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Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Hunger, having your cake and eating it too

The seemingly contradictory title of this post comes because this is two posts in one. Let's start with "Hunger" - my comments on my recent viewing of the eponymous film, a docudrama about the blanket protest held by Irish Republican prisoners in the Maze prison in the mid-70's, and the hunger strike to death which followed. The film was authored by an artist, Steve McQueen, and the cinematography very much reflects that - every shot is framed with an artist's eye. The acting is also quite good. But, unlike virtually every other movie I mention here, this is a movie I absolutely cannot recommend, and in fact would steer people away from.

The basic problem with the film is that it's totally decontextualized. It's more of a performance piece about the simultaneously tedious and terrifying life in this prison (for both prisoners and guards) than it is a film about a historical event. Why on earth are the prisoners wearing blankets and smearing their feces on the wall? What are they fighting for? For that matter, what is Irish Republicanism and what were they fighting that got them in prison in the first place? You hardly get a clue in the film. If you aren't thoroughly grounded in the actual events behind the film, you'll be lost. Just as a small example, when Bobby Sands is conducting his hunger strike, at one point a kindly guard/nurse is replaced by a surly one who flashes his fist, on which "U-D-A" is tattooed on the knuckles. But if you don't know that "UDA" stands for "Ulster Defence Association" and exactly what the significance of that is, you miss the point entirely.

It's not just small things like that, though, but again it's the entire question of what this protest is about in the first place. In the film, the audience sees and hears exactly one thing - the demand to wear one's own clothes. And certainly that was a demand, and a key symbolic one. But what was it symbolic of? It was symbolic of the real underlying demand, which was for being granted the status of political prisoners/prisoners of war, a status which in fact had been the case in the years before the protest. The right to manage their own affairs, teach themselves classes, in short not to be treated any way like ordinary prisoners, but like prisoners of war in a prison of war camp. Not a symbolic issue, but very real issues.

But let's assume the film was made only for an Irish and British audience of an age to be familiar with the events portrayed. Even on that level, the film is a fraud. Throughout the film, we are made to feel sympathy for both the guards and the prisoners. The guards live in (justifiable) fear for their lives outside the prison, and inside the prison have tedious and sometimes downright disgusting jobs. We do see the prisoners being beaten by the guards, but most of their suffering, without the context above, would seem to be virtually self-inflicted (and certainly one can view the hunger strike that way), which means if anything we are being led to feel more sympathy for the guards than for the prisoners.

But that per se isn't the biggest problem with the film. That comes with Bobby Sands' hunger strike which fills the last third of the film (incidentally, IMDB claims it's about "the last six weeks of Bobby Sands' life" which is nonsense because it shows his hunger strike, which lasted 66 days until he died, from before it started until the end). And what's wrong with that part of the film? Because we see nothing about what that hunger strike accomplished. Watching the film, we see Bobby Sands slowly starving himself to death alone in a room. Literally the only voice from the outside world that ever penetrates this world is Maggie Thatcher's, proclaiming that she'll never give in.

But in the real world, this isn't remotely what happened. Bobby Sands' hunger strike had a huge effect, as you can see if you watch the DVD extras which include a contemporaneous BBC news program. The hunger strike was constant news, and there were huge outpourings of support. Sands was elected to Parliament during the hunger strike (a fact mentioned during the closing credits). The BBC program reports a huge increase in recruitment by the IRA, and Sands' funeral (not shown in the film) was attended by 100,000 people. The very opposite of spending 66 days alone in a room starving himself to death. And indeed, during an interview in another one of the extras, the filmmaker (who wrote and directed the film) says he was attracted to the subject because the events were imprinted on him as a boy by all the news coverage. So he was well aware that Sands' hunger strike was not some isolated personal act but a political act that had a huge political impact. Should he have made a simple documentary? No, he's an artist, and he wanted us to focus on images and feelings instead of just facts, that's certainly his right. But manipulating our feelings by showing us some facts but not others, that is not all right.

So, finally, we come to the second part of the post - "having your cake and eating it too." I did get one thing out of this film, which was this thought. The blanket protesters were fighting for the right to be treated as political prisoners, as members of an army fighting the British occupation of Ireland. Now think about the United States, today. The U.S. claims it is fighting a war. Not a metaphorical war, like the "war on drugs", but a very real war, one which gives the President and the government all sorts of special powers (like the ability to order the death of an American citizen without a trial and a conviction, or the ability to put people in prison indefinitely). But in this allegedly very real war, the United States holds, as far as I know, not a single prisoner of war. They did, if I recall correctly, hold a few (high members of the Iraqi Army) at the very beginning of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, although once the Iraqi government was toppled and the war against the government of Iraq concluded, those prisoners were not repatriated as would be normal at the conclusion of a war. But, again as far as I know, right now the U.S. holds not a single person designated as a "prisoner of war." So how is it possible, then, that the U.S. is actually fighting a war? It's possible, of course, because "might makes right," and allows the U.S. government to "have its cake and eat it too."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


More praise for Shepard Smith

On today's broadcast, introducing an item about how Congress is suddenly getting concerned about and turning its attention to the deficit, Smith added, "Should of thought of that before starting all these wars."

Yes, that's FOX News' Shep Smith. Right on, brother.


When is a "construction halt" not a construction halt?

When it "occurs" in occupied East Jerusalem, of course. This morning's news brings the headline
Israel halts east Jerusalem building
Now to begin with, when you read the article, you'll learn (in the final paragraph!) that this alleged halt has not exactly been proclaimed in public:
Word of a de facto freeze on East Jerusalem construction came from municipal officials and a construction executive.
But let's accept the word of these people for a moment. What are they talking about, exactly? Why, a "quiet halting of East Jerusalem housing approvals." In other words, a halt of handing out permits for future building, not of actual building as the headline implies. This is kind of like saying I'm going on a diet next month. I might, and then again, before next month I might change my mind.

Do let us know when an actual halt of not only actual construction but also eviction and demolition of Palestinian homes in the area, will you, media? Until then, don't bother us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Quote of the Day

"We have two paths: either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies. Either capitalism lives or Mother Earth lives. Of course, brothers and sisters, we are here for life, for humanity and for the rights of Mother Earth. Long live the rights of Mother Earth! Death to capitalism!"

- Bolivian President Evo Morales

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Capitalism in a nutshell

It's nice when the newspapers do my job for me, even if they don't exactly connect the dots. Front page of today's San Jose Mercury News features one article on the "booming economy." Here's the lead paragraph:
Silicon Valley's top 150 companies snapped back from a grueling recession last year, nearly doubling their profits by slashing costs and laying off workers.
(Yesterday's edition, to complete the picture, featured this on the front-page article: "California's unemployment rate reached a record 12.6 percent in March as the state added relatively few jobs, lagging behind several smaller states in job creation.")

And what will those doubled profits lead to?

Now many of the companies have accumulated large amounts of cash and are in position to hire and acquire other companies, observers say.
Yes, they'll no doubt hire some people. Most of the money, however, will likely be used to buy other companies, and the result of that will be, among other things, laying off more people, probably equal to the number they hired. Nor is that business about acquisitions just a prediction - "Mergers and acquisitions in Silicon Valley shot up in the first quarter of 2010."

And the consequences, aside from unemployment? That's the other article on today's front page, side-by-side with the one about the soaring profits:

Fifty years ago this month, California promised a low-cost, high-quality university education for every qualified high school graduate in the state. But that promise — inflated by growing populations and academic aspirations — expanded beyond the state's willingness to pay for it.

What went wrong? How did the university system that was long the envy of the world suddenly become the focus of angry street protests, overcrowded classrooms, soaring tuition and a monumental debate over whether the state can ever make good again on its groundbreaking mission?
And those lead paragraphs don't even mention reductions in the number of classes, teacher layoffs, reduced admissions, and other manifestations of the "budget crisis," the one that is smaller than last year's combined profits of just the top few Silicon Valley companies, not to mention their cash on hand ("Six large companies — Cisco Systems, Apple, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Google — are sitting on a combined $134 billion in cash or near-cash assets" - a fraction of which could wipe out California's huge deficit).

This is capitalism in a nutshell. Profits before people. Change, anyone? Or, to quote Austin Powers, "Help! I'm in a nutshell!"

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Why Americans have a distorted view of Israel

Yesterday something very serious, though not at all uncommon, occurred in the West Bank (a.k.a. occupied Palestine):
More than 300 olive trees were uprooted and two cars set alight in the West Bank village of Hawara in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Stars of David and the word 'Mohammed,' as well as racist slogans, were also sprayed in Hebrew across the town, including on the walls of a mosque.
That straightforward account of the facts comes courtesy of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

Now let's turn to the American media. AP has a short article which fails to mention the 300 olive trees, and doesn't even acknowledge the incident as actually having happened, only that "A Palestinian prayer leader says..." it happened (this despite the fact that the online article is accompanied by an actual photograph of the mosque desecration). The Washington Post goes them one better, putting that into a headline: "Palestinians accuse Jewish settlers of mosque attack," again as if, even if the attackers weren't caught red-handed, there is the slightest question about their identity. As with AP, no mention of the olive trees whatsoever.

The New York Times actually reports the story by quoting Ha'aretz, and also another Israeli news site, Ynet News, whose report puts the lie to the claim that it is only "suspected" as to who the perpetrators are:

Hawara resident Ziad Dib told Ynet that he saw a number of settlers flee the village in a Subaru at around 3 a.m. According to him, the settlers torched his car.
So far so good, right? Except the Times report only appears in "the Lede blog," i.e., as far as I know, not in the actual paper, only online, and even there you're only likely to stumble upon it if you actually search for it, as I did; it certainly doesn't appear on the front page of the web site.

And, of course, most people don't get their news from the Post or the Times. Listening to TV news on various network and cable channels, and reading my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, not a word about this incident, an indication of the breadth (or lack thereof) of the appearance of the AP article.

Now imagine someone painted swastikas on a synagogue in Israel, or France, much less uprooted 300 (!) olive trees belonging to Jews somewhere. Do you think you'd hear about it? There's really not much doubt about that, is there?

Update: Just in case you worried that the fact that the olive trees were only reported by one source made it questionable whether it was really true, the details of the event make rather clear that it very much did happen.


Don't cha wish your movement was hot like "Tea"?

TV news this morning features repeated promos for Tea Party rallies coming up this afternoon. The front page of the San Jose Mercury News features two pictures and an article covering about 50% of the page profiling Tea Party activists, and listing all the details of this afternoon's San Jose rally. Inside the paper are an article from the New York Times about a poll asking "who are the Tea Party supporters?" (conservative Republicans, duh), and another article about Sarah Palin speaking at a Tea Party rally in Boston.

Don't cha wish the antiwar movement was hot like Tea? (Two words for those who don't get this cultural allusion: Nicole Scherzinger)

The Times article says 18% of Americans "identify themselves as Tea Party supporters." Meanwhile, two days ago in Long Beach, CA, a socialist (and not a "British Labor Party socialist" or a "French Socialist Party socialist" but a real socialist, campaigning as such) got 16.2% of the vote for Mayor. Coverage in the national media? Zero.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


The ball's in your court, Hillary

On Friday, in the best "blame the victim" tradition, Hillary Clinton had this to say:
"It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do no want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years."
Well gosh, Hillary, it's really very simple. If you think that "the Castros" don't want this, why don't you just do it? End the blockade and take away the "excuses" that you claim "the Castros" are relying on. It really couldn't be any simpler.

Friday, April 09, 2010



So today's news is that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has "pulled out" of the "nuclear security summit" in Washington next week, because of rumors that Egypt and Turkey were going to use the summit to demand that Israel sign the NPT. The title of this post refers to the nearly unbelievable chutzpah that Netanyahu (i.e., Israel) exhibited in accepting the invitation in the first place! In some ways, no more so I suppose than their chutzpah in demanding that Iran be denied the right to "nuclear programs" which might enable Iran if it chose to to develop nuclear weapons, while Israel sits on one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world. Still, it's one thing to do so from the comfort of your own country, it's quite another to do so at a public conference about nuclear proliferation.

Anyway, a big thank you to Egypt and Turkey for planning (supposedly!) to raise the issue.

Meanwhile, have you noticed that news reporters still insist on the "coy" approach to Israeli nuclear weapons ("they have never admitted having them, but also never denied it"), despite Mordecai Vanunu and Jimmy Carter (among others) providing absolute confirmation that Israel does have nuclear weapons, while adopting precisely the opposite linguistic approach to Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program, widely referred to in the media as simply existing, without even mentioning Iran's denials (much less the lack of actual proof).

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Today's unshocking news

The guy who was just arrested for threatening the life of Nancy Pelosi was, according to his neighbors, a stone racist, and oh, by the way, lives in government subsidized housing. But a health insurance bill that isn't remotely government health care raised his hackles enough to threaten someone with death.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Now it's personal!

The liberal intelligentsia (e.g., Glenn Greenwald, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow) is up in arms because President Obama has apparently given a "shoot-to-kill" order against an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. After all, as Olbermann's guest tonight rightly pointed out, the CIA and the U.S. government have claimed they "knew" all sorts of things which have proven utterly false (Iraqi WMD just one of countless examples), so claiming they "know" that al-Awlaki is "guilty" of something or other that deserves death is a dubious proposition (even if you accepted that they would have the right to do so without a trial if they really did have ironclad proof).

But left unsaid in all the analysis is a very simple fact - the U.S. (and its junior partners in Israel) have been assassinating people ("extrajudicial killing") right and left for years - Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians, Somalis, Palestinians, and probably others I'm forgetting. The idea that the proposed killing of a U.S. citizen is somehow abhorrent and worthy of shock, but that the killing of all those others isn't even worth a mention, is simply wrong (if you don't see that, imagine that they were talking not about one of those "swarthy foreigners" but a nice pale white Canadian - just as much a non-U.S. citizen, and, judging from the reaction I've seen, just as acceptable as killing an Afghan, a Somali, or a Palestinian - do you really think the reaction would have been as sanguine as it has been to those other very real assassinations?).

Assassinations are illegal and reprehensible, and just as much so if the targets are U.S. citizens or anyone else.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


How many Iraqis have died?

A few days ago it was the story of the coverup of the murder by U.S. forces of civilians in Afghanistan, today it's the story of a 2007 massacre in which U.S. helicopter gunships fired on civilians in Iraq. WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange and Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald were on Democracy Now! this morning, drawing the (hopefully obvious long ago) conclusion that you can't trust a word the U.S. military says, and also the conclusion that these type of events are absolutely daily occurrences, with only the tip of the iceberg of them being exposed to the public.

All true. But I'd like to point readers to an additional conclusion. Over the years I've written a great deal about the number of people killed in Iraq, and one of the points I have made repeatedly is that when you look at various statistics, some of them (e.g., Iraq Body Count) want to count only "civilians", while others (the statistical surveys) count all the dead (and some count only "violent" deaths, while others count all deaths, e.g., deaths from lack of medical care or poor public health conditions caused by the invasion).

And so one point that can't be emphasized enough is that, whether you agree with me or not that all the deaths, be they of members of the Iraqi armed forces, members of the Iraqi resistance, or "innocent civilians" are equally reprehensible, and all the result of the U.S. invasion, is that the numbers for "civilian" deaths are completely and utterly skewed and rendered meaningless by the kind of false reporting represented by these two incidents. I'm not going to look up this specific incident in IBC, but it's an absolute certainty that a huge number of deaths were excluded from that count because they were reported (first by the U.S. military, and then by the U.S. press stenographic pool) as "insurgents" or perhaps "terrorists" (or maybe "suspected terrorists"). Which is just one more reason why the numbers to focus on are the total number of Iraqis killed, not the bogus and almost completely arbitrary "civilian" totals.

Notice I'm not dwelling on the actual numbers in this post. I've been over that ground before, and for the purposes of this discussion the actual numbers really don't matter. Needless to say they do matter to the actual people involved, those no longer living and those still mourning (and suffering from in very real ways) their loss.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Obama's fingers-crossed "limits" on the use of nukes

The headlines proclaim: "Obama Limits When U.S. Would Use Nuclear Arms." But as soon as we get to the second paragraph, we find out he had his fingers crossed when he spoke:
But the president said in an interview that he was carving out an exception for “outliers like Iran and North Korea” that have violated or renounced the main treaty to halt nuclear proliferation.
Of course Iran or North Korea are precisely the countries in the cross-hairs of U.S. nuclear weapons. Not to mention that the formulation is rather curious, since Iran has neither violated nor renounced the NPT (it has failed to agree to additional requirements placed on it by the U.N. Security Council which are not required by the NPT), and North Korea withdrew from the NPT as it had every right to do, just as the U.S. has withdrawn from treaties it decided no longer served its needs.

As for the countries which didn't have to violate or renounce the NPT since they never even signed it, like Israel and Pakistan, no mention by Obama.

So Obama has now committed (sort of) to not use nuclear weapons against Canada. I'm sure they're relieved.


The unemployment business

An interesting juxtaposition. Last night I watched Up in the Air, the movie in which George Clooney plays a sympathetic character whose job is to fire people. Of course he's only sympathetic because he isn't really the one doing the firing; that's the company executives who are never seen in the movie. Clooney is just the guy delivering the news, and his major interest in the job is racking up frequent flyer miles. I presume there are companies like the one Clooney works for in the movie, but again, delivering the news isn't the real problem, and the news (layoffs) itself isn't the focus of the movie (which is not a criticism of the movie, which was quite good, although not "best film nominee" material in my view). Clooney's company made money off of unemployment, but didn't contribute to it.

Meanwhile, another side of the "unemployment business" hit the news this weekend, and if you want a realistic picture of the vultures who not only make money off unemployment, but make things worse in doing so, you can read all about Talx, the company whose despicable business is contesting unemployment claims (30% of all claims in the country). I didn't realize, and perhaps neither did you, that the amount companies pay for unemployment taxes depends on the number of workers they have laid off, so the more such unemployment claims they can successfully contest, the better their bottom line. And if something benefits their bottom line, you can bet they'll be pursuing it, no matter the cost. That's where Talx comes in, with their arsenal of dirty tricks designed to maximize the number of workers denied unemployment benefits, and hence maximize the profits of the companies which employ them, and of their own.

Capitalism at its "finest."

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Today's reading assignments

1) An article by the nephew of Benjamin Netanyahu, published a few days ago in the Christian Science Monitor, which lays out many of the ways in which Israel discriminates against non-Jews in Israel (a.k.a. racism and/or apartheid), and makes very clear that the key to peace in the region lies in the United States. As a supplement to that, listen to Nora Barrows-Friedman on Flashpoints, just returned from a month in Israel and occupied Palestine, talk about the same subject (and others) - the treatment of Palestinians within "Israel proper."

2) An article about one of the latest massacres in Afghanistan, in which five "innocent civilians" (of whom three were women, two of them pregnant) were killed by U.S. forces. They now admit it, but just two weeks ago, they were issuing statements claiming that the women had been knifed to death hours before the shooting started.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


Who needs Dick Cheney and George W. Bush?

Both were notorious for their outright lying about Iraqi WMD, the ones they "assured" us we "knew" existed, except they didn't. But there's no need to lament the dearly departed; we have Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in their place.

Clinton is playing the Cheney role. In remarks a few days ago, she repeatedly referred to "Iran's nuclear weapons program." Obama, as you might expect from someone used to using more circumspect language, instead said on Friday:

"All the evidence indicates that the Iranians are trying to develop the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. They might decide that, once they have that capacity that they'd hold off right at the edge -- in order not to incur -- more sanctions."
Circumspect or not, though, Obama's claim is every bit as much a lie as Clinton's. As always, I'll just point to one thing which refutes Obama's claim about "all the evidence" - the fact that the supreme religious leader of a theocratic country has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons. I'll just cite one more fact - Obama's reticence, just like Bush and Cheney's, to actually reveal to the U.S. public his "evidence" which leads him to this conclusion.

Sadly, if you read the corporate media or most liberal blogs, the old adage "fool me once..." seems not to apply. Perhaps it was the way George Bush mangled it once in public that made it lose its power.

Some of us, of course, weren't even fooled once. As for the others, I'm afraid another adage seems to apply: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time..."

Friday, April 02, 2010


Capitalism's wheels grinding to a halt

Literally, as "money for war, not for education, health care, mass transit, etc." consequences intensify, and Caltrain, the train service which takes commuters and others from San Jose, Palo Alto, etc. to San Francisco and back, announces it will likely get rid of weekend, night, and midday trains, and may, we're told, vanish completely. Meanwhile the Post Office is likely to eliminate Saturday deliveries.

And I'm still waiting for anyone in Washington to ask where the money is coming from to pay for a huge escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Indeed billions of dollars, probably more than the deficit of the Post Office and Caltrain combined, is being spent just to move tanks, jeeps, etc. from Iraq to Afghanistan.


Economic boosterism (head-in-the-sandism) continues

All over the news today is this alleged great news:
The nation added jobs at the fastest pace in three years last month...the surest sign yet that the worst employment market in a generation has finally snapped back.
Well down in the print versions of this "great news," and frequently unmentioned in the broadcast versions, is that 50,000 of the 162,000 new jobs were temporary jobs with the census, hardly anything that would indicate the "end of the recession" or anything remotely close to that.

Completely unmentioned in every story I've seen, print or broadcast, is what I long ago termed "inflation-adjusted employment" - the fact that something like 140,000 jobs per month need to be created just to keep up with population growth. Meaning that, subtracting out the short-term census jobs, there was actually a 30,000 or so job shrinkage in employment after adjusting for population growth. Hardly cause for "crowing" about anything, although obviously, it's better than months when jobs are actually lost, not just in inflation-adjusted terms, but in real terms.

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