Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gitmo Trials Rigged! I mean really, really rigged!

This just in from the Nation:

"Now, as the murky, quasi-legal staging of the Bush Administration's military commissions unfolds, a key official has told The Nation that the trials have been rigged from the start. According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees to foreclose the possibility of acquittal. "


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro Retires Quietly into Sunset; US Foiled Again... "Give It Up, Sam"

Fidel Castro has just announced his retirement. And as Sarah Stephens put it so well, we should retire our disastrous Cuban policy too ... finally, and so many years too late.

This is the event that fifty years of U.S. policy was designed to stop.

Fidel Castro has announced his retirement. He will be replaced in a peaceful succession, without the violent upheaval that U.S. policy makers have been predicting since the 1960s.
Now that Fidel Castro has announced his retirement, it's time to retire our Cold War era Cuba policy. It failed.

Every U.S. president since Eisenhower has tried to kill or topple Fidel Castro and replace Cuba's government and economic system with something more to our liking. They never succeeded.
It was the express purpose of the U.S. embargo, with sanctions more comprehensive than any we impose on Iran, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria to stop this transition. But it couldn't.

For years, the U.S. embargo has been rebuked in lop-sided votes in the U.N. General Assembly. On October 30, 2007, when we were last drubbed by a margin of 184 to 4 (and one abstention), not a single country in South America, Central America or the Caribbean supported our policy. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, three countries praised by President Bush one week earlier for their support of U.S. policy against Cuba, joined the condemnation -- so did Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, and South Africa, a nation whose democracy was born with the help of U.S. sanctions.

As the Cuba embargo sullies our image around the world, it undermines the national interest and our highest values here at home. The embargo sacrifices the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to travel. It cruelly divides Cuban families on both sides of the Florida straits. Trade sanctions cost U.S. businesses about $1 billion annually, and deny U.S. citizens access to vaccines and other medical treatments. Enforcing the embargo drains resources from the war on terror. By isolating the American people from the Cuban people, we stop our citizens from doing what Americans do best; we can't offer Cubans our support or our ideas, and we're unable to benefit from what they could offer us.

I have been to Cuba close to thirty times in the last seven years and I have spoken to Cubans of every stripe -- fans of the revolution and diehard opponents of President Castro.
Cubans by their nature have vastly divergent opinions, except on one fundamental point: it is Cubans living on the island -- not politicians in Washington, not their kinsmen in Miami -- who must decide for themselves what happens next in Cuba. They cherish their sovereignty, they reject violence and instability, and they want the United States to respect those values as much as they do, especially now that they can see a future past President Fidel Castro and beyond the 50th year of their revolution.

There is a debate happening in Cuba right now, triggered by Raúl Castro on economic reform that is remarkable in its sweep. Leaders have spoken to us with unusual candor about the inability of Cubans to keep pace with prices, but they are committed to raising living standards in ways that are consistent with the preservation of Cuba's political system. We have to have clear minds about their intentions for this debate, its limits, and where it might lead.
Now would be a perfect time to send the long overdue signal that the United States is no threat to Cuba's national security, that we honor the aspirations of average Cubans, and that we are capable of having a constructive relationship with their government.

If President Bush cannot answer the call to history that has been issued in Havana, perhaps his successor will respond with greater imagination when he or she takes office in Washington next year.

People here should not misunderstand this historic moment: the Cubans we know, even determined political opponents of Fidel Castro, are proud of their country, proud of its accomplishments, and persuaded that only Cubans in Cuba -- not politicians in Washington or hardliners in Miami -- have the right and responsibility to determine their own destiny. We owe them that opportunity, now more than ever.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Irony of Gitmo Six

This gem from Sebastian Meyer:

To sum it up: They are there because the Geneva Convention does not apply
to them. Now they must die, because they broke the Geneva Convention.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why Try the Gitmo 6 for 9/11 Now? It's a Slick PR Job, a Coverup

Andy Worthington's excellent article exposes the real purpose of this oddly-timed death-penalty-charged announcement that six suspects/detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be tried for 9/11-based crimes: it's intended as a PR coup against the mounting anti-torture, anti-Gitmo pressure bearing down on the Bush/Cheney administration.

The announcement of the charges is immensely significant. In one fell
swoop, many of the complaints about Guantánamo appear to have been swept aside.
These, chiefly, have centered on well-founded claims that the prison has mostly
held innocent men or low-level Taliban foot soldiers. Of the 749 detainees who
were held at the prison during its first two and half years of existence, none,
according to dozens of high-level military and intelligence sources interviewed
by the New York Times in June 2004, “ranked as leaders or senior operatives of
al-Qaeda,” and “only a relative handful — some put the number at about a dozen,
others more than two dozen —were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to
elucidate the organization’s inner workings.”

So we're supposed to believe it was all about 9/11 after all. We're finally putting on trial those "worst of the worst" dangerous terrorists and ridding the world of al-Qaeda and making justice and freedom and democracy a top US priority again.

In charging detainees for their alleged connections with the 9/11 attacks,
the administration has also managed to divert attention away from the stumbling
progress of the trial system which will be used to prosecute the six men. The Military Commissions, dreamt up by Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisors in November 2001, judged illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006 and reinstated later that year in the Military Commissions Act (MCA), have struggled repeatedly to establish their legitimacy.

So we're gonna shove aside all those nasty investigations and PR disasters surrounding torture, detention without trial, and coverups of the above for mostly INNOCENT people whom most Americans still think of as terrorists anyway, by this huge show of a terror trial.

Described by former military defense lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift as fatally flawed because they included “no right to habeas corpus, no attorney-client privilege, forced guilty pleas for charges never made public, secret and coerced evidence, juries and presiding officers picked by executive fiat, [and] clients represented even if they declined legal counsel,” the Commission process was supposedly cleaned up during the passage of the MCA, so that prosecutors are prevented from using secret evidence or evidence obtained through torture (although the use of information obtained through “controversial forms of coercion” — torture, perhaps, by any other name — remains at the discretion of the government-appointed military judge), but they have failed, to date, to secure a single significant victory.

Their only alleged success — in the case of David Hicks, who accepted a plea
bargain in March last year, admitting that he provided “material support for
terrorism” and dropping well-documented claims that he was tortured by
US forces in exchange for a nine-month sentence served in Australia

was undermined last fall by Col. Morris Davis, the Commissions’ former chief prosecutor, who resigned his post and then complained that the entire system was compromised by political interference. Currently, the Commissions are bogged down in pre-trial hearings for two detainees — alleged “child soldier” Omar Khadr, and Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden — whose cases have done nothing to assuage widespread concerns that the whole process remains both unjust and futile.

Yet Bush wants with this Great 9/11 Trial Show to brush aside all these disasters and vital considerations. It's not about justice or democracy or freedom to Bush/Cheney. It's about PR and keeping power on the executive side and his agenda, a secret agenda that looks really horrible upon scrutiny.

And there's another point in the timing:

It is surely no coincidence, for example, that it came just six days after Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, admitted that three of the “high-value” detainees —
including KSM — had been subjected to waterboarding, a long-reviled torture
technique that simulates drowning.

And now that Congress has voted against torture, it looks even worse that Bush will veto it, thus making himself the Torture President. Oh, and it's illegal...

Under its international obligations — as a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, for example, which makes it a crime for American officials to torture people outside the United States — the administration is prohibited from practicing torture, and waterboarding is clearly torture.

But nobody's gonna impeach Bush or Cheney. And the PR keeps on coming. But will there really be a fair trial? How can it be possible if all the evidence was obtained by illegal means - namely, torture? That's another issue behind Bush's veto. If he doesn't veto this, what does that say about the evidence that was obtained against these Gitmo Six? After all, most of the evidence against them

...all came about during the three to four years that these men spent in a
succession of secret prisons run by the CIA. Moreover, it was in these prisons
that, in contrast to Michael Hayden’s claim that, of the six, only KSM was
waterboarded, CIA operatives who spoke to ABC News in
November 2005 said that 12 “high-value” detainees in total were subjected to an
array of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These included not only
waterboarding, but also “Long Time Standing,” in which prisoners “are forced to
stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for
more than 40 hours,” and “The Cold Cell,” in which the prisoner “is left to
stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees,” and is “doused with cold water”
throughout the whole period.
These statements make it clear that torture — which, in case we forget, is condemned not just because it is morally repugnant, but also because the confessions it produces are unreliable — contaminates almost the whole basis of yesterday’s charges, and casts doubt on at least some of the government’s assertions.

So how are we supposed to believe now that these detainees really did what they confessed to, since their confessions were coerced with the worst of methods, internationally recognized methods of torture? And what about Mohammad Al-Qahtani, who was subjected to the following:

As Time magazine revealed in an interrogation log (PDF) made
available in 2005, al-Qahtani was interrogated for 20 hours a day over a 50-day
period in late 2002 and early 2003, when he was also subjected to extreme sexual
humiliation (including being smeared with fake menstrual blood by a female
interrogator), threatened by a dog, strip-searched and made to stand naked, and
made to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. On one occasion he
was subjected to a “fake rendition,” in which he was tranquilized, flown off the
island, revived, flown back to Guantánamo, and told that he was in a country
that allowed torture.

Are we supposed to accept evidence or confessions obtained under those conditions or by these methods? Are we supposed to assume that people accused of terrorism, if they are Muslim, are so depraved as to be only capable of admitting facts under the most horrific of coercion methods? And then we are supposed to feel justified in convicting and executing them, thus assuaging the anger and horror of 9/11? But we're not supposed to be angry or feel any fear or horror about how we reached this point, right?

In addition, as I explain in my book The Guantánamo Files,
“The sessions were so intense that the interrogators worried that the cumulative
lack of sleep and constant interrogation posed a risk to his health. Medical
staff checked his health frequently — sometimes as often as three times a day —
and on one occasion, in early December, the punishing routine was suspended for
a day when, as a result of refusing to drink, he became seriously dehydrated and
his heart rate dropped to 35 beats a minute. While a doctor came to see him in
the booth, however, loud music was played to prevent him from sleeping.”
Even more significant, perhaps, is what al-Qahtani’s torture reveals about how the
whole process that led to these proposed trials could have, and should have been

It was the interrogation of al-Qahtani that finally prompted the FBI — which was already alarmed at the random, self-defeating violence at Guantánamo
perpetrated by other agencies — to make an official complaint to the Pentagon in
June 2004, highlighting abuses witnessed by its agents and singling out
al-Qahtani’s treatment for particular criticism. The letter stated that
al-Qahtani was “subjected to intense isolation for over three months” and began “evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).”

Reports of al-Qahtani’s treatment also provoked a
heroic attempt by Alberto J. Mora, the director of the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service (NCIS) to persuade the Pentagon to call off the use of
“enhanced interrogation.” Mora was ultimately unsuccessful — Donald Rumsfeld
temporarily dropped the use of the techniques, but secretly mandated a new panel
of pliant experts to reapprove them in an essentially undiluted form — but the
complaints of both the FBI and the NCIS indicate how the interrogation process
should have proceeded.

In fact, these torture methods have destroyed any hope of obtaining justice for 9/11 or even of fighting terrorism itself. It's known that torture does not produce reliable evidence. It's as if Bush/Cheney just want heads to roll, no matter what. Screw justice, truth, or anything else. What does that say about us, about the rule of law, about democracy or freedom, or justice? It says none of that is important. All that matters is power, PR, and propaganda.

Dan Coleman, one of these old-school FBI interrogators, who retired from
the agency in 2004, knows exactly where the faults lie with the Pentagon-led
policy of combating terror with torture. As a top-level interrogator, who
interrogated many of the terrorists captured before 9/11 (and convicted in the
US courts) without resorting to “enhanced interrogation,” Coleman remains
fundamentally opposed to torture, because it is unreliable, and because it
corrupts those who undertake it.
“Brutalization doesn’t work,” he said. “We know that. Besides, you
lose your soul.”

US May Have Erased Evidence that Could Help Gitmo Detainees

As Josh White reported:

Lawyers representing military detainees at Guantanamo Bay have expressed concern that the government has violated a federal court order by losing or erasing
several years' worth of digital video recordings that could shed light on the
legality of detainee treatment.
The concerns are based in part on a recent court filing by Guantanamo's commander, Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, who said video surveillance recordings in several areas of the facility have been automatically overwritten and no longer exist.
"In January 2008, it was brought to my attention that such . . . [recording] systems may have been automatically overwriting video data contained on recording devices, at predetermined intervals," Buzby wrote. "That is, only a specified number of days' worth of recorded data could be retained on the recording devices at a time."
Defense lawyers said the admission suggests that the military has not complied with a 2005 court order to preserve such evidence, even if the deletion of the
recordings was inadvertent. They claim that the tapes were of potential use at
forthcoming court hearings and trials, a view supported by a Seton Hall University report slated to be released today.
The report, "Captured on Tape," asserts that officials at the facility recorded more than 20,000 interrogations at Guantanamo Bay. It cited FBI statements and military investigative reports as a basis for concluding that video cameras were in interrogation booths and tapes existed.
"All interrogations are videotaped," said an April 13, 2005, report by the Office of the Army Surgeon General on operations at Guantanamo Bay, cited in the Seton Hall study. Pentagon officials declined to discuss the report or comment on the videotaping.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hard-Wired Politics: Is the Liberal/Conservative Divide In Our Genes??

Now that politics are really heating up, some scientific studies suggest we should take a hard look at how much influence all those political shows and pundits really have. First, check the wiring: could we really be born to have one political leaning or another? Is it all in our genes? As reported in New Scientist, several studies on twins and personality traits indicate that our politics are really hard-wired. Seriously - we're naming names, like D4DR, the "conservative" gene; or MAOA, the "get out the vote" gene; or 5HTT, the "liberal" gene. OK ... not exactly. But "The point is that certain genes shape personality traits, and these are linked to political opinion." In this view,

... political positions are substantially determined by biology and
can be stubbornly resistant to reason. "These views are deep-seated and built
into our brains. Trying to persuade someone not to be liberal is like trying to
persuade someone not to have brown eyes. We have to rethink persuasion," says John Alford, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Does this mean talking heads are wasting our time? How, oh how, could that be? No, it can't be! But then, maybe there's another side to this. Consider the evidence.

In 2005, Alford published a paper in which he analysed two decades of work in behavioural genetics, including a huge database containing the political
opinions of 30,000 twins from Virginia (American Political Science Review, vol 99, p 153). He found that identical twins were more likely than non-identical twins to give the same answers to political questions. For example, on the issue of whether property should be taxed, four-fifths of identical twins gave the same answer, compared to two-thirds of non-identical twins.

This and similar results were then joined to another study of the relationship between personality type and political viewpoint.

In 2003, John Jost, a psychologist at New York University, and colleagues
surveyed 88 studies, involving more than 20,000 people in 12 countries, that
looked for a correlation between personality traits and political orientation
(American Psychologist, vol 61, p 651).

People who scored highly on a scale measuring fear of death, for example, were almost four times more likely to hold conservative views. Dogmatic types were also more conservative, while those who expressed interest in new experiences tended to be liberals. Jost's review also noted research showing that conservatives prefer simple and unambiguous paintings, poems and songs.

Which explains why Britney Spears, for example, voted for Bush. Or why Clinton played jazz sax. But it doesn't explain why Tony Snow played jazz flute. Nor, for that matter, why Dan Rather likes "simple" folk music. Or Britney Spears' apparent penchant for "new experiences". Is Munch's The Scream not very unambiguous? Then why does Norway have socialized medicine? Is this an exact science or what?

Many psychologists believe personality can be categorised into five
classes, relating to conscientiousness, openness, extroversion, agreeableness
and neuroticism. The latter two seem to have little to do with political
orientation. Scores on the conscientiousness scale, however, show a significant
correlation with position within the political spectrum.

A much stronger link exists between political orientation and openness,
which psychologists define as including traits such as an ability to accept new
ideas, a tolerance for ambiguity and an interest in different cultures. When
these traits are combined, people with high openness scores turn out to be
almost twice as likely to be liberals.

Combine the genetic influences on personality with the political tendencies of different personality types, and the idea that genetics shapes political tendencies seems very plausible indeed. All of the big five personality traits are highly heritable (Journal of Research in Personality, vol 32, p 431), with several studies suggesting that around half of the variation in openness scores is a result of genetic differences.

This idea was further developed to show that these and other personality traits could be traced to specific genes, as I named above - so you can check your genome before you vote. Or at least, stop arguing with your neocon Uncle - it's useless.

However, the world of politics tends to be much more complex, and what we're talking about are that most occult thing, tendencies, making this theory sound strangely like astrology, also known for making fairly good predictions every so often. And although my political tendency is liberal, I also have a practical tendency that tells me Kucinich won't fly through a general election filled with people whose fear of death by Afghanis in New York trumps their fear of future grand-generations living in a third world has-been America. Barack Obama didn't bring up Reagan because he loves him, but because he hopes to win votes from the general population who don't know any better. So if it's all hard-wired to begin with, maybe that explains why we keep trying to choose people in the center.

But there's another angle to this.

In a paper presented in April 2007 to the annual conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, held in Chicago, Ira Carmen, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discussed D4DR, a gene involved in regulating levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Itis known that high levels of dopamine can cause obsessive-compulsive disorder. Carmen speculates that dopamine might therefore be linked to the need to impose order on the world. If so, variants of the D4DR gene that lead to higher levels of dopamine should be found more frequently in conservatives.

Can we circumvent this genetic thing by developing dopamine inhibitors? Or, conversely, would conservatives secretly inject liberals with dopamine to "sway" them to the viewpoint that we need to simply eliminate taxes, go to war, build more missiles and weaponry, and eliminate those "social services" that are such a burden on the patriotic people who really deserve those inspiring wars?

At any rate, it's not all cut-n-dried. Many, not all of them conservatives, note that the personality-trait thing is rather hard to pin down, and that many are based on assumptions.

Personality studies in particular have been singled out as sloppy science, in part because qualitative traits like openness cannot be measured in the way that height or eye colour can.

Evan Charney, a political scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, noticed a more suspicious trend.

...a rather unflattering view of conservatives emerges from the studies. They are portrayed as dogmatic, routine-loving individuals, while liberals come across as free-spirited and open-minded folk. "I keep expecting Jost to show that conservatism is negatively correlated with penis size," jokes Charney. He feels that inherent biases in the make-up of academia, which is dominated by liberals, leads to the "pathologising of conservatism".

He should worry more about correlating the neocon type, in particular, with cerebellum size, for which I'm sure there's more powerful evidence than The Scream. And it doesn't explain why my father, a preacher who voted for Nixon, unexpectedly walked out of his church to join me and a large number of others marching down the main street in protest against the Vietnam War.

If there are political genes, then it may be a sign that built-in conflict and disagreement is a good thing. But in either case, I believe there are both universals - "self-evident truths" - to which we all intuitively agree, and complexities, in which we are all inextricably entangled. The genome is, after all, not encased in a crystal ball.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Guernica II: Remote-Control Massacre

Dahr Jamail again comes through with this insightful, if devastating, report on what the U.S. bombing strategy really brought about in Iraq - and what kind of future our continued military effort there would bring. On January 10, U.S. bombers and F-16's attacked an area south of Baghdad.

The use of B1 bombers shows the terrible failure of the U.S. campaign in
Iraq," Iraqi Major General Muhammad al-Azzawy, a military researcher in Baghdad, told IPS. "U.S. military and political tactics failed in this area, and that is
why this massacre. This kind of bombing is usually used for much bigger targets
than small villages full of civilians. This was savagery."

The attack on Juboor and neighbouring villages just south of Baghdad
had begun a week earlier with heavy artillery and tank bombardment. The attack
followed strong resistance from members of the mainly Sunni Muslim al-Juboor
tribe against groups that residents described as sectarian death squads.

"On Jan. 10, huge aircraft started bombing the villages," Ahmad Alwan
from a village near Juboor told IPS. "We took our families and fled. We have
never seen such bombardment since the 2003 American invasion. They were bombing everything and everybody."

Residents said two B1 bombers and four F-16 fighter jets dropped at
least 40,000 pounds of explosives on the villages and plantations within a span
of 10 minutes.

"The al-Qaeda name is used once more to destroy another Sunni area,"
Akram Naji, a lawyer in Baghdad who has relatives in Juboor told IPS. "Americans
are still supporting Iranian influence in Iraq by cleansing Baghdad and
surroundings of Sunnis."

But do Americans who pay for this war hear any of this news? Not if they listen to mainstream news. Note that Sunnis feel Americans are "supporting Iranian influence" while mainstream U.S. news reports the diametrical opposite. Note that the U.S. frequently shows hostility in word and deed towards Iran's Shi'a President Ahmedinejad, while maintaining a friendly attitude towards Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Yet Sunnis in Iraq are interpreting this bombing as an attack on them personally, using al-Qaeda as a ruse.

Now note how the bombing is played out in the media. Tom Englehardt analyzes various American news sources, showing how they buried the true story in lion's skin of terror-fighting.

A January 21st Los Angeles Times Iraq piece by Ned Parker and Saif Rasheed led with an inter-tribal suicide bombing at a gathering in Fallujah in which members
of the pro-American Anbar Awakening Council were killed. ...Twenty-six
paragraphs later, the story ended this way:
"The U.S. military also said in a statement that it had dropped 19,000 pounds of explosives on the farmland of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad. The strikes targeted buried bombs and weapons caches.
"In the last 10 days, the military has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds
of explosives on the area, which has been a gateway for Sunni militants into
And here's paragraph 22 of a 34-paragraph January 22nd story by Stephen Farrell of the New York Times:
"The threat from buried bombs was well known before the
[Arab Jabour] operation. To help clear the ground, the military had dropped
nearly 100,000 pounds of bombs to destroy weapons caches and I.E.D.'s."

Farrell led his piece with news that an American soldier had died in Arab
Jabour from an IED that blew up "an MRAP, the new Mine-Resistant
Ambush-Protected armored vehicle that the American military is counting on to
reduce casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq."

Note that both pieces started with bombing news -- in one case a suicide bombing that killed several Iraqis; in another a roadside bombing that killed an American soldier and wounded others. But the major bombing story of these last days -- those 100,000 pounds of explosives that U.S. planes dropped in a small area south of Baghdad -- simply dangled unexplained off the far end of the Los Angeles Times piece; while, in the New York Times, it was buried inside a single sentence.

Neither paper has (as far as I know) returned to the subject, though this is undoubtedly the most extensive use of air power in Iraq since the Bush administration's invasion of 2003 and probably represents a genuine shifting of American military strategy in that country. Despite a few humdrum wire service pieces, no place else in the mainstream has bothered to cover the story adequately either.

How many civilian casualties were there? Who were the civilians? What strategic interests were the U.S. supposedly "protecting" by this attack? What intelligence, if any, led to this area as a strategic target? Who did they think they were killing vs. who did they actually kill? What was gained by this, if anything?

Since Americans pay for this war, as I said, they should know what the hell is going on. But that's not going to happen, apparently. Someone has an agenda, and it's either a very blood experiment in Chaos Theory, a horrific way to nab oil rights in an era when we're supposed to be going green, or just empire-lust run amok. But it's not, no not at all, to "defend freedom", "fight terrorism", or promote democracy. This can't by any stretch of any Republican fantasy, be for that purpose.

Mr. Englehardt then makes a correlation between the bombing of Guernica, Spain, of Picasso's famous painting fame, in which up to 10,000 civilians were killed by - and this is the connection - 100,000 lbs. of explosives. The same as the U.S. bombing on Abu Jaboor in Iraq - 100,000 lbs. of explosives. But back then in 1937,
The self-evident barbarism of the event -- the first massively publicized
bombing of a civilian population -- caused international horror. It was news
across the planet. From it came perhaps the most famous painting of the last
century, Picasso's Guernica, as well as innumerable novels, plays, poems, and other works of art.

Fast-forward to Iraq 2008, and 100,000 lbs. of explosives dropped by American bombs on small farming villages south of Baghdad is barely worth a couple of yawns. More war stats. Can't cut it against Britney Spears celebrinsania.
As far as we know, there were no reporters, Iraqi or Western, in Arab
Jabour when the bombs fell and, Iraq being Iraq, no American reporters rushed
there -- in person or by satellite phone -- to check out the damage. In Iraq and
Afghanistan, when it comes to the mainstream media, bombing is generally only
significant if it's of the roadside or suicide variety; if, that is, the "bombs"
can be produced at approximately "the cost of a pizza" (as IEDs sometimes are), or if the vehicles delivering them are cars or simply fiendishly well-rigged human bodies. From the air, even 100,000 pounds of bombs just doesn't have the ring of something that matters.

Some of this, of course, comes from the Pentagon's success in creating a
dismissive, sanitizing language in which to frame war from the air. "Collateral
damage" stands in for the civilian dead -- even though in much of modern war,
the collateral damage could be considered the dead soldiers, not the ever rising percentage of civilian casualties. And death is, of course, delivered "precisely" by "precision-guided" weaponry. All this makes air war seem sterile, even virginal. Army Col. Terry Ferrell, for instance, described the air assaults in Arab Jabour in this disembodied way at a Baghdad news conference:

"The purpose of these particular strikes was to shape the battlefield and take out known threats before our ground troops move in. Our aim was to neutralize any advantage the enemy could claim with the use of IEDs and other weapons."
You've got non-military verbs strategically placed with battlefield nouns. It creates that all-important bloodless "look". It's almost like selling insurance: "policy", "claim", "planning", etc. The purpose is to keep you, the taxpayer, slightly bored, yet reassured that this war was doing something good, serving some purpose, like "keeping America free."

As that phrase "take out known threats before our ground troops move in" made clear, this was an attempt to minimize casualties among American (and allied Iraqi) troops by bringing massive amounts of firepower to bear in a situation in which local information was guaranteed to be sketchy at best. Given such a scenario, civilians will always suffer. And this, increasingly, is likely to be the American way of war in Iraq.

As Mr. Englehardt sums the math up succinctly:
Anyway, here's the simple calculus that goes with all this: Militarily,
overstretched American forces simply cannot sustain the ground part of the surge
for much longer. Most, if not all, of those 30,000 troops who surged into Iraq
in the first half of 2007 will soon be coming home. But air power won't be. Air
Force personnel are already on short, rotating tours of duty in the region. In
Vietnam back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as ground troops were withdrawn,
air power ramped up. This seems once again to be the pattern. There is every
reason to believe that it represents the American future in Iraq.
And air war means civilian deaths far outnumber the death of actual soldiers - or "militants", as they are now called. For there's not even parity in terms anymore. Our military are "heroes" or "soldiers"; theirs are "insurgents", "militants" or "terrorists". In fact, the name al-Qaeda has come to be used loosely to refer to any Sunni fighters/insurgents. Hence their perception that the U.S. wants to eliminate Sunnis per se.

So if anyone can articulate what we are fighting for, whom we are fighting, and why, in any logical or meaningful way, please let me know. All the reasons presented so far are about as relevant as a random page out of tax law. So bloodless. So mundane. So ordinary. So easy to forget. Almost like a video game. At least, that's what taxpayers are supposed to think. And never, ever even mention or think, don't dare to say, that it's a filthy, bloody, messy, sickening, mind-numbing, sanity-busting, nearly-pointless, remote-control massacre.

Most Americans Figured It Out: Why Can't the Politicians...?

...get out of Iraq, that is.

Why are we in a recession? It's the war, stupid.

It's perhaps one of the main reasons Obama is riveting more than solid "party" and "experienced" Hillary & McCain - those two supported this catastrophic, ill-begotten war that has basically gutted the U.S. economy, its moral fiber, its stance as "leader of the world". Obama did not. And he's not on the extremes like Ron Paul, another rare "no" vote for the war in Iraq.

So the polls have it.
The way to get the country out of recession - and most people think we're
in one - is to get the country out of Iraq, according to an Associated
Press-Ipsos poll.
Pulling out of the war ranked first among proposed remedies in the survey, followed by spending more on domestic programs, cutting taxes and, at the bottom end, giving rebates to poor people in hopes they'll spend the economy into recovery.

Too bad we can't govern by referendum. If only they'd listen to the polls when it comes to policy, instead of only when they run for office.
Forty-eight percent said a pullout would help fix the country's economic
problems "a great deal," and an additional 20 percent said it would help at
least somewhat.
... 65 percent of Democrats think it would help the economy a lot,
but only 18 percent of Republicans think so.

Talk about groupthink. Republicans believe what Daddy W sez, and he sez we pay you money, and everything will be all right. What they don't seem to grasp is that Daddy doesn't have any money, yet he's planning to spend 11 billion a month until sometime, maybe 3:30 pm, on the afternoon of Eternity. Or when America bleeds to death, one devalued dollar at a time. Let's get a Democrat in there, before it does.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Iran Internet Cut Off: Is It War Against Iran Oil Bourse?

Buzzing all over the net: 5 internet cables in the Middle East cut off, some only a few kilometers apart, interrupting internet connectivity to Egypt, India, Qatar, and mostly, yes, most completely, to Iran... although all this is in the fact-meets-speculation stage. One of many synopses:
A ship's anchor severed one undersea Internet cable damaged last week, it
was revealed on Thursday amid ongoing outages in the Middle East and South Asia,
but mystery shrouds what caused another four reported cuts.
There has been speculation that five cables being cut in almost as many days was too much of a coincidence and that sabotage must have been involved.

It's too early to really assess the situation, but the timing is definitely significant. Namely, Iran's announcement that it will not trade its oil in U.S. Dollars. The impact of such a move, especially if it's emulated by others, which is a real possibility, could bring disaster, as eloquently explained by Len Hart of Existentialist Cowboy:
Certainly, when oil is no longer traded in dollars, it is not only the
dollar that will collapse. It means that the US --on the bad end of a huge
balance of trade deficit --will no longer be able to afford to import goods or
services. For a nation that long ago (Reagan years primarily; See Vidal, cited)
gave up its role as a manufacturing nation, this collapse will be monumental,
catastrophic. The fact that oil had been traded in dollars was the only thing
propping up the dollar.

This, in turn, could lead to our overextended debtor nation still called America to an economic tragedy on an unprecedented scale. So cutting off the internet, in comparison, looks sort of like a desperate prelude to war. War on Iran's threat - its economic threat to our empire.
Monitoring the news today --it is clear that the Middle East cables were
deliberately sabotaged and the effect has been to cut Iran off the internet.
Isolating a nation by cutting off its systems of communication is a first step
preceding a military attack. Bush no longer cares about even the pretense of
pre-text! His charge that Iran has weaponized grade fuels is universally and
credibly debunked. The real threat is to the poohbahs of US empire --the
Military/Industrial complex.

The spectre of impending doom, however, will not just trickle down. It may just avalanche down.
That there was a demand for dollars because there was a demand for oil
meant that you could continue to buy imported goods with dollars. Now --imagine
a world in which no other country need "purchase" dollars in order to import
oil! What if oil producing nations agree to accept other currencies? What if
they refuse to accept dollars? Go to Wal-Mart or even your local supermarket.
Almost everything on the shelves is imported.

How are we going to afford our lifestyles if we have to import things we can't pay for? Will the dollar ultimately become worthless? And another issue: what will all the victims of our senseless wars fighting "monsters" like the bin Laden "Antichrist", all those millions of refugees, all those families robbed of their homes, what will they do to, or about, us - or shall I say, US?

With this hanging, unspoken, like a looming cloud overhead, an unknown possibility, and with all our money hanging on the petroleum trade, is there any question now why we are in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, fawning over Saudi Arabia while blindfolding everyone we can, in order to shore up an empire that collapsed decades ago by invading every oil-rich piece of earth we can manage to invade? Yet that only makes things much worse.

It's Republican mismanagement and squander on wars that devalued the dollar, and now when oil-producers don't want to trade in dollars they become Enemy Number One. It's sabotage time... But to the deluded Petrocorporate War machine, they're Hans Brinker putting his finger in the dam. Let's expose them before it's too late: it isn't even their dam.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's the War Economy, Cupid!

While the candidates duke it out on SuperTuesday, the economy still looms as Issue #1. But we can't ignore the War on Terror as a major source of economic drain. Although it's not the only drain. Perhaps the candidates should bear in mind some advice from a Founding Father, one whose advice seems right on-the-money, yet basically trashed by the Republican/neocon dynasty.

In fact, it's the very sense of this trashing of values and at the same time being sunk in a dynastic chain of unbreakable power that gives Obama the edge, that gives the otherwise golden Hillary that let's-think-twice voter retreat. But all could use a dose of fatherly wisdom:

"If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of
fighting a foreign enemy
. Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps
the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every
other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and
armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad."
-- James Madison

Here's some opinion on the subject of budget-screwing-n-skewing from DownsizeDC:

It is because the policies of both parties, and all administrations, on both economics and civil liberties, have combined to create a perfect storm that will manifest itself in an economic way. Foremost among the forces in the approaching economic storm will be the unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare.

There will be fewer young people working to create wealth, and more non-working people consuming an increasingly vast portion of what wealth there is. More elderly people also inevitably means there will be more sick people, demanding more health care. As a result . . .The federal government will lack the revenue to keep its Social Security and Medicare promises. The shortfall in funding is estimated variously at between $53 trillion and $80 trillion. We will have much more to say about this in the month's ahead. Suffice it to say that the spending policies of the federal government must change. They must change dramatically, and they must change now.

But they are not changing. President Bush has just proposed America's first $3 trillion budget. This budget projects near record deficits exceeding $400 billion dollars for each of the next two years, adding nearly one trillion dollars to the national debt in just twenty four months. And more debt means that more of your income taxes will go to pay the interest on the debt, instead of current operating expenses. The nature of the President's spending proposals also highlights the intersection between our government's war on our pocketbooks and its on-going war on the Bill of Rights. Our government has . . .

  • Spent trillions projecting U.S. power around the globe . . .

  • Provoking blowback in the form of terrorism, which . . .

  • Has served as an excuse for the war on the Bill of Rights
The President's current budget proposal promises more of the same. It freezes most spending except for national defense, which will rise by 7% for the Pentagon and 11% for Homeland Security. The grand total for the defense budget is a whopping $515 billion, and this does not include spending for Iraq! But . . .

It seems to us that our defense establishment is perfectly tailored to fight enemies we do not have, and to create the conditions of occupation and aggressive forward projection that serve as a recruitment pitch for the enemies we do have. We are paying through the nose to make ourselves less safe, to hasten bankruptcy, and to shred our Constitution. Meanwhile, our economy crumbles.

Do You Really Want a Democratic President? Obamasize!

He's picked up the endorsements of over 100 notable feminists, CA 1st Lady Maria Shriver, Ted Kennedy, and many more - people you'd have thought would have backed Hillary. He has managed to keep the race tight against a powerful Clinton campaign machine, including its wafting aroma of spousal incumbancy success, and that sense of "inevitability" as well as that sense of Hillary being a "victim" whose woes we should somehow share, and assuage with the Presidency.

But Barack Obama's biggest selling point is his electability in the general election. Hillary is just too divisive a character, victim or not, capable or not, regardless...

Trey Ellis said it best:

I gave money three years ago to his senatorial campaign and personally have
never really considered voting for anyone else. I haven't yet advocated for
others to vote with me because despite the rancor from zealots in both camps,
Obama and Hillary are both centrists Democrats reading from the exact same
hymnal. I don't know any married couples who disagree on less. All this talk of
an historic battle for the future direction of the Democratic party is just the
same kind of hogwash HBO uses to hype prizefights.

What has become
clear, however, from the religious-like fervor of Obama believers and the
venomous hatred from Hillary haters, is that she has been so wounded by this
campaign that she will be too weak to lead us to victory in November.
Hyper-capable as she is, she's a hard woman to love. At least on her own.
Obama's breathtaking rise has at least already won him the VP nod but the
strength of his current surge will, I believe, eventually win him the

Fairly or unfairly Obama has been christened the new Kennedy while
Hillary has been tarred the old Nixon. I just don't see how she recovers from

Obama has unquestionably tapped into something profound and lacking in
this country. Let us gather around him now and get ready for the real push, the
real hard work, of wrestling power away from a handful of ultra-conservative
plutocrats who, for going on eight years now, have turned this nation into one
that we hardly even recognize.
Let's take it back with Obama.