Monday, October 31, 2005

Another "precision attack," more dead children?

From Reuters:
U.S. aircraft bombed a house near the Syrian border before dawn on Monday in what the military said was a precision strike on an al Qaeda leader.

A local hospital doctor in the Iraqi town of Qaim said 40 people were killed and 20 wounded, many of them women and children, and a tribal leader said there were no guerrillas in the area.

A U.S. military spokesman said the precision bombing in Karabila, close to Qaim, was meant to avoid civilian casualties.

I suppose it's possible, as the Pentagon says, that locals are inflating civilian death figures under pressure from the insurgents. It's just as likely that the Pentagon is being deceptive, especially given its track record with body counts in past conflicts.

And to me this might be a bit of a tip-off:

... "The Americans started to bomb around Betha from after midnight (2100 GMT) until dawn," said a police officer, reached by telephone, who asked not to be named for his own security.

Not a single, "precision" strike (the U.S. military claim), but repeated bombings, from midnight to dawn.

The Reuters article appends this dry qualifier: "Independent verification of the casualties was not possible; the conflict has made it all but impossible for journalists to operate in the area most of the time." In terms of accurate reporting of the human cost of war, might this be the worst conflict ever?

This article calls to mind an piece in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists a few years back that looked at the munitions that were actually used in the First Gulf War.
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 [including cluster bombs and fuel-air weapons] presented to him for confirmation that they were used in the war.

... The full extent of war damage in Iraq and Kuwait will not be known for some time, if ever. But much of what we know now challenges the assumption that the war was an antiseptic Nintendo game, an impersonal conflict with little "collateral" damage, or a contest dominated by selective, precision-guided munitions which discriminated between human beings in and out of military uniform. Large amounts of explosive tonnage were dropped in the region, over 90 percent in the form of weapons that were not precision guided-and we do not have accurate information on the success and reliability of precision-guided ordnance.

Different war, I know. Or is it? Will it be months or years—as it was following Bush I's folly—before anyone will be able to report on what kinds of bombs the United States has been using in this war?

Saturday, October 29, 2005


...while every news organization and blogger has been endlessly fussing over the minutiae of the Fitzgerald investigation (which may certainly lead to something quite big, eventually), in real time the Patriot Act has been effectively made permanent.

Rachel Neumann writes in AlterNet:

Most of the provisions of the USA Patriot Act, including access to library records, were supposed to "sunset" this month, five years after the law's passing. Instead, both the House and the Senate have already voted to renew the entire act, with only minor revisions. While they're at it, they'd like to add some decidedly unpatriotic amendments to expand the death penalty.

These new amendments would let prosecutors shop around for another jury if the one they have is deadlocked on the death penalty; triple the number of terrorism-related crimes eligible for the death penalty; and authorize the death penalty for a person who gives money to an organization whose members kill someone, even if the contributor did not know that the organization or its members were planning to kill.

Read the fine print of the original legislation here.

The Nation puts it as bluntly as it's possible to put it in a piece aptly titled "A Constitutional Disaster":
The Patriot Act has been and will continue to be used mainly against ordinary Americans accused of crimes unrelated to terrorism, or those who disagree with government policies or happen to be immigrants or of the Muslim faith.

The result is likely to be an enduring shift of power from the legislative and judicial branches to the executive branch--and less privacy and liberty for all.

... Although the secrecy and gag orders in the law make it difficult to know the full extent of abuses, the Patriot Act has been notoriously used against innocent people like Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield (wrongly accused of involvement in the Madrid bombings); Muslim student Sami al-Hussayen (wrongly accused of material support for terrorism by exercising First Amendment rights to post publicly available material on his website); and foreign professors and intellectuals (including moderate Muslim professor Tariq Ramadan, who could have helped build bridges to the Muslim world but was excluded from accepting a professorship at Notre Dame through the Patriot Act).

The government has initiated deportation proceedings against even lawful permanent residents for engaging in constitutionally protected speech reflecting viewpoints with which the government disagrees, while major Muslim charities have had their assets frozen based on unchallengeable secret evidence. In one reported court case, an unnamed Internet service provider was even served with a national security letter that was later declared unconstitutional by a federal court on the grounds that it invaded Fourth Amendment privacy, by forcing disclosure of e-mail and websurfing records, and infringed First Amendment free speech by prohibiting the ISP from telling anyone about the letter.


Sadly, the Patriot Act's renewal is about raw power--and maintaining power even at the cost of American values and what are, after all, deeply conservative but widely shared principles. How else can one explain the distortions and deceptions described above and the massive betrayal of the core conservative tenets of respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, limited government, individual liberty, federalism and the rule of law? How else can one explain the most democratic arm of government, the House of Representatives, ignoring the broad nonpartisan concern expressed about the Patriot Act in the resolutions independently passed by Bill of Rights Defense Committees in nearly 400 communities (and seven states) nationally, not to mention the 18,000 cities covered by the National League of Cities resolution, and similar resolutions and concerns raised by myriad other organizations? Legislators representing the 400 districts that specifically passed resolutions were more inclined to be critical, but those from other districts were overwhelmingly passive on the issues or complicit in undermining liberty.

Thomas Jefferson believed that "an informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion." But the converse is also true: Systematic deception blocks responsible democracy. We would do well to recall the oft-repeated words relating truth and liberty: "Know the truth, the truth shall set you free."

Read the whole article...

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee site offers numerous resources and ways for communities to take action. And of course, the ACLU does as well.

One of the highlights of the responsible and high-minded legislative discussions of this important bill is described unforgettably in "Four Amendments and a Funeral" by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi:
As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, [Wisconsin Republican James] Sensenbrenner is the majority lawmaker in whose scaly womb the Patriot Act gestated until its recent delivery to Rules. Though he was here as a witness, his obvious purpose was to bare his fangs in the direction of anyone or anything who would threaten his offspring.

Sensenbrenner is your basic Fat Evil Prick, perfectly cast as a dictatorial committee chairman: He has the requisite moist-with-sweat pink neck, the dour expression, the penchant for pointless bile and vengefulness. Only a month before, on June 10th, Sensenbrenner suddenly decided he'd heard enough during a Judiciary Committee hearing on the Patriot Act and went completely Tasmanian devil on a group of Democratic witnesses who had come to share stories of abuses at places like Guantanamo Bay. Apparently not wanting to hear any of that stuff, Sensenbrenner got up midmeeting and killed the lights, turned off the microphones and shut down the C-Span feed, before marching his fellow Republicans out of the room -- leaving the Democrats and their witnesses in the dark.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Discouraging headline of the day

A Long, Rocky Road With 39 Months to Go

Thirty-nine blinking months of this clown. A long rocky road for whom? Him or us?

And the bad news is that he is, as Ted Rall asserts, probably unimpeachable (but not in the customary sense of the word—Beyond reproach? I think not. Blameless? Hardly.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The American Street, unheard

This from Harris Interactive:

Overall, how would you rate the job U.S. president George W. Bush has done in handling the issue of Iraq over the last several months?

Oct. 2005

Sept. 2005

Jul. 2005









Not sure




So what does this tell you? A 66% negative rating (and I imagine those positive 32% would still be giving Dubya a grinning thumbs up the day after Armageddon) that translates into, uh,three or four antiwar congressmen and oh, say, zero senators? How many of our representatives DIDN'T discover a scheduling conflict when the antiwar march came to town?

I like what Leahy said, but how specific did he get? And he said "the president [has to have] a plan that will bring our troops home." The PRESIDENT? Don't hold your breath.

And Kerry now says withdraw 20,000 troops and ... hold a conference. Apparently he decided his call in June for MORE troops didn't poll well. The bottom line is that the Republicans were right about him.

And the rest of the leading Democrats? Arianna is all over them. But maybe they know something we ignorant American streeters don't know. That there are questions you just don't ask, and people you just don't cross. To Hillary and Biden and Kerry, maybe it's clear. Cross the Pentagon and the arms manufacturers, question the morality, legality, even self-interested practicality of this perpetual war against a tactic (as practiced by amateurs, not professionals), and you've shot your career to hell.

But that's their problem, not ours.

Well, of course, it's our problem too.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I'm all for schaedenfreude, but...

I'll be at least momentarily pleased if some of the bigger names being bandied about (Rove, Cheney, Perle) do actually come under indictment. But pardon me if I don't jump up and down.

First, assuming Bush doesn't just fire Fitzgerald (and why wouldn't he?), there's the likelihood that the worst "punishment" these men will face will involve perhaps having to step down from their jobs, perhaps some fines, perhaps some public humiliation. But are any of these creatures really capable of shame? I have my doubts.

And second, I have my own problems with the anti-Bush sentiment that's growing. My suspicion is that many are jumping on the anti-Bush bandwagon because he's failing to win a war. To me the question is the war in the first place, and America's habit of solving perceived problems by attacking other countries.

I'll tell you what would float my boat: Cheney, Bush and the whole gang in orange jumpsuits.... In Frog-marching Bush to the Hague, Robert Parry makes a good case for the basic criminality of the Iraq invasion and occupation. Read it and relive the martial splendor of "Shock and Awe" (including the bombing of a Baghdad restaurant full of civilians), the "pacification" of Fallujah, countless instances of "bad apples" torturing Iraqis—completely on their own initiative of course. (He omits one of my favorites, though: "smart" munitions that not only missed their targets, they fell in the wrong country. See also here.)

"In a healthy democracy," writes Parry, "the debate might be less about imprisoning [Lyddie] England and other “grunts” than whether Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other war architects should be 'frog-marched' to the Hague for prosecution as war criminals."

Friday, October 07, 2005

A little logic for the Prez

... with visual aids yet....

As regards Dubya's claim that Al Qaeda wants to "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," Juan Cole says:
Yes, al-Qaeda does want these things. But then the Christian Identity Movement in the United States wants to establish a massive fortified refuge for persecuted white people to escape oppression at the hands of what they in their looney tunes way consider the evil, minority-dominated Federal Government. That crackpot fringe groups have big plans and ideas is not surprising, and we only have to worry about them if it looks like they might actually succeed.

But who thinks this particular crackpot plan is in any way feasible? Look at America's friends in the Middle East-- Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, etc., etc. Which one of them is on the verge of being taken over by al-Qaeda? Why, al-Qaeda had to plan out 9/11 from Europe because it could not operate in the Middle East! An al-Qaeda meeting in Cairo would have had more Egyptian government spies in attendance than radical fundamentalists!

(Green above shows governments friendly to the US. Reddish brown is Arab nationalist governments. Yellow is a Shiite theocracy. None of these regimes is friendly to radical al-Qaeda).
This is an excerpt from a lengthy and quite substantial post that's well worth reading.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hearing voices

The case is closed. If there is anything worse than a mean-spirited, irresponsible dimwit, it's a mean-spirited, irresponsible dimwit with a messianic streak.

From an upcoming BBC-TV documentary:
One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."

As a good friend says, "it's a fine line between being president of the united states of america and the son of sam...."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My first thoughts were ...

... THAT Andy Rooney?

I have never been a huge fan of his schtick, and confess to not being much of a regular follower of 60 Minutes.

But jeez, ANDY FLIPPING ROONEY actually said this, and I agree with every word.

Good on ya, you old curmudgeon.
I'm not really clear how much a billion dollars is but the United States — our United States — is spending $5.6 billion a month fighting this war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into.

We still have 139,000 soldiers in Iraq today.

Almost 2,000 Americans have died there. For what?

Now we have the hurricanes to pay for. One way our government pays for a lot of things is by borrowing from countries like China.

Another way the government is planning to pay for the war and the hurricane damage is by cutting spending for things like Medicare prescriptions, highway construction, farm payments, AMTRAK, National Public Radio and loans to graduate students. Do these sound like the things you'd like to cut back on to pay for Iraq?

I'll tell you where we ought to start saving: on our bloated military establishment.

We're paying for weapons we'll never use.

No other Country spends the kind of money we spend on our military. Last year Japan spent $42 billion. Italy spent $28 billion, Russia spent only $19 billion. The United States spent $455 billion.

We have 8,000 tanks for example. One Abrams tank costs 150 times as much as a Ford station wagon.

We have more than 10,000 nuclear weapons — enough to destroy all of mankind.

We're spending $200 million a year on bullets alone. That's a lot of target practice. We have 1,155,000 enlisted men and women and 225,000 officers. One officer to tell every five enlisted soldier what to do. We have 40,000 colonels alone and 870 generals.

We had a great commander in WWII, Dwight Eisenhower. He became President and on leaving the White House in 1961, he said this: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. …"

Well, Ike was right. That's just what’s happened.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Wilson/Plame 101: Who's in Charge?

One of the things I like most about Juan Cole's blog is that he doesn't always assume the reader has a grasp of every last detail of scandals, especially ones that have been unfolding for quite some time. He did this in a memorable way in his excellent Fisking the War on Terror, and now turns his energies and his scorn to the Wilson/Plame situation. Because it was such a help to me in understanding the whos, whats and wheres, I will quote from it liberally here...
George Stephanopolous dropped a bombshell on his show on Sunday. Toward the end, as Judd notes, he said,
' Definitely a political problem but I wonder, George Will, do you think it’s a manageable one for the White House especially if we don’t know whether Fitzgerald is going to write a report or have indictments but if he is able to show as a source close to this told me this week, that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions. '
... The whole point of Bushism is to punish dissidence within the ranks immediately and ruthlessly. Wilson, a former State Department official, had to be destroyed for having stepped out of line. Everyone should remember that when former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill decided to come out with a tell-all memoir about being in the Bush cabinet for a year, he proclaimed, "I'm old, I'm rich, and there is nothing they can do to me" (or words to that effect). Then all of a sudden the Bush administration was finding signs of classified documents in O'Neill's book, implicitly threatening him with spending the rest of his life in jail for having revealed government secrets. O'Neill feebly protested that he had not had access to classified documents. But all of a sudden he disappeared from the airwaves. He had discovered that there were, too, things that could be done to him. He must have been astonished that the Bushes of Kennebunkport would behave like Vladimir Putin. Everyone always underestimates the malevolence of the Bushes of Connecticut.
...Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Richard Bruce Cheney, and the Department of Defense mafia considered the CIA an open enemy and not a team player. Richard Perle, their guru on these matters, viewed the CIA as a hotbed of wimpy "liberalism" that especially underestimated the depravity of dark-skinned peoples in the Third World. In short, the CIA was impervious to the Likud lobby and unimpressed with the crackpot theories of far rightwing gadflies like Perle.

So in the hothouse atmosphere of the White House in 2003, when the awful truth was dawning that there was no WMD in Iraq, Rove, Libby, W. and the big Bruce huddled together with others in the administration to think how to discredit Wilson. They care only about image, not substance. It didn't matter to them that Wilson had been proved right. In their world, you only lose if the public sees the truth. The mere discovery of the truth in some obscure quarter is irrelevant. They had to prevent the public from seeing Wilson's truth.

...I have long been frustrated by the US press's tendency to talk about Bush's cabinet officers as though they were independent agents, and to put Bush on a pedestal. Let me just follow through on some further assertions in the spirit of Stephanopoulos's remark.

It is fruitless to speculate about who dissolved the Iraqi army in May of 2003, and why. (This move contributed to the rise of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement). Bush did it!

Who ordered the Marines, against their better judgement, to launch a reprisal attack on Fallujah after four Western private security guards were killed and their bodies desecrated there? Bush did it!.

Who authorized torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Bush did it!

Who appointed Michael Brown, a man with no experience in emergency management, head of FEMA? Bush did it!

Who let Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora? Bush did it!

Who completely destroyed the fiscal health of the US government and forced us into massive debt, squandering Clinton's surplus and endangering social security? Bush did it!.

Bush is the president. He makes the decisions. If there has been a major bad decision, it has been his.

Who outed Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative? Bush did it!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cheap juxtaposition

... but ever so appropriate. From the L.A. Times:
A new study from the University of Southern California, published in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that the talent for compulsive deception is embedded in the structure of the brain itself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

How low can we go?

From Reuters:
The White House on Friday threatened to veto a $440.2 billion defense spending bill in the Senate because it wasn't enough money for the Pentagon and also warned lawmakers not to add any amendments to regulate the treatment of detainees or set up a commission to probe abuse.

Do I cry? Throw things against the wall? What?

Another blog that doesn't suck

Bittergreens Journal is the platonic ideal of a blog, in my mind. Tightly focused, well-written, plenty of personality. And it covers incredibly important subject matter.

Tom Philpott, financial journalist turned farmer, has a lot to say on topics that are tragically underplayed by major news organizations. Seeds, for starters, a subject about which most people have trouble supressing yawns. Sure, that's fine, as long as you don't care about something that lies "at the heart of all organized food production, and thus at the heart of human culture for the past 10,000 years." That's Philpott talking, and you should ask yourself--is he exagerrating, or is this something that's worthy of my attention?

The big deal here, as Philpott very clearly lays out, is that Monsanto (Philpott's bete noir, as he freely admits--it should be everyone's) is taking steps to dominate both the vegetable seed market and germoplasm market (the hardware and software of the seed business). He asks a pretty damned important question:
Now, so far, Monsanto's dominance extends only to the largest, most lucrative, and (not coincidentally) heavily subsidized crops: soybeans, cotton, corn. What happens if it turns its R&D attention to fruits and vegetables?
... and proceeds to look into the what-if-it's-true ramifications. Not a pretty picture, and with "pro-industry zealot John Roberts" taking the reins of the Supreme Court, Philpott lays it on the line: "Ladies and gentlemen of the small-scale sustainable-farming world, it's time we got more serious about seed saving."