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Thursday, June 30, 2011


No wonder people think Obama is a Kenyan

Multiple times today I heard about how a "Nigerian man" had passed through TSA and boarded a plane with a boarding pass belonging to someone else. I'll leave the discussion of the security issues concerned to others. I want to note another problem: the man is actually a U.S. citizen, not a "Nigerian." Do you suppose if he were an Irish-American instead of a Nigerian-American, the press would have described him as "Irish"? No, me neither.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


How many have died in Libya?

Michelle Bachmann, who's running for the Republican nomination for President, has developed a bit of a reputation for having a loose relationship with the truth, some not so serious (it was mass murderer John Wayne Gacy who lived in her hometown, not movie hero John Wayne), and some more serious (claiming the Obama administration has issued one new drilling permit since coming into office, when the actual number is more than 200). But when AP decided to "fact-check" her on these and other statements, one thing was particularly interesting - her claim that a NATO airstrike in Libya had killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people!

Putting aside from the obvious (no single airstrike has killed that many people since Nagasaki as far as I know), let's assume she misspoke and meant "NATO airstrikes" rather than "a NATO airstrike." So why did she make such a claim? Because she's opposed to the intervention (probably just to distinguish herself from Obama and score political points), and wants to make the intervention look as bad as possible. AP's fact-check notes that the basis for her absurd statement was clearly a statement made by "the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, [who] said in late April that U.S. officials have seen reports that 10,000 to 30,000 people may have died in Moammar Gadhafi's crackdown on protesters and the fighting between rebels and pro-government forces." In other words, total deaths in the civil war.

And, to AP's (minor) credit, it does go on to "fact-check" Ambassador Cretz, when it writes "it is hard to know if that is true." I'll say. Ambassador Cretz carefully couches his statement in the old "People say..." language. He's "seen reports," you see, and quite possibly he has. Of course "reports" by themselves have no credibility, a fact I've been emphasizing with respect to Wikipedia, whose disclosures primarily consist of "reports," some true, some not. Bush & Co. claimed they "had reports" that Saddam Hussein was buying yellowcake in Niger, and that they "had reports" that agents of Al Qaeda had met with Iraqi government officials, and the Obama administration "has reports" that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Merely because someone writes a report about some rumor they've heard does not make it true!

So what is the truth? How many people have been killed in Libya, and by whom? This site contains a very interesting comparison of the wide variety of claims that have been made, claims which range from the low hundreds to more than 10,000 (by the way, none as high as the 30,000 claimed by Cretz). Those claims themselves are quite revealing. The high estimate of 10,000 was made on February 24, very early in the conflict, by "informed sources on the ICC," with no actual source or indication of where that number came from given. The article claims that of those 10,000, "at least 2,000" were in Benghazi, which begs the question of where the other 8,000 deaths occurred. Surely not in Tripoli (although there were certainly some deaths there), where 8,000 deaths would hardly be undocumented. And even the deaths in Benghazi are questionable. Why? Because according to this article, "the main city of Benghazi and several other Libyan cities have been conquered by the revolutionary forces." So a mere seven days after protests had started, the second largest city was in the hands of the rebels, but 2,000 deaths had happened in those seven days? This can hardly be considered credible.

Wikipedia contains one of the few sources of actual information, a table of reported fatalities (rather than the vague claims of people like the U.S. Ambassador). And what do they tell us? For example, in Benghazi, in the period February 17–20, 332-479 rebels deaths were reported, and 163 deaths of government forces. Quite clearly a battle was going on as early as the very first days of the revolt, and not a one-sided battle either. Through June 26, Wikipedia tallies reports of 2,384-3,084 opposition members/fighters (including some civilian supporters) and 1,425-1,673 Gaddafi loyalists have been killed. Again, evidence of a civil war, and again hardly a one-sided war.

Wikipedia also summarizes reports of 3,452-3,461 reported civilians killed by June 20, 2011. Of those, 856 are the reported deaths from the NATO bombing campaign. Another 1,472 are deaths of refugees fleeing the country whose boats sunk on the way to Italy. The vast majority of those were Black Africans fleeing the racist pogroms being carried out by the "revolutionaries" in Benghazi. All of these numbers must be taken as rough figures only. But taking them at least as roughly accurate, this means that 2,338 out of 3,450 civilian deaths (67%) have come either at the hands of NATO (not literally the hands, of course, NATO doesn't get its actual hands dirty) or as a result of the actions of the rebels.

All in all, there have been up to 8,500 deaths in Libya, including deaths of forces engaged in combat on both sides, as well as civilians killed (or whose deaths were caused) by both sides. Quite a few deaths, obviously. But not at all to be confused with "the number of innocent civilians killed by the Gaddafi regime," which is the impression that the U.S. government and the corporate media would like to leave in order to justify the U.S./NATO intervention.

Why is this important? Michelle Bachmann is just a bonehead (ok, she's more than that, but for this discussion only). But statements like the ones from the U.S. Ambassador to Crete, dutifully repeated in the corporate media and definitely not fact-checked, were no boneheaded mistakes. They were deliberate statements designed to give credibility to the "Gaddafi is committing and/or about to commit genocide and we need to start bombing to prevent it" argument. In actual fact, no such thing was happening or was likely about to happen. There was most certainly a civil war in progress. Some civilians were certainly killed by both sides, some deliberately, some "collateral damage." Nothing which would have remotely justified a U.N. resolution or NATO intervention, if the facts hadn't been distorted from the very start.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Love that passive tense

From AFP, with emphasis added:
Hundreds of activists are preparing to board aid ships bound for Gaza this week in defiance of an Israeli blockade and UN warnings and in spite of the violent end to an operation last year which left nine dead.
Nine Turks died when Israeli forces seized the Mavi Marmara.
They just died. No one killed them. Might have been heart attacks, for all we know.

AP is no better:

The warning reflected Israeli jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just over a year after a similar mission ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos.
A little better; at least there were Israeli forces involved in "clashes." You know, the kind where one side is firing guns and the other side is trying to grab the guys with the guns. Not a word about how those activists died. Perhaps they slipped overboard and drowned in the midst of these "clashes." The reader will never know they were shot, some at point-blank range, some in the back, by Israeli commandos. Killed. Executed.

Who knows how the nine Turkish activists died? Actually AFP and AP know, but they're not telling.

Update: CNN's take:

The flotilla is meant to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a similar flotilla that resulted in a clash in international waters with Israeli navy commandos that left nine people -- including an American citizen -- dead.
Hell, from CNN, we might even imagine that some of those nine people were Israeli commandos. After all, it was a "clash."

Friday, June 24, 2011


The Commander-in-Chief

Why is it that Congress is so eager to question the President's decisions when it comes to his Constitutionally mandated responsibilities (being Commander-in-Chief and hence having the final word about such things as troop levels), but so uneager to question his decisions when it comes to going to war in the first place, a responsibility the Constitution assigns to them?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Did Israel really leave Gaza?

We all know that Israel exerts total control over what happens in Gaza by controlling everything that comes in or out (including, by the way, power, as well as, of course, people, at least until recently). But I must admit I didn't realize how much control they claim inside Gaza until I saw this:
Israel allows construction of 1,200 new homes in Gaza
You might think that was some kind of magnanimous gesture, until you get to this:
The homes will replace some of the 60,000 houses the United Nations says were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in early 2009, as well as others destroyed in earlier operations in 2003 and 2004.
For the math-challenged, 1,200 out of 60,000 is a whopping 2%.

Not that I expect anything better from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, from which this story comes, but the war in 2009 was not waged against "Hamas," it was waged against the population of Gaza.


The "unconventional" Jon Huntsman?

Today's laugh of the day - this headline from Business Week:
Huntsman Enters White House Race as Unconventional Candidate
OK, let's read the article and see if we can figure what's "unconventional" about him:
"a campaign based on themes of American renewal...said Reagan, who announced his successful 1980 presidential bid at the same spot, "assured us we could ‘make America great again"...he called for "broad and bold changes to our tax code and regulatory policies"...He also urged...steps to "manage the end" to ongoing conflicts abroad...as Utah’s governor he took on health care and "did it right: no mandates, free market-based, not government- run"
Man, does it get more "unconventional" than that? Oh, and, by the way, his father is a billionaire. Which makes him totally unconventional amidst a field of mere multi-millionaires.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Those lavish foreigners

One of the classic ways in which imperialism and its media try to build support for its interventions is to demonize its enemies. Of course there's the obvious "next Hitler" line, about how dangerous they are. But the other frequently invoked line is how fabulously wealthy they are (implicitly, at the expense of their people). But this, describing the house of the Gaddafi associate where 15 people were just killed by NATO bombs, is a pretty pathetic attempt:
The tour of the devastated property revealed the lavish lifestyle available to those close to Colonel Qaddafi. According to the photographs and the accounts of journalists who made the trip, the property included at least five large villas; vast stores of pasta and bottled water; at least one large swimming pool; aviaries; and a menagerie including horses, camels, antelope, lamas, ostrich and deer.
Wow. Vast stores of pasta (!) and bottled water (!!). And a pool! I'm going to guess there at a minimum tens of thousands, if not indeed millions of houses, in the United States which would put this one to shame, starting with every single house in Beverly Hills, Montecito, Los Altos Hills, and dozens of other cities populated by the rich and famous.


NATO "responsibility" claims 15 more victims

The press is reporting that NATO has "taken responsibility" for Sunday's house bombing in Tripoli that killed at least nine people. But in fact, they did no such thing (nor did they, as far as I can tell, even use that word). They did admit that their bombs "probably" hit the house and killed the people (can't be 100% sure, you know, it could have been some of those stealth Libyan planes). But they insist it was an "accident," and after all, you're not really responsible for accidents. However, even if, in this case, this was an "unintended target," the fact is that these deaths were a statistical certainty. If you have a failure rate of 1 in 1000, and you drop 10000 bombs, 10 of them are going to fall on targets you didn't intend. It may not be what you intended, but it's not an "accident."

Of course, such excuses aren't really necessary for imperialists. Today, one day later, another 15 civilians were killed by a NATO airstrike (and, once again, despite the fact that journalists actually saw the bodies and the destroyed house, we still have to be told in the headline that this is just an assertion by the "Libyan regime"). And was this another random house hit by "accident"? No, it was hit on purpose, with the usual preposterous claim of it being a "command and control" center (the house belongs to a former military officer, not even a current one!). So NATO not only really takes "responsibility" for this strike, but claims it was part of fulfilling its purported mission. Among the dead? If I sort out the relationships correctly, two of them were great-grandchildren of Muammar Kaddafi. Still more civilians "protected" into the grave.


A trash-filled bay - one more cost of war

49% of trash that ends up in San Francisco Bay comes from fast food restaurants. But here's the kicker: cities are unable to install trash-catching devices in their storm drains, because they can't afford the "whopping" million-dollar cost:
Cities have begun installing storm drain trash-capture devices, but the price tag stretches into the millions, and there are no long-term state or federal funds set aside to assist them.

"It's not that we disagree with the requirements, it's just to help us with the fact that we don't have the funding for it," said Matt Fabry, program coordinator for the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program.

San Jose officials estimate they've spent more than $2 million installing trash-capture devices since 2008, enough to account for trash produced by 895 acres of commercial and retail stores within city limits.
$2 million in three years for one city (to get a start on the problem; obviously the total needed is more). The same amount we pay for a few minutes (or maybe even a few seconds, you do the math) of the unwanted wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


More covering for imperialism

More civilians "protected" into the grave in Libya. BBC started with a headline (no longer online) reading:
Two die in 'Nato strike' in Libya
Right. "NATO strike" in quotes because there are so many different forces flying airplanes over Tripoli and dropping bombs. Why, it could be anybody!

Today BBC has changed its headline to a more typical one:

Nato raid kills five civilians, Libyan officials say
This even though the BBC reporter actually saw dead bodies being pulled from the rubble of the apartment building that was bombed, but, despite that, BBC still attributes the claims of deaths to "Libyan officials." And the last time you saw a headline reading, "25 militants killed, NATO officials say"? Never.

But the prize, the taker of the cake, today goes to the Los Angeles Times, whose headline and subhead read:

NATO, accused in airstrike on Libyan civilians, will investigate

A Tripoli apartment building near a school is destroyed, killing 9 people and injuring 18 others. Libya blames NATO, which confirms that planes were operating above the city at the time of the alleged attack.
Note how the main headline actually attempts to make NATO look good. Why, they're investigating! (or, so they say) The actual news, the blowing up of an apartment building and the death of nine people (so far)? Only worthy of the smaller subhead, and even then, only worthy of being a "claim" attributed to Libya. NATO's admission that its planes were indeed bombing Tripoli at the time, and the obvious corollary that no one else was, evidently isn't enough proof for the Times or any of the other corporate, imperialist-propping-up media.

Monday, June 13, 2011


The Washington Post draws the wrong lesson

A headline in today's Washington Post gives the establishment lesson:
‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ displays ease of fudging authenticity online
Really? Haven't we all known that from blogs, dating sites, etc. for years? The fact that authenticity can be simulated online is neither news, nor of significance.

The real lesson of the "gay girl in Damascus" is the one the Post ignores - the rapidly vanishing journalistic standards of the corporate media, as well as the longer-standing tendency of the corporate media to lower their verification standards when it comes to any story which serves the interests of imperialism (and, conversely, to raise their verification standards for any story which runs contrary to those interests).


Media standard of evidence

A "gay girl in Syria," whose blog posts were designed to discredit the Syrian government, has now been revealed to be an American man in Scotland. Notwithstanding the lack of any evidence that "her" posts were fact rather than crude propaganda, "her" story was featured in such corporate outlets as CNN and the New York Times.

Not only circulating in the corporate media as they play their role of demonizing imperialism's enemies, another story, the "mass rape with Viagra by Libyan soldiers," has made it as far as an International Criminal Court investigation (along with major press coverage). And the basis for this accusation? It borders on the preposterous (actually I take that back, it's nowhere near the border). A "woman" (who is unidentified, and for all we know is also an American man based in Scotland) claims to have sent out 70,000 questionnaires (in Libya. In the midst of a civil war) and received...wait for it...60,000 (!!!) responses reporting a total of 259 rapes by Libyan government soldiers. And this is the basis on which the ICC is making public accusations. And the basis, probably unknown to many of them, on which corporate media hacks propagate the story, all in the service of imperialism.


A question about the latest Prop. 8 issue

If Judge Walker should be disqualified from ruling on Prop. 8 due to conflict of interest because he's gay, shouldn't 95% of the Congress be disqualified from voting for tax cuts for millionaires?


Sex and lies

Anthony Weiner lied about sexting. Gen. David Petraeus lied (by a factor of five!) about the number of "Taliban" captured in Afghanistan. Which one got more media coverage? Oh please, you know you don't have to ask, and the difference in coverage was a lot more than a factor of five! Oh, and which of the two cases of lying has prolonged U.S. involvement in a war, costing hundreds of billions more dollars and hundreds more lives? Obviously you don't have to ask that either.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Training Afghan troops

We're told that a major (or perhaps the major) focus of American involvement in Afghanistan right now is training Afghan troops to take the place of American troops who can then leave. Today, however, AP reveals how that's going, at least how it was going in late 2009:
As one of the deadliest battles of the war in Afghanistan raged, Afghan soldiers ran, hid and even stole personal items from the American troops fighting and dying at a remote outpost.

In interviews conducted after the attack, the Latvians told the U.S. investigators that the Afghan soldiers lacked "discipline, motivation and initiative."
But "the U.S. has spent billions of dollars since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan army and police" to produce those soldiers lacking "discipline, motivation and initiative." And who were they fighting, the opposition who killed 8 and wounded 22 American soldiers? Why, simply another group of Afghans on whom quite likely no money at all had been spent on training, and yet who were clearly filled with "discipline, motivation and initiative."

Why? Because those Afghans were fighting for something they believe in - expelling foreign occupying forces from their country, as opposed to the Afghan soldiers fighting (or not fighting) with the foreign occupiers, who were there because they were being paid, and probably in spite of their opposition to foreign occupation.

Further evidence of the same "problem" (problem for American forces) can be found in today's New York Times, where we learn that "Taliban infiltration in the Afghan National Security Forces." At least, that's what the U.S. government wants us to believe. The real story, however, is further down in the article:

But while the Taliban often takes credit for these attacks, NATO officials say the majority of the episodes stem from disagreements and arguments that escalate into violence.

“These incidents are exacerbated by austere battlefield conditions, combat stress, fatigue and cultural misunderstandings,” Colonel Simons said.
What the U.S. government doesn't want us to understand is that, while they use the term "Taliban" as a catch-all phrase to describe forces fighting the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, and simultaneously try to make it synonymous in the minds of Americans with "Al Qaeda," not only are the Taliban and Al Qaeda not the same thing, but many and probably most of those fighting the Americans are not really "Taliban" at all, but simply Afghans opposed to the foreign occupation of their country. "Colonel Simons" admission suggests that the majority of such "fragging" deaths have nothing to do with "infiltration" at all, much less "Taliban," but simply come from Afghans who were induced by money to join the government forces but came to realize that they hated the occupation more than they loved the money, and were willing to commit what are almost universally suicide missions to express that opposition. A far cry from the "trained" forces who could be seen "curled up in a fetal position" during the Keating attack.

The conclusion could not be simpler: U.S. out of Afghanistan!

Friday, June 10, 2011


"Protecting" civilians in Libya

Hillary Clinton says:
"We reaffirmed that there is only one way forward for Libya. Attacks against civilians must stop. Gadhafi must go, and the Libyan people deserve to determine their own future. The United States views the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people during this interim period."
So the Libyan people are "determining their own future," except in reality it's NATO bombs that are doing that, and the U.S. views the "Transitional National Council" as "legitimate" even though the Libyan people had nothing to do with its creation.

But back to the central point, civilians. As far as I can tell, there have been no credible reports (or any reports at all) of attacks by Libyan government forces on civilians in many weeks. Of course, the "attack against civilians" which was used to justify the NATO assault in the first place was an entirely hypothetical attack that was allegedly going to happen. Indeed, the only civilians being killed in Libya right now are the ones being killed on a daily basis by the NATO bombing of Tripoli (not to mention civilians in Afghanistan and, no doubt, Yemen as well).

As one example of Libyan government actions, yesterday they launched a major offensive on the city of Misrata. And who was killed? 22 rebels. Even the corporate media couldn't find anyone who they could claim was a civilian, and it's a safe bet that if they could have they would have.

Who's killing civilians in Libya and "has to go"? NATO, that's who.


Profits first

An amusing lead to a San Jose Mercury News article on PG&E, with emphasis added:
In the most extensive independent analysis of PG&E since the Sept. 9 San Bruno catastrophe, an expert panel's report Thursday scathingly criticized the utility, finding "multiple weaknesses" in its natural gas-line operations and accusing the company of putting profits ahead of public safety.
Putting profits first, imagine that! In truth, the only reason public safety is in their equation at all (or its equivalent, consumer safety, in the equation of any company) is the potential financial impact of being sued for neglecting it. If there were no such things as lawsuits, or loss of customers (which wouldn't worry PG&E or other public utilities with their captive markets), safety wouldn't figure in at all.

And, as a reminder, this is actually a legal requirement for most companies (publicly-regulated utilities may be somewhat different, I'm not sure). That is, they are required by law to maximize shareholder profits, which is the reason they exist. Capitalism at its "finest."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Another day, another attack on a television station

Libya joins a long list of nations in which television stations have been specifically targeted by the U.S. and NATO. We'll wait in vain for any American journalists of any prominence to voice objection to this latest outrageous example of the "protection of civilians."

Sunday, June 05, 2011


Understated headlines

Voice of America headline: "Israeli Troops Fire at Protesters at Golan Heights Border." But in the second sentence of the article will learn: "Syrian state media report at least 20 people were killed." Not worthy of the headline, though.


"Clashes"? Or murder?

More peaceful Palestinian protesters have been shot and killed by Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. MSNBC actually reported on the deaths this morning, to my surprise (after leading their news with some "bounce houses" being blown by the wind, the all-important Casey Anthony murder trial, and other items of similar earth-shattering significance), but referred to the deaths as having occurred in "clashes" at the border.

No, MSNBC, firing on peaceful protesters does not amount to "clashes." It amounts to murder.

Update: CNN also reports on "clashes," although their coverage does not include even an allegation that Palestinians were so much as throwing stones.

Friday, June 03, 2011


War or terrorism?

The U.S. government claims it isn't at war in Libya. But U.S. bombs have killed hundreds of Libyans. If the U.S. isn't at war, wouldn't that qualify as "terrorism"? [In reality, of course, it's both - war and terrorism.]

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