Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is this a great country or what?


In the Guardian, Terry Jones takes a look at the "billion-dollar industry" of which Blackwater has only "scratched the surface"--killing, maiming, overbilling and suing. (Our media being what it is these days, it's not that well known a fact that Blackwater has sued the families of the contractors who were killed, burned and dragged through the streets of Fallujah a few years back. For ten million dollars!)

For a more complete look at this most appalling, yet perhaps most archetypal of Bush-era crony companies, you should definitely consult the work of Jeremy Scahill (here's a video
and here's the link to his book).

But for a funny but disturbing summary of the doings of Blackwater, the outfit that perhaps more than any proves Smedley Butler right, here is Mr. Terry Jones....
First you need your father to leave you a billion dollars or so, as happened to Erik Prince, Blackwater's founder. Then use the money to set up a company that specialises in shooting people. Of course, you say the company's vision is "to support security, peace, freedom and democracy everywhere". But your brochure is full of photos of men bursting into rooms with machine guns and shooting from helicopters - and it offers five sniping courses: basic military, advanced military, situation sniper, high angle (shooting people from rooftops) and, of course, helicopter.

Making money out of this sort of violence, no matter how you dress it up in idealistic language, can look a little morally dodgy, so it would be best if - like Erik - you were a born-again Christian and you donate pots of money to the Republicans. Since 1989, the Nation reports, Erik and his wife have given $275,550 to Republican campaigns, and $0 to the Democrats. A White House internship - something Erik did in the early 90s - could also provide enough friends in the right places. The odd no-bid contract, such as the one Blackwater got to guard Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority, wouldn't go astray.

You should be comfortable with your friends making money. For example, you pay your security guards $600 a day, but bill the Kuwaiti Regency Hotel company for $815. Regency, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, bills defence services company ESS for another chunk of money. ESS sends the bill to Kellogg, Brown & Root, who add a percentage for their services and present the inflated bill to the Pentagon. Senator Henry Waxman says he's been trying in vain to find out what that bill is for two years.

We can again learn from Blackwater in how to keep expenses down. On March 12 2004, Blackwater signed a contract with Regency and ESS specifying that each security mission should have a minimum of "two armoured vehicles to support ESS movements". Blackwater had the word "armoured" deleted from the contract and saved $1.5m.

This had was an unforeseen payoff when four Blackwater operatives were sent into Falluja and both vehicles were overwhelmed by a mob. The men were killed and their mutilated bodies hung on a bridge. Now rather than damage Blackwater's reputation, this incident was to prove the company's making as the US military got behind it. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt vowed: "We will be back ... We will hunt down the criminals ... It will be precise, and it will be overwhelming." The result was that the US more or less destroyed the town.

The families of the four men decided to sue Blackwater to find out why they died - but the company can seek profit even in this situation: last Friday it was announced that Blackwater is suing the dead men's estates for $10m, according to the families' lawyers, "to silence the families and keep them out of court".

So there it is - more ways to make money out of Iraq than you or I would have dreamt of. And companies like Blackwater are showing us the way.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Pentagon's blank check

We need a trillion to fight them islamofascist bastards!

Robert Dreyfuss' Financing the Imperial Armed Forces: A Trillion Dollars and Nowhere to Go but Up on the newly redesigned Tomdispatch.com paints a shocking picture of perhaps the most distressing element of our current national dysfunction--the inability of politicians of either party to say "no" to the hordes of profiteers and bureaucrats in, and serving, the nation's "defense" monolith.

As usual, the Democrats are nose and nose with the Republicans at the trough, and the two leading candidates are "supporting manpower increases in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 troops, mostly for the Army and the Marines"--numbers even larger than those called for by Dubya himself.

How astonishing are the budgetary numbers? Consider the trajectory of U.S. defense spending over the last nearly two decades. From the end of the Cold War into the mid-1990s, defense spending actually fell significantly. In constant 1996 dollars, the Pentagon's budget dropped from a peacetime high of $376 billion, at the end of President Ronald Reagan's military buildup in 1989, to a low of $265 billion in 1996. (That compares to post-World War II wartime highs of $437 billion in 1953, during the Korean War, and $388 billion in 1968, at the peak of the War in Vietnam.) After the Soviet empire peacefully disintegrated, the 1990s decline wasn't exactly the hoped-for "peace dividend," but it wasn't peanuts either.

However, since September 12th, 2001, defense spending has simply exploded. For 2008, the Bush administration is requesting a staggering $650 billion, compared to the already staggering $400 billion the Pentagon collected in 2001. Even subtracting the costs of the ongoing "Global War on Terrorism" -- which is what the White House likes to call its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- for FY 2008, the Pentagon will still spend $510 billion. In other words, even without the President's two wars, defense spending will have nearly doubled since the mid-1990s. Given that the United States has literally no significant enemy state to fight anywhere on the planet, this represents a remarkable, if perverse, achievement. As a famous Democratic politician once asked: Where is the outrage?

Neocons, war profiteers, and hardliners of all stripes still argue that the "enemy" we face is a nonexistent bugaboo called "Islamofascism." It's easy to imagine them laughing into their sleeves while they continue to claim that the way to battle low-tech, rag-tag bands of leftover Al Qaeda crazies is by spending billions of dollars on massively expensive, massively powerful, futuristic weapons systems.

As always, a significant part of the defense bill is eaten up by these big-ticket items. According to the reputable Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, there are at least 28 pricey weapons systems that, just by themselves, will rack up a whopping $44 billion in 2008. The projected cost of these 28 systems -- which include fighter jets, the B-2 bomber, the V-22 Osprey, various advanced naval vessels, cruise-missile systems, and the ultra-expensive aircraft carriers the Navy always demands -- will, in the end, be more than $1 trillion. And that's not even including the Star Wars missile-defense system, which at the moment soaks up about $11 billion a year.

By one count, U.S. defense spending in 2008 will amount to 29 times the combined military spending of all six so-called rogue states: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The United States accounts for almost half -- approximately 48% -- of the entire world's spending on what we like to call "defense." Again, according to the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, U.S. defense spending this year amounts to exactly twice the combined military spending of the next six biggest military powers: China, Russia, the U.K., France, Japan, and Germany.

....

And it's important to keep in mind that the official Pentagon budget doesn't begin to tell the full story of American "defense" spending. In addition to the $650 billion that the Pentagon will get in 2008, huge additional sums will be spent on veterans care and interest on the national debt accumulated from previous DOD spending that ballooned the deficit. In all, those two accounts add $263 billion to the Pentagon budget, for a grand total of $913 billion.

Then there are the intelligence and homeland security budgets. Back in the 1990s, when I started reporting on the CIA and the U.S. intelligence community, its entire budget was about $27 billion. Last year, although the number is supposed to be top secret, the Bush administration revealed that intelligence spending had reached $44 billion. For 2008, according to media reports, Congress is working on an authorization of $48 billion for our spies.

Again, when I first wrote about "homeland security" in the late 1990s -- it was then called "counterterrorism" -- the Clinton administration was spending $17 billion in interagency budgets in this area. For 2008, the budget of the Department of Homeland Security -- that mishmash, incompetent agency hurriedly assembled under pressure from uber-hawk Joe Lieberman (even the Bush administration was initially opposed to its creation) -- will be $46.4 billion.

To a rational observer, such spending -- totaling more than $1 trillion in 2008, according to the figures I've just cited -- seems quite literally insane. During the Cold War, hawks scared Americans into tolerating staggering but somewhat lesser sums by invoking the specter of Soviet Communism. Does anyone, anywhere, truly believe that we need to spend more than a trillion dollars a year to defend ourselves against small bands of al-Qaeda fanatics?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Unhappy anniversary

Tony Karon's "How the 1967 war doomed Israel" is simply terrific, tracing parallel tracks--personal and political--of post-"Six-day war" history (six days? It was over in one, but six sounds so much more biblical). Karon traces his own path from euphoria to disillusionment with Israel, alongside the growth of the "special bond" between Apartheid South Africa and the Jewish state:
South Africa and Israel became intimate allies in the years that followed the ‘67 war, with unrepentant former Nazis such as Prime Minister B.J. Vorster welcomed to Israel to seal military deals that resulted in collaboration in the development of weapons ranging from aircraft and assault rifles to, allegedly, nuclear weapons.
Karon also examines some "facts on the ground" in 1947/8, which don't come before the eyeballs of most Americans:
The Partition Plan awarded 55% of the land to the Jewish state, including more than 80% of land under cultivation. At the time, Jews made up a little over one third of the total population, and owned some 7% of the land. Moreover, given the demographic demands of the Zionist movement for a Jewish majority, the plan was an invitation to tragedy: The population within the boundaries of the Jewish state envisaged in the 1947 partition consisted of around 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs.

Hardly surprising, then, that the Arabs of Palestine and beyond rejected the partition plan.

For the Arab regimes, the creation of a separate Jewish sovereign state in the Holy Land over which the Crusades had been fought was a challenge to their authority; it was perceived by their citizenry as a test of their ability to protect their land and interests from foreign invasion. And so they went to war believing they could reverse what the U.N. had ordered on the battlefield. For the Jews of Palestine in 1948, a number of them having narrowly survived extermination in Europe, the war was a matter of physical survival. Although in the mythology, the war pitted a half million Jews against 20 million Arabs, in truth Israel was by far the stronger and better-organized and better-armed military power. And so what Israel called the War of Independence saw the Jewish state acquire 50% more territory than had been envisaged in the partition plan. The maps below describe the difference between the Israel envisaged by the UN in 1947 and the one that came into being in the war of 1948.

But maps don’t convey the disaster that befell the Palestinian Arabs in 1948. The war also allowed the Zionist movement to resolve its “demographic concerns,” as some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs found themselves driven from their homes and land — many driven out at gunpoint, the majority fleeing in fear of further massacres such as the one carried out by the Irgun at Dir Yassein, and all of them subject to the same ethnic-cleansing founding legislation by passed the new Israeli Knesset that seized the property of any Arab absent from his property on May 8, 1948, and forbade the refugees from returning.

Run that last part past virtually any American, even a highly educated one, and you're sure to get either puzzlement or downright denial. This kind of thing is more in the mainstream discourse than basic facts...

Chris Hedges also has a good analysis of the appalling anniversary, and Tom Segev has an interesting meditation on "What if Israel had turned back?" in the Times today.

I will add that the "comments" section on the Karon blog is also well worth reading and spectacularly well-behaved, lacking in the nasty flame-throwing crap you see elsewhere whenever this subject is raised. Hope I don't jinx it by saying that....

Monday, June 04, 2007

Surely they're not lying this time

"You're all trying to destroy me!"

In "Unreasoning hysteria as the default condition," Arthur Silber offers some hilarious, insightful, and ultimately just sad commentary on the latest "fearsome plot that might have, maybe, perhaps, in some other world subject to significantly different scientific laws, resulted in the Destruction of All the Universes for All Time Forevermore The End Period (and You and Everyone You Know Will Be Dead, Too!)."

It's been four days after the big announcement that Muslim Terrorists Were Prevented from Blowing Up JFK Airport, so the drill is a familiar one. After a couple of days in which mainstream sources were wetting themselves in the fear and titillation of yet another Evil Plot Foiled, we all know now that the truth wasn't quite so exciting. The "plan" wasn't exactly "operational"--in fact it was "less than mature," according to the Times, and once again, there was a critical, highly motivated informant in the middle of it all ("a convicted drug trafficker, ... his sentence ... pending as part of his cooperation agreement with the federal government." Hmm.)

As Scott Horton puts it in "I don’t believe ‘em for a second":

Every time this happens, it turns out that the whole damn thing was either made up by the state out of thin air, the idea to do something violent came from the undercover FBI informant or the “truth” was tortured out of the guy.

There’s no al Qaeda in America. As always, the biggest threat to our lives and liberties is the national government of the United States. Now you know how the rest of the world feels.

Partial list of bogus domestic terrorism plots “busted” by the Federal Cops since 9/11 (all the false warnings are too numerous to mention.):

  • Lackawanna Six
  • Detroit
  • Virginia Paintball guys
  • The tortured Abu Ali
  • Jose Padilla
  • Lodi, California
  • Miami plot against the Sears Tower
  • New York subway tunnels
  • New York subway station
  • “Liquid explosives” plot on UK to US flights
  • Ft. Dix Six

But, I’m so sure we can believe them when they tell us to be frightened about a plot at JFK!

What, just because there has not been a single case where they have actually busted domestic terrorists since 9/11?! Surely they’re not lying this time!


Anyway, what a surprise, eh? A plot not what it was drummed up to be.

But not everyone views such Keystone Cops routines with the same degree of skepticism, if any. In fact, there are people out there who jump on every one of these silly cases (not entirely silly, since "enhanced interrogation" and long, Kafkaesque stretches in various prisons are surely in store for the plotters), as proof--proof once again--that "Muslim men" are trying to KILL US ALL. Or as Andrew McCarthy (no, not THAT Andrew McCarthy) put it in the National Review Online, the JFK "plot" is more proof that
War is about breaking the enemy's will. Having laid bare the sorry state of our brains and our guts, jihadists are now zeroing in on the will's final piece: our hearts.

.... They know there's a war out there. Not just Iraq or Afghanistan, but Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb — jihadists versus civilization. Global. For us to win, it will not be enough to stabilize Baghdad, sow democracy and empower moderates. It's about breaking the enemy's will, as they are working feverishly to break ours.
That "abject, ludicrously disproportionate hysteria" is what Silber's talking about when he references an apt monologue from "the climactic breakdown in a genuinely awful Joan Crawford melodrama, after Crawford has slurped up five quarts of cheap scotch and can now only burble incoherently:
You're all trying to destroy me! You're all against me, you bastards! You broke my heart, and now you want to kill me! But I won't let you, do you hear me? I won't let you! I'm going to live, damn you, I'm going to LIVE!
At which point, the sobbing, screaming, disheveled, thoroughly pathetic Ms. Crawford falls to the floor in a dead faint, completely undone by her own self-willed and self-created histrionics.

Silber doesn't entirely play this for cheap laughs, merited though they are. He examines the underlying "psychological disturbance" of ejaculations like McCarthy's, and comes around to discussing Robert Jay Lifton's thoughts on "superpower syndrome" and its oh-so-fragile underlying psychology. He also, interestingly, brings the voice of Cho Seung-Hui into the mix and concludes

It is the perspective and the policies offered by people with views like McCarthy's that have brought us to where we are today, just as they were a crucial part of what led to 9/11. Now, as the solution which will save the United States, the world, and all the universes unto eternity, they demand that we eliminate every conceivable enemy for all time, that we rearrange other countries around the globe as we determine is required on the basis of our sole unappealable judgment, and that we impose our will on all of creation.

As I have said before, their belief system reduces very simply to this:
America is God. God's Will be done.
But that is not the solution, McCarthy. That, and you, are the problem, and a very terrible one it is -- and not just for us, but for the entire world.

Read the entire piece...


Update: Nora Ephron's How to foil a terrorist plot in seven simple steps is a very funny take on all of this. Not to give it away, but here are steps 3 through 5:

3. The fact that you do not know any actual terrorists should not in any way deter you. Necessity is the mother of invention: if you can find the right raw material -- a sad, sick, lonely, drunk, deranged, disgruntled or just plain anti-American Muslim somewhere in the United States -- you can make your very own terrorist.

4. Now the good part begins. Money! The FBI will give you lots of money to take your very own terrorist out to lots of dinners where you, wearing a wire, can record yourself making recommendations to him about possible targets and weapons that might be used in the impending terrorist attack that your very own terrorist is going to mastermind, with your help. It will even buy you a computer so you can go to Google Earth in order to show your very own terrorist a "top secret" aerial image of the target you have suggested.

5. More money!! The FBI will give you even more money to travel to foreign countries with your very own terrorist, and it will make suggestions about terrorist groups you can meet while in said foreign countries.



Friday, June 01, 2007

True American Hero


Matt Taibbi, God bless him, does it again, this time to Mr. 911.

Taibbi is so good at this kind of savage, but fair, profile of American pols, he should be verbalized -- as in "he taibbi'd him" or "he gave him the full taibbi." That's so much better than "fisking," which never really made sense, even at the time. Now, far from that immediate post-911 American righteousness/victimology moment, it makes no sense at all.

A footnote, at any rate. For contemporary first-rate evisceration, we must look to Taibbi, whose first foray into the genre, a brilliant takedown of Tom Friedman, it must be said, occurred in an atmosphere where the Times columnist was still somewhat respected. It wasn't like an Andrew Sullivan smelling blood in the zeitgeist and joining the chorus savaging anyone (Fisk, Barbara Kingsolver) who dared question the unleashing of untold (and still unfinished) carnage on the basically defenseless populations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

After Taibbi's piece, in the New York Press, mind you, it became O.K. to say "I always thought Tom Friedman was an idiot, but was sort of afraid to say so."

Not that anyone needs to be hesitant about expressing disgust at the Rudy monster. Most Americans hate the little creep, but it takes a Taibbi to pick out the perfect details that demonstrate just WHY we hate him, and should fear him.

From "Giuliani: Worse than Bush" in Rolling Stone:

Rudy Giuliani is a true American hero, and we know this because he does all the things we expect of heroes these days -- like make $16 million a year, and lobby for Hugo Chávez and Rupert Murdoch, and promote wars without ever having served in the military, and hire a lawyer to call his second wife a "stuck pig," and organize absurd, grandstanding pogroms against minor foreign artists, and generally drift through life being a shameless opportunist with an outsize ego who doesn't even bother to conceal the fact that he's had a hard-on for the presidency since he was in diapers. In the media age, we can't have a hero humble enough to actually be one; what is needed is a tireless scoundrel, a cad willing to pose all day long for photos, who'll accept $100,000 to talk about heroism for an hour, who has the balls to take a $2.7 million advance to write a book about himself called Leadership. That's Rudy Giuliani. Our hero. And a perfect choice to uphold the legacy of George W. Bush.

Yes, Rudy is smarter than Bush. But his political strength -- and he knows it -- comes from America's unrelenting passion for never bothering to take that extra step to figure shit out. If you think you know it all already, Rudy agrees with you. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, they're probably traitors, and Rudy, well, he'll keep an eye on 'em for you. Just like Bush, Rudy appeals to the couch-bound bully in all of us, and part of the allure of his campaign is the promise to put the Pentagon and the power of the White House at that bully's disposal.

Rudy's attack against Ron Paul in the [South Carolina Republican] debate was a classic example of that kind of politics, a Rovian masterstroke. The wizened Paul, a grandfather seventeen times over who is running for the Republican nomination at least 100 years too late, was making a simple isolationist argument, suggesting that our lengthy involvement in Middle Eastern affairs -- in particular our bombing of Iraq in the 1990s -- was part of the terrorists' rationale in attacking us.

Though a controversial statement for a Republican politician to make, it was hardly refutable from a factual standpoint -- after all, Osama bin Laden himself cited America's treatment of Iraq in his 1996 declaration of war. Giuliani surely knew this, but he jumped all over Paul anyway, demanding that Paul take his comment back. "I don't think I've ever heard that before," he hissed, "and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th."

It was like the new convict who comes into prison the first day and punches the weakest guy in the cafeteria in the teeth, and the Southern crowd exploded in raucous applause.

....Then there's 9/11. Like Bush's, Rudy's career before the bombing was in the toilet; New Yorkers had come to think of him as an ambition-sick meanie whose personal scandals were truly wearying to think about. But on the day of the attack, it must be admitted, Rudy hit the perfect note; he displayed all the strength and reassuring calm that Bush did not, and for one day at least, he was everything you'd want in a leader. Then he woke up the next day and the opportunist in him saw that there was money to be made in an America high on fear.

For starters, Rudy tried to use the tragedy to shred election rules, pushing to postpone the inauguration of his successor so he could hog the limelight for a few more months. Then, with the dust from the World Trade Center barely settled, he went on the road as the Man With the Bullhorn, pocketing as much as $200,000 for a single speaking engagement. In 2002 he reported $8 million in speaking income; this past year it was more than $11 million. He's traveled in style, at one stop last year requesting a $47,000 flight on a private jet, five hotel rooms and a private suite with a balcony view and a king-size bed.

While the mayor himself flew out of New York on a magic carpet, thousands of cash-strapped cops, firemen and city workers involved with the cleanup at the World Trade Center were developing cancers and infections and mysterious respiratory ailments like the "WTC cough." This is the dirty little secret lurking underneath Rudy's 9/11 hero image -- the most egregious example of his willingness to shape public policy to suit his donors. While the cleanup effort at the Pentagon was turned over to federal agencies like OSHA, which quickly sealed off the site and required relief workers to wear hazmat suits, the World Trade Center cleanup was handed over to Giuliani. The city's Department of Design and Construction (DDC) promptly farmed out the waste-clearing effort to a smattering of politically connected companies, including Bechtel, Bovis and AMEC construction.

The mayor pledged to reopen downtown in no time, and internal DDC memos indicate that the cleanup was directed at a breakneck pace. One memo to DDC chief Michael Burton warned, "Project management appears to only address safety issues when convenient for the schedule of the project." Burton, however, had his own priorities: He threatened to fire contractors if "the highest level of efficiency is not maintained."

Although respiratory-mask use was mandatory, the city allowed a macho culture to develop on the site: Even the mayor himself showed up without a mask. By October, it was estimated, masks were being worn on site as little as twenty-nine percent of the time. Rudy proclaimed that there were "no significant problems" with the air at the World Trade Center. But there was something wrong with the air: It was one of the most dangerous toxic-waste sites in human history, full of everything from benzene to asbestos and PCBs to dioxin (the active ingredient in Agent Orange). Since the cleanup ended, police and firefighters have reported a host of serious illnesses -- respiratory ailments like sarcoidosis; leukemia and lymphoma and other cancers; and immune-system problems.

"The likelihood is that more people will eventually die from the cleanup than from the original accident," says David Worby, an attorney representing thousands of cleanup workers in a class-action lawsuit against the city. "Giuliani wears 9/11 like a badge of honor, but he screwed up so badly."

When I first spoke to Worby, he was on his way home from the funeral of a cop. "One thing about Giuliani," he told me. "He's never been to a funeral of a cleanup worker."

Indeed, Rudy has had little at all to say about the issue. About the only move he's made to address the problem was to write a letter urging Congress to pass a law capping the city's liability at $350 million.

Did Giuliani know the air at the World Trade Center was poison? Who knows -- but we do know he took over the cleanup, refusing to let more experienced federal agencies run the show. He stood on a few brick piles on the day of the bombing, then spent the next ten months making damn sure everyone worked the night shift on-site while he bonked his mistress and negotiated his gazillion-dollar move to the private sector. Meanwhile, the people who actually cleaned up the rubble got used to checking their stool for blood every morning.

Now Giuliani is running for president -- as the hero of 9/11. George Bush has balls, too, but even he has to bow to this motherfucker.

Read the whole piece...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bacevich: "The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed"

Andrew Bacevich, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, offers a moving reflection on his personal loss and the wider tragedy of American politics.

It's a Memorial Day message that goes well beyond the meaningless platitudes we're accustomed to hearing on this holiday. A as despairing as it is, gives me hope that a figure such as Bacevich, with a distinguished military record and impeccable conservative bona fides, could have the courage to speak so forcefully about the meat grinder chewing up bodies in the background as we go about our holiday weekend rituals of golf, barbecue and mowing lawns.

Still, I don't think this eloquent and melancholy piece will come close to converting the remaining Republican faithful, and more important, the "leaders" of both parties and America's corporate media. (Where is our Walter Cronkite????) Bacevich admits as much, and frets heartbreakingly over how he has "done nothing." That couldn't be further from the truth.

Echoing perhaps the misguided search for turning points indicating the possibility of victory in Iraq, I can only express a faint hope that Bacevich's message, there for all to see on the op-ed page of the nation's paper on a Memorial Day weekend, will serve as a turning point in moving America's sentiment against this war, and against the horrible infrastructure that makes all such wars possible and inevitable. It's a faint hope, but it's all we've got.

Here's the core of Bacevich's piece, which should of course be read in full.

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts [in opposing the Iraq war] to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion.

The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."

To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.

To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.

Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.

In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier -- brave and steadfast and irrepressible.

I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Them violent Mooslems

Cursor.org is, for me, one of the Net's greatest treasures. It's so good in a meta way that I often overlook how important it is. It's as good a collection of suggestions for further reading as you're likely to find--and on good days, it's a whole lot more. One of today's (May 23) summaries is a classic of concision and makes a strong (but ultimately depressing) point at the same time.
After a Pew Research survey finds that U.S. Muslims are 'Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream,' that they are 'in line with U.S. values,' and that they "lean toward the Democratic Party, six to one," the Washington Times headlines its report on the poll, 'Young U.S. Muslims back suicide attacks.'
The only quibble I would have with this paragraph that so perfectly encapsulates how fucked we are in America right now is that it makes it seem like the Washington Times is bizarrely out of step. Oh, no. Even Anderson Cooper was "horrified -- just horrified -- that 'so many' American Muslims would support such violence."

The prejudices of conventional wisdom are myriad. One that is held by many, many Americans at our particular moment in history is the essentially ignorant and particularly dangerous idea that Muslims are predisposed to violence.

No one is better than Glenn Greenwald at finding the key weakness in such instances of complete bullshit in the mainstream media consensus. The datum from the Pew Poll that aroused such racist idiots as Mark Steyn and Michelle Malkin was this: "while 80% of American Muslims oppose attacks on civilians in all cases, 13% said they could be justified in some circumstances."

Horrifying, just horrifying.

But wait, what about context? Oh, that..... Here's Greenwald:
The reality, though, is that it is almost impossible to conduct a poll and not have a sizable portion of the respondents agree to almost everything. And in particular, with regard to the specific question of whether it is justifiable to launch violent attacks aimed deliberately at civilians, the percentage of American Muslims who believe in such attacks pales in comparison to the percentage of Americans generally who believe that such attacks are justifiable.

The University of Maryland's highly respected Program on International Public Attitudes, in December 2006, conducted a concurrent public opinion poll of the United States and Iran to determine the comparative views of each country's citizens on a variety of questions. The full findings are published here (.pdf).

One of the questions they asked was whether "bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified"? Americans approved of such attacks by a much larger margin than Iranians -- 51-16% (and a much, much larger margin than American Muslims -- 51-13%).
In an earlier post Greenwald finds another religion whose adherents hold some pretty ugly opinions. Can you imagine the day when a headline reads "White Christians support torture"?
And majorities of white Christians -- Catholics, evangelicals and protestants -- believe in torture not merely in the improbable-in-the-extreme "ticking time bomb" scenario; rather, they believe in torture as a matter of course [emphasis in orginal] (i.e., more than "rarely" -- either "often or "sometimes"). (By stark and revealing contrast, "secularists" oppose torture in far greater numbers). [emphasis mine]. Think about how depraved that is: what kind of religious individual affirmatively believes that people should be routinely tortured, including people who have never been proven to have done anything wrong?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Don't cross him, don't boss him




Leave it to all-around great American Willie Nelson to offer up a nice, concise statement of why we all should care about farm policy and the upcoming Farm Bill.

I will quote his entire piece in toto. Can't see how that would upset anyone, but if it does, I'll be happy to trim it down:

Take Action: Support a Better Farm Bill

by Willie Nelson

I believe nothing is as central to our well-being as food — who grows it and how. When produced with the interests of the eater in mind, food makes our bodies strong. When produced with the dream of passing the land on to the next generation, food strengthens local communities. And when produced with a long view of the planet’s health, food keeps our environment intact, even thriving.

Family farmers have always understood the direct connection between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people — that’s why they take great measures to improve and protect their soil. The key to strengthening this fabric that holds our country together is to keep family farmers on this land, from coast to coast. It’s a solution to many of today’s most important concerns — climate change, fossil fuel dependence, childhood obesity and dwindling biodiversity.

In the coming months, Congress will seal the next farm bill, legislation so broad in scope that it touches each of us in many ways. When you hear “farm bill,” think beyond the farm. Think food bill, renewable energy bill, nutrition bill, environmental stewardship bill, anti-hunger bill.

Over the past several decades, the farm bill has served the interests of large-scale industrial agriculture with policies designed to produce cheap food and lots of it. This cheap food policy, however, comes with incredibly high external costs: a depleted countryside with fewer farmers, degraded soils and waterways, and public health disasters. A new farm bill — one that serves the interests of all Americans — with a vision toward sustainability, can help reverse these trends.

Instead of countless dying small towns across rural America, imagine the countryside dotted with thriving communities, all of them contributing to strong local economies. Imagine clean waterways, protected for generations to come. Imagine farmers markets in every community with fresh, locally grown food, free of chemicals and additives. Imagine powering your home and automobile with energy from renewable sources produced close to your home. Imagine your child’s school serving fresh, wholesome food from your neighbors’ farms. Imagine young people returning to the land to carry on the great tradition of farming. These dreams aren’t futile. They are possible with a farm bill that serves your interests over those of giant corporations.

If you want your grandchildren to inherit a nation with healthy soil, clean water and nutritious food, pick up the phone today and call your representatives in Congress. Tell them you want a farm bill that assists young people who want to start farming; one that restores fairness in the marketplace so family farmers can compete with giant food companies and factory farms; one that puts better food in our schools and rewards farmers who transition to sustainable methods. Let them know you want a farm bill for all, because the farm bill belongs to all of us.

For Congressional contact information, visit www.congress.org. You’ll find helpful tips and talking points at www.capwiz.com/bread/home and www.ucsaction.org/campaign/2007_farm_bill. To keep up with farm policy news, visit www.farmpolicy.com. You can sign up for e-mail updates from Farm Aid at www.farmaid.org.

© 2007 Mother Earth News



Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A video I can't stop watching

Cat Power, "Lived in bars." I love her singing, I love the spirit of this video, and I want that "The Greatest" jacket:

He only thinks it's Giuliani time


I didn't watch the Republican debate, and I didn't watch the Democrats' debate, but I have been keeping track if only to see how "my boys"--Paul and Gravel--have been doing. As usual, the outsider antiwar candidate walked away with the most memorable performance.

And the former NYC mayor walked away with the creepiest.

Responding to Ron Paul's quite proper old-school liberatarian Republican take on U.S. foreign policy, in which he cited Ronald Reagan's wisdom in a way the others in that mob would never think of doing, Giuliani asked the Texas congressman to take back what he said (what is this? high school?). Here's the Nation's John Nichols:
The most heated moment in the debate, which aired live on the conservative Fox News network, came when the former New York mayor and current GOP front-runner angrily refused to entertain a serious discussion about the role that actions taken by the United States prior to the September 11, 2OO1, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have played in inspiring or encouraging those attacks.

Giuliani led the crowd of contenders on attacking Texas Congressman Ron Paul after the anti-war Republican restated facts that are outlined in the report of the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Asked about his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Paul repeated his oft-expressed concern that instead of making the U.S. safer, U.S. interventions in the Middle East over the years have stirred up anti-American sentiment. As he did in the previous Republican debate, the Texan suggested that former President
Ronald Reagan's decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the 198Os were wiser than the moves by successive Republican and Democratic presidents to increase U.S. military involvement there.

Speaking of extremists who target the U.S, Paul said, "They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."

Paul argued that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are "delighted that we're over there" in Iraq, pointing out that, "They have already... killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary."

Giuliani, going for an applause line with a conservative South Carolina audience that was not exactly sympathetic with his support for abortion rights and other socially liberal positions, leapt on Paul's remarks. Interrupting the flow of the debate, Giuliani declared, "That's really an extraordinary statement. That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that."

The mayor, who is making his response to the 9-11 attacks on New York a central feature of his presidential campaign, was joined in the assault on Paul by many of the other candidates.

But congressman did not back down, and for good reason. Unlike Giuliani, the Texan has actually read the record.

The 9-11 Commission report detailed how bin Laden had, in 1996, issued "his self-styled fatwa calling on Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia" and identified that declaration and another in 1998 as part of "a long series" of statements objecting to U.S. military interventions in his native Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East in general. Statements from bin Laden and those associated with him prior to 9-11 consistently expressed anger with the U.S. military presence on the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. aggression against the Iraqi people and U.S. support of
Israel.

The 9-11 Commission based its assessments on testimony from experts on terrorism and the Middle East. Asked about the motivations of the terrorists,
FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald told the commission: "I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States."

Fitzgerald's was not a lonely voice in the intelligence community.

Michael Scheuer, the former Central Intelligence Agency specialist on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, has objected to simplistic suggestions by President Bush and others that terrorists are motivated by an ill-defined irrational hatred of the United States. "The politicians really are at great fault for not squaring with the American people," Scheuer said in a CNN interview. "We're being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live. And there's a huge burden of guilt to be laid at Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, both parties for simply lying to the American people."

It is true that reasonable people might disagree about the legitimacy of Muslim and Arab objections to U.S. military policies. And, certainly, the vast majority of Americans would object to any attempt to justify the attacks on this country, its citizen and its soldiers.

But that was not what Paul was doing. He was trying to make a case, based on what we know from past experience, for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Giuliani's reaction to Paul's comments, especially the suggestion that they should be withdrawn, marked him as the candidate peddling "absurd explanations."

Viewers of the debate appear to have agreed. An unscientific survey by Fox News asked its viewers to send text messages identifying the winner. Tens of thousands were received and Paul ranked along with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as having made the best showing.

No wonder then that, when asked about his dust-up with Giuliani, Paul said he'd be "delighted" to debate the front-runner on foreign policy.
I'm probably not the first to make this suggestion, but a Ron Paul- Mike Gravel ticket would get my vote in 2008.

Update: A choice quote on Paul's performance, from my good buddy Dave:
They're gonna mind-controlled-robot-assassinate his ass. How much more of this blather will our military industrial complex take before whacking him?

Paul's 1/2 life is getting shorter and shorter. He should probably write a letter to the Corinthians or sumptin, before he stops breathing.

Faaarrrmmm livin' is the life for me...

It's been over a month since I've blogged, but the truth is I don't have any energy left after a day spent watching my two-year-old twins and trying to get various farming projects off the ground.

My latest preoccupation has been with a box of baby chicks I bought last month, which has now grown into 26 rapidly fattening young chickens. The prior tenants of our coops, five old crabby hens and a neurotic rooster, haven't been particularly welcoming to the newcomers. I'd been bringing the chicks inside onto our porch evenings until last night, but they are unbelievably stinky creatures at this point. So I've rigged an elaborate but unsteady partition inside the coop.

When I first checked on the chicks, they had all crushed close to the door because they were so scared of the other chooks. But I made a point of putting about half of them onto the roosts and they made it through the night. Now it's pissing down rain on them and they're afraid to go back into the coop, so they're just getting drenched, and there's the added complication of my son's pet rabbit being very much in the mood for love-- he's mounting all the hens.

This week also marked my maiden foray into the world of beekeeping. The instructions for installing a queen into a package of bees couldn't be more simple--at least until you've opened the package and there are 8000 stinger-laden insects buzzing around you. You are supposed to remove a tiny cork, which allows the queen to chew her way out of about an inch of a candy-like substance. The time it takes her to emerge gives the workers a chance to get used to her scent, so they won't kill her when she shows up.

I managed to make a mess of both installations. With the first hive, I dropped the queen's cage into the box almost immediately, and had to reach into the wriggling swarm to fish her out. And I completely balled up the second installation, pushing the cork right into the queen's cage. I didn't crush her (I think), but now there's the risk that she emerged too early and has already been stung to death by her fickle workers. There seems to be a good deal of activity in the hive. Workers are coming and going and returning to the hive waddling under the weight of all the pollen on their legs, so I'm thinking things may be going just fine. But I'm going to consult with a fellow novice beekeeper by the weekend.

I know there's wars and scandals and all sorts of problems with the world, but for the moment I can only focus on children, bees, baking bread and chickens. It's kind of nice, really.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"Do you think this is the first six-year-old we've arrested?"

Oh, it's bad. Bad. On the fourth anniversary of the "fall of Baghdad" (thinly noticed in U.S. corporate media, kind of a big deal in the Middle East), two news notices that make me wanna weep.

First, a respected professor emeritus, from Princeton no less, is refused a boarding pass on American Airlines for being on the "Terrorist Watch" list-- not for participating in a peace march (the airline clerk's first guess), but for lecturing on Dubya's many abuses of the Constitution.
One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said. "
And second, and just jaw-droppingly, gut-wrenchingly sad, courtesy of Bob Herbert, comes a report from "a small, backward city in central Florida" of the arrest, handcuffing, fingerprinting and booking of a six-year-old child!
"The student became violent," said Frank Mercurio, the no-nonsense chief of the Avon Park police. "She was yelling, screaming — just being uncontrollable. Defiant."

"But she was 6," I said.

The chief’s reply came faster than a speeding bullet: "Do you think this is the first 6-year-old we’ve arrested?"

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Our future: mercenary olympics on ESPN, and no bees

On a gorgeous spring day where I sweated and swore through the learning curve of installing a drip irrigation system in the garden, my evening Web browsing has been anything but the relaxing winding down I'd hoped it would be. In fact, it turned up a couple of pieces of truly scary glimpses of our future.

The first comes courtesy of a summary/review on Daily Kos on Jeremy Scahill's extremely alarming Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Writes the reviewers, SusanG "... Blackwater would be a masterpiece of the genre of futuristic sci fi were it not so regrettably real. It’s got all the twists and turns and secret corners of a Hollywood thriller: records and contracts that can’t be traced, shady characters recruiting other shady characters in violent Third World nations, extremist religious figures lurking in the background of a mysterious unregulated company that uses PR tactics worthy of Orwell. Unfortunately for America, we’re living the plot in real time."

The review is excellent, as is this brief video excerpt:



And the second scary bit, a report from Der Spiegel on the decimation of bee populations both in Germany and in the United States.
Walter Haefeker is a man who is used to painting grim scenarios. He sits on the board of directors of the German Beekeepers Association (DBIB) and is vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association. And because griping is part of a lobbyist's trade, it is practically his professional duty to warn that "the very existence of beekeeping is at stake."

The problem, says Haefeker, has a number of causes, one being the varroa mite, introduced from Asia, and another is the widespread practice in agriculture of spraying wildflowers with herbicides and practicing monoculture. Another possible cause, according to Haefeker, is the controversial and growing use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

As far back as 2005, Haefeker ended an article he contributed to the journal Der Kritischer Agrarbericht (Critical Agricultural Report) with an Albert Einstein quote: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Mysterious events in recent months have suddenly made Einstein's apocalyptic vision seem all the more topical. For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing -- something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the United States, where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.

I am pretty virulently hostile to GMO crops, but from what the article reports, there doesn't seem to be conclusive proof that GMO crops are what's behind the disappearing bees--certainly nowhere near the proof that would be needed to spur any kind of action on the part of politicians or industry, anywhere, if the disinclination in Washington to take action on global warming is any indication....

But hey, it's only life itself that's at stake: bees, pollination, plants, animals ... man. No biggie....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Be ever vigilant

From BoingBoing:
Bruce Schneier notes that the FBI has sent out an "informational bulletin" about the possibility that terrorists might try to become school bus drivers. The FBI notes that they have no reason to believe that this is actually happening, though -- it's just something someone there thought of.

On the subject of "scary-story-but-nothing-to-worry-about," here are a couple from[Cory Doctorow]:

* Osama bin Laden might recruit suicide bombers who fill their colons with Semtex and undetectable shards of broken glass. These anus-bombers might blow up airplanes with their explosive assholes, killing everyone on board. We should all get a thorough, deep rectal exam prior to boarding, starting right now.


* Terrorists might use rigged laptop batteries to trigger massive inflight lithium explosions. All laptops should henceforth travel in unpadded, unlocked bags. No battery-powered devices of any kind (digital watches, hearing aids, iPods, phones) should ever be allowed on airplanes. People with pacemakers should walk. Or stay put.

* Terrorists might start animal shelters and use them to recruit stray animals that can be trained to serve as superbug vectors, tearing through our cities, spreading weaponized Ebola. No living creatures -- other than (some) humans should be allowed within the city limits of any settlement bigger than 400 people.

* Terrorists could infiltrate the world's car companies and manufacture large, fuel-inefficient vehicles like Hummers. Once America has gone all SUV, the resulting carbon emissions would contribute to polar melting and global warming, causing devastating hurricanes through the southwest, killing and displacing millions of Americans. Ban car companies now, or the terrorists have won.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Wait! Were we even in the Vietnam War?

Sad. Funny. Sad. Funny.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Country Life


Today I bought a chainsaw. For price, power and ease of use, it seemed like a good deal. But I got home and kept staring at the box and thinking, "Wild Thing--who the fuck would buy a Wild Thing chainsaw? And what kind of marketing department comes up with shit like that??"

Like most entry level users, the first thing I'm looking for in a product like this is some kind of assurance that it won't dismember me or anyone in my immediate family. "Wild Thing" is not the most reassuring concept.

Anyway, I bought it. Do the marketeers know me better than I know myself? Were they speaking to the Leatherface deep inside?

We drove home tonight after sundown, our family of five, in two separate cars, from dinner at a friend's house. It's Wednesday evening, so the local Baptist congregation was just letting out, but in spite of the crowd, I noticed a shirtless man walking down the road, and my wife noticed him too. I guess he would be a drifter, by the look of things, and to use the police blotter vernacular. I slowed down for a look, half thinking at first I'd ask if everything was OK. But he glowered. My wife, following five minutes behind, had seen him too, and had the same experience.

But while I had noticed the creep on the road perpendicular to ours, my wife had seen him on our road, so that was a little disconcerting. He would have walked past our gate an hour ago, or else he's come up the gravel road to our unprotected nest.

Weird. I now take solace in the thought that even a psychotic drifter would assume that all the farmhouses in our neck of the woods are inhabited by folks who are packin'. We're not, but he can't know that--can he?

UNLESS HE'S READING MY BLOG!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I rather enjoyed that


Most NBA games are flat-out tedious affairs. But tonight's Dallas-Phoenix confrontation was the rare game that lives up to the league's ridiculous hype.

I was watching the fourth quarter intently, but in the last minute it looked to be pretty much wrapped up for Dallas, and that the great Steve Nash was not being his dominating small Canadian self. So I blinked for a minute, and pretty much missed Nash's 10 points in the last 58 seconds.

He then made a ridiculous number of amazing plays in both overtimes, both offensive and defensive. The one that for some reason didn't make the highlight reel: Nash uncharacteristically loses the inbounds pass under his own basket, and falls down in the process; the ball bounces around a bit, and comes to a Dallas player, who drives hard to the basket; but Nash has already gotten up and with the fastest feet in the league manages to draw a no-contest charge.

I'll always tune in when little Stevie is on the court.

Rite of passage

Another great post from Tony Karon, who has recently returned from a vacation that was only a month in duration, but to me it seemed like years.

His first two posts back (here and here), on the prospects of the United States attacking Iran, are typically thoughtful and insightful looks at a subject that is full of posturing, misdirection and outright disinformation. Today, he allows a slightly atypical bit of disgust to surface, in this case with regard to presidential hopeful Barrack Obama and the eternally contemptible AIPAC. I saw recently that there's a billboard somewhere in New Zealand with Cheney's likeness and the phrase "Hell is too good for some people." That pretty much describes my attitude to AIPAC (and to Dick Cheney).

Here's Tony on Obama, the Democrats, and the whacked out lobby:
I have long been appalled by the craven genuflecting before the altar of vicious nationalism that appears to have become a required ritual for would-be Democratic Party presidential candidates courting what they see as the “Jewish vote.” Not only are they required to outdo one another in the extent of support they pledge for Israel; given that the element they’re addressing (right-wing Zionists who don’t reflect even the Jewish-American mainstream) is steeped in the toxic racism common to ultra-nationalism of all stripes, what they’re really required to do is outdo one another’s pledges of hostility towards the Palestinians. Kind of like that scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the basis for joining the People’s Front for the Liberation of Judea is your answer to the question “How much do you hate the Romans?”

....

Here’s my advice to Obama: AIPAC is a right-wing body, even on the Jewish-American political spectrum — in Israeli terms, its orientation is strongly Likudnik, aligning it with the right-wing fringe in Israel, too. Close to 80% of American Jews, according to surveys see the Iraq war as a mistake. (As opposed to the AIPAC crowd and Israeli government, which continues to support it.)

So, when you pander to the AIPAC crowd, you are not reaching the Jewish-American mainstream (even though most of the Jewish-American mainstream is loathe to directly challenge the AIPAC crowd, for fear of being labeled traitors are worse by rabid right-wingers like Alvin Rosenfeld). Nor are you really helping Israel, because its only chance of surviving rests in its ability to make peace with its neighbors, and Israeli peaceniks will tell you that the support of the U.S. (egged on by the AIPAC crowd) for the most belligerent and hawkish positions on the Israeli spectrum is actually working against Israel’s ability to make the compromises it will have to make in order to achieve peace.

And nobody will think any less of you, Barack, if you choose to speak the truth, and what you know to be the truth, rather than half-heartedly embrace falsehoods that aren’t doing anybody any good. The right-wing Zionists aren’t going to support you no matter how hard you pander, and the liberal mainstream will respect honesty and consistency. Israel needs American leaders that can march it back from its own self-destructive impulses, rather than cheerleaders of its march of folly.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m wasting my breath…

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Holy shit! Congressman a nonbeliever

From the L.A. Times:
Secular groups Monday applauded a public acknowledgment by Rep. Pete Stark that he does not believe in a supreme being, making the Fremont Democrat the first member of Congress — and the highest-ranking elected official in the U.S. — to publicly acknowledge not believing in God.
OK. I didn't know that about Pete Stark, but good for him.

But the part that kills me is the "highest-ranking elected official in the U.S." part. You've gotta be kidding me! They couldn't find ONE other elected official to say that he or she doesn't believe in "the invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day."

Those are the, er, immortal words of George Carlin, and reading this crazy story moves me to repost an earlier appreciation of Mr. Carlin's take on "the greatest bullshit story ever told."

Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!
And only one elected U.S. rep has admitted to not believing that. Double holy shit!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dems to Dubya: Bombs away!


Most Americans would not trust George W. Bush to deliver their pizzas, but yesterday the Democrats decided to trust him with the (highly unconstitutional) authority to attack yet another country.

Juan Cole is good on this latest piece of appalling news about the state of the Republic.....
The Democrats are blinking and taking out of proposed legislation a provision that would have forbidden Bush to take military action against Iran without coming to the Congress first (i.e. without acting in accordance with the Constitution). I'm not sure why you need a statute, anyway, to ensure that the Constitution is followed . . . Except that it has been so long since presidents have paid much attention to the Constitution. The Imperial Presidency has overshadowed it, just as Emperor Augustus overshadowed the Roman Republic.

Those who said that such a provision would take the military option off the table with regard to Iran are simply wrong. It just required that the president make the case for a war to the legislature, which declares war. The option was still there if the legislature wanted it to be.

But after the Iraq fiasco it is amazing to me that Washington is still talking about going to war against Middle Eastern countries that pose no threat to the US mainland. The US got where it is after World War II by mostly avoiding direct military campaigns and occupations. The US does not have the resources to occupy two Middle Eastern oil states, and trying to do so will break it as surely as imperial overstretch broke its predecessors among the great powers. Those who think all this is good for Israel are being short-sighted. If the US spirals down into a non-entity over the next 30 years as a result of over-stretch, Israel will be left without a great power patron and might well not survive. The Europeans are fed up with its militarism and itchy trigger finger, and it hasn't made any friends in its own region.

Happy anniversary, "paranoid style"

James Carroll, author of House of War, the sweeping, passionate and ultimately unsettling "biography" of the Pentagon, writes in today's Boston Globe of the need for American foreign policy to go back not just to the days before the current criminal mob took office, but to the very beginnings of America's postwar global dominance.

Carroll writes that the United States must look back a full six decades to reverse the faulty logic of the Truman Doctrine, instituted on this day in 1947, when Harry insisted that "nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life"--a slightly more sophisticated way of saying "you're either with us or against us."

Writes Carroll:

The occasion of Truman's pronouncement was his decision to militarily support one side in the civil war in Greece, and with that, the deadly precedent of American intervention in foreign civil wars was set. Fear of communism became a driving force of politics and a justification for vast military expenditures.

Nine days after announcing the Truman Doctrine, the president issued an executive order mandating loyalty oaths and security checks for federal employees, the start of the domestic red scare. The "paranoid style" of American life, in Richard Hofstadter's phrase, was set.
And so with the Truman Doctrine came war after war, some out in the open, some clandestine but every bit as bloody. Today, in the midst of what surely will rank as one of the most disastrous wars in American history, Carroll finds important questions still going unasked:

More than adjustments in tactics and strategy are needed. What must be criticized, and even dismantled, is nothing less than the national security state that Truman inaugurated on this date in 1947. The habits of mind that defined American attitudes during the Cold War still provide consoling and profitable structures of meaning, even as dread of communism has been replaced by fear of terrorism. Thus, Truman's "every nation must choose " became Bush's "You are with us or against us." America's political paranoia still projects its worst fears onto the enemy, paradoxically strengthening its most paranoid elements. The monstrous dynamic feeds itself.

The United States has obviously, and accidentally, been reinforcing the most belligerent elements in Iran and North Korea, but it is also doing so in Russia and China. Last week, for example, alarms went off in Washington with the news that China is increasing its military spending by nearly 18 percent this year, bringing its officially acknowledged military budget to $45 billion. Yet who was raising questions about massive American military sales (including missiles) to Taiwan, whose defense build up stimulates Beijing's? Speaking of budgets, who questions the recently unveiled Pentagon total for 2008 of more than $620 billion? (Under Bill Clinton, the defense budget went from $260 billion to about $300 billion.) Even allowing for Iraq and Afghanistan, how can such an astronomical figure be justified?

When the United States announces plans to station elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, why are Russian complaints dismissed as evidence of Vladimir Putin's megalomania? On this date in 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were admitted to NATO, in violation of American assurances to Moscow that NATO would not move east from the unified Germany. Now NATO looks further east still, toward Georgia and Ukraine. And Putin is the paranoid?

Last week, the Bush administration announced plans for the first new nuclear weapon in more than 20 years, a program of ultimately replacing all American warheads. So much for the nuclear elimination toward which the United States is legally bound to work by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Washington simultaneously assured Russia and China that this renewal of the nuclear arsenal was no cause for them to feel threatened. Hello? Russia and China have no choice but to follow the US lead, inevitably gearing up another arms race. It is 1947 all over again. A precious opportunity to turn the world away from nuclear weapons, and away from war, is once more being squandered -- by America. And what candidate running for president makes anything of this?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Know your chicken: A song for a sunny spring day

Gorgeous day here in central Kentucky, the air ripe with the smell of a truckload of compost we just tilled into the garden.

I've got poultry on my mind, with the McMurray Hatchery catalog open on the table in front of me. Made me feel like sharing this classic from the East Village Scene BITD BMFEU (back in the day, before money fucked everything up).

My kids love to dance to it, and it just makes me smile. God bless Cibo Matto.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The stab in the back

The phrase usually refers to the Jack Rippers of the world objecting to having their aggression thwarted by weak-willed civilians and media types. As this fascinating history in Harper's demonstrates, it is pure mythical, right-wing bull caca.

But stab in the back is such a vivid phrase. I would like to reclaim it for a current betrayal--of the war-weary American public by the Democratic Party.

"You're not weary of war," the newly elected leadership tells Joe Voter. "You're just weary of the IRAQ war. You'll LOVE what we have in store for Iran. Sanctions. Saber rattling. ALL OPTIONS ON THE TABLE. We can waste lives and treasure with the best of 'em.

"And are Democrats willing to bring the world a few more steps closer to Armageddon for short-term domestic political gain? Just watch us!"

Wait, but surely there was intelligent discussion on the topic of "containing" Iran. Someone stepped up and told Lantos, "Look, Tom, this is a little over the top, no?"

Er. Nope.

David Swanson writes this chilling summary of the extent of Congressional lock-step.
The absurd notion that Iran constitutes a threat to the United States was asserted in the opening breath out of Chairman Tom Lantos's mouth and never questioned by a single speaker through the hearing. Not a single speaker questioned the need to get tough on Iran in one way or another. Not a single speaker questioned the idea that a nation years away from possessing nuclear weapons and open to negotiating about them is a threat to the world's hugest nuclear power. Not a single speaker questioned assertions made during the hearing to the effect that Iran is supplying Iraqis with explosives. Not a single speaker questioned US preparations for war on Iran. And not one voice raised any concern over what sanctions would do to the Iranian people.
And from here, Chris Floyd brings the appropriate sense of despair.
... the national Democrats -- who were returned to power on a wave of public revulsion against the radical militarism of the Bush Regime -- are now trying to raise the war fever against Iran to the boiling point, in a bellicose bid to "outflank both the Bush administration and the United Nations with the toughest set of sanctions against Iran that have ever been proposed," as that right-wing calliope, the New York Sun, approvingly notes.

... The Lantos version of the latest Iran Provocation Act is being pitched as a partisan swipe at George W. Bush. (In their PR packaging, at least, the Democrats are being responsive to overwhelming public sentiment.) Lantos emphasizes that the bill would prohibit the president from granting waivers to any oil companies or countries that sign new energy deals with Iran. "If Dutch Shell moves forward with its proposed $10 billion deal with Iran, it will be sanctioned. If Malaysia moves forward with a similar deal, it too will be sanctioned. The same treatment will be accorded to China and India should they finalize deals with Iran," said Lantos. [And isn't it wonderfully democratic of this Democratic leader, telling other countries who they can and cannot trade with, and how? Oh well; if these rag-tag nations want to be part of our Greater Co-Propserity Sphere, they have to toe the line, right?]

Of course, all these draconian efforts to cripple the development of Iran's oil and gas industries will only make it more imperative for Tehran to develop its nuclear power program -- and therefore increase the likelihood that this program could one day be turned to the production of nuclear weapons. In other words, the bill is designed to exacerbate and accelerate the very danger -- nuclear proliferation -- that is the ostensible reason for keeping "all options on the table" against Iran.

But that's OK. We want them to keep building their nuclear program, so we can use it as an excuse to strike Iran. We want the people of Iran to suffer from crippling sanctions, as did the people of Iraq (while, as in Iraq, the leaders continue to live in luxury), because we want Iraqi society to deteroriate to the point that its leaders feel compelled to take some action that we can seize upon as a casus belli and launch a "retaliatory" attack whose real aim is "regime change." Both the Democrats and Republicans have very publicly committed the United States to this course.

So the Lantos law has nothing to do with bashing George W. Bush for giving his oil buddies waivers to work in Iran. That's just cornball for the rubes back home. It has everything to do with the pursuit of "regime change" in Tehran and the implanation of a friendly client regime that won't stand in the way of the long-held, bipartisan Establishment dream of unchallenged American dominance over world affairs.

And it It has nothing to do with punishing Iran for allegedly helping kill American soldiers in Iraq. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans, with a few honorable exceptions, give a damn about the American soldiers in Iraq. If they did, the soldiers would already be coming home -- or never sent there in first place. If they did, they would also be passing sanctions against Saudi Arabia, from whence gushers of money, weapons and recruits are flowing into Iraq to support the Sunni insurgency that is actually killing most of the Americans in Iraq.

No, they don't care about the soldiers. They care about "regime change" and advancing the frontiers of dominance. In this, the American Dominationists have found common cause with the government of Israel, which also desperately wants regime change in Tehran. And here the other raison d'etre of the Lantos bill comes into play: kowtowing to the interests of the Israeli militarists, and thus securing the domestic support of the Israel Lobby in America. And the Democrats are not even trying to hide the influence of the Lobby on the bill. As the Sun notes: "The introduction of the new legislation comes as more than 5,500 members of America's largest pro-Israel lobby [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] are set to arrive in Washington for their annual policy conference." Making their haj to this Mecca..House speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to give her first major speech on Middle East policy as the House leader. Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate will make speeches at the event, which is also expected to draw presidential candidates such as Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Brownback. Senator McCain is said to be likely to attend as well." Every one of these speakers will throw red meat to the crowd. Every single one of them will declare that "all options are on the table" against Iran. Every single one of them will wave the black flag of war.

Of course, most American Jews oppose the war in Iraq; So do most American WASPs -- although not in as great a number as American Jews, as several recent Gallup polls show. (The American religious group most opposed to the Iraq war is Black Protestants, the surveys found.) Most Americans oppose launching a war on Iran. But neither the WASP Dominationists who control American policy nor the Jewish leaders of the Israeli Lobby give a damn about what Americans -- of all faiths and none -- want. These honchos serve only the interests of power. They may tell us -- they may even tell themselves -- that they are only pursuing, with unfortunate but unavoidable ruthlessness, the security of the American and Israeli people. But the record of the past decades gives overwhelming proof that these policies do not bring security; they bring only more death, more suffering, more fear -- and more money for war profiteers, and more authoritarian power for government officials to wield with increasingly weak or non-existent restraints.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Three hands clapping

Matt Taibbi's ongoing single-minded, ad hominim hatchet job on the writing of Thomas Friedman is unfair and vindictive--or it would be so, if it were someone other than Friedman he was talking about.

Friedman is the most prominent talking head featured in Radar's The Iraq Gamble, a look at how the careers of pundits like Friedman, David Brooks, Jeffrey Goldberg and Fareed Zakaria actually took off after they bet the farm on the Iraq invasion and occupation--and lost. But Friedman is far and away the most conspicuous and shameless of the bunch.

Here, Taibbi writes that Friedman is not content with being allowed to show his face in public after being perhaps the most influential--and certainly the most strident (Mr. "Give War A Chance") "liberal" to promote invading Iraq. Friedman, says Taibbi, is already preparing to blame the debacle of the Iraq invasion and occupation on a patsy-- the American people. His piece should be read from beginning to end, but is worth quoting at some length. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll agree: "Friedman should be hung upside down and have holes drilled in his skull."
Friedman's latest column, "Don't Ask, Don't Know, Don't Help," is yet another "the war should have worked" piece, and it's of a sort we're likely to see quite often in upcoming years.

What we have to remember about America's half-baked propaganda machine is that, dumb as it is, it always keeps its eye on the ball. The war in Iraq is lost, everyone knows that, but there are future wars to think about. When a war goes wrong, the reason can never that the invasion was simply a bad, immoral decision, a hopelessly fucked-up idea that even a child could have seen through. No, we always have to make sure that the excuse for the next war is woven into the autopsy of the current military failure. That's why to this day we're still hearing about how Vietnam was lost because a) the media abandoned the war effort b) the peace movement undermined the national will and c) the public, and the Pentagon, misread the results of the Tet offensive, seeing defeat where there actually was a victory.

After a few decades of that, we were ready to go to war again -- all we had to do, we figured, was keep the cameras away from the bloody bits, ignore the peace movement, and blow off any and all bad news from the battlefield. And we did all of these things for quite a long time in Iraq, but, maddeningly, Iraq still turned out to be a failure.

That left the war apologists in a bind. If after fixing all of the long-held Vietnam excuses Iraq could still blow up in our faces, that must mean that we not only misjudged Iraq, but we were wrong about why Vietnam failed, too. Now, if we're ever going to pull one of these stunts again, we're going to need to come up with a grander, even more outlandish excuse for why both wars were horrible, bloody failures. Who could come up with such an excuse? Well, a man who counts on three hands sure can. Here's Friedman quoting author Robert Hormats:

"In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war," said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). He quotes Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: "War costs money. ... That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an Œall-out‚ war by individual effort and family effort in a united country."
Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way? After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hormats noted, Roosevelt vowed to mobilize U.S. industry to produce enough weapons so we would have a "crushing superiority" in arms over our enemies. Four years after the start of the Iraq war, this administration has still not equipped all our soldiers with the armor they need.

In other words, both Vietnam and Iraq failed not because they were stupid, vicious occupations of culturally alien populations that despised our very presence and were willing to sacrifice scads of their own lives to send us home. No, the problem was that we didn't make an effort to "re-evaluate tax and spending policies" and "shift resources" into an "all-out" war effort.

The notion that our problem in Iraq is a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness. Our enemies don't have airplanes or armor. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around barefoot in the middle of the night ... to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vaporize them practically from space using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one. This year, we will spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined -- more than six hundred billion dollars. And yet Tom Friedman thinks the problem in Iraq is that we ordinary Americans didn't tighten our belts enough to support the war effort.

Friedman should be hung upside down and have holes drilled in his skull for even suggesting this, of course. We're talking about one of the richest men in media, a guy who in recent years got still richer beating the drum for this war from his $9.3 million, 11,400 square-foot mansion in suburban Maryland. He is married to a shopping mall heiress worth nearly $3 billion; the Washingtonian says he is part of one of the 100 richest families in America. And yet he has the balls to turn around and tell us that the pointless, asinine war he cheerleaded for failed because we didn't sacrifice enough for it. Are you reaching for the railroad spike yet?

This being tax season, I want you all to think about this Friedman column as you prepare your returns, because I'll bet anything he's surfing ahead of a trend here. If the next president is John McCain, or even if it isn't, you can be damn sure that we're going to hear a lot about how we blew Iraq because there weren't enough troops or resources shifted into Iraq.

You're going to hear that we didn't have money to pay for body armor, when the reality is that the reason troops didn't have body armor in recent years is that congressmen robbed the operations and maintenance accounts of the defense budget to pay for earmarks/pork projects (they took $9 billion in pork and earmarks out of the O&M allotment in 2005, for instance). They robbed the part of the budget that paid for ordinary soldiers‚ gear so they wouldn't have to touch the F-22 Raptor, the CVN(X) aircraft carrier, or any of the other mega-expensive and mostly useless weapons programs. I mean, think about it -- how else can you spend $600 billion dollars on the military every year and not have body armor for the soldiers deployed at war? Somewhere, someone who doesn't need it has to be sucking up that money.

But trust me, the myth is going to be that you didn't cough up enough for the war. It's your fault we failed, not Tom Friedman's. So put all three of your hands in your pockets and dig out that change you're holding back. We'll need it for his next great idea.

Read the whole piece....