Saturday, December 31, 2005

A thought for the New Year

Courtesy of the great Howard Zinn: the goal has to be nothing less than to abolish war.

For me, it was a year that began with a continuing reevaluation of how I could have been swept along with the pro-war, or at least war-tolerant, sentiment of 2002 and 2003. I still feel a sense of great shame for not resisting the post-911 bloodlust (something I've come to think was more manipulated than inherent in "the American people," but our responsibility nonetheless).

In 2004 and 2005, I did a lot of reading, and my attitude towards war changed with my disappearing ignorance about its means and motivations. I'm a grown, educated man, and had no excuse for that ignorance. Books like Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism, Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire, and Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing, Wendell Berry's Citizenship Papers, and Zinn's People's History of the United States are available in many public libraries, and in many bookstores. They should be required reading in high schools and colleges.

With the possible exception of Berry's "Thoughts in the presence of fear,"I can't think of a single essay that better expresses what our attitude should be towards war than this one by Howard Zinn, published in the January 2006 Progressive. Initially I resisted the optimism, but then thought, hell, what better time to think about shooting the moon than at the beginning of a New Year.

After the War

The war against Iraq, the assault on its people, the occupation of its cities, will come to an end, sooner or later. The process has already begun. The first signs of mutiny are appearing in Congress. The first editorials calling for withdrawal from Iraq are beginning to appear in the press. The anti-war movement has been growing, slowly but persistently, all over the country.

Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush Administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.

And while we work with increased determination to make this happen, should we not think beyond this war? Should we begin to think, even before this shameful war is over, about ending our addiction to massive violence and instead using the enormous wealth of our country for human needs? That is, should we begin to speak about ending war—not just this war or that war, but war itself? Perhaps the time has come to bring an end to war, and turn the human race onto a path of health and healing.

A group of internationally known figures, celebrated both for their talent and their dedication to human rights (Gino Strada, Paul Farmer, Kurt Vonnegut, Nadine Gordimer, Eduardo Galeano, and others), will soon launch a worldwide campaign to enlist tens of millions of people in a movement for the renunciation of war, hoping to reach the point where governments, facing popular resistance, will find it difficult or impossible to wage war.

There is a persistent argument against such a possibility, which I have heard from people on all parts of the political spectrum: We will never do away with war because it comes out of human nature. The most compelling counter to that claim is in history: We don’t find people spontaneously rushing to make war on others. What we find, rather, is that governments must make the most strenuous efforts to mobilize populations for war. They must entice soldiers with promises of money, education, must hold out to young people whose chances in life look very poor that here is an opportunity to attain respect and status. And if those enticements don’t work, governments must use coercion: They must conscript young people, force them into military service, threaten them with prison if they do not comply.

Furthermore, the government must persuade young people and their families that though the soldier may die, though he or she may lose arms or legs, or become blind, that it is all for a noble cause, for God, for country.

When you look at the endless series of wars of this century you do not find a public demanding war, but rather resisting it, until citizens are bombarded with exhortations that appeal, not to a killer instinct, but to a desire to do good, to spread democracy or liberty or overthrow a tyrant.

Woodrow Wilson found a citizenry so reluctant to enter the First World War that he had to pummel the nation with propaganda and imprison dissenters in order to get the country to join the butchery going on in Europe.

In the Second World War, there was indeed a strong moral imperative, which still resonates among most people in this country and which maintains the reputation of World War II as “the good war.” There was a need to defeat the monstrosity of fascism. It was that belief that drove me to enlist in the Air Force and fly bombing missions over Europe.

Only after the war did I begin to question the purity of the moral crusade. Dropping bombs from five miles high, I had seen no human beings, heard no screams, seen no children dismembered. But now I had to think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, the deaths of 600,000 civilians in Japan, and a similar number in Germany.

I came to a conclusion about the psychology of myself and other warriors: Once we decided, at the start, that our side was the good side and the other side was evil, once we had made that simple and simplistic calculation, we did not have to think anymore. Then we could commit unspeakable crimes and it was all right.

I began to think about the motives of the Western powers and Stalinist Russia and wondered if they cared as much about fascism as about retaining their own empires, their own power, and if that was why they had military priorities higher than bombing the rail lines leading to Auschwitz. Six million Jews were killed in the death camps (allowed to be killed?). Only 60,000 were saved by the war—1 percent.

A gunner on another crew, a reader of history with whom I had become friends, said to me one day: “You know this is an imperialist war. The fascists are evil. But our side is not much better.” I could not accept his statement at the time, but it stuck with me.

War, I decided, creates, insidiously, a common morality for all sides. It poisons everyone who is engaged in it, however different they are in many ways, turns them into killers and torturers, as we are seeing now. It pretends to be concerned with toppling tyrants, and may in fact do so, but the people it kills are the victims of the tyrants. It appears to cleanse the world of evil, but that does not last, because its very nature spawns more evil. Wars, like violence in general, I concluded, is a drug. It gives a quick high, the thrill of victory, but that wears off and then comes despair.

I acknowledge the possibility of humanitarian intervention to prevent atrocities, as in Rwanda. But war, defined as the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people, must be resisted.

Whatever can be said about World War II, understanding its complexity, the situations that followed—Korea, Vietnam—were so far from the kind of threat that Germany and Japan had posed to the world that those wars could be justified only by drawing on the glow of “the good war.” A hysteria about communism led to McCarthyism at home and military interventions in Asia and Latin America—overt and covert—justified by a “Soviet threat” that was exaggerated just enough to mobilize the people for war.

Vietnam, however, proved to be a sobering experience, in which the American public, over a period of several years, began to see through the lies that had been told to justify all that bloodshed. The United States was forced to withdraw from Vietnam, and the world didn’t come to an end. One half of one tiny country in Southeast Asia was now joined to its communist other half, and 58,000 American lives and millions of Vietnamese lives had been expended to prevent that. A majority of Americans had come to oppose that war, which had provoked the largest anti-war movement in the nation’s history.

The war in Vietnam ended with a public fed up with war. I believe that the American people, once the fog of propaganda had dissipated, had come back to a more natural state. Public opinion polls showed that people in the United States were opposed to send troops anywhere in the world, for any reason.

The Establishment was alarmed. The government set out deliberately to overcome what it called “the Vietnam syndrome.” Opposition to military interventions abroad was a sickness, to be cured. And so they would wean the American public away from its unhealthy attitude, by tighter control of information, by avoiding a draft, and by engaging in short, swift wars over weak opponents (Grenada, Panama, Iraq), which didn’t give the public time to develop an anti-war movement.

I would argue that the end of the Vietnam War enabled the people of the United States to shake the “war syndrome,” a disease not natural to the human body. But they could be infected once again, and September 11 gave the government that opportunity. Terrorism became the justification for war, but war is itself terrorism, breeding rage and hate, as we are seeing now.

The war in Iraq has revealed the hypocrisy of the “war on terrorism.” And the government of the United States, indeed governments everywhere, are becoming exposed as untrustworthy: that is, not to be entrusted with the safety of human beings, or the safety of the planet, or the guarding of its air, its water, its natural wealth, or the curing of poverty and disease, or coping with the alarming growth of natural disasters that plague so many of the six billion people on Earth.

I don’t believe that our government will be able to do once more what it did after Vietnam—prepare the population for still another plunge into violence and dishonor. It seems to me that when the war in Iraq ends, and the war syndrome heals, that there will be a great opportunity to make that healing permanent.

My hope is that the memory of death and disgrace will be so intense that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end, can also understand: that war itself is the enemy of the human race.

Governments will resist this message. But their power is dependent on the obedience of the citizenry. When that is withdrawn, governments are helpless. We have seen this again and again in history.

The abolition of war has become not only desirable but absolutely necessary if the planet is to be saved. It is an idea whose time has come.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The I word? What about the D word?

Jonathan Schell's "The Hidden State Steps Forward" makes a very convincing case that W., with his stunningly brazen defense of his wiretapping offense, has basically declared himself dictator:

When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act." As justification, he offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?

Bush's choice marks a watershed in the evolution of his Administration. Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.

But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation. Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.

The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of secrecy over these and other actions.

There is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war, deceives its citizens, violates their rights, abuses power and breaks the law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power without limit, tortures prisoners and acts in secret. It is dictatorship.

Read the whole article...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Operation Screw This

Where would we be without The Onion? From "U.S. Troops Draw Up Own Exit Strategy":

In a striking rebuke of the assertions of the Pentagon and the White House that a swift exit is neither practical nor possible, soldiers of varying rank have outlined a straightforward plan of immediate disengagement, dubbed "Operation Screw This."

"We kicked around several withdrawal scenarios in our barracks, but ultimately settled on the idea of getting out of here as soon as possible," said Maj. Brian Garcia, who is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Supporters of the Iraq war say the reconstruction of politically and economically devastated Iraq will take decades, and the gradual process of departure will begin only after a lengthy occupation.

"I'm familiar with the 'years of occupation to facilitate reconstruction' theory," said Army Spc. Megan Beaulieu. "However, virtually every soldier I know—including myself—gives more credence to the successful Dutch and Spanish approach of 'we've done all we can here, let's move out.'"

She added: "Apache helicopters could rendezvous with us in Fallujah. If we left our supplies behind, we could be out of here in 15 minutes."

Rant extraordinaire...

War. What war? What fucking war?

My good friend Ron of rants quite beautifully on this point, and I hope he doesn't mind if I quote him at length:

we're not at war. repeat it. we're not at war. write it down. send it to your friends and enemies. we're not a nation at war. there is no war.

I am so tired of hearing the president and his flying monkeys repeat this ad naseum as if it's supposed to convince us that we must fight with them or be defeatists. the only thing I know I'm fighting for sure is tooth decay with minty fresh Colgate toothpaste and even that is only partially effective.

we may be at odds with a particular ideology, but what else is new. we may be at odds against terrorism just like we are at odds against poverty, illiteracy, and racism. but we are not at war against those things. people are not shooting other people over illiteracy. though people do get shot by racists and poor people do tend to get shot more by the police. because it's not a fuckin' "real" war.

we may be victims of sexism, homophobia, age-ism, and child abuse. but we are not at war against those things, except purely in a metaphorical sense. I will stand here at tell you that those issues might well be with us for a long time -- maybe even forever -- but it's not like you can find one person, kill him or her, and children will never be abused again. it doesn't work like that. There are no captains of racism nor playing cards with pictures of those who won't give women a raise -- and even if there were, it wouldn't make a difference because it's not a fuckin' war. and if you think there should be, guess what, you're a fuckin' idiot and you're part of the problem. there is no war.

we are not at war against people who use drugs, but drug addicts are battling against their own demons. you can drop bombs on all the illegal drug factories in the world, shoot down every pot smoker you see (or worse -- send them to Gitmo and torture them by flushing copies of Zap comics down the toilet) and you know what -- whatever it is that makes people take those drugs (and let's say most people I know are drug addicts -- whether it's heroin or prozac -- some people can afford to get a presciption and others get rid of the middle man) will continue to do so whether its a rotten childhood, chemical imbalance, or just because it's fun and feels good. because it's not a "real" war.

there have always been terrorists, just like there have always been greedy fucks who force other people to work for shitty wages and in dangerous conditions whilst they count their drachmas and drink their grog. and if you don't believe me, watch any version of Zorro or Robin Hood.

there is not war against terrorists, just like there is no war against greed, sloth, vanity or any of the other seven deadly sins. it's called the human condition. but maybe bush and his courtesans were absent that day in school. and if you think you can win such a war, you're a fuckin' idiot, because it's not a fuckin' war.

you want to fight against something? go fight against the ravages of time and get a fuckin' facelift. otherwise, get over it and sit the fuck down, there's no war. we're not at war. get it? no war.

Reminds me of this classic from get your war on:

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I'm not worthy...

... to be quoting the words of Detroit activist Kim Redigan, but her words—a most articulate 'fuck you' to the Vegan surveillance president and his minions—must be shared, even with the dozen or so (at most) readers of this blog.

Far be it from me to ask the government to take money it needs to wage war and enrich the arms industry to track down yet one more peace activist. Therefore, I consider it my civic duty to say, "Here I am, George. Come and get me." No need to squander cash that could be spent on refining the techniques of torture on costly surveillance projects and electronic wiretaps to track the likes of me.

That overweight middle-aged woman in bifocals standing on the street corner and marching in demonstrations would be me.

Age 48, married, mother of four, high school religion teacher, Catholic, garden-variety activist.

Yes, George, I was the one standing outside the doors of recruitment stations quoting Oscar Romero, who said, "God’s law must prevail. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God." Not terribly original, I know, but that great cloud of witnesses that goads me on to do this work included people who were so much more articulate than I. At one recruitment center, I even quoted Pope John Paul II who told young people: "Do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, retaliation. Do not follow any leaders who train you in the way of inflicting death."

Monday, December 19, 2005

... but who's counting?

Dubya's mouthing of a (lowball) body count ("30,000, more or less") for his private war the other night prompted his staffers to downplay the figure—as though it were too high.

It prompted Andrew Cockburn to revisit the issue of the counting of the dead and to bring up that huge elephant in the corner of the room—the fact that the Lancet study, by far the most reliable study to date, puts the number of "excess deaths" in Iraq since the U.S. invasion much much higher.

The Lancet study, released in Oct. 2004, still stands as the best and bravest attempt to get at the true human cost of this disgusting venture. See here for reasons.

When that study is mentioned at all, the 100,000 excess deaths it posits is cited as the highest conceivable tally. Even liberal Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson says 100,000 is "the most controversial estimate."

But that tally of 100,000 deaths was as of autumn 2004, and is skewed by the fact that the Lancet authors made a point, somewhat arbitrarily, of excluding Fallujah, the hottest of all hot spots from the counting.

Writes Cockburn: "Columbia professor Richard Garfield, one of the [Lancet] team members and study authors, told me this week that by now the number of 'excess deaths' in Iraq 'couldn't possibly be less than 150,000.' But, he added, 'there's no reason to be guessing. We ought to know better.'"

Friday, December 16, 2005

Rock on, Russ

"I don't want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care."
—Russ Feingold

And what was the paper of record doing with the totally outrageous information of the NSA's warrantless domestic spying? Sitting on it, for a whole frigging year! A year that included Nov. 2, 2004, a rather important date to some people.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A stupid question pondered, unstoned

Michael Kinsley, in Slate, takes the "ticking time bomb" justification of torture more seriously than he should, and goes on a little too long to build up his refutation of an argument that should never see the light of day (but such are our times).

Kinsley rightly lumps in the ticking time bomb terrorist who must be tortured to save hundreds/thousands/millions/all humanity in with other questions that "have been pondered and disputed since the invention of the college dorm, but rarely, until the past couple of weeks, unstoned."

But he does get around to the main point, and makes it well.
Of course a million deaths is hard to shrug off as a price worth paying for the principle that we don't torture people. But college dorm what-ifs like this one share a flaw: They posit certainty (about what you know and what will happen if you do this or that). And uncertainty is not only much more common in real life: It is the generally unspoken assumption behind civil liberties, rules of criminal procedure, and much else that conservatives find sentimental and irritating.

... Sure, if we could know the present and predict the future with certainty, we could torture only people who deserve it. Not just that: We could go door-to-door killing people before they kill others.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My kind of Christmas carol...

... is the sublime "Fairytale of New York," a duet between Shane McGowan of the Pogues and the late Kirsty MacColl.

'Tis this season of joy and merrymaking, marred only by the "war on Christmas", as stupid a non-issue today as it was in 1959, when it was a pet issue of the John Birch Society.

What is UP with these idiots? Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson, Jerry Falwell and the other genius right-wingers who are boycotting Wal-Mart (!?!?)?? The mind boggles truly.

As Nina Burleigh put it so nicely in Huffingtonpost the other day," 21st Century Christians living in the United States, arguably among the best-protected believers on earth right now, [but] still feel that they are inches away from the lion's den."

Er, back to "Fairytale of New York." As a corrective to all this rancor over the holiday season, I frequently give that bittersweet, but mostly bitter, fable a spin. To the Falwells and O'Reilly's of the world, I frequently feel the apropos response is contained in that song's chorus, the immortal words:
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's your last...
And while we're on the subject of dubious religious mythography, I share this inspired piece of satire by Jerry and Joe Long, from

BRIAN: Talking with Paul Of of “The Collected Letters of Paul Of Tarsus”. First of all, you refer to yourself as being “Of” you are from Tarsus?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: And you’re an actual human being?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: You’re not a composite?
BRIAN: Some of these religious authors are composites of fragments of writing accumulated over centuries...did you know that?
PAUL: Yes I did.
BRIAN: What are your letters about?
PAUL: God.
BRIAN: Which god?
PAUL: The true God.
BRIAN: Which true god?
PAUL: Jesus...the Son of the true God.
BRIAN: Some people feel this Jesus was a reforming Jewish rabbi.
PAUL: They’re wrong.
BRIAN: What god is this Jesus the son of?
PAUL: Yaweh.
BRIAN: The Jewish god?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Why would the Jewish god suddenly have an interest in what are known as “gentiles”?
PAUL: He just does.
BRIAN: the Jewish books..their god is petty, insecure, vindictive, bloodthirsty and intolerant.
PAUL: That’s right.
BRIAN: Yet in your letters...the same god is all loving, all caring and all forgiving...what happened to him?
PAUL: Uhh...he is who was... and will be.
BRIAN: So this is one of those “faith” things then?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Your Jesus is the son of god?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Did he ever make that claim for himself?
PAUL: Not as strongly as I am making it.
BRIAN: Were you a close friend of Jesus when he was alive?
BRIAN: Friend?
BRIAN: Acquaintance?
BRIAN: Hang out together once in awhile?
BRIAN: Ever meet him at all?
BRIAN: So this is an unauthorized biography then?
BRIAN: Well how are you qualified to speak for this Jesus?
PAUL: I used to persecute his followers.....
BRIAN: What are your long range plans? Any future scrolls in the works?
PAUL: Well, as I say in the letters, the world is going to end shortly... so there wouldn’t really be much point.
BRIAN: The world’s going to end?
PAUL: Yes.
BRIAN: Now, did you write that to sell scrolls or do you really believe it?
PAUL: I believe it.
BRIAN: Is it going to end soon?
PAUL: We are living in the final days.
BRIAN: You’re sure?
PAUL: Oh yes! Many alive today will witness the end of the world.
This is as absolutely and undeniably true as anything else
I have written.
BRIAN: Paul Of Tarsus, thank you.

(Paul was executed in 64 A.D.. A few years later, the Emperor Galba, grown weary of Brian of Lamb’s persistently reasoned questioning, had him sown alive inside animal skins and thrown to a pack of wolves. The world is still here.)

Air can hurt you too

Tom Englehardt and Dahr Jamail are terrific about the extremely troubling aspects of the increasing U.S. air war.

It's shocking how little is revealed by the U.S. military about what they're doing up there, and how little is demanded by mainstream reporters about the kinds of munitions being dropped everyday on Iraqis' heads.

Plus, I don't think anyone is making the case strongly enough that precision air strikes are a bunch of bullshit. Sometimes "smart" air attacks come off as planned (but what's the margin of error? Nobody's saying), sometimes they don't.

But I'm thinking the U.S. is using more "dumb" bombs than they're letting on, and I think journalists should be asking more pointed questions, not because they think their questions will get honest answers, but as a minimal show of spine, maybe a little self-respect.

I'm thinking for some reason about that great (but cryptic) Talking Heads song Air.
Where is that protection that I needed?
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people don't know shit about the...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Agroterrorism: How Could You Tell?

Writing for Common Dreams, Stan Cox, a Kansas-based plant breeder and writer, has a witty and awfully sad take on the specter of "agro-terrorism."

First, he gets a big "thank you" for calling attention to the absurdly random semantics of the terror threat naming racket. The bottom line: watch out for prefixes:

Keeping in mind that terrorists never seem inclined to take targeting suggestions from US politicians, we know these days to treat any use the word "terrorism" with deep skepticism. But when a prefix is attached, we should be especially wary.

Given the lack of standardization (the prefix of "bioterrorism" denoting the means of attack, of "narcoterrorism" the means of finance, of "ecoterrorism" the beneficiary, and of "agroterrorism" the target) it's clear that "terrorism" is simply a device to draw attention to whatever is in the prefix, and maybe scare up some funding.
The meat of his argument, however, is in a point-by-point look at the variety of agroterrorist threats, as described so breathlessly by Republican senators Susan Collins and Pat Roberts.

Contaminating the food supply? Who would know, with 76 million Americans getting sick each year from foodborne illness? Poisoning the rural water supply? Already got that goin' on pretty well, too, thanks. Chemical weapons? Let's look at the consequences of the 1.2 billion POUNDS of pesticides used in the U.S. each year.

Cox concludes:

Those who are sounding the agroterrorism alarm acknowledge that the increasing concentration of US agriculture, and its increasingly industrial infrastructure, make it more vulnerable. But those same, homegrown forces are already having consequences that are not easy to distinguish from the results of a hypothetical agroterror attack.

With an agriculture like this, who needs terrorists?

Read the whole article...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lieberman Lieberman

Lieberman, shown above with Dubya's tongue down his throat, is calling for formation of a "War Cabinet," to be called the "Bipartisan Victory in Iraq Administrative Group."

And Dick Cheney would have kissed him if he could: "He is entirely correct. On this, both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree. The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission."

Um. And that mission was to ... ?

Earth to Lieberman: A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday said 60 percent favor withdrawing from Iraq. And a leaked British military poll says a full 80 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. and coalition troops gone.

Hey, but it's only their country.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Riverbend reports

The priceless "Iraqi girl blogger" on the trial of Saddam Hussein:
It wasn't really like a trial. It reminded me of what we call a 'fassil' which is what tribal sheikhs arrange when two tribes are out of sorts with one another. The heads of the tribes are brought together along with the principal family members involved in the rift and after some yelling, accusations, and angry words they try to sort things out. That's what it felt like today. They kept interrupting each other and there was even some spitting at one point… It was both frustrating and embarrassing—and very unprofessional.

One thing that struck me about what the witnesses were saying– after the assassination attempt in Dujail, so much of what later unfolded is exactly what is happening now in parts of Iraq. They talked about how a complete orchard was demolished because the Mukhabarat thought people were hiding there and because they thought someone had tried to shoot Saddam from that area. That was like last year when the Americans razed orchards in Diyala because they believed insurgents were hiding there. Then they talked about the mass detentions- men, women and children—and its almost as if they are describing present-day Ramadi or Falloojah. The descriptions of cramped detention spaces, and torture are almost exactly the testimonies of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, etc.

It makes one wonder when Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest will have their day, as the accused, in court.

Read the whole post...

Rule of Thumb

If it's "good news" in the war on terror, if yet another al queda "number two"—or in this case "number three" (maybe 'cos there are already several dozen dead number twos) has been eliminated, you'd better make a point of checking the follow-up stories in a couple days.

HAISORI, Pakistan, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Pakistani tribesmen on Sunday displayed parts of a U.S.-marked missile they said hit a house and killed two boys, evidence at odds with the government which says an explosion there killed a top al Qaeda commander....

Haji Mohammad Siddiq told Reuters his 17-year old son and an eight-year-old nephew were killed in a missile attack, but denied there were any militants present. "I don't know anything about them -- there were no foreigners in my house," Siddiq said.

"I have nothing to do with foreigners or al Qaeda. "We were sleeping when I heard two explosions in my guest room. When I went there I saw my son, Abdul Wasit, and my eight-year-old nephew, Noor Aziz, were dead," said the tall, moustachioed tribesman as he received condolences from a stream of relatives and neighbours.

Pakistan, sensitive to domestic public opinion, has denied U.S. drone aircraft have carried out missile strikes on its soil in the past and Washington has declined to comment....

President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday he was "200 percent" sure Rabia was dead. But confirmation of Rabia's death is based on intelligence reports and message intercepts, intelligence sources said, and Pakistani security forces have still to find a body....

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm a big fan of this

I absolutely love the site.

What 'tude! I love that it can take a WaPo article with the bland title "Democrats Find Iraq Alternative Is Elusive" and give it the much more appropriate hed Democrat Elites Clueless on Iraq.

Really, I'm to the point where I respect the libertarians a lot more than mainstream democrats when it comes to recognizing the idiocy of war. (Still, I need some convincing on the religion of trusting markets).

I think they do a great job rounding up stories, and I enjoy reading many of their columnists (I never thought I'd agree on anything with people who've worked for the Hoover Insitute or the WSJ edit page.)

My favorite feature is the quote in the upper right hand corner. It reminds us all that when it comes to war, plus ├ža change, plus c'est la meme chose is the operative principle.

I check the quote several times a day. The current one is:
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. – William Pitt
The quotes are archived here. Some of my other favorites include:
Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
—Benjamin Franklin

The chain reaction of evil—wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence.
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The worst crimes were dared by a few, willed by more and tolerated by all.

You've got to forget about this civilian. Whenever you drop bombs, you're going to hit civilians.

—Barry Goldwater

Because I do it with one small ship, I am called a terrorist. You do it with a whole fleet and are called an emperor.
—A pirate, from St. Augustine's "City of God"

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
—Albert Einstein

Friday, December 02, 2005

The same old bombs

In a New Yorker article earlier this week titled Up in the Air, Seymour Hersh says Bush plans to draw down ground troops and to continue fighting the insurgency by relying more on air power.

It's a great article, and its depictions of Bush's conviction that he has been divinely chosen to prosecute this bloody, evil war give us all even more reason to fear the crazy bastard. The Brits would say he's "barking mad"—and they'd be right.

Hersh is of course a great journalist, and I have in the past wondered where we'd be without him. But I have to quibble with him a bit on this one.

A main point of his piece is that Bush's new plan would entail Iraqis calling in air strikes by American aircraft. The Iraqis couldn't be trusted not to target, say, personal or political rivals.

There's something to that, but it overlooks the barbarity of what's likely going on at present, and gives the impression that caution is currently being exercised with regard to "collateral damage." I really do wonder...

Today, in Toward a Greater Air War in Iraq, Ron Jacobs does a little simple tabulation exercise that could be performed by any journalist:
At this point, it seems that the US is using its air power in Iraq (and Afghanistan) for what they call close-support operations. Usually this means that the air attacks are on a relatively small scale and that bombs and rockets are targeted at individual buildings and city blocks. Still, the number of air support missions is not small. In fact, according to a November 28, 2005 press release from the U.S. Central Command Air Forces, "Coalition aircraft flew 46 close-air support missions Nov. 27 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. They (the missions) supported coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities, and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities. Coalition aircraft also supported Iraqi and coalition ground forces operations to create a secure environment for upcoming December parliamentary elections." These 46 missions were followed by 42 more on November 28th. That's 88 acknowledged air support missions in two days. (In addition, 18 more close support missions were reported in Afghanistan for the 28th of November). Multiply that by seven days in a week and it becomes 308 flight combat missions in Iraq alone [per week]. Given the nature of the weaponry, even so-called close air support means that there will be civilian deaths. It's pretty much impossible to kill only one or two people with a quarter-ton bomb or even a 50 pound rocket.
Read the whole article...

That's a whole lotta bombing going on, and a whole lotta "accidental" deaths, even if the air strikes all involve "precision" weaponry. The Pentagon ain't saying, and reporters ain't reporting, but my strong suspicion is that these air strikes hardly ever involve super-expensive "smart" weapons and there's not a lot of surgical precision involved. I suspect, especially given that this war has dragged on much longer than its planners had anticipated, that the cheaper "dumb" bombs are doing most, if not all, of the work.

I've linked to it before, and I'll link to it again, but this article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about the weapons used in the first Gulf War is probably a pretty good guide to what's being used in this one:
One little-known fact is that of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped, only 6,520 tons-7.4 percent-were precision-guided ordnance, according to official Pentagon figures. Most of the weapons used were conventional, and very destructive, bombs and artillery. The military has not provided a breakdown of the weapons used but an air force spokesman has acknowledged that the "full complement of tactical munitions was employed throughout Desert Storm" and that he "wouldn't disagree with" a long list of destructive air-launched ordnance presented to him for confirmation that they were used in the war [including cluster bombs and fuel-air explosives such as the notorious Daisy Cutter].
The article concludes that, contrary to the way the first Gulf War was sold, "This was not a surgical war; it was a slaughter. History may judge high technology the winner, but human beings were certainly the victims."

This is corroborated by Sven Lindqvist's brilliant, disturbing and powerful A History of Bombing:
On the television screen the war looked like a computer game, without blood, without civilian injuries. The image was dominated by cruise missles that sneaked around streetcorners and, with perfect precision, found their military targets. What we saw seemed to be a new kind of war that fulfilled the demands of both humanitarianism and military efficiency--custom-made destruction without messy side effects. It was only afterward that we found out how tightly controlled that propaganda image really was.

In reality it was the same old bombs striking the same old villages. The French general Pierre Gallois, who visited Iraq immediately after the war, reported: "I drove for 2,500 kilometres in my four-wheel-drive and in the villages everything was destroyed. We found bomb fragments dating from 1968, left over from the Vietnam War. This was the same kind of bombing I did half a century ago in World War II."
Really one has to wonder what exactly has changed since the discovery of bombing's not inconsiderable "terror effects." In 1921, a memo from inside the British Air Ministry stated that misrepresenting the true nature of aerial bombardment might be the best thing for all concerned: "It may be thought better, in view of the allegations of the 'barbarity' of air attacks, to preserve appearances by formulating milder rules and by still nominally confining bombardment to targets which are strictly military in nature ... to avoid emphasizing the truth that air warfare has made such restrictions obsolete and impossible."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Channel hopping

Last night had a TV juxtaposition that just made me so ... happy!

On one channel, "Legally Blonde," fluffy Reese Witherspoon star vehicle.

On the other channel, Classic Sports re-running Ali-Frazier III, "The Thrilla in Manilla."

I loved watching 'em both, and the commercials were aligned to perfection. Just kept toggling on the last channel button.

I suppose this is pretty strong evidence that I'm a metrosexual. That and the fact that I was appalled by the fact that Frazier's trunks were blue denim.

What a great fight, though.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Dems: bums

Piechart from The War Resisters League's Where your money really goes flyer

Sure, it was cheap theater for the Republican leadership to put forth that resolution Friday. But give them credit--they once again exposed the Democrats' gutlessness, and made me question anew who exactly it is the "opposition" party represents. If 60 percent of the population says it was not worth going to war, wouldn't you expect more than three (THREE!) democrats to agree to a non-binding resolution that says we should get the hell out of Iraq?

I couldn't be more pleased that the Bush adminstration is having its problems. But I wonder where exactly this is all leading. Will anything really change?

If and when the Iraq nightmare ends, what kind of country will we have? Will we stop being the only country to regularly attack other countries? Will we still be directing nearly 50 percent of our tax dollars to military expenditures? Will we still have 10,000 nuclear weapons armed and aimed, with a pea-brained religious fanatic holding the key to the codes? Will the arms manufacturers, who spread out their "wealth" into virtually every congressional district in the country, still say "jump" and get congressmen to answer "how high?" every time?

Chalmers Johnson is quite pessimistic (and, sadly, convincing) on this topic:

It is hardly news to anyone who pays the slightest attention to American politics that Congress is no longer responsive to the people. Incumbency is so well institutionalized that elections generally mean virtually nothing. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay approves the private ownership of assault weapons and machine guns despite complaints from police around the country that they're outgunned by criminals, despite the 65% of the public who want them banned, despite pleas from the relatives of murdered Americans. On this issue, the National Rifle Association seems to own the Congress.

A similar situation exists with regard to munitions makers. In one district after another the weapons industry has bought the incumbent and the voters are unable to dislodge him or her. On really big projects like the B-2 stealth bomber, contracts are placed for pieces of the airplane in all of the 48 continental states to insure that individual members of Congress can be threatened with the loss of jobs in their districts should they ever get the idea that we do not need another weapon of massive destruction. The result is defense budgets of $425 billion per year (plus that extra $75 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, another $20 billion for nuclear weapons, and $200 billion more for veterans and the wounded), leading to the highest governmental deficits in postwar history. It seems likely that only bankruptcy will stop the American imperial juggernaut.

For the past six months, I've been reading as much as I can get my hands on by Andrew Bacevich, a West Point grad, Vietnam vet and former contributor to the National Review (!). In his book The New American Militarism (excerpted here), he spells out in detail just how expensive our war state is and makes it quite clear that, "Simply put, for the Department of Defense and all of its constituent parts, defense per se figures as little more than an afterthought."

So what about the Democrats, then? Where do they fit in? Are they the solution, or a major part of the problem?

As this piece by Jeremy Scahill points out, the Dem bums are as responsible for this mess we're in as anyone, and their behavior, in refusing to represent the majority of Americans that want the troops home fast, is beyond reprehensible.

None of the horrors playing out in Iraq today would be possible without the Democratic Party. And no matter how hard some party leaders try to deny it, this is their war too and will remain so until every troop is withdrawn. There is no question that the Bush administration is one of the most corrupt, violent and brutal in the history of this country but that doesn’t erase the serious responsibility the Democrats bears for the bloodletting in Iraq. As disingenuous as the Administration’s claims that Iraq had WMDs is the flimsy claim by Democratic lawmakers that they were somehow duped into voting for the war. The fact is that Iraq posed no threat to the United States in 2003 any more than it did in 1998 when President Clinton bombed Baghdad. John Kerry and his colleagues knew that. The Democrats didn’t need false intelligence to push them into overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was their policy; a policy made the law of the land not under George W. Bush, but under President Bill Clinton when he signed the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, formally initiating the process of regime change in Iraq.

Manipulated intelligence is but a small part of a bigger, bipartisan 15-year assault on Iraq’s people. If the Democrats really want to look at how America was led into this war, they need to go back further than the current president’s inauguration.

As bloody and deadly as the occupation has been, it was Bill Clinton who refined the art of killing innocent Iraqis following the Gulf War. One of his first acts as president was to bomb Iraq, following the alleged assassination plot against George HW Bush. Clinton’s missiles killed the famed Iraqi painter Leila al Attar as they smashed into her home. Clinton presided enthusiastically over the most deadly and repressive regime of economic sanctions in history – his UN ambassador Madeline Albright calling the reported deaths of half a million children "worth the price." Clinton initiated the longest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam with his illegal no-fly zone bombings, attacking Iraq once every three days for the final years of his presidency. It was under Clinton that Ahmed Chalabi was given tens of millions of dollars and made a key player in shaping Washington’s Iraq policy. It was Clinton that mercilessly attacked Iraq in December of 1998, destroying dozens of Baghdad buildings and killing scores of civilians. It was Clinton that codified regime change in Iraq as US policy. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq but he could not have done it without the years of groundwork laid by Clinton and the Democrats. How ironic it was recently to hear Clinton call the war "a big mistake."

It’s easy to resist war with a president like Bush in the White House. Where were these Democrats when it was Clinton’s bombs raining down on Iraq, when it was Clinton’s economic sanctions targeting the most vulnerable? Many of them were right behind him and his deadly policies the same way they were behind Bush when he asked their consent to use force against Iraq. As the veteran Iraq activist and Nobel Prize nominee Kathy Kelly said often during the Clinton years, "It’s easy to be a vegetarian between meals." The fact is that one of the great crimes of our times was committed by the Clinton administration with the support of many of the politicians now attacking Bush.

Herein lies the real political crisis in this country: the Democrats are not an opposition party, nor are they an antiwar party – never were.

So what then? I agree but am at a loss....

Friday, November 18, 2005

What she said

Two recent entries in Baghdad Burning, House of Horrors and Conventional Terror (here and here), by "Iraqi girl blogger" riverbend are as compelling as they are sad.

They address, from a (once) moderate, (once) middle-class Iraqi point of view, this week's two horrid revelations (or confirmations of what Iraqis believed all along) about the "torture houses" in once-fashionable neighborhoods and the unspeakable use of white phosphorus as a weapon in Fallujah last year. Here is a good chunk of her post on the latter topic:
I avoided the computer for five days because every time I switched it on, the file would catch my eye and call out to me… now plaintively- begging to be watched, now angrily- condemning my indifference.

Except that it was never indifference… it was a sort of dread that sat deep in my stomach, making me feel like I had swallowed a dozen small stones. I didn’t want to see it because I knew it contained the images of the dead civilians I had in my head.

Few Iraqis ever doubted the American use of chemical weapons in Falloojeh. We’ve been hearing the terrifying stories of people burnt to the bone for well over a year now. I just didn’t want it confirmed.

I didn’t want it confirmed because confirming the atrocities that occurred in Falloojeh means verifying how really lost we are as Iraqis under American occupation and how incredibly useless the world is in general- the UN, Kofi Annan, humanitarian organizations, clerics, the Pope, journalists… you name it- we’ve lost faith in it.

I finally worked up enough courage to watch it and it has lived up to my worst fears. Watching it was almost an invasive experience, because I felt like someone had crawled into my mind and brought my nightmares to life. Image after image of men, women and children so burnt and scarred that the only way you could tell the males apart from the females, and the children apart from the adults, was by the clothes they are wearing… the clothes which were eerily intact- like each corpse had been burnt to the bone, and then dressed up lovingly in their everyday attire- the polka dot nightgown with a lace collar… the baby girl in her cotton pajamas- little earrings dangling from little ears.

Some of them look like they died almost peacefully, in their sleep… others look like they suffered a great deal- skin burnt completely black and falling away from scorched bones.

I imagine what it must have been like for some of them. They were probably huddled in their houses- some of them- tens of thousands of them- couldn’t leave the city. They didn’t have transport or they simply didn’t have a place to go. They sat in their homes, hoping that what people said about Americans was actually true- that in spite of their huge machines and endless weapons, they were human too.

And then the rain of bombs would begin… the wooooosh of the missiles as they fell and the sound of the explosion as it hit its target… and no matter how prepared you think you are for that explosion- it always makes you flinch. I imagine their children covering their ears and some of them crying, trying to cover up the mechanical sounds of war with their more human wails. I imagine that as the tanks got closer, and the planes got lower- the fear increased- and parents searched each other’s faces for a solution, for a way out of the horror. Some of them probably decided to wait it out in their homes, and others must have been desperate to get out- fearing the rain of concrete and steel and thinking their chances were better in the open air, than confined in the homes that could at any moment turn into their tombs.

That’s what we were told before the Americans came- it’s safer to be outside of the house during an air strike than it is to be inside of the house. Inside of the house, a missile nearby would turn the windows into millions of little daggers and walls might come crashing down. In the garden, or even the street, you’d only have to worry about shrapnel and debris if the bomb was very close- but what were the chances of that?

That was before 2003… and certainly before Falloojeh.

That was before men, women and children left their homes only to be engulfed in a rain of fire.

Last year I blogged about Falloojeh and said:

“There is talk of the use of cluster bombs and other forbidden weaponry.”

I was immediately attacked with a barrage of emails from Americans telling me I was a liar and that there was no proof and that there was no way Americans would ever do something so appalling! I wonder how those same people justify this now. Are they shocked? Or do they tell themselves that Iraqis aren’t people? Or are they simply in denial?

The Pentagon spokesman recently said:

"It's part of our conventional-weapons inventory and we use it like we use any other conventional weapon,"

This war has redefined ‘conventional’. It has taken atrocity to another level. Everything we learned before has become obsolete. ‘Conventional’ has become synonymous with horrifying. Conventional weapons are those that eat away the skin in a white blaze; conventional interrogation methods are like those practiced in Abu Ghraib and other occupation prisons…

Quite simply… conventional terror.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

At last, proof of WMD use in Iraq ...

... and it was the U.S. military that used 'em.

The use of napalm, and napalm-like substances, as weapons, and then lying about it (even to "coalition partners"), is more than just the latest outrage. It's still more evidence that "our" side has absolutely no moral case for its actions. It's naked aggression, with no discernable restriction on severity of tactics, and if there's a strategic intent short of creating an unconscionable number of casualties and calling them all "insurgents," I have yet to see it.

It's also an interesting case study in how the blogosphere is stepping into spaces the mainstream media won't go.

First, there has been no shortage of rumors and allegations about napalm and like substances used in the 2004 attack on Fallujah, many of them from quite credible sources.

Second, proof was claimed in the form of the Italian TV documentary last week, but said proof wasn't conclusive. George Monbiot dismisses the evidence as "flimsy and circumstantial."

But that report goaded bloggers into doing some serious collective digging, and they in turn turned up the smoking guns. Here's Monbiot:

The first account the [bloggers] unearthed in a magazine published by the US army. In the March 2005 edition of Field Artillery, officers from the 2nd Infantry's fire support element boast about their role in the attack on Falluja in November last year: "White Phosphorous. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosive]. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

The second, in California's North County Times, was by a reporter embedded with the marines in the April 2004 siege of Falluja. "'Gun up!' Millikin yelled ... grabbing a white phosphorus round from a nearby ammo can and holding it over the tube. 'Fire!' Bogert yelled, as Millikin dropped it. The boom kicked dust around the pit as they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call 'shake'n'bake' into... buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week."
I love the banality of "WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition" and the cutesy "shake and bake" name for a tactic that does this to human flesh (warning: hideously graphic images, all paid for by our tax dollars.) And the fact that the nickname exists indicates that "shake and bake" is likely a regularly used tactic, not just a one-off improvisation.

Monbiot continues:
Until last week, the US state department maintained that US forces used white phosphorus shells "very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes". They were fired "to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters". Confronted with the new evidence, on Thursday it changed its position. "We have learned that some of the information we were provided ... is incorrect. White phosphorous shells, which produce smoke, were used in Fallujah not for illumination but for screening purposes, i.e. obscuring troop movements and, according to... Field Artillery magazine, 'as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes...' The article states that US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds." The US government, in other words, appears to admit that white phosphorus was used in Falluja as a chemical weapon. The invaders have been forced into a similar climbdown over the use of napalm in Iraq. In December 2004, the Labour MP Alice Mahon asked the British armed forces minister Adam Ingram "whether napalm or a similar substance has been used by the coalition in Iraq (a) during and (b) since the war". "No napalm," the minister replied, "has been used by coalition forces in Iraq either during the war-fighting phase or since."

This seemed odd to those who had been paying attention. There were widespread reports that in March 2003 US marines had dropped incendiary bombs around the bridges over the Tigris and the Saddam Canal on the way to Baghdad. The commander of Marine Air Group 11 admitted that "We napalmed both those approaches". Embedded journalists reported that napalm was dropped at Safwan Hill on the border with Kuwait. In August 2003 the Pentagon confirmed that the marines had dropped "mark 77 firebombs". Though the substance these contained was not napalm, its function, the Pentagon's information sheet said, was "remarkably similar". While napalm is made from petrol and polystyrene, the gel in the mark 77 is made from kerosene and polystyrene. I doubt it makes much difference to the people it lands on.

So in January this year, the MP Harry Cohen refined Mahon's question. He asked "whether mark 77 firebombs have been used by coalition forces". The US, the minister replied, has "confirmed to us that they have not used mark 77 firebombs, which are essentially napalm canisters, in Iraq at any time". The US government had lied to him. Mr Ingram had to retract his statements in a private letter to the MPs in June.

We were told that the war with Iraq was necessary for two reasons. Saddam Hussein possessed biological and chemical weapons and might one day use them against another nation. And the Iraqi people needed to be liberated from his oppressive regime, which had, among its other crimes, used chemical weapons to kill them. Tony Blair, Colin Powell, William Shawcross, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Ann Clwyd and many others referred, in making their case, to Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. They accused those who opposed the war of caring nothing for the welfare of the Iraqis.

Given that they care so much, why has none of these hawks spoken out against the use of unconventional weapons by coalition forces? Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP who turned from peace campaigner to chief apologist for an illegal war, is, as far as I can discover, the only one of these armchair warriors to engage with the issue. In May this year, she wrote to the Guardian to assure us that reports that a "modern form of napalm" has been used by US forces "are completely without foundation. Coalition forces have not used napalm - either during operations in Falluja, or at any other time". How did she know? The foreign office minister told her. Before the invasion, Clwyd traveled through Iraq to investigate Saddam's crimes against his people. She told the Commons that what she found moved her to tears. After the invasion, she took the minister's word at face value, when a 30-second search on the internet could have told her it was bunkum. It makes you wonder whether she really gave a damn about the people for whom she claimed to be campaigning.

Saddam, facing a possible death sentence, is accused of mass murder, torture, false imprisonment and the use of chemical weapons. He is certainly guilty on all counts. So, it now seems, are those who overthrew him.
And just now (Tuesday evening, EST) in the Guardian, the most direct admission yet by a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Venable, who told the BBC:
Yes, it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants. When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on, and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position: the combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so you can kill them with high explosives.
Ah, that word, terror. A tricky one, innit?

Morning after meddling

Hardly surprising, but no less creepy for all that, this comes on top of the news that Target—Target!—is letting its pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for Plan B.

From Knight-Ridder:
Top officials at the Food and Drug Administration appear to have decided to block over-the-counter sales of a controversial emergency contraceptive months before completing their review of the application in 2004, a new government report said yesterday.

According to the Government Accountability Office, top officials -- some of them political appointees of President Bush -- took "unusual" steps to impede the approval process.

The GAO's findings renew accusations of political meddling at the FDA, which has been criticized for more than two years for failing to bring the Plan B contraceptive to market despite the urging of its scientific staff.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

American Girl, Bullwinkle, and lesbianism

This piece by Madison Capital Times columnist Joel McNally offers a pretty good take on this ridiculous story:

It turns out that when suburban mothers buy American Girl dolls that look and dress exactly like their own little girls, they may unwittingly be purchasing tiny, lesbian partners for their children.

At least, that is the fear of the wacko, right-wing watchdogs who keep track of exotic threats to our children that most of us are too naive - or not nearly psychologically twisted enough - to recognize.


Guess which has gotten American Girl into hot water? You got it. It's the complaints of the American Family Association and the Pro-Life Action League.

The American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., the birthplace of Elvis Presley, has a long history of seeing threats to our children that most people are far too intelligent to notice.

The American Family Association was among the few organizations to perceive that preschool children were being brainwashed into pursuing a life of homosexuality by a sexually ambiguous Teletubby named Tinky Winky.

The organization once protested an episode of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" in which Bullwinkle the Moose married Cinderella. You might think the American Family Association would rejoice at such a high-profile celebrity endorsement of traditional marriage.

But those vigilant protectors of conservative morality recognized the Bullwinkle-Cinderella liaison for what it was - a subtle endorsement of inter-species relations promoting sex with animals.

So what could be so objectionable about American Girl dolls to attract protests from the American Family Association and, even more curiously, the Pro-Life Action League? The last we knew no embryos were destroyed producing American Girl dolls, which are not actually alive, just perky.

It turns out purchasing American Girl dolls helps promote concepts these groups find offensive. You know, objectionable concepts such as living healthy lives and being tolerant toward others.

The two groups have launched a crusade against American Girl for contributing philanthropically to Girls Inc., formerly the Girls Clubs of America, which for 140 years has organized programs encouraging young girls to feel good about themselves and strive for achievement.

This is where the charges about lesbianism come in. It seems that in educating adolescent girls about sexuality, Girls Inc. fails to teach young women to hate themselves or anyone else if they happen to be gay.

Almost as bad, in attempting to prevent teenage pregnancy, Girls Inc. reveals to girls that abstinence is not the only method of birth control. Since abstinence has been known to fail, it also acknowledges the existence of contraception and abortion.

No advocacy is involved. It's a simple matter of providing an honest education in the basics of good health for adolescent girls.

American Girl dolls aren't proselytizing innocent young girls into lesbianism or teenage whoredom. That's just standard laughable exaggeration from wild-eyed goofballs on the right.

But when the president of the United States lends legitimacy to the wild-eyed right on issues such as teaching religious beliefs as science in our schools, pretty soon other institutions in our society start taking seriously other ridiculous right-wing ideas.

I'd heard about the Tinky-Winky kerfuffle, but Bullwinkle? And the really sad thing is that the opinions of these loonies do have real-world consequences. A Catholic school in Brookfield, Wisconsin (about as far from Tupelo as you could get, or so you might think) cancelled an American Girl fashion show that was expected to raise from $10,000 to $30,000 for the school.

Everyone move over one

There's an interesting and persuasive piece on Jordan and regional geopolitics at Just World News, in which CS Monitor columnist Helena Cobban looks at the game of "musical kings" as played, first, by the French and British colonial powers in the wake of WWI and, more recently, by that ambitious and demented clique of freelance world-changers in PNAC.
Well, in the late 1990s, the Project for a New American Century and other pro-Likud neocons started pushing for their own, more recent version of Middle Eastern "musical kings". This was the approach sometimes known as "Everybody Move Over One" (see, e.g., here.) Under EMOO, Israel would get to keep the West Bank. The Palestinians-- who have been squeezed very hard in the West Bank since 1967 and have long constituted a numerical majority in Jordan-- would "get" Jordan. And the Hashemites would play another round of musical kings and "get" Iraq.
Except it hasn't really worked out that way yet, has it? Instead, what we seem to be seeing in the region is the unfolding of an EMOO theory that-- like all the indigenous writing systems of this region-- moves from right to left, rather than left to right. The Iranians-- who didn't even really feature in EMOO-Mark 1-- have majorly extended their influence westward into Iraq. That has squeezed the Sunni Arabs of Iraq... And now, using the network of linkages that's always existed between western Iraq and Jordan, the chaos and violence from Iraq have been bleeding over into Jordan, too.

No, I am not saying that this means that in the near future the Palestinians will suddenly be able to push westward back against the Likud and establish their own power in the West Bank. But I do think we can draw a few broader and more general lessons from what has been happening:

    1. Any use of violence has unpredictable human consequences-- and the more major the violence used, the more unpredictable and long-lasting the aftershocks will be. Washington's cavalier and very violent "move on the Middle Eastern chessboard" against Saddam had consequences that were unforeseen, literally unforeseeable, and have continued to this day to cause serious harm to the interests of the peoples of that region (and the US citizenry.)

    2. National boundaries drawn in colonial times, by colonial hands, certainly had detrimental effects on the interests and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples. But over their decades in existence those boundaries acquired some coherence and legitimacy, even if only through force majeure. They allowed some predictability in governance and the possibility (if nowhere the reality) of the emergence of accountability in governance. All the pan-Arabist challenges to the Sykes-Picot boundaries failed. Current attempts to redraw the regional map-- even if "only" through the emergence of quasi-independent statelets inside Iraq-- will certainly ricochet throughout the whole region. This will bring the threat of violence and social breakdown to increasing circles of population throughout the region.

    3. Jordan has always been a buffer state. Right now, it's a very uneasy "buffer" between Israel and Iraq. It is a major conduit for the shipment of US war supplies into Iraq-- whether these come into Jordan through Aqaba or through or from Israel... It is also the territory where population of the dispossessed and angry population of Palestine mixes with the dispossessed and angry population of western and central Iraq.

Jordan-- like much of the rest of the region-- feels to me like an explosion waiting to happen. So far, the King has acted with agility. Getting his supporters very visibly out on the streets of Amman yesterday, before the pro-Islamist people could get their people there, was a smart move. Zarqawi hurt himself badly-- and quite possibly also damaged the anti-US cause more broadly-- by the wanton and inhumane nature of Wednesday's violence. (The counter-productive effect of the purveyors of terror on the building of genuine, mass-based social movements was ever thus.) So maybe the explosion has been staved off from Jordan for a little while?

Still, the whole region of the Middle East is now bubbling with different kinds of political energy. It hasn't looked this volatile and unpredictable since 1970. That was the year when these things happened:

    (1) The Palestinian militants of George Habash's PFLP tried and failed to topple the monarchy in Jordan. But they threw the whole country into chaos as they did so.

    (2) Gamal Abdel-Nasser died of a heart attack-- in the midst of trying to negotiate an end to the Palestinian-Jordanian battles in Jordan.

    (3) Hafez al-Asad, then the commander of the Syrian Air Force and a relative moderate in the Syrian Baath Party, made the crucial decision not to use air power to support Syrian tanks going to aid the Palestinians in Jordan... That decision persuaded the Syrian tank commanders to turn back home; and shortly afterward Asad made the coup that brought his much less adventurous branch of the Baath to power in Damascus.

In 1969, Qadhafi had seized power in Libya and Saddam Hussein did the same in Iraq... So 1969 and 1970 were really transformative years for the politics of the whole region. Jordan was a crucial locus and engine of much of that change.

Since 1970, as I've written before, the political systems of nearly all these polities became quite ossified. Thirty months ago, Washington took a sledgehammer to the Iraqi part of the region's bone-set, and now, much of the ossification seems to be shattering. The whole Middle East will most likely see a lot of deep, rapid, and hard-to-predict change in the two years ahead. This much is easy to predict though: these changes will look nothing like the rosy scripts of spread of US-style democratization and US influence touted by the war-planners before March 2003 and since.

Read the whole post...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ali ropes another dope

Headline stolen from the Daily Mail. Here's the story. Was Ali making the crazy sign to indicate the president would be "crazy to take him on," (that's what the BBC says) or to indicate the president is just ... crazy?

Hey, Ali gets the same medal Bush gave to Tommy Franks, George Tenet and L. Paul Bremer. He must be a great American.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Genetic pollution: Scam of the century?

"Oops. Sorry, we contaminated your seedstock, cultivated over thousands of years. Forever. And it looks like you're going to have to pay us to grow our crap, er crop, now."

Too bizarre? too evil? too simply unbelievable? It's not. Happens all the time. And it's even landed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

The ramifications of this scam of the century are spelled out with characteristic verve by Tom Philpott, the author of Bittergreens Gazette who now spends most of his blogging hours posting on Grist.
The Wall Street Journal came out with a terrific page-one article documenting "genetic pollution" -- the damage caused when genetically modified crops cross-pollinate with conventional crops.

The article leads with an organic farmer in Spain whose sells his red field corn at a premium to nearby chicken farmers, who prize the product because it "it gives their meat and eggs a rosy color." (I'd be willing to bet that rosy color also translates to higher nutrition content.)

Now the farmer is screwed -- his seeds, carefully bred over time, have become contaminated by GM corn from nearby farms. The rich red color of his corn, like his premium, has vanished into the ether.

The article goes on to document devastating cases of genetic contamination in Oaxaca, Mexico -- birthplace of corn and home to ancient germplasm lineages; and also in the United States, where 45 percent of corn and 85 percent of soybeans are genetically altered.

The issue is: Who is legally responsible for such contamination -- i.e., who pays the damages when a farmer like the above-mentioned Spanish one loses his hard-earned premium? Who pays up when a corn culture that dates back thousands of years faces sudden extinction?

The issue will be huge as the battle lines around GM are drawn. In the last ten years, the number of global acres planted with GM crops has risen from zero to about one billion -- perhaps the most rapid spread of new technology in agriculture's 10,000-year history.

Monsanto has taken the offensive in the U.S. As a recent report from the anti-GMO stalwart Center for Food Safety shows, Monsanto operatives scour the countryside in commodity-agriculture areas, investigating farms that haven't bought Monsanto traits for intellectual-property violations, often based on tips from informants. When Monsanto's goons find GM traits on a farm that hasn't paid up, the company sues -- even despite the distinct possibility of genetic contamination. In other words, Monsanto seeks damages from farms that its traits might have damaged.

This kind of thing leaves me floundering for a word that denotes chutzpah taken up about seven orders of magnitude!

Read the whole article...

"The generals love napalm..."

"We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches," said Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11. "Unfortunately there were people there ... you could see them in the cockpit video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."
—Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, Aug.10, 2003
On the anniversary of the siege of Fallujah, new accusations and evidence from Italian TV of the use of white phosphorus and a "new, improved form of napalm" in Fallujah a year ago.

The U.S. military calls claims that it used white phosphorus as a weapon "disinformation"—they say they did use "willy pete," but only to illuminate battle areas. But, according to the Independent, "[p]hotographs obtained by [Italian TV network] RAI from the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah, show the bodies of dozens of Fallujah residents whose skin has been dissolved or caramelised by the effects of the phosphorus shells."

As blogger the Heretik writes, "It is impossible to reconcile phosphorus shot into the air at night for illumination purposes with people burnt in their beds."


As regards the larger catastrophe in Iraq, George Monbiot looks at the manipulations and untruths behind the Pentagon's bizarre "we don't do body counts"/"oh yes, we do" strategy, and tees off on the shameful performance of the media on both sides of the Atlantic regarding the unjustly maligned Lancet survey.

This has been a rather major bee in my bonnet for some time. As I've pointed out before, a very thorough article by Lila Guterman in the Chronicle of Higher Education refutes in a most convincing manner, most if not all of the criticisms of the Lancet survey.

Writes Monbiot:

In the US and the UK, the study was either ignored or torn to bits. The media described it as "inflated", "overstated", "politicised" and "out of proportion." Just about every possible misunderstanding and distortion of its statistics was published, of which the most remarkable was the Observer's claim that: "The report's authors admit it drew heavily on the rebel stronghold of Falluja, which has been plagued by fierce fighting. Strip out Falluja, as the study itself acknowledged, and the mortality rate is reduced dramatically." In fact, as they made clear on page one, the authors had stripped out Falluja; their estimate of 98,000 deaths would otherwise have been much higher.

But the attacks in the press succeeded in sinking the study. Now, whenever a newspaper or broadcaster produces an estimate of civilian deaths, the Lancet report is passed over in favour of lesser figures. For the past three months, the editors and subscribers of the website Medialens have been writing to papers and broadcasters to try to find out why. The standard response, exemplified by a letter from the BBC's online news service last week, is that the study's "technique of sampling and extrapolating from samples has been criticised". That's true, and by the same reasoning we could dismiss the fact that 6 million people were killed in the Holocaust, on the grounds that this figure has also been criticised, albeit by skinheads. The issue is not whether the study has been criticised, but whether the criticism is valid.

As Medialens has pointed out, it was the same lead author, using the same techniques, who reported that 1.7 million people had died as a result of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). That finding has been cited by Tony Blair, Colin Powell and almost every major newspaper on both sides of the Atlantic, and none has challenged either the method or the result. Using the Congo study as justification, the UN security council called for all foreign armies to leave the DRC and doubled the country's UN aid budget.

The other reason the press gives for burying the Lancet study is that it is out of line with competing estimates. Like Jack Straw, wriggling his way around the figures in a written ministerial statement, they compare it to the statistics compiled by the Iraqi health ministry and the website Iraq Body Count.

In December 2003, Associated Press reported that "Iraq's health ministry has ordered a halt to a count of civilians killed during the war". According to the head of the ministry's statistics department, both the puppet government and the Coalition Provisional Authority demanded that it be stopped. As Naomi Klein has shown on these pages, when US soldiers stormed Falluja (a year ago today), their first action was to seize the general hospital and arrest the doctors. The New York Times reported that "the hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumours about heavy casualties". After the coalition had used these novel statistical methods to improve the results, Blair told parliament that "figures from the Iraqi ministry of health, which are a survey from the hospitals there, are in our view the most accurate survey there is".

Iraq Body Count, whose tally has reached 26,000-30,000, measures only civilian deaths which can be unambiguously attributed to the invasion and which have been reported by two independent news agencies. As the compilers point out, "it is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media ... our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording". Of the seven mortality reports surveyed by the Overseas Development Institute, the estimate in the Lancet's paper was only the third highest. It remains the most thorough study published so far. Extraordinary as its numbers seem, they are the most likely to be true.

And what of the idea that most of the violent deaths in Iraq are caused by coalition troops? Well according to the Houston Chronicle, even Blair's favourite data source, the Iraqi health ministry, reports that twice as many Iraqis - and most of them civilians - are being killed by US and UK forces as by insurgents. When the Pentagon claims that it has just killed 50 or 70 or 100 rebel fighters, we have no means of knowing who those people really were. Everyone it blows to pieces becomes a terrorist. In July Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the US army, claimed that coalition troops had killed or captured more than 50,000 "insurgents" since the start of the rebellion. Perhaps they were all Zarqawi's closest lieutenants.

We can expect the US and UK governments to seek to minimise the extent of their war crimes. But it's time the media stopped collaborating.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gadfly Sy: only two options

Where would we be without Seymour Hersh?

Here, the Globe and Mail pays attention to what Mr. Hersh says, at length. Why his comments aren't on page one of the Times and Post is another question worth pondering.

Of Fitzgerald, Hersh is, er, pretty optimistic: "He's going to save America.... Fitzgerald's going deep. He may just unravel the whole conspiracy."

But as for the bigger picture, maybe not so optimistic:
"We're so out of control," he says of the United States. "We have a colossus out of control. It's the end of the world, brought to you by the neocons."
This from a man who at the top of the interview was judged to be "in an upbeat mood. At least for him."

As for the United Nations interim report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, it's no sale with Sy:
"[Mehlis] is relying on intercepts of an unnamed source inside the Iranian air force, someone without inside stuff. It's not empirical."

And echoing Juan Cole's excellent Bush Dunnit post earlier this month, Hersh wonders if the Prez is as dumb as everyone thinks:

Although Bush is sometimes seen as a political marionette, manipulated by unseen masters, Hersh isn't so sure. He recalls a Saturday Night Live skit from the Reagan years that portrayed the then-president as a doddering fool who, once the cameras were off and the doors closed, calls a National Security council meeting, starts speaking Chinese and gives a detailed assessment of strategic threats.

"So sometimes I wonder," says Hersh. In Toronto, he says, he will talk about responsibility and war crimes and "make the case that gets Bush in the middle of it. There is a case for the President's direct participation. It's not something that happened without his acquiescence. I'd like to think he knows what's going on."

In the meantime (Hersh is waiting to see if Fitzgerald drops more indictment bombs), "he's the sleeper, a true unassailable. The White House calls him Eliot Ness [the Prohibition-era federal agent whose team of 'Untouchables' helped bring down mobster Al Capone], not with affection, so I've heard."

Hersh predicts that "every day will get worse in Iraq. Another 30,000 Iraqis will die if we keep going. Fewer will die if we get out. There are only two options, as I see it: Pull out now or pull out tomorrow."