

The media has covered John McCain's accusation that there were Cubans torturing prisoners in Vietnam, and Fidel Castro's denunciation of those accusations. But for the most part, they have highlighted only a brief portion of Fidel's denial: "His accusation against internationalist Cuban revolutionaries --using the nickname Fidel to identify one of them who was capable of "torturing a prisoner to death"-- is totally lacking in any ethics. Allow me to remind you, Mr. McCain: The commandments of your religion forbid you from lying."

With your permission, here's a bit more from the full article that helps establish the credibility of Fidel's denial, which in the U.S. press version is just that - a denial and little more:

The attack on the Bay of Pigs followed the exact instructions of the President of the United States and the invaders were escorted by U.S. naval units, including an aircraft carrier. The first air assault with U.S. B-26 planes flying out of secret bases was a pre-emptive attack using Cuban markings on the planes so that world opinion would see this as a revolt by our national air force.

You accuse Cuban revolutionaries of being torturers. I seriously urge you to find a single one of the more than a thousand prisoners captured during the Bay of Pigs fighting who had been tortured. I was there, not in some protected position at a distant general command post. I personally captured a number of prisoners with the help of some assistants; I walked in front of armed squads who were still lying under cover of the forest’s vegetation, paralyzed by the presence of the Chief of the Revolution. I’m sorry that I have to mention this because it might appear to be boasting, and that is something I honestly detest.

The prisoners were citizens born in Cuba organized by a powerful foreign power to fight against their own people.

You have admitted that you are in favor of the death penalty for very serious crimes. What would have you done if faced by such acts? How many would you have sentenced for that treason? In Cuba, we tried several of the invaders who, under Batista's orders, had previously committed horrendous crimes against Cuban revolutionaries.

I visited the mass of Bay of Pigs prisoners, --that is how you call the Girón Beach invasion-- on more than one occasion, and I talked with them. I like to find out man’s motives. They showed surprise and expressed their acknowledgement of the personal respect with which they were treated.

You should know that while we were negotiating their liberation in exchange for compensation by food and medicines for children, the U.S. government was organizing plans to assassinate me. There is a record of this in what was written by people taking part in the negotiation process.

I shall not go into detail about the long list of hundreds of assassination attempts on me. None of this is made up. It has been stated in official documents circulated by the U.S. government.

What ethics underlie such deeds, vehemently defended by you as a matter of principles?
Update: The Vietnamese who was the manager of the prison in which McCain was held denies his claim. Even more interesting, though, is the information in this article about the "solid evidence" on which the claim rests:
Between 1967 and 1968 several Caucasians with Spanish accents ran an interrogation programme there which involved severe beatings and torture.

The Americans nicknamed the leader of the group "Fidel." The longest-held US pilot, Everett Alvarez Jr, wrote in his memoirs that he surmised "Fidel" was Cuban because of his accent and his familiarity with Central America and the southeast United States.
Well, I'm convinced, how about you? A Caucasian with a Spanish accent familiar with Central America and the southeast United States. What more evidence do you need?

Actually, with that description, and a fondness for torture, I can name an even more likely suspect - Luis Posada Carriles, a man with a well-documented history as a torturer while working for the Venezuelan secret police (that's the Venezuelan government that was supported by the U.S., naturally), now under the active protection of the U.S. government.

Monday, February 11, 2008


What did you do today?

I drove down the coast of California, and had not one, not two, but eleven California Condors, nearly extinct not that many years ago, fly directly over my head along the Big Sur coast, not once, but repeatedly. With their 9-foot wingspan, the largest of any bird in North America, they were, to put it mildly, an impressive sight (click to enlarge):

But they didn't just fly, oh no, Two of them perched on a cliff and proceeded to mate!

By the way, I should explain that those small circles on the front edge of both wings that you see in the pictures are number patches; each bird has been tagged and numbered, so that scientists can monitor their progress at being introduced into the wild and re-establishing the species, which in 1987 numbered exactly 22 individuals...in the world. The top picture shows #94 and #36, and that's #94 again on top in the mating picture. I think we can guess who's underneath.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


The "chicken doves" and the "antiwar" "movement"

There's a very interesting article in Rolling Stone magazine in which Matt Taibbi paints the portrait of the Democratic surrender on the Iraq war, and about how "Working behind the scenes, the Democrats have systematically taken over the anti-war movement, packing the nation's leading group with party consultants more interested in attacking the GOP than ending the war."

As I said, it is interesting reading, but it has two major problems. The first is the idea that the Democrats "surrendered" on the Iraq war. In reality, they did no such thing; with the exception of a distinct minority of the Democrats, their talk of being opposed to the war was just that - talk, designed to suck in the votes of the real antiwar movement in the country by pretending to be opposed to the war.

The second relates to the "antiwar" "movement." The article mentions exactly one "antiwar" group, Americans Against the Escalation in Iraq, preposterously described as "the leader of the anti-war lobby." The "anti-war" part is completely preposterous; how can you be "anti-war" when you are just opposed to "escalation"? The "lobby" part isn't really preposterous, because that's exactly what this group is, as opposed to a "movement" which is how it is also described (e.g., in the sentence quoted in the first paragraph above). Indeed, here's how the group describes itself on its website:

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is a major, multi-million dollar national campaign to oppose the President's proposal to escalate the war in Iraq by sending more than 20,000 additional troops into the violent civil war between Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
Not a "movement," just a "multi-million dollar campaign." There is a link on the page labeled "support our cause." Does it tell you to join the organization, demonstrate against the war, even write a letter to your Congressperson? No, it tells you to "visit our online store." This is the "antiwar" "movement" that Taibbi thinks the Democrats have taken over.

In reality, of course, there is a story, as there is in almost every election year, of activists being subsumed into support for the Democratic Party and suspending or reducing independent activity. But you won't find that story in this article, in which mentions of actual antiwar organizations like ANSWER, United for Peace and Justice, Not in Our Name, Iraq Veterans Against the War, etc., do not rate a single mention.

Friday, February 08, 2008


Clinton's $5 million

My friend Gloria La Riva and I had identical reactions to Hillary Clinton's loaning her campaign $5 million the other day. Everyone else is using that event to talk about Clinton's campaign being in trouble, but this quote from Clinton is quite revealing about the real story:
"My opponent was able to raise more money, and we intended to be competitive, and we were, and I think the results last night proved the wisdom of my investment."
And doesn't that tell you an awful lot about capitalist "democracy" - you can only be "competitive" if you have money, and a lot of it.

No, money can't buy elections, as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney demonstrated anew in this election. But the converse is true - without money, you can't even get a hearing (hello, Dennis Kucinich!), much less get elected. Kucinich, by the way, is quite an instructive case. A lot of liberal Democrats were far more in tune with his thinking (stop the war, single-payer health care) than with any other candidate. But they shied away from him because he wasn't "electable." And why? Because he was short, talked in a squeaky voice, not "Presidential." Really? Does the name Ross Perot ring a bell? Short, talked in a really funny voice, had big ears, and had ideas that were far more "out there" than Kucinich. But he got one hell of a lot further, thanks to spending $65 million of his own money on his campaign.

At least one billion dollars are going to be spent on this Presidential election, and probably more. This isn't just a perversion of any concept of "democracy," it's downright obscene. I'm sure I don't need to say this, but do you have any idea what could be accomplished with a billion dollars, in a country with hundreds of thousands of homeless people, millions of people without jobs or health care, and on and on? I'm sure you do.


Quote of the day week (at least!)

"I would have no problems with describing this practice [waterboarding] as falling under the prohibition of torture...There are several precedents worldwide of states exercising their universal jurisdiction...to enforce the torture convention and we can only hope that we will see more and more of these avenues of redress."

- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour
We can only hope indeed!


Iraq: "The way things were before was so much better than where we are now"

Who's talking? It could be almost any Iraqi, except in this particular case, it's a gay Iraqi, quoted in a December, 2007 article that appeared in the New York Times (hat tip to Leslie Feinberg at Workers World for drawing attention to it). Yes, as with health care, education, and many other aspects of life, conditions of life for gays and lesbians were significantly better in Iraq under the secular Ba'ath regime (you remember, the ones who were banned from participating in the "democratic" elections that Iraq has held).

How bad is it? An Iraqi gay rights group says that 400 people have been killed in Iraq since 2003 for being gay. I'm sure that's a hard figure to pin down, but here's some more evidence:

In January, a United Nations report described the increased persecution, torture and extrajudicial killing of Iraqi lesbians and gay men. In 2005, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for gay men and lesbians to be killed in the "worst, most severe way" [it was lifted a year later].
Nor is this the first time that life for gays and lesbians in Iraq has been set back by the United States. Until 1991, open homosexuality in the form of gay nightclubs actually flourished. But in that year, under the pressure of the U.S.-imposed (formally "U.N.") blockade, the regime was forced to make concessions to the religious forces in the country in order to hold things together. Even then, though, gays and lesbians were still fine as long as they "practiced" in private. Not so since the U.S. invasion, when even private behavior has become increasingly dangerous, as the estimated 400 deaths indicates.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


La Riva for President

With pro-war and more pro-war candidates on the ballot, what's left? What's left in both senses of the word is Gloria La Riva, who has a new blog.


The Nation on Obama

Christopher Hayes, the DC editor of The Nation, has an article in the recent issue described on the web as "Here's why Obama is the left's best chance to take back the country" and in its subhead in the print magazine, "Why Obama is more likely than Clinton to bring about a new progressive majority." In it, he writes this:
But while domestic policy will ultimately be determined through a complicated and fraught interplay with legislators, foreign policy is where the President's agenda is implemented more or less unfettered. It's here where distinctions in worldview matter most--and where Obama compares most favorably to Clinton. The war is the most obvious and powerful distinction between the two: Hillary Clinton voted for and supported the most disastrous American foreign policy decision since Vietnam, and Barack Obama (at a time when it was deeply courageous to do so) spoke out against it.
And here's the letter I just sent off to them, which summarizes a lot of things that have appeared here in previous posts. Since it undoubtedly won't be published (for starters, it's way too long), I might as well post it here:
Whether or not it was "deeply courageous" for an Illinois state Senator to speak out against the invasion of Iraq is debatable, but what isn't debatable is that Obama's opposition to that invasion has been unprincipled from the start. Here's how he himself described it at a campaign rally last year: "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 [sic] of dollars and thousands of lives. We don't have a strategy for getting out." The fact that this would be an unprovoked invasion of another country in violation of U.S. law and international law didn't enter into his calculation, nor did the potential cost in Iraqi lives; if it could have been done on the cheap and without losing too many American lives, he would have been all for it. Watch for more invasions of countries like Panama, Grenada, and Haiti under "antiwar" President Obama.

Obama's nominating speech for John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic Convention is also instructive: "When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they are going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return and to never, ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace and earn the respect of the world." Once again, entirely tactical reasons for opposing the invasion. Not to mention that the truth was not "shaded," it was a complete fabrication, as we all know, and as any serious opponent of the war knew before the invasion, and everyone in the world knew by July, 2004.

Recently, in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Obama had what many thought were overly charitable words to say about Ronald Reagan. But most missed this from the same interview, a rather instructive view about how Obama views the movement against the Vietnam war: "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."

In the most recent Democratic debate in Los Angeles, Obama shed even more light on why he opposed the invasion of Iraq: "If we were concerned about Iranian influence, we should not have had this government installed in the first place. (Applause.) We shouldn't have invaded in the first place. It was part of the reason that I think it was such a profound strategic error for us to go into this war in the first place." Once again, the idea that a U.S. President actually has to obey U.S. law (including ratified treaties like the Geneva Conventions) doesn't seem to enter into his calculation.

Then there's the potential war against Iran. In a Democratic debate last year, he asserted that "Iran possessing nuclear weapons will be a major threat to us and to the region." When interrupted by Dennis Kucinich protesting that Iran has no nuclear weapons, Obama pressed on with the standard Bush line, the one that served so well in Iraq: "I understand that, but they're in the process of developing it. And I don't think that's disputed by any expert."

Finally, and also recently, there was Obama's letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, in which Obama asserted that Israel had been "forced" to impose the current blockade on Gaza, and astonishingly claimed that it was "seeking to minimize any impact on civilians," as if the collective punishment being imposed on the people of Gaza was not precisely aimed at impacting civilians.

And this is the man whom Christopher Hayes wants us to believe is going to bring about "a new progressive majority."

Eli Stephens
Left I on the News


Conviction or acquittal, it's all the same if you're an immigrant

Hillary Clinton made the news recently with her comments that "Anybody who committed a crime in this country or in the country they came from has to be deported immediately, with no legal process. They are immediately gone." Yeah, can't have any of that "legal process" mumbo-jumbo.

I wonder what Clinton (or any other candidate) will have to say about Lyglenson Lemorin. Lemorin is the person who was acquitted of all charges in the farcical (and continuing) trial of the Liberty City 7. No matter, the government is now moving to deport him as a "terrorist", despite the fact that he's a legal permanent resident of the United States with no criminal record whatsoever and was acquitted of terrorism (actually "conspiracy to commit terrorism," since no actual act of terrorism was even in progress, much less committed). Clinton may be somewhat mollified by the fact that, although there is a "legal process" the government has to follow to have him deported, the standards for that process are rather low:

It's not a case of double jeopardy [Ed. note: I presume because this isn't a criminal proceeding]. This time, Lemorin goes before an administrative judge in immigration court, which has a lower standard of proof and no jury of his peers.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Mass graves in Iraq

I've been writing about the subject of mass graves in Iraq since the very first days of this blog, back when Tony Blair was making the claim that "400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves." The truth was that the actual number of bodies that were found in mass graves in Iraq after the invasion numbered in the low thousands, numbers which were dwarfed by the number of Iraqis literally buried alive in mass graves by American bulldozers during the first Gulf War, or blown to bits on the "Highway of Death" shortly thereafter.

There were mass graves in Iraq, to be sure, but the invasion and occupation of Iraq has created many, many more. We read about the latest discoveries today: a mass grave of 50 uncovered today, and 200 more in the last month. And no, these aren't mass graves left over from the Hussein era; they're fresh ones. And, lest we forget, one of the biggest mass graves of them all, whose anniversary approaches in one week - the 400 Iraqi women and children obliterated by American bombs in the Amiriyah air raid shelter on Feb. 13, 1991.

Monday, February 04, 2008


The Democrats on war

I've written before about the "antiwar" Obama. In the Los Angeles debate, he again, as he often does, bragged about his antiwar "credentials": "I was opposed to Iraq from the start. (Cheers, applause.)" Later, though, he returns to the question of why he was opposed:
"If we were concerned about Iranian influence, we should not have had this government installed in the first place. (Applause.) We shouldn't have invaded in the first place. It was part of the reason that I think it was such a profound strategic error for us to go into this war in the first place."
As I have before, I'll point out clearly - Barack Obama had not a single principled opposition to the invasion of Iraq. His opposition was entirely tactical in nature; he didn't think it was a "good idea." The question of whether it was immoral, or illegal, never entered his mind.

Not, needless to say, that Clinton is any better:

"Knowing that he was a megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete for attention with Osama bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about what he might do.

So I think I made a reasoned judgment [to vote for the bill that was, in fact, an authorization for war, although she insists to this day, and in this debate, that her vote was to "put those inspectors in, let them do their work."]."
And, when asked why she voted against the Levin amendment, which would have "required President Bush to report to Congress about the UN inspection before taking military action" [not, you know, actually prohibiting Bush from going to war without U.N. authorization, just requiring a "report"], she says:
"The way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United Nations Security Council. I don't think that was a good precedent."
So Clinton explicitly rejects the idea that the U.S. is bound by international law in going to war, and can simply invade countries without authorization from the Security Council. Not, by the way, that I approve of the idea that the Security Council should be able to make such invasions "legal" through a vote; a little more bullying and bribing just might have got them to do so in this case. That still wouldn't make it right, even though it would make it "legal." But Clinton won't even go that far.


Where in the world is Left I on the News?

You may have noticed a certain sparseness of posting in the last few days. That's because I was on a quick trip to Los Angeles with my friend and Presidential candidate Gloria La Riva. There were two events going on. Thursday night, as you may recall, there was a Democratic Presidential debate (I hope to have more to say about that later). Outside the Kodak Theater, where the debate was held, there were hundreds of antiwar activists protesting the war. I'm told that a bit of that spirited 2 1/2-hour-long protest was actually aired on CNN, but in a really gross example of media news distortion, the Los Angeles Times wrote this about what was going on outside:
Outside the theater, thousands of supporters vied for bragging rights, chanting back and forth and revving each other up along Hollywood Boulevard.
Arrgggghhh! There weren't "thousands" of people on Hollywood Boulevard, there were, by my estimation, hundreds (when has the media ever over estimated an antiwar demonstration, by the way?). Of those, 95% were antiwar activists. There were a couple tables selling Obama and Clinton paraphernalia, and certainly a couple dozen people who would qualify as "supporters" of the two, but the overwhelming majority of people were there to protest the war. Alongside pictures of the candidates and the crowd inside the event, the Times actually did include two pictures of people outside. You guessed it...one showed a Clinton supporter, the other an Obama supporter! Not an antiwar demonstrator in sight.

At the end of the evening, after two straight hours of chanting, came some speeches, including this fiery one from La Riva (incidentally, this is all shot handheld on a regular digital camera, not a videocamera, at night, and I'm pretty proud of the result):

The Thursday antiwar demonstration wasn't actually the point of the trip, however, it was just a bonus. The real purpose of the trip came on Friday, when the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five unveiled a magnificent billboard, also on Hollywood Boulevard, just blocks from the Kodak Theater, demanding the freedom of the five Cuban political prisoners unjustly held in U.S. prisons, now in their tenth year, for the "crime" of infiltrating right-wing anti-Cuban terrorist groups in Miami and attempting to (and succeeding) put a stop to acts of terrorism. There are hundreds of similar billboards honoring the Five in Cuba, but this is the first in the United States, and the first political "issue" billboard of any kind in Los Angeles as far as we know.

Here's the video I put together of that event (and if you're moved to donate, click here).

Saturday, February 02, 2008


The "unemployment rate" myth

I've written before about what I've termed "job-inflation employment" or "population-inflation adjusted employment," the fact that 150,000 (roughly) new jobs need to be created in a country growing at the rate of the United States each month in order to keep pace with population growth ("population inflation"). So when a headline reads "U.S. loses 17,000 jobs," it's just as misleading as a headline trumpeting "Wages rise 2%" in a year in which inflation is 4%. The jobs headline really should read, "167,000 job shortfall last month."

But when it comes to the "unemployment rate," it's even worse, as these paragraphs from the article shows:

The unemployment rate actually dipped slightly to 4.9 percent, from 5 percent in December, as people left the labor force.

"Discouraged by a sluggish job market, many more adults are sitting on the sidelines," said Peter Morici, an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland.
So, according to the "experts" and the media, we didn't really need those extra 150,000 jobs last month at all, because that many people (and more, actually) just decided to "sit on the sidelines." They're not "unemployed" at all, just "discouraged." Discouraged by the fact that there chance for reemployment is zero.

On the wage side, the media does generally (though not always) recognize inflation:

Average hourly earnings for jobholders rose to $17.75 in January, a 0.2 percent increase from the previous month. It was half the pace logged in December. Over the past 12 months, wages went up by 3.7 percent. With high energy and food prices, though, workers may feel like their paychecks aren't stretching as far.
Note that the article, while mentioning rising prices, doesn't actually quantify the "inflation rate," That's because the "core inflation rate" is just as anti-worker as the "unemployment rate" in that it excludes the cost of food and energy, two of the three major things (housing being the third) that workers spend their money on. And note the implicit pejorative tone of the phrase "workers may feel like their paychecks aren't stretching as far." No, their paychecks aren't stretching as far. There's no "feeling" about it.

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