Friday, October 16, 2009

Larger than the continental United States

Common Dreams featured this piece by John Gibbons Time to pull the plug on the bottle water swindle from the Irish Times

Plastic is one of the world’s most chronic pollutants. A colossal floating mass of waste trapped in the north Pacific gyre between Hawaii and Japan is estimated to contain more than 100 million tonnes of a floating soup of plastic, some of it there since the 1950s. The contaminated area of ocean is larger than the continental United States.

Nor is this problem specific to the Pacific. The UN Environment Programme calculates that every square mile of the world’s oceans contains an average of 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. More than one million sea birds a year die from ingesting plastic. This toxic cocktail makes its journey full circle to humanity via contamination of the marine produce we in turn eat.

Almost too painful to think about.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Somebody was always invading somebody in our God-forsaken world

I was in seventh grade for the school year 1963-64. In November, art class was interrupted by the announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. In the spring Mr. Saint John, the English teacher, gave us an in-class creative writing assignment with a choice among four or five topics. I chose to write about the soldiers in a war somewhere with the hero of my story jumping on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. This sounds like a movie I probably saw. The culture had obviously prepared me to consider such sacrifice as worthy. To question at that time just why it was the who it was that we would have been fighting never would have entered my mind.

Slightly more than six years later in the summer of 1970 my friend King and I watched the lottery drawing that determined who would be drafted into the military. The accident of our births sheltered us. To question at that time just why it was the who it was that we would have been fighting never would have entered my mind, despite my Uncle Jim having been killed in combat in Viet Nam.

Flash forward to August of 2002, and it was clear to me that the United States would invade the sovereign nation of Iraq. Based on what I had absorbed in the intervening years about such undertakings, my gut told me that a much larger military force than the US then possessed would be required. In November of 2002, my son would turn 18. And then, and only then, did I ask just why it was that we would be waging war upon the Iraqi people.

By any traditional measure, I had received a very fine American education. But the system had failed to provide me with the tools to ask this basic question: what purposes and whose interests are served by the waging of such wars?

An American educational system designed to teach critical thinking skills in the arena of life and death would have them reading material such as the following, which I read in Retrieving Bones: Stories and Poems of the Korean War, an anthology edited by W. D. Erhart and Philip K. Jason. The passage below is excerpted from the book The Secret: An Oratorical Novel, written by James Drought who served in the military from 1952-1954.

The unfortunate thing that I discovered next, in the years of the Fifties, working like a slob for the finance company, not much different from the slobs I was trying to pump some money out of―was that the fat-cats are not content to exploit us, bleed us, work us for the rest of our lives at their benefit, but they want us to win them some glory, too. This is why every once in a while they start a war for us to fight in. Like everybody else, I suppose I read about the North Koreans invading the South Koreans, and just like everybody else―including the South Koreans it turned out later―I just didn't give a shit. Somebody was always invading somebody in our God-forsaken world and I couldn't keep up an interest in who was taking over who. And I can tell you this: I sure as hell didn't think this invasion was a threat to me, my family,my country, or even the whole goddamn world. But Harry Truman did. He decided that Americans―under the age of twenty-five of course, which left out him and the Congress and the businessmen and doctors and teachers and scientists and ministers―that we were going to defend South Korea. “We'll teach those bloody Communists!” Harry said, waving goodbye to the troop-ships, and Congress agreed and began appropriating all kinds of money to pay the businessmen for weapons and war materials―plus a profit, of course. It's a funny thing, but a lot of the experts saw we were surely headed for a Depression if it hadn't been for the Korean War; and the shot in the arm that this war gave to production to business and even to religion―since right away everybody returned to church to pray for their brave sons overseas―was something that the fat-cats had to have or they might have gone under and suddenly become poor folks like the rest of us―a situation they were quite ready to try anything to avoid. So suddenly we were at war, although the term applied was a little more subtle―”a police action,” Harry called it; but still it was the same old thing, the flag-waving in the newspapers and on the movie-screens, the speeded up draft, the processing centers, the crazy uniforms, the guns, the firing ranges, the squad-training, the troopship―and then war, death, murder for all under twenty-five, while Congress resounded with virulent speeches, much chest-thumping, and the artists began to “soul search,” and the businessmen pocketed the profits, as did the elderly war workers, the housewives, the physically unfit, the “professional patriots,” and the grey-haired ministers who gleefully led their flocks again in something worthy praying about. Again the fine and free Americans were being inflated with death. Oh, there was much band-playing and march-tingling and “we'll-kill-them” shouting, and everyone including General MacArthur predicted the war would be over in a few weeks. The military journals explained “Korea will be a useful testing ground for our young field commanders,” and everyone expected to gain something―except, that is, those under twenty-five. And even for these younger souls, slipping into their uniforms provided them at a tidy profit, there were voices like old Ernie Hemingway's which told them that war gave them a once in a million chance, a way to test their manhood, their courage, and all that was in them. You can tell how great you are, the young were informed, by how willing you are to give up your life, to charge the blazing guns for your for your buddies and for your country, and when it is over you will never be afraid again, because you will have discovered yourself. Nobody mentioned what those would discover who lay ripped open after the battle, bleeding, dying, dead from monstrous wounds.

An eloquent maker of promises

Howard Zinn on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize:

People should be given a peace prize not on the basis of promises they have made – as with Obama, an eloquent maker of promises – but on the basis of actual accomplishments towards ending war, and Obama has continued deadly, inhuman military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Reminded me of an evaluation of Timothy Geitner from Capitalism: A Love Story (paraphrased)

He's failed at every job he's ever held.

So why does he hold this important position?

Because he tells people what they want to hear.

A teller of pleasing tales.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Would you want to wager your life's savings?

At Counterpunch, William Blum asks an excellent question:

As to the US leaving [Iraq] ... utterly meaningless propaganda until it happens. Ask the people of South Korea — 56 years of American occupation and still counting; ask the people of Japan — 64 years. And Iraq? Would you want to wager your life's savings on which decade it will be that the last American soldier and military contractor leaves?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Toxic brew of regressive policies, sold through hate driven marketing techniques, all backed by the engine of kleptocratic thievery

At The Smoking Chimp, Hofstra University Professor Dr. David Michael Green pulls no punches in this scalding critique of the present-day GOP:

The GOP's problem is its ideology, plain and simple. Their toxic brew of regressive policies, sold through hate-driven marketing techniques, all backed by the engine of kleptocratic thievery, just isn't getting traction anymore. Just as it was inevitable that Bristol Palin and her nineteen year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston, won't be getting married after all (golly, didn't see that one coming at all!) - Republican family values notwithstanding! - so was it clear that the GOP would end up being its own worst enemy. Americans show an amazing capacity for stupidity, to be sure, but just the same they will usually figure out in the end that what's bad for them is bad for them.

Understanding that political pendulums swing, and that absolute power corrupts not just Repulicans, Dr. Green fixes a realistic gave into medium future.

But one could imagine, much as with Labour and the Tories in the UK, that a decade or two from now the Democrats will get lazy and corrupt and stupid enough to lose to a deradicalized Republican Party that runs on a non-ideological appeal purely focused on competence, as an alternative to the messed-up incumbents.

Again, it's the policy that's the problem.

When the best you can offer to a frightened and submerged American public is some cheap and disingenuous rap about earmarks, along with a government that would do nothing to help, your party is going to go the same way as Herbert Hoover.

Because you are Herbert Hoover.

A few years ago while visiting some Iowa relatives, my folks and I stopped at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Musuem in West Branch, Iowa.

The library's web page notes that the library opened on 10 August, 1962, and has subsequently undergone "a massive expansion and renovation project" and "has grown from 32,000 to 44,500 square feet."

Massive expansion and renovation projects didn't come all that cheap even in 1992, when the museum was rededicated by Ronald Reagan. The web site notes:

The $8-million facelift was very much a public-private partnership, with Washington supplying $5 million for bricks and mortar, supplementing some $3 million raised by the Hoover Presidential Library Association for new exhibits and educational programming.

In other words, the facelift was a FIVE MILLION DOLLAR EARMARK which went to preserve the legacy of Herbert Hoover.

At least that's one way of looking at it, as for example a recent Chicago Tribune article headline noted about some recent Massachusettes earmarks.

Preserving the Kennedy heritage

March 12, 2009

More than $1 out of every $5 of the $126 million Massachusetts is receiving in earmarks is going to help preserve the legacy of the Kennedys. The spending package includes $5.8 million for planning and design of a building to house a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate. The measure also includes $22 million to expand facilities at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum and $5 million for a new gateway to the Boston Harbor Islands on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

—Associated Press

Or maybe it's just Democratic-sponsored earmarks that are evil incarnate?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dancing in the streets - for the sake of your health

"Nothing so reshuffles the hierarchy of values of a politician - North or South - or gives his dormant conscience a wee breath of life, as a mass demonstration in the streets."

Howard Zinn: The Southern Mystique

Today on Democracy Now! Amy Goodman interviewed Russell Mokhiber who has formed a new group, Single Payer Action ( in order to "have a direct confrontation with the health insurance industry and their lackeys in Congress."

Mokhiber notes that 60% of the American people plus majorities of doctors, nurses, and health economists support a single payer/Medicare model. Fierce resistance exists to even let the idea enter the national discussion. Mokhiber says "it's the usual situation where the will of the American people is being stopped by the powerful players in Washington" (health insurance industry and lobbyists).

In order to grab the attention of our local congress critters, Mokhiber advocates this strategy:

Now, there is an answer. The answer is not email campaigns. Congress is becoming immune to email campaigns. The answer is not letter writing. The answer is direct, face-to-face confrontation with the insurance industry and with Congress, with your members of Congress in your district. So we’re calling on Americans to sign up at and to organize protests in front—get to know your district—your member of Congress district office. Probably less than five percent of Americans know where the district office of their member of Congress. Get to know it. Camp out there. Call the local media. The local media is going to love it. And let’s get this thing done. Let’s push through single payer for the American people, like the rest of the civilized world has.

District Office of U.S. Representative Melissa Bean
1701 E. Woodfield Road, Suite 200,
Schaumburg, IL 60173

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Accustomed to singling out the poor, the minority, the ill and the invisible

At the Narco News Bulletin, Al Giordano reflects upon the potential paradigm shift if the war on "the poor, the minority, the ill and the invisible" targets an American sports icon.

Not since the olden days in Nottingham has a sheriff been on the verge of sparking an incident that would have such mega-consequences for a population. Can you imagine, kind reader, the firestorm if the drug war – so accustomed to singling out the poor, the minority, the ill and the invisible – suddenly targets America’s Darling and makes Michael Phelps the most recognizable face of peaceful illegal drug use on the planet? It would be akin to throwing a lit match into the basement full of gasoline that underlies current prohibitionist drug policies. Phelps is healthy, soft-spoken, polite, of good humor, skilled on television (as his hosting of Saturday Night Live revealed)… Grandmothers everywhere, when they see his face, don’t want to send him to prison: They want to pinch his cheek.

The media circus that would ensue would bring the hypocrisy of the drug war into every living room and stir a nationwide debate around every kitchen table over how thoroughly senseless the US war on drugs has become. In the context of the step-by-step and incremental policy changes underway, the making of Michael Phelps into martyr and poster boy would serve, much like that first hammer in Berlin, to inspire a thousand more blows against the Drug War Wall, turning its evident cracks into gaping holes and its cement to rubble.

Estimates suggest that half of the U.S. population has at one time or another experimented with marijuana. Two of our last three presidents have admitted as much. The one in between hinted as much.

At Counterpunch, Dale Gieringer provides some historical context on drug prohibition.

On February 9, 1909, Congress passed the Opium Exclusion Act, barring the importation of opium for smoking as of April 1. Thus began a hundred-year crusade that has unleashed unprecedented crime, violence and corruption around the world —- a war with no victory in sight.

Long accustomed to federal drug control, most Americans are unaware that there was once a time when people were free to buy any drug, including opium, cocaine, and cannabis, at the pharmacy. In that bygone era, drug-related crime and violence were largely unknown, and drug use was not a major public concern.

Gieringer tells us that the U.S. motivation for passing the Opium Exclusion was political; to curry the favor of the Chinese government.

Congress was moved to Act in 1909 not by any drug abuse crisis, but by foreign policy concerns. Per capita opium use had begun to decline by 1900, and only one in a thousand Americans indulged in smoking opium. Nonetheless, the State Department determined that an initiative against opium smoking would be useful in opening the door to China, which had long chafed under British compulsion to allow the opium trade. At the invitation of Theodore Roosevelt's administration, an international commission was convened in Shanghai in December 1908 to sign a treaty ending the trade –- the first step in what would become a far-reaching international system of drug control. As a gesture of good faith, the State Department called on Congress to pass legislation that would ban the importation of smoking opium, thereby creating the first illegal drug.

The so-called "War on Drugs" has greatly expanded the prison population:

Early 20th-century Americans would be astounded to see what a problem drugs have become since the establishment of drug prohibition. Every year, two million Americans are arrested and 400,000 imprisoned for drug offenses that did not exist in their time. Drug laws are now the number-one source of crime in the U.S., with one-half of the entire adult population having violated them.

But isn't that the point, after all? As long as those imprisoned are confined to the ranks of "the poor, the minority, the ill and the invisible," the war on drugs doesn't much enter into the conscience of middle class white America. Much like the war on terror doesn't much enter into that conscience. Handy mantras, marketing gimmicks, slogans to move the faithful on a gut level, to keep them from peering too deeply into the abyss.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How to cut your mortgage costs in half

This NYT article contains an incredible story. Set in Nevada (but likely to be played out all over the country), we learn of the Terrible Herbst chain of gas stations / convenience stores featuring slots, candy and beer. A combination that would seem to be a winner in bad times. The recently failed First National Bank of Nevada held the mortgage on the Terrible Herbst chain. The FDIC comes riding, like the U.S. cavalry to the rescue.

When regulators took over the First National Bank of Nevada last year, they faced a showdown with the Terrible Herbst, the mustachioed cowboy who boasts of being the “best bad man in the West.”

This was no real gunslinger, but the name and logo of a chain of gas stations and convenience stores in Nevada that feature slot machines next to candy and beer.

The family-owned Herbst chain, auditors at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation concluded, did not generate enough sales at its Reno-area gas stations to support the repayment of a loan, leaving auditors with three bad choices: Move to take over those stations and put the government in the gambling business. Cut off any flow of additional loan money. Or sell the loan at a steep loss.

What to do, what to do, what to do with Terrible Herbst? Well, ya got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Consider the options:

In the case of Terrible Herbst and its Reno-area gas stations, officials at the F.D.I.C. considered taking the highly unusual step of applying for a temporary casino license, allowing the agency to operate the gas stations and the electronic games after perhaps foreclosing on the nearly $10 million loan, one official involved in the effort said.

Another option, simply cutting off additional advances of cash from the loan, was ruled out because the business might close, making it nearly impossible to collect any of the outstanding principal.

What to do, what to do, what to do. Okay. Here's the plan:

The resolution of the case turned out to be a windfall for Terrible Herbst. The government put the loan on sale, and who should buy it directly from the government but the Herbst family, at a discount of more than 50 percent.

The government ate the loss, but at least it collected on some of the bad debt, the F.D.I.C. official involved in the deal said.

Executives at Terrible Herbst, who said they never formally refused to pay off the loan in full, were hardly disappointed.

“It worked out just fine,” said Sean Higgins, the company’s general counsel. “At least for Terrible Herbst.”

I think I understand.

Herbst owes $10 million on the properties, but can't generate enough income to pay them off.

FDIC doesn't want to takeover and run the properties, doesn't want to loan any more money. So, FDIC will let the government take a loss. Sell the properties at a "MORE than 50% discount." Just how much more, we are not told. I wonder why?

Suppose it's a 60% discount. Somebody was smart enough to find a dumb buyer for these toxic assets. Cool. Rather than having a toxic asset on its books, the government now has a cool $4 mill.

Some sucker owns the properties. Who dat sucker? Why, dat sucker is none other than Terrible Herbst. They just saved (something on the order of) $6,000,000.

Can anyone say potential moral hazard here? Any reason NOT to give say a 5% "fee" to a player with enough ambition to put get this deal done. How about if the player is maybe the brother-in-law of the FDIC regulator?

It's the great American way.

3 for 2007; 25 for 2008; 13 so far for 2009

This New York Times article indicates the scope of bank failures in 2007 and 2008. Hold on to your hats. Looks like 2009 will be an even steeper ride.

The F.D.I.C. inherited the collection of loans and property after the failure of 25 banks in 2008, compared to just three in 2007. Thirteen more have failed this year, including four on Friday night, and no one doubts that more are on the way. The F.D.I.C., which insures bank deposits and ultimately has responsibility for liquidating failed banks, is selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loans through eBay-like auction sites.

"Through eBay-like auction sites?" Does this mean "on-line." Talk about virtual reality. More like virtual unreality.

A surprisingly low profile in the new administration's stated plans

At the invaluable Tom Dispatch web site, Steve Fraser examines the public response to the wall street "titans" in 1929 and again in 2009 (my emphasis added).

This was then:

After 1929, when the old order went down in flames, when it commanded no more credibility and legitimacy than a confidence game, there was an urgent cry to regulate both the malefactors and their rogue system. Indeed, new financial regulation was at the top of, and made up a hefty part of, Roosevelt's New Deal agenda during its first year. That included the Bank Holiday, the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the passing of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial from investment banking (their prior cohabitation had been a prime incubator of financial hanky-panky during the Jazz Age of the previous decade), and the first Securities Act to monitor the stock exchange.

This is now:

One might have anticipated an even more robust response today, given the damage done not only to our domestic economy, but to the global one upon which any American economic recovery will rely to a very considerable degree. At the moment, however, financial regulation or re-regulation -- given the last 30 years of Washington's fiercely deregulatory policies -- seems to have a surprisingly low profile in the new administration's stated plans. Capping bonuses, pay scales, and stock options for the financial upper crust is all well and good and should happen promptly, but serious regulation and reform of the financial system must strike much deeper than that.

And for some reason (bipartisanship?), the Obama administration is "staying the course" on the corporate "bail-out." Never forget, Obama is joined at the hip to Bush on this. Obama spent political capital to help get the TARP plan approved. Who the hell is advising him? And just how much money did his campaign rake in from Wall Street?

Instead, the new administration is evidently locked into the bail-out state invented by its predecessors, the latest version of which, the creation of a government "bad bank" (whether called that or not) to buy up toxic securities from the private sector, commands increasing attention. A "bad bank" seems a strikingly lose-lose proposition: either we, the tax-paying public, buy or guarantee these securities at something approaching their grossly inflated, largely fictitious value, in which case we will be supporting this second gilded age's financial malfeasance for who knows how long, or the government's "bad bank" buys these shoddy assets at something close to their real value in which case major banks will remain in lock-down mode, if they survive at all. Worse yet, the administration's latest "bad bank" plan does not even compel rescued institutions to begin lending to anybody, which presumably is the whole point of this new financial welfare system.

And just how much of the stimulus bill is in the oh so productive voodoo trickle down economics of tax cuts?

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The three front war

From this Al-Jazeera report, the U.S. appears to have another war criminal president. No surprise to any serious student of American history.

The US has launched more than 30 missile attacks on Pakistani soil in recent months, ostensibly against al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked fighters.

More than 220 people were killed in the attacks, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.

Pakistan has been angered by the raids, saying that innocent civilians have been killed and that Pakistani sovereignty has been infringed.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trying to undo the recovery from the First Great Republican Depression

At the Sideshow, Avedon Carol notes that:

You have to understand that the conservatives aren't just trying to "undo the New Deal" - though of course they are - but ultimately to undo the recovery from the First Great Republican Depression by first preventing a recovery from their new one.

They seem to be getting plenty of help from the democratic congress and the democratic President of the United States too.

Monday, February 9, 2009

More than 10 years behind the times

In the fall of 1998, FAIR published an article by Janine Jackson entitled The Myth of the 'Crack Baby'. Recently the New York Times featured an article by Susan Okie entitled The Epidemic That Wasn't.

From Janine Jackson's 1998 article we are offered insights into how typical MSM reporting would cover the narrative:

Already obsessed with the use of the cocaine derivative crack among the urban poor, mainstream media used ... limited, qualified findings as grounds for an astonishing spree of sloppy, alarmist reporting and racial and economic scapegoating that still echoes today


"Crack baby" stories typically had an anecdotal focus and a veneer of sympathy for the "tiny victims," ... More urgency was reserved, though, for the unimaginable dangers these babies were supposedly destined to wreak on the world: The Washington Post (9/17/89) warned of "A Time Bomb in Cocaine Babies," while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (9/18/90) declared flatly, "Disaster In Making: Crack Babies Start to Grow Up."


The emphasis may have varied, from pity for the children ("Crack Babies Born to Life of Suffering," USA Today, 6/8/89) to disgust for the mothers ("For Pregnant Addict, Crack Comes First," Washington Post, 12/18/89) to the unfathomable amount "their" problems might wind up costing "us" ("Crack's Tiniest, Costliest Victims," New York Times, 8/7/89). But overall, commercial media found the premise - a coming onslaught of affectless genetic deviants - utterly persuasive.

Compelling stories cast within the mold of a morality tale. Jackson notes (my emphasis added)

The premise, however, was false. The inadvisability of using cocaine during pregnancy is not disputed. But subsequent research on cocaine-exposed children found that many of the dangers mentioned in initial studies are simply not borne out.

... Health-care providers working with infants exposed to cocaine in utero found them indistinguishable from other children. Much medical research pointed to other factors - such as the lack of good prenatal care, use of alcohol and tobacco, and, simply enough, poverty - as more primary factors in poor fetal development among pregnant cocaine users than cocaine itself.

Proponents of a revised view included Dr. Ira Chasnoff, whose initial 1985 study launched much of the media juggernaut. By 1992, Chasnoff was saying, "poverty is the worst thing that can happen to a child," and expressing dismay at the press' misuse of medical research. "It's sexy," he suggested of the "crack baby" story (AP, 12/6/92). "It's interesting, it sells newspapers and it perpetuates the us-vs.-them idea."

Just who is the us in the "us-vs.-them idea" mentioned by Dr. Chasnoff?

From the 2009 New York Times story, we learn that

When the use of crack cocaine became a nationwide epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s, there were widespread fears that prenatal exposure to the drug would produce a generation of severely damaged children.

...[S]cientists say, the long-term effects of such exposure on children’s brain development and behavior appear relatively small.

Cocaine is undoubtedly bad for the fetus. But experts say its effects are less severe than those of alcohol and are comparable to those of tobacco — two legal substances that are used much more often by pregnant women, despite health warnings.

In the first half of NYT article, we are told that the morality of cocaine use is the issue

cocaine use in pregnancy has been treated as a moral issue rather than a health problem ... Pregnant women who use illegal drugs commonly lose custody of their children, and during the 1990s many were prosecuted and jailed

But later in the article the racial issues loom large:

Possession of crack cocaine, the form of the drug that was widely sold in inner-city, predominantly black neighborhoods, has long been punished with tougher sentences than possession of powdered cocaine, although both forms are identically metabolized by the body and have the same pharmacological effects.

... If [cocaine-exposed children] develop physical symptoms or behavioral problems, doctors or teachers are sometimes too quick to blame the drug exposure and miss the real cause, like illness or abuse.

“Society’s expectations of the children,” she said, “and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity, but by the social meaning” of the drug.

What exactly does the "social meaning" of the crack cocaine mean? My best guess is that it means white elites jump upon any and all opportunities to further marginalize, stigmatize, and demoralize poor blacks.

Teasing out the effects of cocaine exposure is complicated ... [because] ... almost all of the women in the studies who used cocaine while pregnant were also using other substances.

Moreover, most of the children in the studies are poor, and many have other risk factors known to affect cognitive development and behaviorinadequate health care, substandard schools, unstable family situations and exposure to high levels of lead.

Back in 1998, FAIR painted a much clearer picture of the inherent racism and how 60 minutes legitimatized

Such a sustained media assault was not without real world effects, of course. Years of accusatory coverage contributed to a shift to more punitively focused public policy, which was, in turn, welcomed by the press. In 1994, 60 Minutes aired a show (11/20/94) celebrating one such policy: a South Carolina law under which women who used cocaine while pregnant were arrested and jailed under child abuse statutes. "Cracking Down," the segment was called.

Fast forward to 1998: Despite an amicus curiae letter signed by 15 leading medical and social service organizations condemning the policy, the Supreme Court declines to hear an appeal in the convictions of two South Carolina women. Cornelia Whitner and Malissa Crawley, both mothers of healthy children, are serving prison terms for prenatally "abusing" them by using cocaine. And 60 Minutes announces plans to re-air its 1994 segment on the policy that sent them to jail.

... [O]f 23 prosecutions, 22 were of African-American women, and the one white woman was married to a black man.

In America, the perpetuation of racial divide (us-vs.-them) serves to deflect from class issues. As the lawyer who represented Whitner and Crawley notes:

"Many of the people who are actually working with the women and children were saying, 'These are poverty babies, and nobody wants to address that. So we call them crack babies.'"

In addition

[L]eading medical groups like the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the March of Dimes [join] in saying, "If you want to help children, don't arrest their mothers."

In an entirely different morality play, Chicago Tribune sports writer Bob Verdi writes some unmentionable truths:

Like lemmings, members of the broadcast and print media have piled on ...

We in the media are not here to make you think; we are here to tell you what to think.

Funding and arming an international terrorist organization

Could it reasonably be said that a nation which spends $28.5 billion to support an international terrorist organization and furthermore provides 95% of the armaments used by said international terrorist aids and abets the terrorism?

This is not a theoretical question.

The more we fight the so-called "War on Drugs", the more the drugs seem to be winning. Which is difficult to reconcile when you stop and consider that "the drugs" don't shoot back.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I blame Obama

Tom and Raeanne visited tonight. As always, the conversation got around to politics. Tom called the democrats in the house and the senate "the most feckless group of people imaginable." Tom's lost that sense of optimistic hope so many felt upon the election of President Obama; he feels weary.

"Well, not ALL of them. There's Dennis Kucinich" I countered (Gwen More, Nick Rahall and Maxine Waters too).

But I put the blame for the sagging popular support for the stimulus package on squarely on President Obama. HE is the leader. HE must be the one to make the case to the American people. And that shouldn't be very difficult, if he were to be breathtakingly honest.

More of this later today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Where the money goes

At Counterpunch, Robert Bryce has written a harsh indictment ethanol citing more than a dozen sources which document different aspects of hidden costs of the ethanol "scam." The following statistics scream out about the injustice of wealth distribution around the world.

[I]n the U.S. only about 6.5 percent of disposable income is spent on food. By contrast, in India, about 40 percent of personal disposable income is spent on food. In the Philippines, it’s about 47.5 percent. In some sub-Saharan Africa, consumers spend about 50 percent of the household budget on food. And according to the U.S.D.A., “In some of the poorest countries in the region such as Madagascar, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Zambia, this ratio is more than 60 percent.”

Disasters foretold

What if a former politician gave a speech foretelling the disasters of Bush administration's Iraq policies and tax and budget proposals and nobody listened? Al Gore did just that in August 2003.

"Here is the pattern that I see: The president's mishandling of and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iraq is pretty much the same as the way he intentionally distorted the best available evidence on climate change and rejected the best available evidence on the threat posed to America's economy by his tax and budget proposals," Gore said.

The Bush administration, Gore said, employs a "propaganda machine" that engages in "a systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that's felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty."

So a mere five and a half years later, the main-stream media fed public has:

serious difficulty recognizing the mishandling and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iran, Hamas and Afghanistan,

serious difficulty recognizing the distortions of the best available evidence on climate change

little if any idea of the warnings raised about the damage that would be inflicted upon the American economy by the Bush tax cuts and phony budget proposals

The mainstream media - press, TV and radio - serve as a tool for the interest of the corporate, financial, infotainment, educational and military elites whose vested interests devolve to maintaining the status quo: those with the most wealth to get ever more of it; those in power triangulating schemes to keep and expand it.

The MSM is a perpetual propaganda machine engaged in a corrupt and persistent effort to manipulate facts in service to an ideology that benefits the powerful few to the serious detriment of most.

Don't expect our elected democratic officials or the so-called liberal of the MSM to address this. By definition these too are elites.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Our psyche's Prime Directive

Jonathan Schwartz offers this remarkable and chilling insight into the nature of the beast. Take the time to read the whole piece.

It's hard to belong to a species that often acts with such berserk cruelty. We don't just cause each other horrible pain; we do it gratuitously, far beyond what's necessary to reach any of our conscious goals, and in fact to the point it's completely counterproductive for anything we believe we're trying to do.


It appears that, for humans, once you've started down the road of hurting someone, you must continue. Indeed, you must hurt them even more to prove to yourself these people deserve to be hurt. That's because our psyche's Prime Directive is to preserve our self-image at all cost.

Due to the Prime Directive, when we hurt others our psyche tell us that our victims are dirty thieves. After all, they are trying to steal our most valuable possession: our self-image. And what do you do to dirty thieves? YOU PUNISH THEM. And when they try to make you feel bad about this new punishment, this just goes to show what giant dirty thieves they are, so you must PUNISH THEM MORE.

One of the commentators included this "joke" to further illustrate the point:

An Irishman has been bayoneted by a British soldier, and as the Mick dies slowly in a ditch the Brit kicks him over and over, cursing him and wishing him a painful, slow death. With his last breath the Irishman asks, "Why are you so angry at us?" The Brit leans down, whispers, "You swine, we will NEVER forgive you for what we've done to you."

Another commentor linked to an earlier Schwartz posting inspired by excerpts from a Molly Ivins piece:

[M]ost people have a very hard time forgiving those whom they have deeply wronged. I know that's sort of counterintuitive, but think about some of the bad divorces you have known. When we have done something terrible to someone, we often need to twist it around so it's their fault, not ours

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This is mostly disgusting - but a tiny bit scary

This editorial illustrates just perfectly why the New York Times is forever being lambasted for being part of the omnipresent liberal media:

Last week at the National Press Club in Washington, a group seeking to speak for the future of the Republican Party declared that its November defeats in Congressional races stemmed not from having been too hard on foreigners, but too soft.

The group, the American Cause, released a report arguing that anti-immigration absolutism was still the solution for the party’s deep electoral woes, actual voting results notwithstanding. Rather than “pander to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” as President Bush and Karl Rove once tried to do, the report’s author, Marcus Epstein, urged Republicans to double down on their efforts to run on schemes to seal the border and drive immigrants out.

Absolutely love the headline for the editorial:

The Nativists Are Restless

Reinforcing it for Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman's NYT's editor was really lying down on the job today. One comes to expect such idiotics from Friedman the Flat Earther.

[W]e’re going to have to get used to a loss of trust. All those rock-solid people and institutions that we trusted with our money, our pensions and our kids’ piggybank savings — like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America — do not seem trustworthy anymore. Never before in my adult life have I looked around at every bank in my town and said, “I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to put my paycheck in a mattress.”

Tom, Tom, Tom, you moron: you really don't grasp the full import of what you write. Cash your paycheck first bozo. Then take the cash and put it in a mattress. Finally, make a note to remember which mattress you put the money in.

The recent $50,000,000,000 ponzi scheme made it real for Friedman:

The Bernard Madoff scandal, of course, has only reinforced that loss of trust. His degree of betrayal — his alleged willingness to embezzle the life savings of people whom he had known his whole life — is so coldhearted that it charts new territory in human behavior. He’s on his way to becoming an adjective. Money managers are already being asked prove to prospective new clients that their internal safeguards are “Madoff proof.”

Hmmm ... about that new territory in human behavior. There have always been people willing to embezzle the life savings of others. A man once blew up an airplane to collect life insurance on his mother. That sounds pretty cold hearted.

The ACLU is out $850,000 on account of Madoff, per one of their phone solicitors who contacted me last night. The Guardian noted a while back that

[h]is alleged victims include hundreds of charitable institutions, investment firms and wealthy private investors.

An earlier NYT story indicates that Madoff's early appeal was to people who wanted to be in with the in crowd:

Initially, he tapped local money pulled in from country clubs and charity dinners, where investors sought him out to casually plead with him to manage their savings so they could start reaping the steady, solid returns their envied friends were getting.

Then, he and his promoters set sights on Europe, again framing the investments as memberships in a select club.

Perhaps in a Friedman world, the wealthy would never cheat the wealthy, at least not out of their life's savings. Well, not any more in Friedmans' world:

I knew B. Ramalinga Raju, the Satyam chairman accused of embezzling $1 billion from his own company. What’s really sad is that I didn’t get to know him through his business but through an interest in his family’s charitable work. They created India’s first 911 emergency system in their home state and call centers in Indian villages, so young people there could get service jobs. Was all that a fake, too? Or was he just an embezzler with a good heart? Don’t know. When you can’t even trust a person’s charitable work, you’ve hit a new low.

Those who have been embezzled out of their life's savings, THEY have hit a new low. Friedman's new low seems to have been hit because elites are embezzling billions. Perhaps they should just make theirs the old fashioned way: off the backs of slaves, indentured servants, and sweatshop workers. Or lobbying the government to reduce the tax rate on hedge fund managers wages, salaries, bonuses and tips to 15%.

If you can't trust the wealthy to look out for the interests of the wealthy, just who CAN you trust? Perhaps nationalizing all those financial institutions that are technically insolvent might not be the worst way to go.

None of the banks contacted for this story would discuss how their actions might affect credit scores

A Boston Globe article tells us that some credit card issuers (American Express Company, Bank of America Corp and CitiBank, Eastern Bank owned by Barclay Card U.S. are all cited as examples) are restricting lending. Ostensibly these lenders are

seeking to reduce their debt exposure, are shutting off and limiting consumer credit card lines, even for many customers who carry low balances and pay on time

While merely two years ago almost anyone could get a credit card, those halycon days when the credit card companies wanted everyone to swim in the comforting waters of the fast and easy credit river, the water flows have changed so that

drowning in debt and soured investments, lenders are seeking to stop consumers from running up big balances in hard times, bills they might not be able to pay

While not mentioning any such companies by name, the Globe notes the irony that some of these companies reducing credit card lending took government bail out funds ostensibly given to free up money for lending. Furthermore this move to limit lending might

damage cardholders' credit ratings by making them appear to be riskier borrowers

(E.g., a $1,000 balance on a $10,000 maximum card is using 10% of their limit, but the same balance on a $2,500 max goes to 40%. Which, perhaps not coincidentally permits the companies to charge higher interest rates.)

One of American Express Company's 10-year clients had both her personal and business credit cards put on hold pending submission of two year's tax returns, plus three months of pay stubs and bank records. Upon being contacted by the Globe, the company refused to comment on this particular case.

Some of the corporate lines given for these actions include:

"Though we continually look at the credit limits we offer card members and review them on a case-by-case basis, we are being more targeted in response to economic conditions," ... "This may also include cancellations."

And then again, it just may include raising interest rates.

We're taking a more aggressive look at accounts in order to control risk in the current environment

Okay, "risk control" sounds like they want to eliminate the riskier credit risks. Citibank says:

"We have taken actions such as lowering credit limits, adjusting rates, tightening credit standards, and closing inactive accounts, particularly in certain geographies and where we can use mortgage data to enhance our decision-making capabilities."

Closing inactive accounts makes sense. That way people won't suddenly go to the inactive accounts to get credit they won't pay back. But note very carefully that part about "adjusting rates." ADJUSTING RATES means INCREASING RATES. Let there be no questions about this.

The Globe also notes that another phenomenon fueling these credit reductions:

as investor demand for credit card debt that is usually packaged into securities has plunged, banks are being forced to keep the debt on their books longer

Oops. Trying sell a stream of future credit card repayments as a bond with a price set to yield a "guaranteed" rate of return is not so compelling in an environment where

banks and credit card companies are reacting to an increase in the number of cardholders who fail to pay their bills. For example, American Express said it wrote off 6.7 percent of its $63 billion US loan portfolio in the fourth quarter, up from 3.4 percent a year ago. To counter such losses, some institutions, including Citibank, have raised the interest rates they charge certain customers as a way to generate revenue

Remember too that the credit card companies "get it" on both ends. Their card-holders pay back the loans with interest if late, but also, the seller pays a fixed amount per transaction plus a percentage of the sale.

This article reads sympathetically to the credit card issuers. Note the subheadline:

Fear excessive use amid hard times

But this nugget is very telling:

None of the banks contacted for this story would discuss how their actions might affect credit scores.

The company that calculates scores, Fair Isaac Corp., said it is examining the impact that creditline cuts are having. The results are expected to made public within the next month and could lead to a shift in the way scores are calculated. Still, Fair Isaac spokesman Craig Watts defended banks' moves to reduce credit lines. "It's only unfair if you regard credit as a right instead of a privilege," Watts said.

Spokesman Watts is perhaps being disingenuous. One consequence of reducing the maximum limits will be to reduce the FICO scores as a de facto means to increase the appearance of a riskier looking client thus providing the rational for increasing the interest rates on all customers, except those who don't need the credit card in the first place.

So sweet and yet, so sad

Natalie's daughter, a freshman at a large Midwestern university, recently got a job at an outdoor hunting and fishing store. For her first job assignment she donned an elfin hat and worked as Santa's helper, helping kids write letters to Santa, obtaining an e-mail address to forward the requests to the parents.

The new elfin one was surprised and put off to learn that elves could not touch children, and that if the children wanted to sit on Santa's lap, the adult accompanying them had to lift the child. This is a sad societal comment.

Natalie told me the sweet part of this story, about the young boy whose one wish for Christmas was a picture of his mother. Try to imagine all of the six to nine year old children you know, and then try to imagine how many of them would ask only for, a picture of their mother for Christmas.

But this is also the bitter-sweet part of the story, for it tells a tale so sad. This young boy knew he would not see his mother at Christmas, that she would not hold him, that the best he could hope for was a picture.

More important than any toy, any material thing, was a picture of his mother.

We'll never know his mother's fate, nor will we know of this young boy's fate. We do know this young boy loved, and loved deeply.

In our best moments, we love.

And when we lose one we have loved, we can remember; we can remember our best moments together, when the love was shared.

An idiosyncratic genius

At a Christmas party this evening, (Tom needed sudden gall bladder surgery in December moving back their annual party plans) we were treated to a delightful anecdote about Frank Lloyd Wright.

The story-teller grew up in one Frank Lloyd Wright house in River Forest, and then moved into another FLW home after selling the first house before it was even advertised when a neighbor, upon hearing that they were moving said, "We'd like to buy your house."

The architect would periodically return to houses he had built. For the more famous houses, the returns were regular, and announced; for the less famous houses, he would arrive unannounced, sometimes accompanied by a guest, ring or knock at the front door, and upon being admitted, would take off to inspect his creation, as if he still owned it (which in a way, he still did).

One evening lat in his life he made just such an arrival, and upon being admitted, wandered off, as was his wont. As more and more time passed, the great man had not returned, and his hostess become concerned. She searched the house for him, finally coming to a closed bathroom door upstairs, behind which she could hear the sound of water. She knocked on the door. "Come on in," said Frank Lloyd Wright robustly responded. So she did, and was surprised to see him taking a bath.

"This has always been my favorite bathroom," he said, "and I wanted to take a bath in it."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whatever we're going to do is legal

In a CNN interview with Larry King, former President GWB clarifies that "we don't torture" and cites as supporting evidence the administration's procural of legal opinion supporting the proposition that "we don't torture."

KING: Do you think -- or do you get hurt when a Colin Powell comes out and says things like we shouldn't torture and we should close Guantanamo?

G. BUSH: No, I don't get hurt, because we don't torture.

KING: So does it hurt you that Colin, who worked for you, is saying that?

G. BUSH: I don't think he said George Bush has tortured. I can't remember his quote. But I'm comfortable with what we did and know it was necessary to protect the country.

KING: So there's nothing you've done in the area of treatment of prisoners that causes you any kind of pause?

G. BUSH: No. No. Everything we did was -- you know, it had legal -- legal opinions behind it. Look, you're sitting there, you've captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He's the guy that ordered the September the 11th attacks. And we want to know what he knows in order to protect the United States of America.

And I got legal opinions that said whatever we're going to do is legal. And my job is to protect you, Larry. And I've given it my all. I've given it my all.

The fealty pledged here by Bush to these legal opinions seem to be evidence of just how much the administration was aware of the illegality its sanctioned torture. The legal opinions were sought to provide "legal" cover to shield those who signed off on torture.

Should such matters be pursued, one expects the former Bush administration to learn that the opinions of lawyers do not constitute law. The International Criminal Court, would be unlikely to absolve Bushco of criminal liability.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What you mean OUR collective failure?

Paul Krugman raises his eyebrows in parsing economic issues tangentially referenced in President Obama's inauguration speech:

[I]n his speech Mr. Obama attributed the economic crisis in part to “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age” — but I have no idea what he meant. This is, first and foremost, a crisis brought on by a runaway financial industry. And if we failed to rein in that industry, it wasn’t because Americans “collectively” refused to make hard choices; the American public had no idea what was going on, and the people who did know what was going on mostly thought deregulation was a great idea.

Perhaps our president did not want to cast aspersions on the financial industry, who supported his election with lots of campaign contributions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The worst of the worst

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation issues a report on Guantanamo Bay Prison, where the U.S. public has been assured that we are holding the worst of the worst of the terrorists:

Of the 775 prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo Bay at one time or another since 2001, about 525 were released without charge, and two have been convicted of offences.

Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty in March 2007 to providing support for terrorism and was sent back to his home country to serve the remaining nine months of a seven-year sentence, while Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's one-time chauffeur, was found guilty last August of the same crime and sentenced to a further five months in prison on top of time served.

So goes the war on terrorism.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Everyone is a terrorist and everything is a legitimate target

The American Conservative features an analysis of the Israeli attacks upon Gaza written by University of Chicago Professor John J. Mearsheimer draws some obvious conclusions from some basic facts.

The best evidence, however, that Israel is deliberately seeking to punish the broader population in Gaza is the death and destruction the IDF has wrought on that small piece of real estate. Israel has killed over 1,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 4,000. Over half of the casualties are civilians, and many are children. The IDF’s opening salvo on Dec. 27 took place as children were leaving school, and one of its primary targets that day was a large group of graduating police cadets, who hardly qualified as terrorists. In what Ehud Barak called “an all-out war against Hamas,” Israel has targeted a university, schools, mosques, homes, apartment buildings, government offices, and even ambulances. A senior Israeli military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, explained the logic behind Israel’s expansive target set: “There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.” In other words, everyone is a terrorist and everything is a legitimate target.

How successful are the Israeli state-sponsored terrorist on the Gazans likely to be? Mearsheimer considers the historical evidence:

[T]here is little reason to think that the Israelis can beat Hamas into submission and get the Palestinians to live quietly in a handful of Bantustans inside Greater Israel. Israel has been humiliating, torturing, and killing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and has not come close to cowing them. Indeed, Hamas’s reaction to Israel’s brutality seems to lend credence to Nietzsche’s remark that what does not kill you makes you stronger.

Israel is also losing its propaganda war against Hamas and the Palestinian peoples. A man from my parent's church visited Jerusalem and came back with an entirely different outlook. This life-long Republican who works in the pharmacuetical industry, had the eye-opening experience of waiting at check points, of seeing the Wall, and viewing the treatment of Palestinians.

There are too many sources of that other reality on the ground in Gaza, the place where 1,300 have been massacred, 5,000 have been wounded, schools and hospitals bombed. Mearsheimer describes it well:

There is also little chance that people around the world who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will soon forget the appalling punishment that Israel is meting out in Gaza. The destruction is just too obvious to miss, and too many people—especially in the Arab and Islamic world—care about the Palestinians’ fate. Moreover, discourse about this longstanding conflict has undergone a sea change in the West in recent years, and many of us who were once wholly sympathetic to Israel now see that the Israelis are the victimizers and the Palestinians are the victims. What is happening in Gaza will accelerate that changing picture of the conflict and long be seen as a dark stain on Israel’s reputation.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sie sind alle Kriegspräsidenten

Hope that William Kristol does not get PAID by the New York Times to write this crap. From Sunday's The Next War President column:

...I’ve found myself thinking these last few days more about the man who has shouldered the burdens of office for the past eight years, George W. Bush.

The current "leader of the free world," recently reminisced on the burdens of office:

I believe this -- the phrase "burdens of the office" is overstated. You know, it's kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It's just -- it's pathetic, isn't it, self-pity.

I had a fabulous team around me of highly dedicated, smart, capable people, and we had fun. I tell people that, you know, some days happy, some days not so happy, every day has been joyous

Perhaps Bush has forgotten 9-11? Or maybe that too was a joyous day? Or maybe what's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget (unless we're running for re-election).

Kristol continues with a sentence that epitomizes the great divide separating bi-partisans from the partisans; those who feel the only wrong a president can do is to accept oral sex from a white house intern (or perhaps to be a democrat).

But he has exercised his just and rightful authority in a way — I believe — that deserves recognition and respect.

Those who believe that the U.S. Constitution limits the powers of the President and that treaties to which the U.S. is signatory also limit the powers of the President are angered and distressed that Bush has seized powers never vested to the Presidency, and has thus violated the Constitution of the United States that he swore to uphold. This is a matter of law. The Bush administration committed fraud upon the U.S. citizens using a propaganda campaign to gather national support for an illegal invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq, the Bush administration authorized illegal wire taps upon U.S. citizen phone calls and e-mails, the Bush administration issued secret signing statements countervening laws pass by the U.S. congress among other matters.

Kristol proffers more praise upon the leader of the "free" world:

Bush stood with Israel when he had no political incentive to do so and received no political benefit from doing so. He was criticized by much of the world. He did it because he thought it the right thing to do.

To state that Bush had "no political incentive" to stand with Israel ignores the reality that to do other than "to stand with Israel" is to be politically marginalized unto the fringes of Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party. There is NO issue upon which the U.S. congress is in greater agreement than in its support of Israel's occupation and massacre of the Palestinians.

Here is the perhaps the most astounding paragraph that will ever be written on the history of the Bush Presidency.

But I don’t think keeping us safe has been Bush’s most impressive achievement. That was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership. The results have benefited both Iraq and the United States. And the outcome in Iraq is a remarkable gift to the incoming president, who now only has to sustain success, rather than trying to deal with the consequences in the region and around the world of a humiliating withdrawal and a devastating defeat.

Winning the war in Iraq? By what measure are we winning the war in Iraq? By what measure are we winning the occupation in Iraq?

Jeff Huber has some thoughts on the success of the surge:

The surge has been so successful that, after two years, it's still in effect; we have several thousand more troops in Iraq than we did when the surge began in January 2007, and it still hasn't produced its stated purpose of political unification.

Who counseled Bush to "accept defeat" in Iraq. The American public simply came to believe the occupation was an ongoing disaster, that the cost in soldier's lives, broken bodies and wounded minds is not worth continuing occupation.

Apparently, the only way we can continue to "win" the war in Iraq is to avoid withdrawal (which Obama has promised - withdrawal from Iraq into Afghanistan) and devastating defeat.

The secret to "winning" the invasion of Iraq seems to be to spend more money there every year. At some point in time, that formula for success must become our undoing.

The Guardian has quite a different view from Kristol on the so-called winning of the occupation of Iraq:

[T]he surge has failed to achieve its central objective of advancing Iraq's political transition and encouraging power-sharing deals among Iraq's competing factions.

The greatest myth promoted by Bush in his speech was found in this line: "Political reconciliation is moving forward, and the Iraqi government has passed several major pieces of legislation." By overstating the meagre steps taken by Iraq's leaders in barely passing a few relatively insignificant laws in their parliament, Bush's statement ranks right up there with his 2003 "mission accomplished" speech and vice-president Dick Cheney's assertion that the insurgency was in its "last throes" in 2005.

A more honest look at the balance sheet on Iraq's political transition yields an inconvenient conclusion: The surge has frozen into place the accelerated fragmentation that Iraq underwent in 2006 and 2007 and has created disincentives to bridge central divisions between Iraqi factions. Moreover, rather than advancing Iraq's political transition and facilitating power-sharing deals among Iraq's factions, the surge has produced an oil revenue-fuelled, Shia-dominated national government with close ties to Iran. This national government shows few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other frustrated political factions.

William Kristol - resident war monger for the New York Times. To be fair and balanced, perhaps every newspaper need some.

How many would have been just enough?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown comments on the massacre being perpetrated by IDF upon the Gazans:

Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced a tripling of UK humanitarian aid to Gaza, pledging an additional £20m. He also criticised Israel for using excessive force. "We are yet to discover the full scale of the appalling suffering. But what is already clear is that too many innocent civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed."

Since "too many innocent civilians, including hundreds of children have been killed", then apparently, there is a just right number of innocent civilians including children that could have been massacred such that PM Brown would not have felt compelled to comment.

With the Palestinian death toll standing at more than 1,300, and rising as more bodies are found under the Gaza rubble, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said he was sending a humanitarian needs assessment team to compile a report within 10 days.

The previous day, the Guardian reported:

After 22 days of air strikes, artillery from land and sea, tank shelling and ground combat the Palestinian death toll stands at more than 1,200, with bodies being discovered every day under the rubble. Around 5,000 were injured, many of them left with terrible disabilities. On the Israeli side 13 were killed, three of them civilians and four soldiers mistakenly hit by their own troops.

Perhaps Israel declared its unilateral cease-fire because the kill ratio of 100 to 1 (1300 to 13) has garnered the comments from the British PM.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Making American wars feasible, but interminable

At TomDispatch, Nick Turse provides a "lessons learned" synopsis of his visit to the biennial 26th Army Science Conference held in Orlando Florida.

The big-picture lesson seemed to be that current Army technology has made American wars feasible, but interminable. Heavy body armor has helped keep U.S. combat deaths down to a level acceptable to the American public; but, of course, the same bulky gear helps ensure that fast-moving insurgents, who already know the land well, live to fight another day. And, since the enemy is unlikely to be caught on foot, U.S. troops become ever more reliant on air or artillery strikes that are likely to kill civilians in rural Afghanistan and so recruit more insurgents. The scenario suggested is one that's already in operation: an endless cycle of American failure and foreign carnage enabled, implemented, and exacerbated by recent technological innovations.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What of the 11-4-2008 Israeli attacks on Gaza?

In a stunning exhibition of journalism, Gareth Porter writing for the Inter Press Service News Agency clarifies the sequence of events leading up to the renewal by Hamas of rocket fire into Israel and in so doing justifies the conclusions of such commentators as John Pilger, Elizabeth Molchaney, Avi Schlaim and Norman Finkelstein and Jeff Huber.

Porter writes:

Hamas brought rocket and mortar fire from Gaza to a virtual halt last summer and fall, as revealed by a report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) in Tel Aviv last month. ITIC is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Centre (IICC), an NGO which is close to the Israeli intelligence community.

In the first days after the ceasefire took effect, Islamic Jihad fired nine rockets and a few mortar rounds in retaliation for Israeli assassinations of their members in the West Bank. In August another eight rockets were fired by various groups, according to IDF data cited in the report. But it shows that only one rocket was launched from Gaza in September and one in October.

The report recalls that Hamas "tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement" on other Palestinian groups, taking "a number of steps against networks which violated the arrangement," including short-term detention and confiscating their weapons. It even found that Hamas had sought support in Gazan public opinion for its policy of maintaining the ceasefire.

On Nov. 4 -- just when the ceasefire was most effective -- the IDF carried out an attack against a house in Gaza in which six members of Hamas's military wing were killed, including two commanders, and several more were wounded. The IDF explanation for the operation was that it had received intelligence that a tunnel was being dug near the Israeli security fence for the purpose of abducting Israeli soldiers.

Hamas officials asserted, however, that the tunnel was being dug for defensive purposes, not to capture IDF personnel, according to Pastor, and one IDF official confirmed that fact to him.

After that Israeli attack, the ceasefire completely fell apart, as Hamas began openly firing rockets into Israel, the IDF continued to carry out military operations inside Gaza, and the border crossings were "closed most of the time", according to the ITIC account.

With the world's eyes riveted on the U.S. Presidential election results, and horrified at Hamas' overwhelmingly successful efforts to PREVENTING rockets from being launched into Israel, upholding the Hamas end of the July cease-fire agreement, (DESPITE Israel's refusal to cease the blockade of Gaza, which was part of the negotiated cease-fire agreement), IDF forces enter Gaza and kill members of Hamas based on questionable intelligence.

These acts of war provoked a retaliation, thus giving Israel its causus belli, which is proving quite popular amongst the Israeli citizens, at the present time. Israel then cynically argues that:

[T]he firing of 190 rockets over six weeks as the justification for its massive attack on Gaza.

Dream on, sweet dreamer

Nicholas Kristof makes some astonishing claims in his NYT column Where Sweatshops are a Dream:

Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

"Conservatives" recite similar arguments in refutation of "liberal" denunciations of sweatshops. Kristoff's article continues:

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

In her book NO LOGO: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, author Naoimi Klein reports on export processing zones (EPZs), a world wide array of sweatshops. In Rosario, the Phillipines:

Windowless workshops made of cheap plastic and aluminum siding are crammed in next to each other, only feet apart. Racks of time cards bake in the sun, making sure the maximum amount of work is extracted from each worker, the maximum number of working hours extracted from each day. The streets in the zone are eerily empty, and open doors - the ventilation system for most factories - reveal lines of young women hunched in silence over clamoring machines.

...The zone is a tax-free economy, sealed off from the local government of both town and province - a miniature military state inside a democracy.

Klein provides some historical perspective:

Though it has plenty in common with ... other tax havens, the export process zone is really in a class of its own. Less holding tank than sovereign territory, the EPZ is an area where goods don't just pass through but are actually manufactured, an area, furthermore, where there are no import and export duties, and often no income or property taxes either. The idea that EPZs could help Third World economies first gained currency in 1964 when the United Nations Economic and Social council adopted a resolution endorsing the zones as a means of promoting trace and developing nations. The idea didn't really get off the ground, however, until the early eighties when India introduced a five-year tax break for companies manufacturing in its low-wage zones.

Since then, the free-trade-zone industry has exploded... In total, the International Labor Organization says that there are at least 850 EPZs in the world ... spread through seventy countries and employing roughly 27 million workers...

Here's what it's like for EPZ workers:

Regardless of where the EPZs are located, the workers' stories have a certain mesmerizing sameness: the workday is long - fourteen hours in Sri Lanka, twelve hours in Indonesia, sixteen in Southern China, twelve in the Philipines. The vast majority of the workers are women, always young, always working for contractors or subcontractors from Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. The contractors are usually filling orders for companies based in the U.S., Britain, Japan, Germany or Canada. The management is military-style, the supervisors often abusive, the wages below subsistence and the work low-skill and tedious. As an economic model, today's export process zones have more in common with fast-food franchises than sustainable developments, so removed are they from the countries that host them. These pockets of pure industry hide behind a cloak of transience: the contracts come and go with little notice' the workers are predominantly migrants, far from home and with little connection to the city of province where zones are located; the work itself is short-term, often not renewed.

Fear pervades the zones. The governments are afraid of losing their foreign factories' the factories are afraid of losing their brand-name buyers; and the workers are afraid of losing their unstable jobs...

The theory behind EPZs is that they will attract foreign investor, who, if all goes well, will decide to stay in the country, and the zones' segregated assembly lines will turn into lasting development: technology, transfers and domestic industries. To lure the swallows into this clever trap, the governments of poor countries offer tax breaks, lax regulations and the services of a military willing and able to crush labor unrest. To sweeten the pot further, they put their own people on the auction block, falling over each other to offer up the lowest minimum wage, allowing workers to be paid less than the real cost of living.

The rationale goes something like this: of course companies must pay taxes and strictly abide by national laws, but just in this one case, on this one specific piece of land, for just a little while, an exception will be made - for the cause of future prosperity. The EPZs, therefore, exist within a kind of legal and economic set of brackets, apart from the rest of their countries ... the local police and municipal government have no right even to cross the threshold. The layers of blockades serve a dual purpose: to keep the hordes away from the costly good being manufactured inside the zone, but also, and perhaps more important, to shield the country from what is going on inside the zone.

Because such sweet deals have been laid out to entice the swallows, the barriers around the zone serve to reinforce the idea that what is happening inside is only temporary, or is not really happening at all

Kristoff theorizes some more:

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

Yet Naomi Klein reaches a different conclusion:

It is one of the zones' many cruel ironies that every incentive the governments throw in to attract the multinationals only reinforces the sense that the companies are economic tourists rather than long-term investors. It's a classic vicious cycle: in an attempt to alleviate poverty, the governments offer more and more incentives; but then the EPZs must be cordoned off like leper colonies, and the more they are cordoned off, the more the factories appear to exist in a world entirely separate from the host country, and outside the zone the poverty only grows more desperate

Kristoff describes the Cambodian government's "interesting experiment" to work with factories to establish "decent labor standards and wages." Readers of his column are forced to guess at just what exactly decent labor standards (hours per day, overtime limits, days per week, perhaps) and decent wages are.

Cambodia has, in fact, pursued an interesting experiment by working with factories to establish decent labor standards and wages. It’s a worthwhile idea, but one result of paying above-market wages is that those in charge of hiring often demand bribes — sometimes a month’s salary — in exchange for a job. In addition, these standards add to production costs, so some factories have closed because of the global economic crisis and the difficulty of competing internationally.

Kristoff just really wants all of the global campaigners against sweatshops to just give the poorest countries of the world their best hope, and to stop all these oh so obviously successful global campaigns against sweatshops.

Among people who work in development, many strongly believe (but few dare say very loudly) that one of the best hopes for the poorest countries would be to build their manufacturing industries. But global campaigns against sweatshops make that less likely.

Kristoff's column might have been better if he had taken some time to interview some sweatshop workers, to find out truth there is to the dreams of 13-year-old Neuo Chanthou, that a factory (sweatshop) is better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

U.S. unemployment considerably worse than reported

From Democracy Now! headline news of 12 January, 2009, we learn

Over 500,000 Lose Job in December; Official Unemployment Rate at 7.2%

The nation’s official unemployment rate has jumped to 7.2 percent as employers eliminated over 500,000 jobs in December. In all of 2008, 2.6 million people lost their jobs, the largest slump in employment since 1945. Economists estimate the actual unemployment rate is 13.5 percent if you include underemployed and discouraged workers, who have stopped looking for a job.

These unemployment figures track with the Shadow Government Statistics website

Chart of U.S. Unemployment

Graph provided Courtesy of

Please note that the ShadowStats estimate of unemployment is closer to 17.5%.

For the foreseeable future, things are only going to get worse, MUCH worse, on the unemployment front.

Back into the Middle East: Haven't we done enough?

Tragic ironies abound this piece Little Shop of Horrors written by Mark Perry at the Conflict Forum:

I once asked one of my Palestinian friends what he thought the United States should do to help the peoples of the Middle East. He was incredulous: “Haven’t you done enough?” In retrospect that pained reply seems the perfect answer to my presumption: I’m from America and I’m here to help.

Sadly, the self-congratulation attendant on Barack Obama’s election has seemingly revived this tradition of selfless altruism. As a former Clinton administration official told me several weeks ago: “We’re going back into the Middle East, but this time we’re going to get it right.” That it did not occur to this official that we aren’t exactly “out” of the Middle East is a testament to American optimism–and amnesia. “Really,” he added, our capacity for doing good is limitless."

U.S. military capacity for rendering destruction and killing citizens is limitless. As is our government's capacity for providing armaments and diplomatic cover to Israel that nation's massacre and slaughter of civilians. As is the failure of most political and media elites to see the blatant ignorance and hypocrisy of their statements or the palpable pap of their own spun propaganda.

That the new Obama administration will reengage in the Middle East is not in question. It will. But, in the wake of the failed “war on terrorism” (the definition of a “terrorist” has been broadened, apparently, to include anyone who’s not a Republican), the Bush administration’s dream of spreading democracy (so long as you are not Hamas or live in Pakistan) and the galactically stupid war in Iraq (whose purpose is yet to be determined), America will be focused more on–as one of my colleagues described it–”doing politics.”

... Americans now doubt that democracy can be “promoted” and have turned against the policies (and leaders) that, in the name of democracy, cost tens of thousands of Iraqi lives ... [A]ll of the region’s issues fade to insignificance, so long as the solutions to them remain in the hands of single party thugs, ruling cliques and family kleptocracies.

The single most important issue facing the region is whether that will continue.

Unfortunately (or blessedly), the people of the Middle East will not have Americans attempting to “help” them in their search for democracy. We’re leaving your shop, shattered china and all, because our shop is on fire. By the way, it was arson.

Monday, January 12, 2009

His abuses of power, arrogance and lack of attention

In the Chicago Tribune's Voice of the People Section, found on the editorial page, which used to be found at the back of the main section of the paper, but which now resides at the back of the business section of the paper, reader William Peterson of Elgin was almost permitted to ask an important question.

However, in publishing this letter, Tribune editors appear a bit off their game.

Why did it take so long?

The sad state of politics in Illinois is demonstrated by the fact that it took a federal prosecutor's arrest warrant to serve as the catalyst for the impeachment of the governor.

His abuses of power, arrogance and lack of attention to the interests of all the people of our state had been a continuing saga for the six-plus years he has been governor.

Where was the exercise of the legislative aut [sic]

Thank you, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald, for doing the right thing when others failed to act.

Presumably Mr. Peterson got cut off attempting to ask:

Where was the exercise of the legislative authority?

The Trib's moving the Voice of the People from the main section to the business section - from section one to section two, seems subtlely significant, a demotion for the people's voice. Also, readers who never open the business section will never find what other readers care about. But then, readers who care enough about what other readers care about, or, heaven forbid, what Tribune editorial writers care about, are forced to open the business section. Perhaps this represents an elevation of the business section, its pages being opened perforce by readers previously uninterested; expanding the penetration of the business section?

Since imitation is the sincerest form flattery, one is tempted to send something like the following to the Tribune's Voice of the People, then sit in eager anticipation every morning, awaiting to see permit a voice saying this to speak:

Why did it take so long?

The sorry state of U.S. politics is demonstrated by simply noting that nothing done by the Bush administration was severe enough to serve as the catalyst for the impeachment of the President or the Vice President.

Their abuses of power, their arrogance, their overt corporate cronyism, their failure to equip U.S. soldiers fighting wars on two fronts with kevlar vests and steel reinforced transport vehicles, their failure to provide adequate health services to disabled soldiers returning from these wars, their failure to act while the city and poor people of New Orleans drowned, have been ongoing tragic sagas for the past eight years.

Where was the exercise of the legislative authority to impeach for their outright ineptness at governing and never-ending violations of U.S. and international law?

Thank you, U.S. House Representative Dennis Kucinich, journalist Dave Lindorff and Professor Barbara Olshansky, former U.S. Prosecuter Elizabeth de la Vega, consultant John Perkins, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Professor Mark Crispin Miller and Attorney Craig Leslie for your valiant efforts to show how to do the right thing while others constitutionally empowered to act have failed to do so.

Not self-defense but a war crime

Pursuant to Professor Juan Cole's suggestion:

This letter of attorneys and academics appeared in the Times of London on Sunday. I suggest that all bloggers who agree with it just reprint it so that it is everywhere in the blogosphere. It is a succinct and cogent refutation of the reigning right-Zionist talking points that have dominated American media reporting on this atrocity.

Here follows the entire article:

From The Sunday Times
January 11, 2009
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers

Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales

Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers

Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London

Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University

Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago

Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE

Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University

Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies

Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University

Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College

Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University

Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo

Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University

Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights

Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University

John Strawson, University of East London

Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Dr Michael Kearney, University of York

Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway

Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews

Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull

Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer

Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario

Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chambers