Thursday, June 30, 2005

Iraq Avalanche

The always excellent Informed Comment blog by Juan Cole features Alan Richards of University of California Santa Cruz contributing a piece titled "The Iraq Avalanche Cannot be Stopped"

I am troubled by what I perceive as a tacit assumption--a very American assumption,--underlying most of the discussion. It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

I regret to say that I think this is wrong. There is no "solution" to this mess; it is sometimes not possible to "fix" things which have been broken. I can see no course of action which will prevent widespread violence, regional social upheaval, and economic hammering administered by oil price shocks. This is why so many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq so strenuously in the first place! We thought that it would unleash irreversible adverse consequences for (conventionally defined) US interests in the region. I am very sorry to say that I still think we were right.

... Salafi jihadis and Iran are the big winners in all this-and they hate each other. I can see NO possible way for outsiders to defuse this: not with the U.S. in Iraq, not with the U.N., not with a power vacuum. People from outside the region (U.S., E.U., U.N., India, China, whoever) can do very, very little about this. It seems to me that, as usual, only Muslims can ameliorate the problems of Muslim governance.

... The terrifying truth is that how we consume energy now both in the U.S. and elsewhere is entirely unsustainable for environmental reasons. Denial is the national past-time on this; and it is deeply destructive. Global warming is a reality, it will get worse, and the consequences will be extremely serious.

... Who will pay the price for high oil prices? As you rightly say, poor people, especially in the Global South. Will they know this? Certainly. Will they thank rich countries like us? Hardly. Might this lead to other violent social movements, particularly given all the other problems in the Global South? I can't see why not.

After all, no one, from either party, in the political arena is saying anything even remotely commensurate with the threat which most scientists see to the future of the planet. No one with any power is talking sensibly about energy use, global poverty, and their interrelationships. No one at all.

... So let me close where I began: I think it is delusional to imagine that there exists a "solution" to the mess in Iraq. From this perspective, the folly of Bush, Cheney and Company in invading Iraq is even worse than most informed observers of the region already think. Starting an avalanche is certainly criminal. It does not follow, however, that such a phenomenon can be stopped once it has begun.
Speaking of the war

This Knight-Ridder article discusses a systematic pattern of torture/executions in Iraq carried out by groups bearing a striking resemblance to Latin American death squads.
"Their [the victims'] hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, their eyes were blindfolded and they appeared to have been tortured. In most cases, the dead men looked as if they'd been whipped with a cord, subjected to electric shocks or beaten with a blunt object and shot to death, often with single bullets to their heads."
U.S. officials pin the murders on "insurgents posing as police" but ordinary Iraqis think otherwise and point to the fact that these squads go around in white Toyota Land Cruisers (cost: $55,000) with police markings, sport bulletproof vests and commando uniforms, and brandish expensive Glock pistols ($500 apiece) which, the article states, are "rarely used by anyone other than Western contractors and Iraqi security forces."

Furthermore, the story states that the bodies started turning up at the Baghdad morgue "days after Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced on April 28."

"Before March 2003 ... the [Baghdad] morgue handled 200 to 250 suspicious deaths a month, about 16 of which included firearm injuries. [Fayiq Baqr director and chief forensic investigator at the central Baghdad morgue] said he now sees 700 to 800 suspicious deaths a month, with some 500 having firearm wounds."

And the postscript: Yasser Salihee, the article's co-author, "was shot and killed last week in Baghdad in circumstances that remain unclear."

Update 6/30: Reporter shot to death in Iraq

The unclear circumstances of Salihee's death remain so, but we know at least that he was killed by a U.S. military sniper with a single shot to the head.

He was shot as his car neared a joint patrol of American and Iraqi troops who'd stopped to search a building for snipers. American and Iraqi soldiers are frequently targeted by suicide car bombers.

The U.S. Army is investigating the incident....

Most of the witnesses told another Knight Ridder Iraqi special correspondent that no warning shots were fired. But the front right tire of Salihee's car, a white Daewoo Espero, was pierced by a bullet, presumably meant to stop him from advancing.
Murky murky murky, and a shame. A doctor who "volunteered at medical clinics on his days off", Salihee was praised by his bureau chief thus:
"We weren't really looking for reporters at the time, but Yasser's impeccable English and sunny personality made him too hard to pass up. We hired him and took great delight in watching him blossom into one of our best reporters, the one who accompanied us to militant mosques and talked his way into insurgent-controlled Fallujah."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dubya saves the day!

Executive Order: Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters

"Bush also issued an executive order allowing the freezing of any financial assets in the U.S. of people, companies or organizations involved in the spread of weapons of mass destruction."

My friend Dave sees the beauty in that:
"Does this mean we get to freeze the bank accounts of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grummman??? SWEET! We just balanced our budget, paid off our $8 trillion national debt and re-loaded the SS Trust Fund (which has been poached by every Prez from Johnson (to finance Vietnam) right up to W to cover all other regular spending and secretly try to offset still record deficits year in and year out) to cover every American now alive or who will be born anytime within the next 100 years!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOO HOOOOOOO!!!!!"
Glad we gave the prez all those "emergency" powers. He's really looking out for us!
Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Which is more discouraging—Bush's "what planet is he really on?" speech (he didn't mention the original rationale for war once!) or the opposition party's craven weakness?

Biden, Kerry say we need MORE troops?

“I think he told the American people why it’s important,” said Biden.

IS there an opposition party in this country? 53 percent of Americans think it's a mistake to send troops to Iraq, and the Democratic leadership wants to send more troops?

Meanwhile, for an alternative perspective to the tweedledum and tweedledee war parties, the World Tribunal on Iraq just wrapped up, with the findings to be sent to the International Criminal Court.

The latest (July) issue of Harper's includes a horrifying article on the consequences of the tens of thousands* of injured soldiers coming home from Iraq. It's not posted online—so go out and buy the magazine. (The July issue also includes an absolutely insane letter to Robert McNamara by none other than John Steinbeck, advising the then-secretary of defense on how to kill and terrorise the Vietnamese more effectively.)
* Note that according to UPI (as of September '04) "Nearly 17,000 service members medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan are absent from public Pentagon casualty reports." And apropos of the injured returning, this article from Salon wonders why wounded personnel only return to this country on night flights.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Profile in passivity on the Downing Street Memos

While I appreciate the fact that he/his assistants have responded courteously to some of my not-so-courteous letters on the odious bankruptcy bill, Congressman Ben Chandler (D-Kentucky) had a dissappointing response, to say the least, to my most recent note urging him to support "aggressive inquiry" into the first Downing Street Memo.

Congressman Chandler wrote back to say that he too has "reservations about the manner in which the U.S. declared war on Iraq. Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war, and I believe that the information provided to Congress [note passive voice here] was incorrect, and Congress was presented [... and again] misleading evidence on which to base its decision."

As writing teacher (formerly by trade, forever by disposition) I will treasure this letter as a prime specimen of why bureaucrats are so fond of the passive voice. If the congressman had come out and made these mealy assertions in plain English, he would actually have had to do something about them.
  • "[T]he information provided was incorrect"—ahem, by whom? Let's recast the sentence with an active verb, class. All together now: the President lied to Congress.

  • "Congress was presented misleading evidence on which to base its decision." So ... someone, he won't say who—please, allow me: George flipping W. flipping Bush—did an end-around on the Constitution.
And now—$300 billion dollars later and 1700 American deaths and likely more than 100,000 innocent Iraqis dead—my Congressman intends to confront the president who's been bitch-slapping his entire branch of government and do....


"We must look forward [very can-do, nice! but again, a little vague] and devise a plan to stabilize Iraq, ease the strain on our troops and improve the capability of our intelligence agencies to fight the War on Terror," wrote Congressman Chandler.

That's it. "Look forward" and "devise a plan to stabilize Iraq."

Please, Congressman, do cc: me when you've come up with that plan.

Postscript: Having looked this over, it might be a little unfair, since it's at least possible that Chandler or his staffer was responding based only on the first DSM. I will write back to ask if the other memos have caused him to reconsider, or if he has taken into account the discovery by Larisa Alexandrovna of The Raw Story that:
"The American general who commanded allied air forces during the Iraq war appears to have admitted in a briefing to American and British officers that coalition aircraft waged a secret air war against Iraq from the middle of 2002, nine months before the invasion began.

"Addressing a briefing on lessons learnt from the Iraq war Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley said that in 2002 and early 2003 allied aircraft flew 21,736 sorties, dropping more than 600 bombs on 391 “carefully selected targets” before the war officially started."
I can only hope that this latest smoking gun, an admission of a covert war waged without Congressional authorization, would help my Congressman find his spine.
Let's get REAL scared about Iran

Uh-oh! A "hard-liner" won in Iran. And, as the headlines have been screaming for months now, Iran's developing a policy of NUCLEAR ENERGY! And they HATE America. Not, you know, because U.S. intelligence engineered the coup that gave them the Shah and trained his repressive secret police. And not because in 1988 the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner, in Iranian airspace, full of civilians, leading George H.W. Bush to say "I will never apologize for the United States, ever. I don't care what the facts are." Or that the U.S. has been reliable supporters and armers of Iran's repressive neighbors (including, especially Saddam Hussein) throughout the Middle East.

No, no, it has nothing to do with all that. The Iranians simply hate our freedom!

Check out the latest Tony Auth comics at uComics.

And in spite of the fact that, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, "the U.S. government and Israel ... have [never] provided the IAEA or the public with the location of any [Iranian] nuclear weaponization sites or any direct evidence of such activities," let's assume the worst, and posit that the Iranians might be getting a nuclear weapon, a Chinese warhead last tested in the mid-60s. Assuming they are totally lying about everything, and if a few dozen contingencies fall into place for them just perfectly, and if they aren't bombed/invaded first, the Iranian nuclear energy research might give them a nuke or two.

Yikes! that rather unlikely concatenation of circumstances would bring the tally among the relevant nuclear powers in the Middle East to this frightening state of affairs:
Country: USA
Nuclear stockpile: 10,600
Militaristic religious zealots in charge of government: yes
Media response: yawn...

Country: Israel
Nuclear stockpile: 75-200
Militaristic religious zealots in charge of government: yes
Media response: zzzzzz

Country: Iran
Nuclear stockpile: 0, but maybe that will change
Militaristic religious zealots in charge of government: yes
Media response: Holy good goddamn! We can't let that happen!!!!

Source on the U.S. and Israeli stockpiles: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Of course Israel neither confirms nor denies its capabilities, but they do kidnap, drug, repatriate, and imprison (in solitary confinement, for eleven years) certain people who do discuss those capabilities.

Very untrendy to think of things like nuclear disarmament these days, especially as it concerns the U.S., but I think the world would be wise to be afraid of the country with over ten thousand nukes. And of course the Soviets have 8600 operational warheads, with another 10,000, you know, lying around somewhere. The doomsday clock is still set on seven minutes to midnight.

Let's not forget the work of Helen Caldicott, who can't seem to squeeze onto the op-ed pages of the Times (she has to write letters to the editor like the rest of us schmucks). Her organization's site is full of discomforting information that for some reason doesn't sell newspapers like runaway bride stories. I personally love this anecdote, related by Alexander Zaitchik in the New York Press:
"The most famous example of [a nearly catastrophic close call] occurred on Jan. 25, 1995, when Norway launched a weather research rocket to explore the Northern Lights phenomenon. When Russia’s radars picked up the missile trajectory, it seemed to have been fired from a U.S. submarine in the Norwegian Sea–long suspected by the Russians as a likely first move in a U.S. surprise attack. Russian nuclear forces scrambled into position and bunker commanders inserted their launch keys, awaiting the order to turn them. Yeltsin, reportedly fuming drunk at the time, opened his nuclear briefcase and consulted with the frenzied General Staff. With their nerves screaming, together they watched the missile trajectory slowly turn away from any conceivable Russian target. When the crisis finally ended, they had less than two minutes to make a decision. (U.S. submarine-launched missiles can reach Moscow in 10 minutes.)

"The Norwegian government had warned the Russian embassy in Oslo in advance about the test, but the information never made it to the Russian General Staff. As described by former CIA analyst Peter Vincent Pry in his book War Scare, it was "a clerical error" that brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any time since October 1962."
So you might think the U.S. goverment would be doing all it can to reduce threats like this. You might think so, but you would be wrong. We have met the nuclear rogue state, and it is us. Referring to the recent debacle at the the United Nations meetings to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Susi Snyder, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, says:
“The United States has had four weeks to demonstrate international leadership on nuclear proliferation. But all they have shown is a democratic deficit. . . . Clearly, the U.S. delegation never wanted to strengthen the Treaty. Instead, they have spent four weeks behind closed doors refusing to recognize agreements they made 5 and 10 years ago. They have bottled up all substantive discussion by haggling over arcane procedures. They have demonstrated a lack of compromise and an unwillingness to move the global non-proliferation regime forward....

“It is convenient to blame Iran and Egypt and others for the failure of the NPT Review Conference. . . . But that begs the question. Egypt, for example, has been very vocal about the importance of acknowledging past agreements and bringing Israel into the Treaty. And Iran has consistently called for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Both of these actions would strengthen the non-proliferation regime. When the U.S. refuses to even discuss these issues, then they are the ones sabotaging the Treaty.
Oh yeah, and the U.S. just announced plans to produce highly radioactive plutonium-238 for the first time since the Cold War. The The New York Times quotes project managers as saying most, if not all, of the new plutonium is "intended for secret missions."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Ecuador Refuses to Sign U.S. Immunity Pact

Tío Sam no longer swinging the big stick in his own hemisphere, it appears.

From the AP, posted on Yahoo news
Ecuador will not sign a pact to grant U.S. military personnel special immunity from the International Criminal Court, even if that means more aid cuts from Washington, the foreign minister said Thursday.
The issue of the immunity of U.S. troops abroad is a major focus of Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire—terrific book, disturbing topic—an adaptation of which is available here. A country refusing to accept what was heretofore "an offer you can't refuse" is rather big news.

I guess an optimist could see an unexpected good consequence from all the indiscriminate multidirectional sabre-rattling by the current adminstration: many countries are dismissing it for what it is—sheer bluster.

In this article from February, Time's Tony Karon discusses why Europe is yawning in the face of Bush's bellicose noises. Not to mention the OAS circling the wagons around Hugo Chavez in June as he told Condi, in so many words, "I fart in your general direction."

A piece of analysis here from PINR, the Power and Interest News Report. I am unfamiliar with the group that publishes it, but a quick look around their site failed to turn up any affliations with, say, Lyndon LaRouche, the WSJ editorial page, or the American Enterprise Institute.

PINR describes itself as "an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader." Fair enough.

Here's a snippet from "The Coming World Realignment" by Michael A. Weinstein, a Purdue University political science professor:
"The scenario of U.S. power dominating in every region of the world for generations to come was always an ideological construction that was bound to be contradicted by the rise of regional power centers with interests at variance with Washington's aims; the difficulties encountered in the occupation of Iraq simply hastened the awareness of competing power centers that Washington could be opposed effectively without incurring unacceptable costs. . . .

The most dynamic of the regional power centers is Brasilia, which has been emboldened by the rise of left-center governments in the southern cone of South America that do not acquiesce in Washington's neoliberal economic model, and by the stabilization of the Chavez administration in Caracas that has opted for a more socialist approach to globalization, to bid for dominant influence in its region against Washington. Leading the movement for south-south cooperation, advancing a trade agenda adverse to Washington's, offering Mercosur as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas and experimenting with industrial policies that undercut Western pharmaceutical and software multinationals, Brasilia need simply follow the course that it is taking to achieve its geostrategy aims.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The real importance of the Downing Street Memos

Michael Smith, the London Times reporter responsible for unearthing the DSM(s), says in the L.A. Times today, downplays the 'smoking gun' aspects of the original DSM, but goes on to say that "The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the U.N. to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress."

Smith avers that he is a former "staunch supporter of the decision to oust Saddam Hussein" but "The six leaked documents I took away with me that night were to change completely my opinion of the decision to go to war and the honesty of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

GM foods: "Ink'a us" (That is evil")

From We need GM food like we need a hole in our kidneys
A recent study conducted by Monsanto itself indicated abnormalities in the kidneys and blood of rats fed MON863, a strain of Bt corn that many Americans eat every day without our knowledge. Monsanto has resisted calls from the European Food Safety Agency to release the full study to the public, leading to a court order to do so from a German judge. Thank goodness for some degree of concern from the Europeans, because watchdogs in the United States are gnawing on the bones of corporate-induced complacency. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves GM foods for public consumption simply by comparing the nutritional content between GM and non-GM foods, and checking a database of known allergens. According to the logic of the FDA, we are the lab rats.
This brings to mind an article published in April on the oops! habit of big agribusiness to "accidentally" contaminate the world's food supply with their frankenfoodschtuffs.
While chemical pollution eventually dissipates in the environment (over thousands of years), genetic pollution accelerates exponentially over time. Once GM corn gets planted, no farmer's crops are safe because corn cross-pollinates by wind over long distances and is irreversibly inserted into plant DNA. Another study published last month by Friends of the Earth found eighty percent of 77 corn samples taken from food aid or sold in the open market in Guatemala were already contaminated by banned GM-corn.
And of course the kicker is that seed saving is verboten under the wonderful world of Monsanto. You have to buy the seed, and the necessary fertilizer, each and every frigging year!

I explained to [Guatemalan farmer] Don Pablo that powerful men from the United States were developing a new corn seed that farmers would be obliged to buy from a store year after year along with a matching herbicide made by the same company. When Don Pablo realized that would mean he could no longer save his own local seeds, he said to me, without hesitation, "That is evil. Ink'a us."

The agribusiness giants know that small, subsistence farmers like Don Pablo will not voluntarily buy their expensive GM seeds. By "accidentally" dumping GM-contaminated corn on the poor, they can make a quick profit and systematically contaminate the world's corn seed. Perhaps the biotech giants hope the global citizenry will shrug off contamination as inevitable and allow regulators to loosen restrictions. Or perhaps it is a back-door trick to eventually demand royalties on the seed, as Monsanto has already done to Percy Schmeiser and other organic canola growers in Canada.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

More Berry

From "A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America" (reprinted in Orion, March/April 2003).

The National Security Strategy defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents" (p. 5). This is truly a distinct kind of violence, but to imply by the word "terrorism" that this sort of terror is the work exclusively of "terrorists" is misleading. The "legitimate" warfare of technologically advanced nations likewise is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents. The distinction between the intention to perpetrate violence against innocents, as in "terrorism," and the willingness to do so, as in "war," is not a source of comfort.

Supposedly, if a nation perpetrates violence officially -- whether to bomb an enemy airfield or a hospital it is not guilty of "terrorism." But there is no need to hesitate over the difference between "terrorism" and any violence or threat of violence that is terrifying. The National Security Strategy wishes to cause "terrorism" to be seen "in the same light as slavery, piracy, or genocide" (p. 6) but not in the same light as war. It accepts and affirms the legitimacy of war.

THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM is not, strictly speaking, a war against nations, even though it has already involved international war in Afghanistan and presidential threats against other nations. This is a war against "the embittered few" "thousands of trained terrorists" -- who are "at large" (p. 5) among many millions of others who are, in the language of this document, "innocents," and thus are deserving of our protection.

Unless we are willing to kill innocents in order to kill the guilty, the need to be lethal will be impeded constantly by the need to be careful. Because we must suppose a new supply of villains to be always in the making, we can expect the war on terrorism to be more or less endless, endlessly costly and endlessly supportive of a thriving bureaucracy.

Unless, that is, we should become willing to ask why, and to do something about the causes. Why do people become terrorists? Such questions arise from the recognition that problems have causes. There is, however, no acknowledgement in The National Security Strategy that terrorism might have a cause that could possibly be discovered and possibly remedied. "The embittered few," it seems, are merely "evil."
. . .
The epigraph of Part III of The National Security Strategy contains this sentence from President Bush's speech at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001: "But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." A government, committing its nation to rid the world of evil, is assuming necessarily that it and its nation are good.

But the proposition that anything so multiple and large as a nation can be "good" is an insult to common sense. It is also dangerous, because it precludes any attempt at self criticism or self correction; it precludes public dialogue. It leads us far indeed from the traditions of religion and democracy that are intended to measure and so to sustain our efforts to be good. Christ said. "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." And Thomas Jefferson justified general education by the obligation of citizens to be critical of their government: "for nothing can keep it right but their own vigilant and distrustful [my emphasis] superintendence." An inescapable requirement of true patriotism, love for one's land, is a vigilant distrust of any determinative power, elected or unelected, that may preside over it.
. . .

If you think our displeasure with "rogue states" might have any underpinning in international law, then you will be disappointed to learn on page 31 that

We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.

The rule of law in the world, then, is to be upheld by a nation that has declared itself to be above the law. A childish hypocrisy here assumes the dignity of a nation's foreign policy.

Not all bad news . . .

In my new Kentucky home, there have been two wonderful commencement addresses this summer, one by Barbara Kingsolver, the other by Wendell Berry. The first I was fortunate to be able to attend in person. I only wish I had been there for the other.

It should come as no surprise that neither speaker indulged in the customary ritualistic stroking of young achievers' egos.

Kingsolver's, given at Centre College, was called Picking Up the Bread.

Berry's commencement address was given at Lindsey Wilson College.

A brief excerpt from Kingsolver's address:

Now it's your turn. Your adulthood has been defined by world events in a way that's unlike any generation that came before. When you were a brand new college student here, still trying to figure out how to fit all your stuff into your dorm room and find your classroom buildings, without a clue what your major might be, you walked to class one September morning and heard this terrible news. Remember that morning? First you thought somebody was making it up. Then you got more of the story, maybe saw the images on a television: our country, our buildings, attacked, destroyed by planes. For the first time in your life, or in your parents' lives, for the first time anybody could remember, we were attacked in a terrifying way, on our own soil.

What has changed for you, I wonder? What does it mean to have that as the defining event of your college career, subtly influencing your sense of what your life is supposed to be? I can only imagine. But I know this: you cannot hold the delusions that the rest of us have long held dear. America the great, the beloved, the people everybody else wants to be -- our parents used to tell us that's who we were. We can't tell you that. You'd laugh. You know we are a nation both great and dreadful, a mixed blessing on the face of the globe. Some people want to be like us, and some don't. Many are not happy with what we do, what we use up, what we send out into the world -- our pollution, our armies, our sense of what belongs to us. We've refused to cooperate in the global community in some important ways: we have scorned the World Court. We refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the first international agreement to curb air pollution and global warming. The rest of the world has ratified it, so they're moving on without us. But how can they not resent our refusal to cooperate? We have created ourselves in an image that is powerful, for sure, but not universally held to be glorious. We have modeled a system of international friendship that sounds a lot like that big mean girl on the bus: "Give me that candy bar or I won't be your friend no more."

That's the America you get. One that's riddled with promises and debts and good intentions gone wrong. You get to see if you can do any better.
And from Berry's:
I am worrying about you and your children and the world itself because the qualities that make humans the most astonishing of all the families of creatures -- our intelligence, our ambition, and our power -- have made us also by far the most destructive of all the creatures, a danger to all the others and to ourselves.

If I worry, I do so of course because I believe that we don't have to be so destructive, because there is plenty of evidence that, if we so choose, we can be peaceable, neighborly, loving, kind, gentle, grateful, and careful of all the Creation and its good gifts.

And yet the great moral issue of our time, too much ignored by both sides of our present political division, is violence. From the colonialism that began with long-distance navigation to the present stage of industrialism, we of the so-called West have lived and gathered wealth increasingly by violence.

This has been increasingly an age of fire. We now travel and transport our goods by means of controlled explosions in the engines of our vehicles. We run our factories, businesses, and households by means of fires or controlled explosions in furnaces and power plants. We fight our wars by controlled, and sometimes uncontrolled, explosions.

Violence, in short, is the norm of our economic life and our national security. The line that connects the bombing of a civilian population to the mountain "removed" by strip mining to the gullied and poisoned field to the clear-cut watershed to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight.
I should say that, in spite of the dire picture of the world they both presented, both speakers ended on a challenging, but positive note. These are wonderful essays that should be passed around and shared.

Calling all young (and old) Republicans

You know, if you join up, they can't call you a chickenhawk anymore . . . .

. . . from Mike Tidmus blog . . .

Monday, June 20, 2005

Is this the world you thought you were building? is a repository of uncensored, unedited documents of occupation and war. There's a great deal of carnage. The pictures, such as the one above by Chris Hondros (deleted, 11/27/07 at the request of Getty Images)
, will turn your stomach and bring tears to your eyes. But if you're like me, you have to know what's being done in your name.

From the web site, here is a little bit about why the people behind do what they do:
By showing the consequences of policies, Crisis Pictures demands viewers reflect on their values. The child in Fallujah, bleeding to death in their mother’s arms, the bulldozed home in a refugee camp in Gaza, the eight year old boy missing an arm in Liberia-, is this the world you thought you were building?

The “Crisis” in “Crisis Pictures” is in the heart of each and every visitor who is silent long enough to look in the face of the grieving. Either we are responsible for our fellow man (woman, child), or we are not.

We may have vastly different solutions for these tragedies. Crisis Pictures starts the conversation from the shared emotional understanding that tragedies like Fallujah are not just another bad day in the third world. They are about real people that are like you and we, not our leaders, we are responsible.

Scott Ritter has some cheery news

The United States is already at war with Iran. Note that the byline is from Al-Jazeera. If a news organization is judged by its enemies, they're doing something right. Both Rummie and al-Zarqawi have it in for them big-time.

Re, the new front in the global war on terror . . . Seymour Hersh was saying something similar in January about secret reconaissance missions that have been going on since last summer. But George Bush . . . wouldn't . . . couldn't . . . start a war without a formal declaration and congressional oversight. Would he? Could he? Hey, that's illegal!

Conyers, the Post and the Prez

I still can't process the contempt oozing from every line of that Dana Milbank story about the Conyers forum. Conyers has of course written an excellent letter in response.

And a nice piece of context comes from Editor and Publisher, which contrasts media coverage of the forum with the grotesque suckup at last year’s black-tie dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association, in which Bush played his search for WMD for laughs, and all the journalists peed themselves laughing along with him.
"I was reminded of all this at the Thursday forum when former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, after cataloguing the bogus Bush case for WMDs and the Iraqi threat, looked out at the cameras and notepads, mentioned the March 24, 2004 dinner, and acted out the president looking under papers and table for those missing WMDs. “And the media was all yucking it up ... hahaha,” McGovern said. “You all laughed with him, folks. But I'll tell you who is not laughing. Cindy Sheehan is not laughing.”

This was the woman sitting next to him whose son had been killed in Iraq. “Cindy's son,” McGovern added, “was killed 11 days after the show put on by the president ... after that big joke.”

Dana Milbank, who seems to like a good laugh, did not mention this in his story the following day."

One picture is worth a thousand words

I saw this picture on Alternate Brain. There are links to more pictures of the failed White House petition delivery at

Think about it. The longest-sitting member of the House of Representatives, representing 122 other Members, with a petition carrying 560,000 signatures, being denied entrance to the White House.

The bars, the clenched fists. What the hell is going on???

On protection rackets and religion
"To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket."

-- Charles Tilly, "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime," in Bringing the State Back In edited by P. Evans, D. Rueschmeyer, and, T. Skocpol. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1985.

A quote I found on Timothy Shortell's web site, a little tangential to his newsworthiness, but nice bulletin board material all the same.

Shortell is the professor at Brooklyn College in New York who was forced to resign the chairmanship of the sociology department because of this essay espousing a rather robust atheism. The essay was discovered, and Shortell was outed, by those arbiters of academic standards, the New York Sun and Daily News.

Shortell might have saved himself some bother by not describing religious people as "moral retards" in that essay, and he gives short shrift to such exception-proving-the-rule religious figures as Martin Luther King, the Maryknoll nuns in El Salvador, the Catholic Worker people, and the Quakers, to name just a few, for whom religion was the basis for strong positions against injustice and war, and for inclusion and tolerance.

But in the current atmosphere, he could be forgiven for impatience with the whole religious endeavor (and besides, the religious figures I mentioned are (paraphrasing John Prine) either "dead or in jail" precisely because their spirituality ran counter to the dominant religious grain).

Anyway, in spite of the fact that there were apparently office politics at play as well, it's absolutely appalling that Shortell should lose his job—in BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—over that essay.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Is this ... gasp ... democracy?

Not yet, anyway. But I think l'affaire Downing Street is picking up steam.

While it's sorta being covered in the press, you have to go all the way to the antipodes to get a transcript of Cindy Sheehan's speech. But it's worth it. That woman is Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld's worst nightmare.

I haven't sifted through every report on the Conyers forum, but I was struck by a couple things from the CSPAN coverage last night. First, clearly the House leadership was not interested in making things easy for Conyers. He was forced to convene his hearing in a tiny basement chamber, and 11 major votes were scheduled to coincide with the forum. I don't know if this is evidence the Bushies are scared, or just more garden variety contempt on their part. And speaking of contempt, it doesn't get more patronizing than this . . . .

Also interesting was Ms. Sheehan's declaration that her organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, has been trying to meet with Rumsfeld for quite some time. Since January, at least. In fact, she said, they would settle for a meeting with ANY Pentagon employee. But a group of survivors of war dead has been completely and studiously ignored. That is a scandal in itself.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

And AWAAAAYYYY we goooo....

U.S. Open underway....

Having trouble reconciling my love for the game with my tediously pissy America-hating politics.

Herewith, my picks:

1 Emma Goldman - HUGE off the tee
2 Ernesto "Che" Guevara - high strung, but when he
gets hot, look out!
3 Hugo Chavez - consummate grinder, always in the hunt
4 Noam Chomsky - course management second to none
5 Paul Wellstone - can work it either way, a must for
this course

Regarding golf and politics: as the only patron of Peninsula Golf Resort to have an antiwar bumper sticker on my vehicles, I've felt a little self-conscious parking amongst the impeccably shined up Ram 2500 4x4s (a lot of truck for hauling your golf clubs to the course), most of which ornamented with those little WWJD fish and, typically, two to four magnetic ribbons expressing one jingoistic sentiment or another.

But nary a comment has been made, and my tires have never been slashed or deflated. And! This weekend I saw an anti-Bush sticker (the one that spoofs "W The President" with "F the President"). This may be an indication that the tipping point has been reached. I dunno.

Finally, and I'll shut up about golf, I did rather enjoy this refreshing take on the whingey world of touring golf pros. It's from Salon. You know the drill. Watch the little movie first.

Two choice paragraphs for those who are too lazy to do even that:

Touring pros, dour and unsmiling as they walk the course, rarely kick back to express outward enjoyment of their play. P.G. Wodehouse analyzed the breed well: "I have sometimes wondered if we of the canaille don't get more pleasure out of [the game] than the top-notchers. For an untouchable like myself, two perfect drives in a round would wipe out all memory of sliced approach shots and foozled putts, whereas if Jack Nicklaus does a sixty-four he goes home and thinks morosely that had he not missed that eagle on the seventh he would have had a sixty-three."
A low-decibel peep is enough to get a pro glaring into the throngs behind the ropes. Nastiness may result. Woods, as tightly wound as his Nike golf balls, is so touchy about noise that his caddy-manservant, Steve Williams, has taken crowd control to new depths: snatching or kicking cameras out of photographers' hands, even before his master is over the ball. As in U.S. foreign policy, preemptive strikes are in order.

In addition to silence, motionlessness in the gallery is required. Caddies routinely yell at spectators to stand still while their man is about to putt, lest his sightline be ruined by a human being's muscle twitch 50 yards away. Pros who flub shots often gaze pointedly at spectators with accusatory frowns: "See what you made me do?"

Always wanted a scarecrow...

Garden progressing nicely, though am having bad dreams about Colorado potato beetles and flea beetles. This is war!

This is a great follow-up on the Lexington Herald-Leader's coverage of Cindy Sheehan's raw, powerful speech.

Bare Truths about the War, from a Small Paper

From Editor and Publisher

A daily in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday quoted at length the angry words of the mother of young man killed in Iraq. She accused President Bush of "lying," and said that "hard work" is "not jumping in the grave" with a deceased son. Would any major paper print such words? Or are they failing to reflect the growing anger in Middle America about this war?

By Ned Stafford

(June 15, 2005) -- Read the following 225 words from a Tuesday news story in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, and ask yourself: Would these honest, hard-hitting words appear in one of the major newspapers, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post or USA Today?

The story, by the Herald-Leader’s Frank E. Lockwood, covers a local appearance by Cindy Sheehan, president of Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization whose membership includes relatives of more than 50 soldiers who died in Iraq.

Here are the 225 words:

“Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., accused President Bush of lying to the nation about a war which has consumed tens of billions of dollars and claimed more than 1,700 American lives -- including the life of (her son) Army Specialist Casey Austin Sheehan. ...

“Sheehan ridiculed Bush for saying that it's ‘hard work’ comforting the widow of a soldier who's been killed in Iraq: ‘Hard work is seeing your son's murder on CNN one Sunday evening while you're enjoying the last supper you'll ever truly enjoy again. Hard work is having three military officers come to your house a few hours later to confirm the aforementioned murder of your son, your first-born, your kind and gentle sweet baby. Hard work is burying your child 46 days before his 25th birthday. Hard work is holding your other three children as they lower the body of their big (brother) into the ground. Hard work is not jumping in the grave with him and having the earth cover you both,’ she said ...

"’We're watching you very carefully and we're going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people,’ she said, quoting a letter she sent to the White House. ‘Beating a political stake in your black heart will be the fulfillment of my life ... ,’ she said, as the audience of 200 people cheered.”

You don’t need to be a liberal, an antiwar activist or a Pulitzer Prize winner to know that those two grafs reflect the sort of pure, unadulterated, hard-hitting journalism the Founding Fathers envisioned when they tacked freedom of the press at the very top of the Bill of Rights. The free flow of information is the lifeblood of a democracy. If newspapers begin to self-censor ugly truths from the news for fear that certain politicians and their supporters might be offended, then freedom of the press is not functioning as it should and democracy in America is at risk.

Some editors might argue that Sheehan is not newsworthy. But having lost a son in Iraq, she speaks with a special kind of authority. So to go back to the original question: Would those 225 words ever appear in The New York Times or the Washington Post or other national newspaper? Or can they only appear in the smaller papers, many of which currently seem to reflect more accurately the growing anger about this war in many parts of the country, as reflected in all the recent public opinion polls?

Let’s see how the big newspapers perform on Thursday when Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Democratic colleagues hold a hearing on the so-called Downing Street Memo. Sheehan is scheduled to testify, as are outspoken opponents of the Iraq war such as former ambassador Joe Wilson and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

How will the event be covered in Friday’s editions of the New York Times and Washington Post? Or will newspaper editors at those newspapers decide not to wield that most beautiful tool of democracy – the First Amendment – and run no story at all, as they appear to have done so often these last few years?

Ned Stafford ( is a former reporter for the Omaha World-Herald and Kansas City Star. He currently freelances regularly for The Scientist, has written recently for The Lancet, Reuters and, and has just completed a novel, "Internet Fever."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Another hero

I was glad to see Bob Dylan taking on the great Merle Haggard as his opening act in his recent tour. I wish I could've been there when, after the Beacon gig in NYC, Hag sat in with Les Paul at his club gig.

Love this R. Crumb sketch of Merle.
I scanned it from a New Yorker a few years back.

All too many people have this misperception of Haggard as a spokesman for the mythic pro-war right-wing hardhat during the Vietnam era. As concerns both the hardhats and Haggard, the reality is much more complicated. (For more on the hardhats, see Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States). "Okie from Muskogee" was a joke. Get it? "Muskogee's about the only place I didn't smoke it," he said in a 2000 Salon piece. As as for being a knee-jerk anything, well, he just ain't. This quote came nearly a year before 9/11 and the Patriot Act, but it's about as good a summary of the state of civil liberties in America as I've read.
"Look at the past 25 years -- we went downhill, and if people don't realize it, they don't have their fucking eyes on. In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex-convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there's available to an average citizen in America right now. I mean, there was nobody going to throw you down on the side of the road spread-eagled, and look up your butt for a fucking marijuana cigarette. God almighty, what have we done to each other?"
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright ® 1973 by Wendell Berry.
Hero Congressman

Don't you wish you had this guy as YOUR Congressman?

I do.

Keeping the Ohio election scandal in the news and hounding the White House on the Downing Street Memo. It would be nice if he had some help among his colleagues....

Here is an interview with Congressman Conyers, and of course his own web site is full of good stuff.

Tomorrow, Thursday June 16, he will be convening a public hearing on the Downing Street Memo. It will be interesting to see how it is covered/ignored.
The state of journalism ....

From Salon:
According to an Annenberg poll conducted this spring, about 40 percent of Americans consider Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly a "journalist" -- while only 30 percent of the people surveyed said they considered famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to be one.
From Columbia Journalism Review:
The Great Loofalator has had 25 separate stories/mentions of the Ward Churchill kerfuffle since the story broke in January. He criticizes the media's coverage of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal as an instance of the media covering a story to "[advance] an agenda."
I came across an old friend...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Black Heart

At a rally in Lexington, Ky., yesterday (June 13), Cindy Sheehan, president of Gold Star Families, had this to say to the President, in response to his assertion that it's "hard work" comforting the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq:

"Hard work is seeing your son's murder on CNN one Sunday evening while you're enjoying the last supper you'll ever truly enjoy again. Hard work is having three military officers come to your house a few hours later to confirm the aforementioned murder of your son, your first-born, your kind and gentle sweet baby. Hard work is burying your child 46 days before his 25th birthday. Hard work is holding your other three children as they lower the body of their big (brother) into the ground. Hard work is not jumping in the grave with him and having the earth cover you both."

"We're watching you very carefully and we're going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people," she said, quoting a letter she sent to the White House. "Beating a political stake in your black heart will be the fulfillment of my life ...."

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