Tuesday, January 31, 2006
American "democracy" on display
The mother of a soldier killed in an ongoing war cannot attend the State of the Union address as an invited guest of a member of Congress, wearing the clothing of her choice, without getting arrested.
This is the country that is going to teach Iraq, or Palestine, or Iran, or anyplace in the world, about democracy?
Update: Sheehan explains "What Really Happened?" Here's the conclusion:
"I have lost my son. I have lost my First Amendment rights. I have lost the country that I love. Where did America go? I started crying in pain.
What did Casey die for? What did the 2244 other brave young Americans die for? What are tens of thousands of them over there in harm's way for still? For this? I can't even wear a shirt that has the number of troops on it that George Bush and his arrogant and ignorant policies are responsible for killing."
Did you know...
... Israeli soldiers killed twice as many Palestinians last week alone - both of them children - as the number of Israelis killed by Hamas all last year?
And not just "children," but "young children": a nine-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Slashing jobs - it's not just for companies doing poorly any more
Perhaps you figured that you had to be running a company that had made poor decisions and was losing market share in order to slash 30,000 jobs like Ford just did. If you, you'd be wrong:
Kraft Foods Inc., the nation's largest food manufacturer, said Monday it would eliminate 8,000 more jobs...Kraft already had announced closures of 19 production facilities and the elimination of 5,500 jobs.
Kraft announced the moves Monday while reporting fourth-quarter earnings results that beat analysts' expectations.
Earnings for the October-December period totaled $773 million, or 46 cents a share, up from $628 million, or 37 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose to $9.66 billion from $8.78 billion a year ago.
A simple question
If American (and other) aid to Palestine is contingent on their recognizing the state of Israel, why hasn't American aid to Israel for the past 57 years been contingent on their recognizing a state of Palestine?
War is peace...and other 1984 moments
A flashback to Jan. 31, 2003, with Tony Blair visiting the White House.
What George Bush said:
"I appreciate my friend's commitment to peace and security. I appreciate his vision. I appreciate his willingness to lead."What George Bush meant:
"I appreciate my poodle's commitment to war. I appreciate his obedience. I appreciate his willingness to be lead."And how do we know this? Because of the latest revelation out of Britain, which makes it clear that was the day Tony Blair agreed to war, and agreed to do so regardless of the fate of the phony "second resolution" that was being offered up at the U.N.
Update: By the way, this is just one more example of why I don't call myself a "peace" activist.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
American hostage taking...and other war crimes
With the taking of female hostages in Iraq so recently in the news, it was only coincidence that over the weekend, thanks to the extensive selection of documentaries available from Netflix, I watched the 1998 film Regret to Inform. The centerpiece of the movie is a trip to Vietnam by a woman (the filmmaker) whose husband was killed in the Vietnam war, and interviews with a series of women, both American and Vietnamese, who also lost their husbands in the war. The film does an excellent job bringing home the realities of war, as well as humanizing "the enemy."
Almost incidental to the basic "theme" of the movie, but all the more timely thanks to the American war against Iraq, are the descriptions of events that happened in that other war, the "another" when people want to debate whether Iraq is or is not "another" Vietnam. And, lo and behold, what do we hear about during the course of the film? The taking of women hostages by American forces to "get to" their husbands. The shooting in cold blood of children as young as five years old by American soldiers. The burning to the ground of not one (My Lai), not two, but 106 out of 107 villages, some of them more than once, in the region in which the filmmaker's husband was killed. "Free-fire zones," just like Fallujah, where American soldiers have the "right" to shoot at anything that moves (including that five-year-old child). And all, I'm sure I don't need to remind readers, in the course of a war that had as little justification as the one against Iraq, but that was part and parcel of the same system of imperialism, then as now.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
The whitewash begins
I wrote this morning about the stories in today's press about the U.S. practice of taking women hostage in Iraq to put pressure on their family members to surrender. Tonight ABC News covered the story. Here are the phrases that were used during the course of the report:
- "Controversial form of pressure" (that was the lead-in to the story)
- "Cultural sensitivies toward the treatment of women"
- "Ungentlemanly conduct" (that was the close of the story)
The "destruction" of a state
It's impossible to read or hear anything about the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections without hearing or reading about Hamas calls for the "destruction" of Israel. A while back, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was receiving similar criticism for his statement that "the occupying regime [Israel] must be wiped off the map." I wrote about his statement then:
A reading of Ahmadinejad's statement suggests quite clearly that the "wiped off the map" is to be taken literally (i.e., that the political boundaries of the region should be redrawn), and not figurately as meaning "wiped off the face of the earth." He explicitly denies that he is talking about "A fight between Judaism and other religions," and explicitly describes the endpoint of the struggle in the Middle East by saying: "It will be over the day a Palestinian government, which belongs to the Palestinian people, comes to power; the day that all refugees return to their homes; a democratic government elected by the people comes to power."The continued use of the word "destruction" when it comes to Hamas undoubtedly conjures up the idea that they are intent on blowing up every building and killing every person in Israel. But despite language in the Hamas charter which talks about "obliterating" Israel (not "destroying"), I know of no reason in practice to think that that phrase means anything other than what Ahmadinejad meant when he said what he did - the replacement of the existing Israeli state with a democratic government elected by the people, all the people, who live there.
By contrast, Baghdad Burning reminds us today of the very literal destruction of her homeland by the American attack (the Gulf War) of 1991. The following were either destroyed or seriously damaged
- Schools and scholastic facilities – 3960
- Universities, labs, dormitories – 40
- Health facilities (including hospitals, clinics, medical warehouses) – 421
- Telephone operators, communication towers, etc. – 475
- Bridges, buildings, housing complexes – 260
- Warehouses, shopping centers, grain silos – 251
- Churches and mosques – 159
- Dams, water pumping stations, agricultural facilities – 200
- Petroleum facilities (including refineries) – 145
- General services (shelters, sewage treatment plants, municipalities) - 830
- Factories, mines, industrial facilities - 120
P.S. - Just so we're all clear on this, before I get the obvious comments, if his remarks were translated correctly, and if there was no elaboration about which I am not aware, I am not associating myself with Ahmadinejad's remarks about the "myth" of the Holocaust. I do, however, have an open mind about exactly what he did say and mean.
Skippy steers me to a new (to me) political cartoonist named Stephanie McMillan and her cartoon, Minimum Security, which delighted me so much I've added it to my recommended list of Political Cartoonists in the right-hand column.
Skippy liked this strip, as do I:
Browsing through some of the back strips, I found this one which expresses a sentiment I've written about here many times:
Ralph Nader: "An Unreasonable Man"
An article at Huffington Post today alerts us to a new documentary on the career of Ralph Nader. The director, who unlike me describes himself as a liberal, has some very interesting thoughts on the nature of social change which are worth reading:
One of the themes that has bubbled up for me in the course of studying Nader's career (full disclosure: I'm a registered Democrat who voted for Al Gore in 2000) is the tension between "idealism" versus "pragmatism." Nader and his supporters are frequently characterized as naive, whose adolescent pursuit of their ideal agenda only serves to move them farther away from it. On the other hand, the mature pragmatists know the score. They know that you have to retreat from a battle every once in a while in order to win the war. I used to believe that myself. Now, I no longer do.
In fact, I think it's the reverse. The so-called pragmatists don't realize that if you want to know what a politician stands for, find out who is paying him. They believe that the Democratic Party as it is now constituted is truly an opposition party. They refuse to believe that our system is dominated by two factions of one corporate party. This strikes me as naive.
The idealists seem a lot more pragmatic to me. They know that most successful social movements, be it universal suffrage, civil rights, or anti-war protests always start from the bottom up, usually with a handful of people meeting in a room. They know that in order to accomplish anything long lasting you have to do your homework, aggregate the facts, and then start making demands. You don't retreat from a battle. You keep fighting. You demand that your candidates stand for your values before the election. You don't tell them that their only job is to beat the other guy, and then hope they will do the right thing after they've been marinated in a teeming crock of corporate and special interest cash.
The title of our movie comes from a quotation by George Bernard Shaw that my producer, Kevin O'Donnell, brought to my attention two years ago when we started shooting our first interviews:The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Posada update - the Chaffardet connection
Indications are that the U.S. is still trying to find a country like El Salvador (first reported here back in September) to which to deport terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, rather than take the too-obviously hypocritical step of releasing him into the United States itself. They are refusing to extradite him to Venezuela, remember, because of the "likelihood" of his being tortured there. And why did the court conclude that? Because a man named Joaquin Chaffardet, described by the Miami Herald as "a Venezuelan lawyer and Posada ally," testified that Posada would likely be tortured in Venezuela, and the government called no witnesses to rebut that claim.
Now just who is Joaquin Chaffardet? In an article appearing in Granma yesterday, Jean-Guy Allard follows up on a subject we discussed here back in October -- Posada's record as a torturer (and murderer) back when he was a key figure in DISIP, the Venzuelan political police. His co-worker at the time? Joaquin Chaffardet! And after Posada left DISIP, he started a private investigation company. His partner in that company? Joaquin Chaffardet! And just what was that company? Why, it was the one described in that New York Times article from October, 1976 that I recently reprinted here, the one in which a phone rang with a cryptic message shortly before an explosion aboard a Cubana airliner killed 74 people, and which was raided the next day by Venezuelan police, a raid which took Posada and five associates (one of them quite possibly Chaffardet, although I can't find any evidence of that) into custody for the bombing. Chaffardet is also, as it turns out, someone who was indicted but not convicted of organizing the prison break which sprung Posada from a Venezuelan jail in the first place!
That's the Chaffardet on whose testimony the U.S. is refusing to extradite Posada to Venezuela.
Yesterday's Granma article, by the way, follows up on that earlier story, and informs us that the Venezuelan victims of Posada's torture and murder have now gathered documentary evidence, and are considering filing suit against him in U.S. courts. Interesting development.
Hostage-taking in Iraq...by the U.S.
AP writes today about military documents which show "The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of 'leveraging' their husbands into surrender."
Like most Americans, the AP has a short memory. The two incidents described in the AP article occured in 2004. But this post from last April describes another incident, and this one, from November 2003, discusses an article by AP itself covering the arrest of the wife and daughter of Izzat al-Douri. Yet another post, from June 2004, notes that the detention of al-Douri's wife and daughter continued, and links to a (no-longer online) Newsday article which wrote that "the U.S. military is holding dozens of Iraqis as bargaining chips to put pressure on their wanted relatives to surrender, according to human rights groups. These detainees are not accused of any crimes, and experts say their detention violates the Geneva Conventions and other international laws" (and you hardly need to be an "expert" to know that). And remember, those dozens are just the ones that became publicly known.
And, just to remind you of the details of one of these cases, here's a bit more about the case from last April: One of the hostages, the wanted man's mother, was 65 years old! And here's the note that the American military left in the house: "Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention."
People like you and I are allowed to be justifiably outraged by the seizure of American reporter Jill Carroll as a hostage. The U.S. government, guilty of the same war crime many times over, is not.
Update: Knight-Ridder's Nancy Youssef adds some interesting details about events more recent than 2004:
The Iraqi woman [who was released Thursday after four months in prison] told Knight Ridder on Friday that she and eight other female detainees in her cell had often talked among themselves. She said she discovered that all of them were being held because U.S. officials had suspected their male relatives of having ties to terrorism.
Friday, January 27, 2006
The Hamas "shock"
The media are filled with the "shock" of the Palestinian election result, and the disappointment (to put it mildly) of Western governments with the results, etc. You also hear people, including George Bush, talking about "democracy." In all the talk, I have not read or heard one word (cf. New York Times or Washington Post coverage) about the undemocratic aspects of the election which I wrote about here - the restrictions on campaigning by Hamas (and other) candidates, pre-election threats to cutoff aid if Hamas won, money funneled from the West to Fatah to help their campaign, restrictions on voting in East Jerusalem, etc. I'm not asking for a complete rehash (not that this information was ever much "hashed" to begin with), just a phrase, like "Despite efforts by the U.S. and other Western governments to ensure a victory by Fatah, Hamas swept to victory..." But nothing. Not a word along those lines.
Lack of self-awareness Quote of the Day
"I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing."And, to no one's surprise, no one in the corporate media, swimming as they do in the same sea that George Bush swims in, seems to have noticed this glaring self-indictment.
- George Bush, the man whose party's "armed wing" (a.k.a. the U.S. military) has effectively destroyed two different countries (by which we mean destroyed the existing state, in the same sense that Hamas refers to the "destruction" of the state of Israel), Iraq and Afghanistan, and who rules a country which has destroyed many more states with its "armed wing" over the years.
Correction and Euphemism of the Day
At a press conference yesterday, George Bush said, "And the Iranians have said, we want a weapon." Here's how AP (seen in the San Jose Mercury News in a sidebar; can't find either online) covers this assertion:
Bush said Iran has acknowledged that it wants a nuclear weapon. That, however, goes beyond what Tehran has actually said; Iran says it wants nuclear power only for civilian use.Misstated? Threatening Iran is one of the centerpieces of U.S. foreign policy right now. The entire rationale for those threats is the assertion that Iran wants nuclear weapons. The idea that even a moron like George Bush doesn't know without even thinking about it that that claim rests entirely on U.S. assertions, and has been repeatedly denied by Iran, is preposterous.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan acknowledged that Bush had misstated Iran's position.
And as far as AP, "goes beyond what Tehran has actually said"? No, it completely contradicts what Tehran has actually said. How many euphemisms can you make up in place of the word "lie"?
Most news coverage just skips right over the whole subject. For example, the main Knight-Ridder article treats the subject like this:
On Iran, the president called a proposal by Russia to enrich Iran's uranium and return it to the Islamic nation for use in fueling nuclear reactors for electricity "a good plan." Iran maintains that it wants nuclear-powered electricity, but the United States and the European Union fear that it's pursuing nuclear weapons.Not a clue about Bush's lie that Iran has said (in a virtual direct quote, no less!) "we want a weapon."
The New York Times article on the news conference doesn't even mention Iran [but see Update below]. The Washington Post did, but did its best to cover for Bush by calling his lie a "mischaracterization" and not mentioning McClellan's retraction:
Bush endorsed a plan to allow Russia to help produce nuclear energy for Iran as a way to keep the anti-American regime from building nuclear weapons. But he mischaracterized Iran's public position by saying, "The Iranians have said, 'We want a weapon.' " Publicly, the Iranian government has insisted the opposite is true, though Tehran is widely believed to be actively seeking nuclear weapons."Note also that last sentence. The insertion of the word "publicly" suggests that "privately" the Iranian government is telling people they want nuclear weapons, a claim for which there is no evidence whatsoever. And the assertion that Tehran is "widely believed" to be seeking nuclear weapons can be seen only as an endorsement of Bush's "faith-based" foreign policy; there is no substantive evidence to back up that "belief" whatsoever, not even forged documents describing attempts to buy yellowcake in "Africa" or receipts for aluminum tubes.
Has the media learned anything from Iraq? No. Bush boldly lies to the American people to justify the next war (or the next military strike, or the next strike by its ally Israel), and none of the media (and, here's a wild guess, none of the leading Democrats either) are willing to say, in the words of Ronald Reagan, "There he goes again."
Update: The New York Times did cover the subject, not in their "main" article on the news conference, but in a separate article on the subject of Iran. Here's their take:
Mr. Bush made his statement embracing the Russian idea at a news conference on Thursday. He said, "The Iranians have said, 'We want a weapon.' "
In fact, Iran has denied that it is pursuing a weapon, and in the afternoon, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, acknowledged that Mr. Bush had misspoken.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
The best defense is a good offense
Man, ya' gotta' love this:
Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer said Thursday that the deposed Iraqi president wants President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried on allegations of committing war crimes.Wouldn't it be nice if the Democrats would have beat Saddam to it? Or the EU?
Khalil al-Dulaimi said Saddam wants to sue both leaders, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for allegedly authorizing the use of weapons such as depleted uranium artillery shells, white phosphorous, napalm and cluster bombs against Iraqis.
No complaint has been filed to the International Criminal Court in The Netherlands, but al-Dulaimi said Saddam's foreign defense team will present it "very soon."
"President Saddam intends to bring those criminals to justice for their mass killings of Iraqis in Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Qaim and abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib," the lawyer added.
Saddam also wants all Iraqis who have had relatives killed or had property damaged should receive at least $500,000 each."
We got more details yesterday on that Florida couple who was arrested for "spying" for Cuba. How serious is this case, for which these two people are in prison? Here is the actual headline from the Miami Herald: "Couple spied on president of FIU, FBI says." Whoa! Sounds serious. "Spying" on the president of FIU is practically like transmitting military secrets to the enemy, isn't it? Yeah, right.
Here's what the "spying" consisted of, and remember, this is the detail they're including in the paper, which means it is the most "damning": "Carlos M. and Elsa Alvarez spied on Florida International University President Modesto 'Mitch' Maidique, giving details in at least one report to their Cuban intelligence handlers about a White House invitation Maidique received." Man. What the Cuban government could do with that information.
I'm treating this lightly here, but this is no joke. For crimes no more serious than this, five Cuban men have been in jail in the United States for more than seven years, facing in some cases life in prison unless justice finally prevails.
Some quick recommends
Three excellent articles on CounterPunch today, all discussing subjects which have been covered here recently:
- Amnesty International writes the U.S. State Department, pleading the case of the wives of two of the "Cuban Five" who have denied the right to visit their husbands for more than five years
- Dave Lindorff points out the hypocrisy of Bush taking Hamas to task for not "renouncing violence"
- Michael Neumann, the author of a new book entitled The Case Against Israel, discusses the origins of Zionism and what it means to have a "Jewish state"
After a report warns that the Army is "stretched too thin," this from Secretary of Defense [sic] Donald Rumsfeld:
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected both reports, saying that "it's clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected."Facts? We don't need no steenkin' facts!
Rumsfeld said he hadn't read either report.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Cuban athletes excluded from the U.S.
Baseball is a "major" sport in the United States, and the attempted exclusion of the Cuban baseball team from the World Baseball Classic and the eventual reversal of that ruling got a fair amount of press coverage, including commentary by columnists.
Cycling, Lance Armstrong notwithstanding, is a different story entirely. And, lo and behold, we learn that just this week two Cuban cyclists were excluded from participation in a World Cup event in Los Angeles. Will the IOC and the UCI (International Cycling Union) act to exclude American cyclists from the Olympics as a result? They should, but it's quite unlikely.
Why I'm not for "peace"
Perhaps it's a fetish of mine, but with the exception of a "Honk for Peace" sign, I try never to associate myself with being for "peace." I'm an "antiwar" activist, not a "peace" activist. If I have anything to do with organizing an event, it's an "antiwar rally," not a "peace rally."
Why this fetish? Because virtually everyone responsible for killing people, from George Bush to Donald Rumsfeld to the Generals in the Army, claims they're killing in order to "bring peace" or "ensure peace." And today brings an excellent example of that -- an op-ed, originally from the Los Angeles Times but appearing in the San Jose Mercury News, singing the praises of targeted assassinations. It's author? Daniel Byman, the director of the Center for Peace [sic or should that be "sick"?] and Security Studies at Georgetown University.
Oh, Mr. Bynam has his regrets, though, that's why he's such a "peace"-loving guy. He allows as how "arrests are always preferable to killing," and even concedes that "mistakes are inevitable." Mr. Bynam's idea of a "mistake"?
On July 22, 2002, when an Israeli F-16 dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on his apartment building, the operation went awry. The strike killed [Salah Shehada, a senior Hamas operative], but it also killed 14 civilians, including his daughter and eight other children. International reaction to the attack was overwhelmingly negative.It isn't actually clear whether Bynam thinks the "mistake" was the killing of 14 civilians including nine children, or the fact that it produced an "overwhelmingly negative" international reaction (if by "international reaction" we mean "reaction by the civilized world excluding the United States," where the U.S. government reaction consisted of a statement by White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer that "This heavy handed action does not contribute to peace," and nary a word from the President).
The idea that dropping a 2,000-pound bomb on an apartment building in the middle of the night was likely to kill only a single "targeted" person and no one else, and hence not go "awry" by Mr. Bynam's standards, is absurd. Preposterous. In actual fact, five houses were also destroyed, and more than 100 people injured, in addition to the 15 dead. This was an "atrocity" by any reasonable definition, a war crime. But Mr. Bynam, who heads a "Center for Peace," says it was a "mistake."
Fetish? No, it's no fetish.
Olmert lets the cat out of the bag
We all know it, but yesterday acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it explicitly:
"In order to ensure the existence of a Jewish national homeland, we will not be able to continue ruling over the territories in which the majority of the Palestinian population lives."From day one in 1948, the goal of Zionism has been ethnic cleansing - expelling the Palestinians from their land so that Jews and only (or primarily) Jews could occupy it. This is what the struggle about the "right of return," which has caused divisions in the antiwar movement, is about. The expulsion of the Palestinians from their land, and their status as refugees for more than 50 years, wasn't just incidental to the founding of the state of Israel, it was an integral part of that event, and, not coincidentally, an integral part of what is going on in the entire Middle East. Millions of refugees who were forced out of their homes, and not just into the West Bank and Gaza that we hear so much about, but into squalid refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and others who have found their way to more comfortable surroundings in the United States or Europe, but who are still refugees, forcibly prevented from returning to their land.
Flashpoints! on Monday (at 39:00) and Tuesday (at 22:00) has segments very much on this point, the first featuring Richard Becker from ANSWER giving an overview of the situation, and the second featuring producer Nora Barrows-Friedman with girls from Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, discussing their experiences visiting (but definitely not being allowed to remain) in their original villages. Here's a post from Politics in the Zeros with more background information, and an ANSWER-LA forum (downloadable mp3 available) on the same subject.
Americans: too darned healthy
Changes are planned for health care tax deductions. Why?
The new components would propel the nation's health care system in a direction that many Republicans and business groups embrace: lightening the burden of insurance cost on employers to some degree, while creating financial incentives for individual patients to restrict how much care and medicine they use.Because people getting too much medical care and too much medicine is just the problem in the United States. Those stories you've read about people cutting pills in half to make their prescriptions last longer, or the claim that American health care ranks 12th out of 13 major countries, or the fact that 18,000 Americans die every year (that's six "9/11's", every year) because they are uninsured and can't get adequte health care? All in your imagination, I'm sure.
Quote of the Day
"Bill Gates shows up at a Hollywood party of actors and actresses and he's just a geek. Steve Jobs shows up at a Hollywood party of actors and actresses and he's a star.''No, it has nothing to do with the subject of this blog. But as a 20-year Macintosh user, and someone who avoids Microsoft products like the plague (and doesn't have to worry about viruses and worms and spyware and other such nonsense as a result), I just like the quote. Plus I love every film Pixar has ever done.:-) (And, while I'm rambling, I'll throw in a huge recommendation for a non-Pixar animated film, Madagascar, which I just watched and had me in stitches. Great stuff. Love the Penguins.)
- Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
George Bush and NSA head General Michael Hayden have been defending their secret spying. What does the "opposition" have to say? Harry Reid says Hayden's speech was "poorly researched"! John Kerry says Bush "failed to explain why he considers himself above the law"! If Hayden's speech had been "better researched," or if Bush had a better explanation, why, that would be just fine then. Not.
Here's something I haven't seen anyone (and certainly not the Democratic "opposition") say about Bush's claims. Bush claims that he's the Commander-in-Chief (my, how he loves those words), that he's just "protecting us," that he can "use any and all available tools -- including electronic surveillance -- to guard against terrorist attacks," and that the Congressional vote to authorize him to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons" involved with 9/11 gives him the authority to do what he's been doing. If that's true, then why does he (and those who speak for him) continually emphasize that this program only applied to calls made by "known terrorists" outside the United States to people inside the United States? Surely there must be terrorists inside the United States (Tim McVeigh comes to mind, just to name one) making calls to other terrorists inside the United States? If Bush has all this power, why on earth would it be restricted to the limited circumstances he claims it was restricted to (not that we believe him, of course)? Furthermore, one significant aspect of terrorism is that it so often comes from people who aren't known (check the recent bombings in London for an example). So if the President can "use any and all available tools" to guard against "terrorist attacks," he should be wiretapping and otherwise spying on every single person in the world, since any one of them could be planning a terrorist attack at this very moment.
And, if the technology allowed it, he probably would be.
"Democracy" and "capitalism"
Thomas Shannon, the State Department's top Latin American official who was the highest-ranking American at the inauguration of Bolivian President Evo Morales, has this to say to the Wall Street Journal (online only to subscribers) before he left:
"There certainly is a battle of ideas taking place right now which will very soon become a battle of results of showing how democratic governments can deliver the goods. Cuba and Venezuela obviously are on one side of the divide. It's not clear where Bolivia will go."Of course what Mr. Shannon really means is showing how "capitalist" governments can deliver the goods. But he can't come right out and say that, actually admitting that the U.S. government, and not just its economic system, is capitalist. Instead he goes with a lie, suggesting that Cuba and Venezuela are not "democratic," and implying that if Bolivia dares to do something like, say, nationalize its natural resources, that that is somehow not compatible with "democracy," when in fact it is practically the definition of democracy.
I also like the way there's a battle of ideas (that's Fidel's phrase, of course, although neither Shannon nor the Journal credits it) taking place "right now" and that will "very soon" become a battle of results. It's kind of like Washington is all of a sudden waking up to the fact that mining is an unsafe industry and that, by gosh, there's actually technology available that could make it less so. No, Mr. Shannon, this "battle" has been going on for a long, long time, and you and the people you represent are losing.
The "unemployment rate"
On more than one occasion I've talked about the fraud involved in the allegedly decreasing "unemployment rate," basically involving counting fewer and fewer people who by any reasonable definition would qualify as unemployed. But Wiley Miller says it more simply, and funnier too:
Rocky Mountain low
Going from one low to another, the American "justice" system demonstrated its complete indifference to murder on the same day the American President talked about "respect[ing] human life." Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr., a man who suffocated another man to death in the course of an "interrogation," was convicted in a Colorado military court not of murder but of negligent homicide and may be fined a whopping $6,000 (he hasn't actually been sentenced yet; $6,000 is the maximum). His "punishment" was greeted by applause from the soldiers in the courtroom. And how did Welshofer react? "I deeply apologize if my actions tarnished the soldiers serving in Iraq." Apologies to the family of the man he murdered, or to the American people in whose name he was "fighting," or any regrets for the murder itself? None. And what does his wife have to say? "He's always said that you need to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do." Yes, suffocating someone to death was "hard," but it was the "right thing" to do.
Welshofer's defense was that he was only following orders to "take the gloves off," and that he wasn't given "clear rules." I'm willing to bet that not only wasn't he given a rule against stuffing someone's head in a sleeping bag, he wasn't given a specific rule against pulling out his fingernails either. Maybe even smashing his fingers with a hammer, one by one. No doubt the people who received that kind of treatment will surface in the future, if they haven't already. And we'll be told the perpetrator was only following orders.
And how much is this outrage going to penetrate the American consciousness? Precious little. In the paper I read, the San Jose Mercury News, it received a 3 column-inch squib in the "News in Brief" section; in the same section of the paper, a train crash in Montenegro got 16 column-inches, a large headline, and a picture. TV news hasn't even mentioned it.
Quote of the Day
Ralph Nader once said his mother "took us out in the yard one day and asked us if we knew the price of eggs, of apples, of bananas. Then she asked us to put a price on clean air, the sunshine, the song of birds -- and we were stunned."Rose Nader, R.I.P.
Pity the poor, "anxious" U.S.
Bolivia's new President, Evo Morales, spent yesterday in "one meeting after another that seemed destined to increase U.S. anxiety," according to Knight-Ridder. And just were those potentially anxiety-producing meetings? The first was with Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, who "discussed how Cuba, which has exported thousands of teachers around the world, can help Morales' government fight illiteracy." And the second was with Hugo Chavez, who "signed a series of bilateral agreements with Morales, including a deal to trade Bolivian soy for Venezuelan diesel fuel."
Yes, I can definitely see how a bunch of Bolivian peasants who can read and who have more fuel for generating electricity or running equipment could be a major cause of anxiety. Not for me or any other "regular" American, of course. But for the U.S. government and the business interests they represent, definitely. What will "these people" want next?
Monday, January 23, 2006
Quote of the Day
Venezuela's vice president on Monday told top U.S. Republican Sen. John McCain he could "go to hell" for suggesting that "wackos" were governing the oil-producing South American country. (Source)Can I get an "amen"?
It depends on what the meaning of "all" is
A smirking George Bush, today
"I'm mindful of your civil liberties, and so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process."Gee, do you suppose that included lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights? The ACLU? No?
It reminds me of another quote of Bush's from last year, also illustrating his rather curious concept of the word "all":
"These are people from all walks of life, all income groups."And who was he talking about on that occasion? A group of line workers at an automobile plant. Actually probably a lot more diverse than the "range" of lawyers who reviewed his spying program.
War and mining
Editorial-page editor Susanna Rodell of the West Virginia Charleston Gazette writes about the lack of job opportunity which lures West Virginians into the military and into the mines, two dangerous jobs. She also notes some other similarities:
In both cases, making war and mining coal, important people in a hurry for results economize on their human capital. In both cases, it means empty places at the table and holes in small communities where each absence hurts badly and healing is slow.Actually the "rest of us" wouldn't need to "keep their bosses honest" if there were no bosses, in particular bosses with interests different from the workers. The capitalist forces which underly the continuing war drive are precisely the same ones which underly the "need" to cut costs in the mines, maximizing profits. Yes, the government under Bush has been cutting back on mine safety efforts and exacerbating the problem. But we wouldn't even need mine safety inspectors if the mines were run by, and in the interests of, the workers, and not the mine owners. There would, of course, be people concerned with mine safety, but they would be the workers themselves, or particular workers designated for that task, not some outside watchdog who has to try to mitigate the worst aspects of the exploitation of the workers.
In each case, they say the disasters will lead to improvements, that investigations will reveal the need for more protection, more attention to safety, stricter enforcement of regulations. They always say that. Sometimes it happens and sometimes not. And still, generation after generation, West Virginians go down in the mines and march off to war.
Maybe one reason why things change so slowly -- if at all -- is that those people need the rest of us to keep their bosses honest, and the rest of us have short attention spans. When they die needlessly, our sorrow is real -- but after a few weeks or a few months, with other demands on our concern, we turn back to our daily lives.
We forget to hold accountable the politicians who deplete the regulatory agencies that are supposed to enforce the rules. As the tragedies fade into the past, our compassion falters. It gets easier to mark the ones who keep making noise as bleeding-heart loonies.
Republicans and Democrats alike think that what's good for the company is good for the worker. Along with what has been happening recently in the mines, today brings us another illustration of the fallacy of that idea:
Ford announces it's cutting 30,000 jobs and closing 14 plants, and "Wall Street" rejoices.
The criminal injustice system
It's common to hear about high-profile cases of injustice in the "justice" system - cases like those of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, Mumia Abu-Jamal or Stanley Tookie Williams. But the fact is that there are thousands of victims of that system, most of them faceless and nameless, at least to those of us outside their immediate families.
The San Jose Mercury News, however, has just finished a 3-year, incredibly detailed investigation into the criminal "justice" system in Santa Clara County, California, which you can find online here (the series started Sunday and continues through Thursday). Their investigators studied in excrutiating detail no less than 727 criminal cases in which appeals were involved, and found a whopping 261 where questionable conduct prevailed - withheld evidence, midleading or even lying to juries, using improper arguments, inadequate defense counsel, hiding witnesses, mistakes tolerated by appellate courts, and on and on. To no one's surprise, I'm sure, many of the victims of this system profiled in the articles are black and brown and, more generally poor and unable to afford high-priced lawyers. The prevalence of black faces in the article is particularly striking, since San Jose, while it has a very high Latino and Asian population, has a rather small black population (just 3.5%).
I can't even begin to go into more detail. The material that is posted online can keep you busy for a week if you read it all. But the take-home lesson comes very quickly. "Criminal justice" is very much a misnomer.
"Supporting the troops"
I was driving in San Francisco yesterday afternoon, and got behind a bus with this "billboard" (not sure what you call a big sign on the back of a bus) on it:
What an outrage! Why can't these people be honest for a change? Why not a choice between "Support the war" and "Stop the war now"? Or "Support the President" and "Stop the war now"? How on earth does demanding that soldiers stay in a war zone to be killed and permanently maimed have anything whatsoever to do with "supporting" them?
I suppose I shouldn't expect any more from KSFO; visiting their home page I find a picture of Melanie Morgan, the right-wing "leader" of the anti-Sheehan "movement," Move America Forward [sic] (they mean "backward," of course). I also find notices about "California GOP speaks" and "Support Travis AFB soldiers" and a Photoshopped (I presume!) picture of George Galloway dressed as the devil. So it's obviously a right-wing station. I can handle that. But can't they be an honest right-wing station? Can't they defend their support for the war without hiding behind the fiction that this is about "supporting the troops"? Evidently not.
Blurring the definition of a blog
Check out a new "blog," Minute by Minute, which most assuredly goes way beyond what most of us think of as a blog. A sample:
Sunday, January 22, 2006
"Free and fair" elections in Palestine
OK, they're not really "free," but still cheap by American standards:
The Bush administration is spending foreign aid money to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas.Actually, of course, I'm playing with words above. That money isn't stopping the election from being "free," just stopping it from being "fair." How about the "free" part?
The approximately $2 million program is being led by a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development. But no U.S. government logos appear with the projects or events being undertaken as part of the campaign, which bears no evidence of U.S. involvement and does not fall within the definitions of traditional development work.
The plan's $2 million budget, although a tiny fraction of USAID's work here, is likely more than what any Palestinian party will have spent by election day. A media consultant for Hamas said the organization would likely spend less than $1 million on its campaign.
Elements of the U.S.-funded program include a street-cleaning campaign, distributing free food and water to Palestinians at border crossings, donating computers to community centers and sponsoring a national youth soccer tournament. U.S. officials are coordinating the program through Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah.
In recent days, Arabic-language papers have been filled with U.S.-funded advertisements announcing the events in the name of the Palestinian Authority, which the public closely identifies with Fatah. Some of the events, such as a U.S.-financed tree-planting ceremony here in Ramallah that Abbas attended last week, have resembled Fatah rallies, with participants wearing the trademark black-and-white kaffiyehs emblazoned with the party logo, walls plastered with Fatah candidates' posters, and banks of TV cameras invited to record the event.
There are about 115,000 East Jerusalem residents who are eligible to vote.The 6,300 lucky ones who don't have to pass through the checkpoints get to vote under the watchful eye of Israelis:
Under a deal [Ed. note: "deal" my eye. "Israeli diktat" would be more accurate, I'm sure] between the two sides, just 5.5% will be allowed to cast their ballot in East Jerusalem.
Just 6,300 residents will be allowed to vote in the city - the remainder, an estimated 109,000 - will have to travel outside the city boundaries to vote.
Voters who are chosen will then go to one of six post offices in the city. There a post office official [Ed. note: an Israeli] will hand them a ballot paper. There is no polling booth. The completed ballot paper is placed in a box, and later sent to Palestinian election officials for the votes to be counted.The rest? They get to travel outside the city, passing through checkpoints which Israel promises will be "eased." Which means there will only be a one-hour wait, down from the usual two or three. Even the EU monitor for the elections has denounced the system as not free and fair.
Of course, even if they got to freely cast their ballots, which they don't, they haven't had the freedom to actually hear from the candidates. The fact that Hamas candidates aren't allowed to campaign (and have been arrested for trying to do so) in East Jerusalem is well-publicized. But actually, they are only one of at least four parties whose candidates have either been banned, or just arrested.
Spreading "democracy," one "free and fair" election at a time.
Update: And I completely forgot about this aspect of those "free" elections, since it's such a completely normal aspect of elections in countries under the gun (literal or figurative) of the United States: The United States and the European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas is granted a presence in the Palestinian Cabinet.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
He's not talking about me! Honest! Although I do use one of those computers with the Apple on it :-)
Venezuela led the fight against terrorism...in 1976!
A wonderful thing (and a huge potential time sink) just happened to me - patrons of the Santa Clara County Library system can now go online and search all sorts of databases which are otherwise unavailable to the general public; among them is the New York Times archive. Just as an initial test, I did a search for "Luis Posada Carriles," and came up with all sorts of original material that one now sees only indirectly referred to in other articles. Alas, they're in graphical format, not text, so if I want to quote anything from one of them I have to do the transcription, but it's still an incredible resource.
Here's an article from Oct. 26, 1976, that's quite relevant to everything going on today:
Venezuela Depicts Intrigue Among Exiles in Crash of Cuban PlaneAnd, needless to say, it is this same Luis Posada Carriles who may be released on "probation" in the United States next week. Just say no!
by Juan de Onis
CARACAS, Venezuela, Oct. 23 -- Shortly before a bomb exploded aboard a Cuban airliner on Oct. 6, forcing it to crash off Barbados with the loss of all 73 aboard, the telephone rang here in the office of a private investigating company.
"The bus is full of dogs," the caller, who was in Barbados, reported.
The next day, the Venezuelan police raided the office as part of an investigation of the bombing. The head of the investigating company, Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born naturalized Venezuelan, and five others have been taken into custody, and the Barbados caller and an associate, Venezuelans who are suspected of having planted the bomb on the airliner, were being brought here today from Trinidad, where they were arrested the day after the crash.
The plane sabotage, which the Cuban Government of Prime Minister Fidel Castro has attributed to anti-Castro Cubans [Ed. note: I think it's safe to say those aren't Fidel's words!], also accusing the United States Central Intelligence Agency of complicity, has created a major problem [Ed. note: problem for who?] here and in the English-speaking Caribbean countries that have normalized relations with Havana.
President Preses Inquiry
The case is also a domestic political embarrassment in Venezuela, where there is a Cuban exile population of about 50,000 people, among them powerful anti-Castro business figures and some influential advisers to President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
The investigation is being pressed by the President, who has campaigned for an international antiterroirst treaty since terrorists led by the Venezuelan revolutionary Illich Ramirez Sánchez, also known as Carlos, kidnapped oil ministers of 11 governments attending a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna last year. President Pérez is scheduled to speak before the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 15 on behalf of such an agreement.
On Oct. 7, the day after the Cuban plane crashed, the Venezuelan police found in the office of the Posada concern what they described as a "detailed intelligence report" on the location of and security conditions at Cuban embassies and airline offices in Panama, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. One paragraph spoke of the weekly stopover of a Cubana de Avaición plane at Barbados on a flight from Trinidad to Jamaica and Havana.
Served Jail Time in U.S.
Hernán Ricado Lozano, the man who telephoned from Barbados, and an associate, Freddy Lugo, flew aboard that plane on Oct. 6 from Trinidad to Barbados, where they left it. Nine minutes after the airliner took off for Jamaica, a bomb exploded and the plane crashed.
That evening, the two Venezuelans few back to Trinidad, where they were arrested the next day at the request of the Barbados police.
As a result of the crash, the police here arrested Orlando Bosch [Ed. note: eventually pardoned by Pres. George H.W. Bush and currently living in Miami], one of the most prominent anti-Castro activists, who had entered Venezuela with a false Costa Rican passport late in September.
Mr. Bosch, who has declared in press interviews that he is waging a war against Cuban embassies, airlines, and commercial offices until political prisoners are released in Cuba, served four years of a 10-year sentence in the United States for firing a bazooka at a Polish ship in Miami harbor [Ed. note: read that again. Miami harbor, not Havana, this man served four years for committing an act of terrorism in the United States] in 1968. He was released in 1974 on probation, but violated his probation by leaving the United States.
In November 1974, Mr. Bosch was arrested here on charges of having been involved in a bomb explosion at the Cuban Embassy. He was subsequently expelled to Caraçao, and then went to Chile and Costa Rica, where he was expelled in March 1976. He was charged in Costa Rica with plotting the assassination of Andrés Pascal Allende [Ed. note: try to remember this is a man now living in the U.S. courtesy of George H.W. Bush], a nephew of the late President Salvador Allende Gossens of Chile, who is an exiled leader of the extremist [Ed. note: so says Juan de Onis] Revolutionary Left Movement in Chile.
Mr. Bosch is a friend of Mr. Posada, the operator of the private investigating agency, who came here from Miami in the early 1960's and joined the Venezuelan National Police. In 1970, under the administration headed by President Rafael Caldera, a Christian [Ed. note: sic] Democrat, Mr. Posada became chief of operations of the secret police [Ed. note: where he added "torturer" to his list of accomplishments]. He resigned and set up his private agency after President Pérez was elected in 1974.
During his arraignment in a criminal court here yesterday along with Mr. Bosch -- both are being held in conjunction with the continuing investigation -- Mr. Posada said that Mr. Lozano was an employee of his agency, working as a photographer.
A story from earlier this month that I forgot to write about (partly because there's so little I can add):
Tax refunds sought by 1.6 million poor Americans over the last five years were frozen and their returns labeled fraudulent, although the vast majority appear to have done nothing wrong, the Internal Revenue Service's taxpayer advocate told Congress yesterday.
The advocate, Nina Olson, said the IRS devotes vastly more resources to pursuing questionable refunds sought by the poor -- which under the highest estimate is $9 billion -- than to the $100 billion in taxes not paid each year by people who work for cash and fail to file tax returns or understate their income.
Daniel Ellsberg on The New York Times, the CIA, and Judith Miller
A fascinating interview by SusanG at Daily Kos with Daniel Ellsberg, particularly his explanation/speculation on the relationship between the CIA and The New York Times (and others, of course) and reporters like Judith Miller. An excerpt:
"Just from the outside, you look at that and you say: You know, they're acting as though it's a controlled press. So let me put into the pot just the hypothesis that to a greater extent than we are really aware, it is a controlled press. And it's not 100 percent and some of the exposes occasionally - not that many - even go beyond what is necessary to establish an appearance of independence and constitutes a real degree of independence. But I think it's just possible that when you look a flagship like the New York Times from which other papers take their cues as to what is news and what isn't, there may be a critical element of top-level people being actually on the team. It's clear that Judith Miller was on the team. I'm suggesting that that goes beyond a mere groupie-type enthusiasm for the policy. She was on the team, period. She was one of us. She's an insider, not an outsider, let's say."
Venezuela explains the law to the United States
Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States, conducted an online chat at the Washington Post this week. Here's how he explains the concept of "law" to the United States government:
This person is asking our opinion concerning the United States sheltering a terrorist known as the Osama Bin Laden of Latin America, Luis Posada Carriles. This terrorist is responsible for the murder of 73 innocent passengers on a civilian plane over the waters of Barbados in October of 1976. Posada is a fugitive from justice in Venezuela, because he escaped from a prison in Caracas while his trial for murder was pending. In June of last year, Venezuela asked the United States government for his extradition. Our request is based on three different extradition treaties that require the U.S. government to either extradite him to Venezuela or try him in this country for 73 counts of first degree murder. Rather than responding to our request and moving forward with his extradition or trial for murder, the U.S. government has thus far treated his case as a minor immigration matter and charged him only with illegal entry into the country. The international war on terrorism does not mean an a la carte war. The U.S. cannot pick and choose which terrorist to prosecute. A terrorist is a terrorist period. We call on the American people to demand that the US government abide by its international obligations and do what the law requires it to do: extradite or prosecute Posada for murder. Instead, he now stands on the verge of being released from custody on January 24.Join in the campaign to demand Posada's extradition.
Left I on the News endorses...a Republican?
Former Rep. Pete McCloskey was a leading opponent of the Vietnam war and the author of the Endangered Species Act. Current Rep. Rich Pombo is among the more reactionary members of Congress, and despite representing a progressive state like California, has been devoting most of his efforts to gutting the Endangered Species Act and working to open up the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
McCloskey did endorse John Kerry for President, but I'll forgive him that lapse of judgment. I'll still be absolutely delighted if he, in his own words, takes Pombo out (even if I do detest that Mafia-ization of American political language, but at least in this case I know he's referring to taking him out of Congress, and not killing him, which is what that euphemism usually means).
Did Osama bin Laden actually intend to raise American's awareness of the nature of their own government? It's hard to say, but it looks like his "endorsement" of William Blum's Rogue State did just that:
By last night, "Rogue State" shot up from 205,763 to 26 on Amazon.com's index of the most-ordered books.Which, considering that virtually all coverage of bin Laden's recent audio tape didn't even mention the part where he quoted Blum, is absolutely remarkable.
The Washington Post article linked above is filled with interesting and telling details, like this one:
Until now, the mainstream media have paid virtually no attention to Blum. His books rarely are reviewed.Which puts him in good company. I'm still working up a major article about Norman Solomon's new book, War Made Easy, but in an email conversation with Solomon, he informed me that his book, which I consider to be the best political book written in 2005, a brilliant, insightful, fact-filled, and well-written book (those are all my words, not Norman's!), was reviewed by exactly one daily newspaper - the Los Angeles Times, and that he was specifically refused interviews by CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Charlie Rose, Terry Gross, NPR's "Talk of the Nation," "Morning Edition," and "All Things Considered," and, last but not least, Jon Stewart. They were all too busy interviewing the likes of Ann Coulter and other such inanities.
Back to Blum, the Post gives its readers this, which by itself is enough of a positive consequence of bin Laden's plug, since it's the kind of analysis Post readers rarely if ever are subjected to:
In a chapter called "Why Do Terrorists Keep Picking on the United States?" Blum lists as possible reasons everything from support of Middle East dictators, including the Shah of Iran and Saudi rulers, to occupying military bases in the region, to favoring the Israelis over the Palestinians.Blum actually understates the case here, because it's way more than just an "absence of concern." Not only does the U.S. deliberately target civilian targets (Radio TV Serbia and al Jazeera come to mind, as does the water purification system of Iraq -- a deliberate act which was a major contributor to the not only predictable, but predicted, death of a half million children!, not to mention the instantaneous mass murder of 400 women and children in the Amiriyah bomb shelter), but they routinely deliberately "unknowingly" target civilians by dropping bombs on houses in which they suspect that suspected terrorists or other alleged enemies of the United States are located, without the slightest attempt to determine who else might be in the house.
"I think bin Laden shares that view, and that is why I'm not repulsed by his embrace of my book, because that is one of my major themes," Blum said.
When it is pointed out that terrorists target innocent civilians, which is not U.S. policy, he replies that U.S. tactics in Iraq have led to the deaths of thousands of civilians. "We bomb homes and these people have families, and the U.S. refuses to apologize for these civilian deaths," Blum said. "The absence of concern makes their actions almost equal to a deliberate targeting of civilians."
Friday, January 20, 2006
Lies of The Times
Following up on the item below, I just happened to read the New York Times coverage of the same event. Here's how they spin what happened:
When the World Baseball Classic first sought a license for Cuba, the Treasury Department denied it because the Cubans would have made American dollars. That would have violated the United States' trade embargo against Cuba.Not one word about Cuba donating its share of the money to Katrina victims!!!
The tournament organizers submitted a second license request on Dec. 22 and eliminated any possibility that the Cubans would earn money.
And the Washington Post article isn't much better. It's author writes: "After Cuba agreed to donate tournament proceeds to Hurricane Katrina victims..." Cuba did not "agree" to donate the proceeds to Katrina victims. It volunteered to do so!
"Liberal" media my eye (substitute other body parts at will)!
The U.S. war on the Cuban people continues
So now the U.S. says Cuba can play baseball in Puerto Rico (and later, in the U.S.). The Cuban people get rewarded with the pride of seeing their team play, but not with the money that could help buy things they need, because the very real war being conducted by the United States against their government continues. You don't think economic war is as serious as "real" war? Try dying of starvation, or lack of needed medicine, and tell me if it feels any "better" than dying quickly by being shot or bombed. And, despite the priorities of the Cuban government, which are human needs like food and medicine and education, the Cuban people are still very definitely suffering the effects of this war. Who knows what kind of lives they could be leading, and what kind of life expectancy they might be experiencing, if not for this war.
And wouldn't it be nice if the U.S. press gave 1/100th the coverage to the visa denial of a 7-year old girl who hasn't seen her father since she was two than they give to the permit denials for a baseball team?
Government 1, Free Speech 0
A very significant story flew under the radar earlier this week, but the blogosphere caught it, and I'll join in the attempt to make this better known. Quoting extensively from a blog called Facing South (with a hat tip to Suburban Guerrilla):
Yesterday, the Supreme Court made a key decision which even federal officals admit will have major implications for free speech across the country.The "wheels" of justice must be square they move so slowly. Here's my last note on the Bursey case, from January, 2004 (that's two years ago for the math-challenged).
With all eyes on the Alito confirmation non-aftermath, the Court hastily refused to hear the appeal of South Carolina activist Brett Bursey, the first and only person to be prosecuted under the statute governing "Threats to the President."
Bursey's crime? Four years ago, when President Bush came to Columbia, SC to whip up support for the Iraq war, Bursey -- a leader of the South Carolina Progressive Network -- inserted himself into the pro-Bush crowd with a sign saying "No more war for oil, don't invade Iraq."
For these unthinkable sentiments, Bursey was commanded to retreat to an Orwellian-named "free speech zone" or be charged with trespassing. As Bursey relates, "I told the police that I was in a free speech zone called the United States of America."
The trespassing charges were dismissed four months after the arrest, but the feds wouldn't have it. The Secret Service quickly moved to press the unprecedented "Threats to President" charges, and, after being refused a jury trial, Bursey was convicted and given a $500 fine."
Of course the irony is that Bursey is indeed a "threat" to the President, just like Cuba is a "threat" to the United States. Speaking truth to power, and setting examples of a different way, always threatens those in power.
Blaming the victim
Google is refusing to turn over information from its database of internet searches to the government, in a lawsuit that doesn't involve Google in any way. And how does the San Jose Mercury News headline the story?
Hey! How dare you stick your nose in front of my moving fist?
Google sparks privacy fight
This is, of course, a very serious matter. This particular case involves the government's attempt to defend a law on internet pornography. But if they can compel Google to turn over its search database, supposedly stripped of "personal" information, in this case, how much stronger a position they are in to demand that Google (and Amazon etc.) turn over its entire database, complete with personal information, in the name of "national security." I've joked before that when the government talks about investigating only people who are "linked" to al Qaeda, that Googling "Osama bin Laden" undoubtedly qualifies you. As this suit shows, it's no joke.
Needless to say, bravo to Google for resisting (so far), and a large "thank you, I'll take my business elsewhere" to Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL, who complied with the government's request.
Really funny Political Humor of the Day
"I think the worst thing that can happen for decision-makers is to get a filtered point of view."This from a guy who wouldn't talk to Cindy Sheehan, and doesn't even read the newspapers (and certainly doesn't read Left I on the News!). And just what is Bush's idea of an unfiltered point of view, you know, the kind he gets?
- George Bush
"I've got a group of people around me that are empowered to walk in. Condi Rice, when she walks in, she comes in as a close friend, but as someone who knows that our friendship will be sustained, whether she agrees with me or not. Rumsfeld comes in -- and he's a crusty old guy who -- (laughter) -- and he's got an opinion, and he tells it."Aaah, that's better. Now I'm reassured.
Not-so-funny Political Humor of the Day
Make sure you read the fine print at lower right:
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Quote of the Day
I've recommended William Blum's Rogue State on four different occasions, but who knew Osama bin Laden would be joining me in the recommendation?
From his speech today:
"If you (Americans) are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book 'Rogue State,' which states in its introduction: 'If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended once and for all.'"And, speaking directly to the point made in the post just below this one:
"Finally, I say that war will go either in our favor or yours. If it is the former, it means your loss and your shame forever, and it is headed in this course. If it is the latter, read history! We are people who do not stand for injustice and we will seek revenge all our lives. The nights and days will not pass without us taking vengeance like on Sept. 11, God permitting. Your minds will be troubled and your lives embittered. As for us, we have nothing to lose. A swimmer in the ocean does not fear the rain. You have occupied our lands, offended our honor and dignity and let out our blood and stolen our money and destroyed our houses and played with our security and we will give you the same treatment.Interesting stuff. So far the only thing I have heard about on all the news channels is this passage: "The operations [against the United States] are under preparation and you will see them in your homes the minute they are through (with preparations), with God's permission." Will we hear any discussion of the rest, or even any mention of William Blum? Not if the initial articles in The New York Times or Washington Post are any indication.
"You have tried to prevent us from leading a dignified life, but you will not be able to prevent us from a dignified death. Failing to carry out jihad, which is called for in our religion, is a sin. The best death to us is under the shadows of swords. Don't let your strength and modern arms fool you. They win a few battles but lose the war. Patience and steadfastness are much better. We were patient in fighting the Soviet Union with simple weapons for 10 years and we bled their economy and now they are nothing.
"In that there is a lesson for you."
Inanity of the Day
"The terrorists started this war, and the President made it clear that we will end it at a time and place of our choosing. We continue to pursue all those who are seeking to do harm to the American people, and to bring them to justice."I'll skip over the insinuation that killing people who haven't even been charged with any crime is deserving of the term "justice," and go right to that "time and place" assertion. The idea that the so-called "War on Terror" could end on a particular day is ludicrous enough; even if there were a well-defined, unified "enemy," which there obviously isn't, the idea that that enemy might sign a peace treaty or "surrender" in some way is completely out of the question. But it is at least possible that Bush could give a speech and announce that the "war" is over on a particular day.
- Scott McClellan, White House "spokesperson"
But "place"? Where is that going to be, the Plains of Armageddon? American bombs might have killed Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, would that have been the "place" where the "war" ended? Clearly not. If this week's missile strike had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, would Damadola have been the place? Hardly.
If Bush & Co. and their supporters want to make invalid arguments, or arguments I disagree with, or even lie to justify their war of terror on the world, that's one thing. But do they have to be inane in the process?
Second victory in Bolivia
From The Democracy Center:
The Cochabamba water revolt – which began exactly six years ago this month – will end this morning when Bechtel, one of the world’s most powerful corporations, formally abandons its legal effort to take $50 million from the Bolivian people. Bechtel made that demand before a secretive trade court operated by the World Bank, the same institution that coerced Bolivia to privatize the water to begin with. Faced with protests, barrages of e-mails, visits to their homes, and years of damaging press, Bechtel executives finally decided to surrender, walking away with a token payment equal to thirty cents. That retreat sets a huge global precedent.For reasons I don't understand, the limited coverage in the corporate press refers to a $25 million suit, not a $50 million suit. But what's $25 million between friends? Besides, whatever it was, Bechtel walked away without it.
"The people, united, will never be defeated" is often just wishful thinking. But "the people, united" can be a powerful force for change. And the Cochabamba water revolt is a premier example.
WIIIAI points us to this exchange in yesterday's White House press briefing:
Q There are allegations that we send people to Syria to be tortured.McClellan is most likely a liar. But it is always possible he's telling the truth, and not just because he keeps his head buried in the sand (or in the Oval Office). We can assume McClellan doesn't listen to shows like Democracy Now! or read CounterPunch, where the story of Maher Arar has indeed been well-publicized. But how about the media in general? Google News search for "Maher Arar" reveals a paltry 95 hits; Yahoo News finds even fewer, 29. A general Google search, however, does reveal 280,000 hits, some of them indeed bloggers.
MR. McCLELLAN: To Syria?
Q Yes. You've never heard of any allegation like that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I've never heard that one. That's a new one.
Q To Syria? You haven't heard that?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a new one.
Q Well, I can assure you it's been well-publicized.
MR. McCLELLAN: By bloggers?
In the end, however, we really do have to come back to McClellan either being extremely ill-informed or just a plain liar (I'd say "forgetful," but he doesn't even resort to the "I don't remember hearing about that" excuse). Because, as discussed here, Arar has actually brought suit against the U.S. government, a suit which the U.S. government is attempting to dismiss (has dismissed? current status unsure, the last update on the case appears to be in August, 2005, with the government still attempting to dismiss the case, and apparently there has been no ruling on that motion yet, six months later) by invoking the rarely used "state secrets privilege" and claiming that any release of information on Arar could jeopardize "intelligence, foreign policy and national security interests of the United States." So this isn't just some obscure case, but one which the U.S. government is well aware of.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Palestinians are human
LGBT themes were big at last night's Golden Globes awards, with Brokeback Mountain, Transamerica, and Capote all winning awards. Political (in the broad, non-electoral sense) themes were big too, with Syriana and The Constant Gardener winning awards and Good Night, and Good Luck being nominated. But there was another theme too - Palestinians as human beings.
A letter writer to the San Jose Mercury News today announces he won't go see Steven Spielberg's Munich because it shows Palestinians as human beings. But there's another lesser-known film which I wrote about back in November which does that, and, unlike Munich, Paradise Now won the Golden Globe award last night for best Foreign Language picture.
The director claimed in his acceptance speech that the award was a recognition of the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people. It may well have been. The Golden Globes are given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group with a more international sensibility (and hence a greater awareness of the Palestinian struggle) than Americans. It will be interesting to see if the award is duplicated at the Oscars, or if Paradise Now will even be nominated by the more pro-Israeli American voters (that's Oscar voters, of course).
P.S. - I haven't seen any of these movies, since I'm still waiting for them all to come out on DVD, so any reader who wants to comment on any of them is encouraged to do so.
With friends like these...
A California National Guard battalion returned from Iraq yesterday. Out of 600 members, 17 were killed and 100 wounded.
And what does Staff Sgt. Paul Hernandez, one of the returnees, have to say?
"The people love us there; they really do."Is that what they call "tough love"?
Apparently you can get too much love, however; Sgt. Hernandez will not be reenlisting.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Say no to U.S.-sanctioned terrorism!
I've been covering the saga of Luis Posada Carriles since he snuck into the United States back in April. The lack of coverage of this story in the U.S. press in truly appalling. The original entry story was covered only in the Miami Herald. The story of his possible imminent release onto the streets of the United States appeared ten days ago in the Spanish edition of the Herald, and still hasn't made its way into the "mainstream" press; the last mention of Luis Posada Carriles in the New York Times, for example, was back in September.
The silence notwithstanding, the case is moving forward toward a review of his status on January 24. The ANSWER coalition is asking everyone to send an automated letter/email to Bush and Congress to demand that Posada be extradited to Venezuela and not to be released into the United States, and I urge readers to add their voices to that campaign. Raising the visibility of this appalling situation is the essential first step is attempting to ensure justice.
And, as a reminder of what this justice is all about, if you haven't already done so, watch the new 6-minute video summary.
The media on Feinstein on Alito; Feinstein (and McCain) on Iran (and Israel)
Here's today's universal "line" in the media:
"California Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced Sunday that she would vote against Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, but she warned her fellow Democrats not to try to block his confirmation with a filibuster." - San Jose Mercury News coverage of the story.
All of the above sources quote her only as saying the following: "I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster. This might be a man I disagree with, but it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court." There is nothing in that statement that could be remotely interpreted as "warning her fellow Democrats." Later in both articles, we have Republican Lindsay Graham saying, "If there's a filibuster of this man based on his qualifications, there would be a huge backlash in this country," which definitely qualifies as a "warning."
Here's (pdf) the exact transcript of what Feinstein said:
"I do not see the likelihood of a filibuster to be very candid with you. I don't see those kinds of egregious things emerging that would justify a filibuster. I think when it comes to filibustering a Supreme Court appointment, you really have to have something out there whether it's gross moral turpitude or something that comes to the surface. Now I mean, this is a man I might disagree with. That doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court.""Warning"? I don't think so.
What she did say is equally telling (and amusing as well). First, she plainly contradicts herself. She says she's voting against confirmation, but also says that although she disagrees with Alito "it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court." Well, if it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court, then she should vote for him, not against him.
Here's the wonderfully amusing part: Feinstein says she was "very impressed with his ability...not to specifically answer any questions.'' Wow! What a qualification! Perhaps she would prefer Sgt. Schultz on the Court; I hear he's really good at not answering questions.
The real Feinstein news from this interview was her joining with John McCain in endorsing the "all options are on the table" stance vs. Iran, refusing to object to military action against this threat. McCain, lying as usual, claimed:
"Now the difference between Iraq and Iran is that Saddam Hussein had us all fooled, including his own generals, about having weapons of mass destruction. I think it's pretty clear in the mind of any expert that Iranians are about to acquire them."But what Feinstein had to say is even more instructive. George Bush recently let loose on people who think that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with Israel. Well, here's what Feinstein has to say about the "threat" from Iran:
"I think Iran has much more opportunity to create devastation in the Middle East than Iraq at this time. I think it's a very serious threat. I think this new president of Iran is very difficult to predict. He clearly holds very radical, almost fanatic views certainly with respect to Israel. I don't think it's a stretch to say that if the Iranians had a nuclear missile that this president might well use it against Israel."So after the U.S. attacks Iran, let's not hear any nonsense about how it had nothing to do with Israel.
Why stop here? There's more...
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