Friday, November 12, 2004

Tired of Bu$hCo's Deranged Fantasy Land?

Visit Reality Check

If nothing else, this indicates that the mentality of the old Confederacy is alive and well

Alabama Amendment 2

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to repeal portions of Section 256 and Amendment 111 relating to separation of schools by race and repeal portions of Amendment 111 concerning constitutional construction against the right to education, and to repeal Section 259, Amendment 90, and Amendment 109 relating to the poll tax. (Proposed by Act 2003-203)




Narrowly defeated, pending recount. Some of Atrios' commenters argue that the amendment is for all practical purposes merely symbolic. Perhaps. Still it does give us some insight into the mindset of a fairly sizeable portion of voters in the South. That in itself should give us pause.

It's been a cakewalk in Iraq

Falluja 'humanitarian crisis', say aid workers

FALLUJA - Fighting in Falluja has created a humanitarian disaster in which innocent people are dying because medical help cannot reach them, say aid workers in Iraq



[...]



But the biggest concern is people in and around Falluja itself -- they can't be reached because US and Iraqi forces have set up a wide cordon around the city to prevent anyone from entering and any insurgents from fleeing.



[...]



Between a nightly curfew and the danger of venturing onto the streets, many are effectively trapped at home.



"We've asked for permission from the Americans to go into the city and help the people there but we haven't heard anything back from them," Ubadi said. "There's no medicine, no water, no electricity. They need our help."



[...]



On Tuesday, a 9-year-old boy died after being hit in the stomach by shrapnel. His parents were unable to get him to hospital because of the fighting and so resorted to wrapping a sheet around him to stem the blood flow.



He died hours later of blood loss and was buried in the garden of the family home.



"We buried him in the garden because it was too dangerous to go out," said his father, teacher Mohammed Abboud. "We did not know how long the fighting would last."



The International Committee for the Red Cross says there are thousands of elderly and women and children who have had no food or water for days. At least 20,000 have gathered in the town of Saqlawiya, south of Falluja.




Now that's something our propagandists would rather you not think about.



'I got my kills ... I just love my job'



Out of the mouths of "liberators" I suppose.



Violence Erupts Across Iraq at Sites Far From Fallujah



Looks like another catastrophic success. If this stuff doesn't anger you, you don't have a pulse.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Another Disturbing Story

SPECIAL REPORT: Medicaid threatens to terminate girl's nursing care



You only get to have access to the medical care you need if you are rich enough. If your money isn't strong enough, too bad. That's the reality in Bu$hCo's America.

Fallujah and the Reality of War

by Rahul Mahajan

The assault on Fallujah has started. It is being sold as liberation of the people of Fallujah; it is being sold as a necessary step to implementing “democracy” in Iraq. These are lies.



I was in Fallujah during the siege in April, and I want to paint for you a word picture of what such an assault means.



Fallujah is dry and hot; like Southern California, it has been made an agricultural area only by virtue of extensive irrigation. It has been known for years as a particularly devout city; people call it the City of a Thousand Mosques. In the mid-90’s, when Saddam wanted his name to be added to the call to prayer, the imams of Fallujah refused.



U.S. forces bombed the power plant at the beginning of the assault; for the next several weeks, Fallujah was a blacked-out town, with light provided by generators only in critical places like mosques and clinics. The town was placed under siege; the ban on bringing in food, medicine, and other basic items was broken only when Iraqis en masse challenged the roadblocks. The atmosphere was one of pervasive fear, from bombing and the threat of more bombing. Noncombatants and families with sick people, the elderly, and children were leaving in droves. After initial instances in which people were prevented from leaving, U.S. forces began allowing everyone to leave – except for what they called “military age males,” men usually between 15 and 60. Keeping noncombatants from leaving a place under bombardment is a violation of the laws of war. Of course, if you assume that every military age male is an enemy, there can be no better sign that you are in the wrong country, and that, in fact, your war is on the people, not on their oppressors,, not a war of liberation.



The main hospital in Fallujah is across the Euphrates from the bulk of the town. Right at the beginning, the Americans shut down the main bridge, cutting off the hospital from the town. Doctors who wanted to treat patients had to leave the hospital, with only the equipment they could carry, and set up in makeshift clinics all over the city; the one I stayed at had been a neighborhood clinic with one room that had four beds, and no operating theater; doctors refrigerated blood in a soft-drink vending machine. Another clinic, I’m told, had been an auto repair shop. This hospital closing (not the only such that I documented in Iraq) also violates the Geneva Convention.



In Fallujah, you were rarely free of the sound of artillery booming in the background, punctuated by the smaller, higher-pitched note of the mujaheddin’s hand-held mortars. After even a few minutes of it, you have to stop paying attention to it – and yet, of course, you never quite stop. Even today, when I hear the roar of thunder, I’m often transported instantly to April 10 and the dusty streets of Fallujah.



In addition to the artillery and the warplanes dropping 500, 1000, and 2000-pound bombs, and the murderous AC-130 Spectre gunships that can demolish a whole city block in less than a minute, the Marines had snipers criss-crossing the whole town. For weeks, Fallujah was a series of sometimes mutually inaccessible pockets, divided by the no-man’s-lands of sniper fire paths. Snipers fired indiscriminately, usually at whatever moved. Of 20 people I saw come into the clinic I observed in a few hours, only five were “military-age males.” I saw old women, old men, a child of 10 shot through the head; terminal, the doctors told me, although in Baghdad they might have been able to save him.



One thing that snipers were very discriminating about – every single ambulance I saw had bullet holes in it. Two I inspected bore clear evidence of specific, deliberate sniping. Friends of mine who went out to gather in wounded people were shot at. When we first reported this fact, we came in for near-universal execration. Many just refused to believe it. Some asked me how I knew that it wasn’t the mujaheddin. Interesting question. Had, say, Brownsville, Texas, been encircled by the Vietnamese and bombarded (which, of course, Mr. Bush courageously protected us from during the Vietnam war era) and Brownsville ambulances been shot up, the question of whether the residents were shooting at their own ambulances, I somehow guess, would not have come up. Later, our reports were confirmed by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and even by the U.S. military.



The best estimates are that roughly 900-1000 people were killed directly, blown up, burnt, or shot. Of them, my guess, based on news reports and personal observation, is that 2/3 to ¾ were noncombatants.



But the damage goes far beyond that. You can read whenever you like about the bombing of so-called Zarqawi safe houses in residential areas in Fallujah, but the reports don’t tell you what that means. You read about precision strikes, and it’s true that America’s GPS-guided bombs are very accurate – when they’re not malfunctioning, the 80 or 85% of the time that they work, their targeting radius is 10 meters, i.e., they hit within 10 meters of the target. Even the smallest of them, however, the 500-pound bomb, has a blast radius of 400 meters; every single bomb shakes the whole neighborhood, breaking windows and smashing crockery. A town under bombardment is a town in constant fear.



You read the reports about X killed and Y wounded. And you should remember those numbers; those numbers are important. But equally important is to remember that those numbers lie – in a war zone, everyone is wounded.



The first assault on Fallujah was a military failure. This time, the resistance is stronger, better-armed, and better-organized; to “win,” the U.S. military will have to pull out all the stops. Even within horror and terror, there are degrees, and we – and the people of Fallujah – ain’t seen nothin’ yet. George W. Bush has just claimed a new mandate – the world has been delivered into his hands.



There will be international condemnation, as there was the first time; but our government won’t listen to it; aside from the resistance, all the people of Fallujah will be able to depend on to try to mitigate the horror will be us, the antiwar movement. We have a responsibility, that we didn’t meet in April and we didn’t meet in August when Najaf was similarly attacked; will we meet it this time


Angry Jazz

Angry Jazz:

There was a time when the wailing and gnashing of teeth over social matters was widely believed to fall entirely within the purview of the young. That is to say, the unformed personalities who wandered the often bleak corridors of the world hadn't enough experience as songwriters or, more importantly, the wisdom that living brings to us frail humans to articulate what was bothering them.



In those days, parents were apt to prefer Lawrence Welk to Count Basie, the Lennon Sisters to Billie Holiday and the lighter side of Al Hirt to the dark brooding of Miles Davis.



The popular view was that distress among the young made for neither good music nor for entertainment of any stripe, because the young sounded off without a foundation upon which to build. Besides, thought the elders, politics and psychology wedded to music have a taste reminiscent of a toothpaste-and-grapefruit cooler.



Maybe so.



Bob Dylan did a lot to change that notion. But he was drawing on the much older tradition of the topical song as exemplified by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Peter Paul and Mary, and Odetta. And those forerunners of Dylan went clear back to the mountain hollers of Appalachia, the southern Delta region, even to the sanctified churches in the hard-scrabble areas where cotton was king but the gospel choirs rocked the house during Sunday services.



What we have here is beginning to look like a common ancestry with jazz.



Though it has grown into something more sophisticated than a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus creature, jazz remains a musical vehicle for social expression.



Billie Holiday has, perhaps, the most famous example of jazz topicality in her standard, "Strange Fruit," a pungent reminder that all was not well in the social fabric of the southern United States where race relations were concerned. The black bodies hanging like fruit from southern trees is an image difficult to ignore.



Similarly, that raucous genius of the larger ensemble, Charles Mingus, gave us "Fables of Faubus," an instrumental dedicated to Orval Faubus, governor of Arkansas in 1957, who called the National Guard to Little Rock to prevent black students from entering Central High School, even though the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its historic desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education three years earlier.



And Les McCann in 1969 teamed up with Eddie Harris for "Compared To What," an extended piece that tackles everything from the Vietnam War to unwed mothers to greed to cowardice. The catalogue of concern in this live recording is so fraught with frustration that McCann's lyric descends into a nearly inarticulate "godammit" aimed not at his Swiss audience at Montreux, but at the folks back home.



The jazz of anger is not confined to titles and lyrics. The very form accommodates revolutionary approaches.



One of the best examples is the music of John Coltrane, who wrestled the music in every conceivable way and, like poet Walt Whitman, sounded his "barbaric yawp" above the rooftops of Manhattan and called into being a new form that exchanged prim delicacy for blunt directness. Though it took some getting used to, Coltrane's music has become a standard behind which adventurous musicians march.



Archie Shepp chose Trane as a mentor, followed his lead on tenor and soprano saxophones, and recorded with him. Shepp carried the musical pennant farther into the unknown territories of Black Nationalism and worked within ever more revolutionary frameworks -- especially with the short-lived New York Contemporary 5 during the early 1960s -- before settling into his current status as a kind of survivor of the culture wars. His earlier, angrier recordings are peppered with spoken soliloquies and asides, in case the listener fails to get the point.



Listen again to the likes of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, a pair of iconoclasts who are worth hearing. Both are capable of delicacy, but each assaults the senses in ways that force new considerations of the music. It is often about as pleasant as an amputation without benefit of anesthesia, but it is worth hearing with ears and minds wide open.



There are more examples of this type of experimentation that loosed the arrow of outrage into the jazz phalanx. Find them yourself and discover the richness of this music of ours.

Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus in the 1950s



Learn a bit about one of the great jazz bassists & composers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Fun With Fundies

Religious fundamentalists: Who are these religious fundamentalists?



This quote from the fine folks at Hyles-Anderson College was so funny I almost fell out of my chair:

"Our approach to subject matter is unique. We are opposed to the stuffy, bookish, all lecture style of teaching. We think it is ridiculous for a Christian to spend hours and hours in a psychology class studying what the rats do when they run a maze. In most psychology courses, the professor is concerned about what makes an individual's eyes the color they are. We are more concerned about looking an individual in the eye and communicating truth to him. We are a bit tired of the snobbish, intellectual sophistry of much of the education of our day. We think it is time to get down to earth and give people what they need for life. Oh, we teach psychology and many other secular subjects, but we teach them from a practical, Scriptural approach."




These cats would sure hate my psychology classes. Then again, I'm as a matter of principle opposed to brainwashing. I'm funny that way.



I took a bit of a look at some of the source material for the post, and I've come to one conclusion: if the people at Hyles-Anderson, or the rest of the fundies for that matter, ever encountered Jesus Christ, they'd crucify Him. You know the score: dark-skinned cat preaching a liberal message and hanging out with all the "wrong" people. He wouldn't stand a chance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Too Funny

Fuck the South is quite a rant to say the least, and as a red-stater I happen to agree with most of the writer's sentiments. Elitism is definitely an equal-opportunity human foible, and I for one have had it with right-wingnut elitism. That holier-than-thou, Bible-thumping bs. from the more shrill of Bu$hCo's base is remarkably empty should go without saying. You want high divorce rates? High murder rates? Look no further than the states that make up the Confederacy. Where are the deadbeat states, the ones receiving federal tax money in excess of what they contribute, located? Mainly down south. All that talk of self-reliance seems to be empty methinks. The reality is that the true Americans come from all over the US map, hold a variety of different political beliefs, practice a variety of different religions, and so forth. And as a liberal in a "red" state, I say unequivocally that I am a true American, I'm here, and I ain't going anywhere. Get used to it.

Persuasion & the importance of the messenger

This is kind of a follow-up and extension of a reply to a comment on an earlier post. One of the factors that hurt John Kerry had to do with his credibility and likeability as a messenger in the eyes of a subset of our voters. One of those demographics mentioned by Ruy Teixeira was one consisting of white, working class males. Others would include rural Americans, etc.



Let's look at a little basic social psychology research on attitudes and persuasion (look at Carl Hovland's work from the 1950s and 60s for example). An important factor in making a message persuadable is the credibility and likeability of the source (messenger). Part of what makes a messenger credible is how competent the messenger appears to the audience (Kerry does well in that regard) and how believable the messenger appears. When Kerry began to hammer on populist themes, he simply was not that believable to the above demographics in question. I suspect that the believability factor was largely influenced by likeability - i.e., how attractive he was to his various target audiences. Part of what makes that messenger attractive is how similar s/he is to the target audience. Audiences tend to be more receptive to persuasion if the messenger can relate to them on their level, is similar to them in background or appearance, etc. Whatever ideological issues I might have had with Bill Clinton, I'll give him credit for understanding his target audiences and knowing how to at least appear like he had some things in common with those audiences.



Note that this is all independent of the message itself. Go back to Bill Clinton's message - it was basically a center-right "New Democrat" message. He was able to sell it, and I'm guessing (we'll call it an educated hunch for now) that he related to his audiences, that they perceived that he was "one of them" was a huge factor in selling his message. Someone else could have taken the same message verbatim and had they not been able to relate to those same audiences, the message would have fallen flat.



Also note that all of the above about the messenger is largely a matter of perception, which may to varying degrees jibe with reality. Some of that perception is out of the messenger's control, however the messenger can do some things to manipulate that perception (e.g., emphasize different facets of his/her background and so forth to different audiences). As superficial as it seems, a fair amount of persuasion comes down to salesmanship and while a salesperson who's not very likeably can close the deal it's sure a hell of a lot easier if the salesperson can relate to and be well-liked by his/her customers.



In sum: regardless of the message itself, the messenger needs to be able to relate to his/her audience. Failure to do so makes an otherwise potentially persuadable message less effective. Some good news in all of this is that in the arena of politics we don't have to abandon a progressive or populist message. We do need to realize that the message won't persuade all by itself, and that it will take messengers who can come across credibly as "like their target audiences" in order to more effectively pitch that message.



My two cents.

Honey, let's take our summer holiday in the Arctic Circle

Study predicts Arctic ice melt by 2100



A new scientific study says the Arctic ice cover will disappear in summer by the end of this century unless carbon dioxide emissions are significantly reduced.



The study, to be released next week, says the Arctic ice melt will cause sea levels to rise and could lead to the extinction of some species such as polar bears.



"The melt has begun," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate Change Campaign for the environmental organisation WWF, which published excerpts of the upcoming Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report.



Commissioned by the Arctic Council and compiled by more than 250 scientists, the report concludes that climate change is happening in the Arctic and that it will get worse unless emissions of carbon dioxide are cut.




There's more, but that gives you the gist.

Monday, November 8, 2004

More Food For Thought

In No Mood For Conciliation or Reconciliation

A progressive populist movement must identify and organize itself, separate from existing parties (including Green and Reform), by clearly and unflichingly articulating basic principles:

  • rejection of military action except in defense against clear and imminent aggression and danger

  • rebuilding the American social contract by eliminating corporate influence in the political process, outlawing the death penalty, socializing health care for all, re-regulating against corporate abuse of workers and the ecosystem, and redistributing wealth

  • recommitting our armed forces and assets to homeland security, closing our bases in other countries, truly supporting our military families economically and socially

  • demilitarizing the national intelligence community, rejecting all covert operations except intelligence gathering; ending the militarization of American society and outlawing private military forces

  • creating open government, rejecting secrecy, which responds to the people's will

  • eliminating foreign aid to countries with aggressive and/or repressive governments

  • repealing most, if not all, of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, and establishing a system of protective, rather than repressive, security laws

  • dismantling corporate monopolies in media

  • rejecting religious involvement of any kind in government, while recommitting to the right of each individual to freedom of belief, thought, worship, speech, and choice




The makings of a party platform? There is a void to be filled in the US political landscape. Can the Democrats step up to the plate? I'm not betting my life savings on it (it would be a pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless). The Greens? They're a joke. The Reform Party got hijacked by fringe lunatics before imploding. The GOP, of course, is now the heir to the legacy of Faubus, Eastland, and Jim Crow - their leaders and activists are the very enemy we're fighting. How will the void be filled?

Unsettling signs for the US dollar

Dollar expected to fall amid China's rumoured selling in yesterday's Financial Times.



Here's the article:

The dollar could slide still further, in spite of hitting an all-time low against the euro last week in the wake of George W. Bush's re-election, currency traders have said.



The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of "benign neglect" of the dollar.



Many currency traders were taken aback on Friday when the greenback fell in spite of bullish data showing the US economy created 337,000 jobs in October.



"If this can't cause the dollar to strengthen you have to tell me what will. This is a big green light to sell the dollar," said David Bloom, currency analyst at HSBC, as the greenback fell to a nine-year low in trade-weighted terms.



The dollar's fall comes as the Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise US interest rates by a quarter point to 2 per cent when it meets on Wednesday and to signal that it will continue with a measured pace of rate increases.



Speculative traders in Chicago last week racked up the highest number of long-euro, short-dollar contracts on record. Options traders have reported brisk business in euro calls - contracts to buy the euro at a pre-determined rate.



However, the market has been rife with rumours that the latest wave of selling has been led by foreign governments seeking to cut their exposure to US assets.



India and Russia have reportedly been selling US assets, as well as petrodollar-rich Middle Eastern investors.



China, which has $515bn of reserves, was also said to be selling dollars and buying Asian currencies in readiness to switch the renminbi's dollar peg to a basket arrangement, something Chinese officials have increasingly hinted at. Any re-allocation could push the dollar sharply lower and Treasury yields markedly higher.





Something we Americans need to get accustomed to is the idea that as major world powers go, we are increasingly expendable. The re-election of a president and a congressional majority party who have pushed us well into rogue nation territory basically seals our fate. I've been expecting that it isn't a matter of if but rather when the nations that have been financing our deficit spending decided to cut us off. The Chinese government is increasingly emerging as a player on the world stage and is finding less and less use to keep us a round as a power. Take a look at their own actions recently in the Middle East (e.g., natural gas and oil deals with Iran). Their leaders recognize that a US-controlled Middle East region is bad for them economically, and correctly recognize Bu$hCo's actions as threatening.



The nihilistic "fuck the world" schtick of Bu$hCo and enablers will come back to haunt all of us here in the states. Once you start saying "fuck the world" there's a good chance that the world will fuck you. One way that'll happen: devaluation of the dollar leading eventually to that wonderful stagflation that I keep mentioning. High inflation, high interest rates, no real job growth. That's a real winning combination. Thanks Bush for making that possible.

Turn Your Back On Bush

A good idea.



Symbolic peaceful protest. While we're at it, remember that given what the GOP has decided to stand for, it's in our interest to turn our backs in another sense - a refusal to cooperate or to compromise. Given the hateful eliminationist rhetoric and given the GOP party's choice to embrace the principles of Faubus, Eastland, the Klan, etc., there's really no incentive to do anything but to turn our collective backs.

Liberal Values

Some thoughts:



1. Non-aggression; responsible use of our military



Scriptural basis: "blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons (and Daughters) of God" and "blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth"



2. Opposition of death penalty



Scriptural basis: "let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" (also let's not forget that Jesus was a death penalty victim - re-read the Gospels if you've missed that point.)



3. Justice



Scriptural basis: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a Stranger and you Welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me."



4. Diversity



Scriptural basis: Again, go back to the Gospels and note the people whom Jesus is said to have accepted and embraced - people of all backgrounds including those who would have been shunned by his society's elites.



Seem like pretty good values to me.

Keith Olberman

covers the stories of electoral irregularities. Basically due in large part to my training in the social sciences, I tend to be skeptical of the claims of massive voter fraud and so forth until I start seeing some hard data (Kevin Drum has taken a fairly similar perspective). It is however heartening that someone in the mass media is picking up on the story of possible fraudulence in Ohio and Florida, and my hope is that the journalists actually do the job they're paid to do and investigate. At least Olberman is.



Sidebar of my own: I remember Olberman from his days as a sportscaster on local California stations back in the 1980s. He sure's come a long way.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Helping to put the Presidential elections in perspective

via Sensory Overload - a comparison of free vs. slave states (pre-civil war) with the 2004 Presidential electoral map. If you have anything remotely resembling a conscience, you'll have the same reaction I did, a profound sense of shame.







Reasonable words from Kevin Drum

The bottom line is that contrary to GOP propaganda, the nation is not becoming more right-wing. Quite possibly the contrary given what's happening in the state electoral races. Among other things Drum has this to say:

Of the country's 99 state legislative chambers, the GOP lost control of six and won only four from the Democrats. Republicans have apparently gone from having complete control of both chambers in 21 states to only dominating 17 states. Most of the GOP pickups involve the slow dissolution of Democratic dominance in the South.



[...]



Bottom line: the Republican party continues to cement its hold on the South, but elsewhere in the country they are losing ground, not gaining it. And it's worth remembering that the Republican revolution itself got its start by winning local races, only later translating that into national gains.




Think about that a moment. The GOP is solidifying its hold on the home of Orville Faubus, James Eastland, and those wonderful Jim Crow laws. Elsewhere at the local level, it's the Democrats who are gaining traction.



Drum also reminds us of GOP elitism:

It's true that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose and where gay relationships have civil equality with straight ones. And you want to live in a society where the opposite is true. These are some of those conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values...don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?



We on my side of the great divide don't, for the most part, believe that our values are direct orders from God. We don't claim that they are immutable and beyond argument. We are, if anything, crippled by reason and open-mindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?




Let's keep hammering away on some themes: contrary to GOP spin, the US is not becoming a right-wing nation and the GOP and its right-wingnut supporters are elitist to the extreme. They presume to know what's best for all the rest of us. The truth is a whole other matter.

Speaking of injustice, this needs to be read in its entirety:

Screams will not be heard: This is an information age, but it will be months before we learn the truth about the assault on Falluja, by Madeleine Bunting.



With fitting irony, one of the camps used by the US marines waiting for the assault on Falluja was formerly a Ba'ath party retreat occasionally used by Saddam Hussein's sons. Dreamland, as it was known, has an island in the middle of an artificial lake fringed by palms.



Now the camp's dream-like unreality is distorting every news report filed on the preparations for the onslaught on Falluja. We don't know, and won't know, anything about what happens in the next few days except for what the US military authorities choose to let us know. It's long since been too dangerous for journalists to move around unless they are embedded with the US forces. There is almost no contact left with civilians still in Falluja, the only information is from those who have left.



This is how the fantasy runs: a city the size of Brighton is now only ever referred to as a "militants' stronghold" or "insurgents' redoubt". The city is being "softened up" with precision attacks from the air. Pacifying Falluja has become the key to stabilising the country ahead of the January elections. The "final assault" is imminent, in which the foreigners who have infiltrated the almost deserted Iraqi city with their extremist Islam will be "cleared", "rooted out" or "crushed". Or, as one marine put it: "We will win the hearts and minds of Falluja by ridding the city of insurgents. We're doing that by patrolling the streets and killing the enemy."



These are the questionable assumptions and make-believe which are now all that the embedded journalists with the US forces know to report. Every night, the tone gets a little more breathless and excited as the propaganda operation to gear the troops up for battle coopts the reporters into its collective psychology.



There's a repulsive asymmetry of war here: not the much remarked upon asymmetry of the few thousand insurgents holed up in Falluja vastly outnumbered by the US, but the asymmetry of information. In an age of instant communication, we will have to wait months, if not years, to hear of what happens inside Falluja in the next few days. The media representation of this war will be from a distance: shots of the city skyline illuminated by the flashes of bomb blasts, the dull crump of explosions. What will be left to our imagination is the terror of children crouching behind mud walls; the agony of those crushed under falling masonry; the frantic efforts to save lives in makeshift operating theatres with no electricity and few supplies. We will be the ones left to fill in the blanks, drawing on the reporting of past wars inflicted on cities such as Sarajevo and Grozny.



The silence from Falluja marks a new and agonising departure in the shape of 21st-century war. The horrifying shift in the last century was how, increasingly, war was waged against civilians: their proportion of the death toll rose from 50% to 90%. It prompted the development of a form of war-reporting, exemplified by Bosnia, which was not about the technology and hardware, but about human suffering, and which fuelled public outrage. No longer. The reporting of Falluja has lapsed back into the military machismo of an earlier age. This war against the defenceless will go unreported.



The reality is that a city can never be adequately described as a "militants' stronghold". It's a label designed to stiffen the heart of a soldier, but it is blinding us, the democracies that have inflicted this war, to the consequences of our actions. Falluja is still home to thousands of civilians. The numbers who have fled the prospective assault vary, but there could be 100,000 or more still in their homes. Typically, as in any war, those who don't get out of the way are a mixture of the most vulnerable - the elderly, the poor, the sick; the unlucky, who left it too late to get away; and the insanely brave, such as medical staff.



Nor does it seem possible that reporters still use the terms "softening up" or "precision" bombing. They achieve neither softening nor precision, as Falluja well knew long before George W Bush arrived in the White House. In the first Gulf war, an RAF laser-guided bomb intended for the city's bridge went astray and landed in a crowded market, killing up to 150. Last year, the killing of 15 civilians shortly after the US arrived in the city ensured that Falluja became a case study in how to win a war but lose the occupation. A catalogue of catastrophic blunders has transformed a relatively calm city with a strongly pro-US mayor into a battleground.



One last piece of fantasy is that there is unlikely to be anything "final" about this assault. Already military analysts acknowledge that a US victory in Falluja could have little effect on the spreading incidence of violence across Iraq. What the insurgents have already shown is that they are highly decentralised, and yet the quick copying of terrorist techniques indicates some degree of cooperation. Hopes of a peace seem remote; the future looks set for a chronic, intermittent civil war. By the time the bulldozers have ploughed their way through the centre of Falluja, attention could have shifted to another "final assault" on another "militant stronghold", as another city of homes, shops and children's playgrounds morphs into a battleground.



The recent comment of one Falluja resident is strikingly poignant: "Why," she asked wearily, "don't they go and fight in a desert away from houses and people?" Why indeed? Twentieth-century warfare ensured a remarkable historical inversion. Once the city had been the place of safety to retreat to in a time of war, the place of civilisation against the barbarian wilderness; but the invention of aerial bombardment turned the city into a target, a place of terror.



What is so disturbing is that much of the violence meted out to cities in the past 60-odd years has rarely had a strategic purpose - for example, the infamous bombing of Dresden. Nor is it effective in undermining morale or motivation; while the violence destroys physical and economic capital, it usually generates social capital - for example, the Blitz spirit or the solidarity of New Yorkers in the wake of 9/11 - and in Chechnya served only to establish a precarious peace in a destroyed Grozny and fuel a desperate, violent resistance.



Assaults on cities serve symbolic purposes: they are set showpieces to demonstrate resolve and inculcate fear. To that end, large numbers of casualties are required: they are not an accidental byproduct but the aim. That was the thinking behind 9/11, and Falluja risks becoming a horrible mirror-image of that atrocity. Only by the shores of that dusty lake in Dreamland would it be possible to believe that the ruination of this city will do anything to enhance the legitimacy of the US occupation and of the Iraqi government it appointed.

Values? What values? This is what the GOP has morphed into:

What the Democrat Party once was - the party of Orville Faubus, James Eastland, and Jim Crow laws.



What else can we call the five latest GOP additions to the US Senate?. Louisiana's David Vitter is described as a "polite David Duke." Oklahoma's Coburn is known for his remarks on the alleged genetic inferiority of black people (that's why they don't live as long as us whities, according to Coburn - very much ignoring the radical differences in socioeconomic status that might better explain any lifespan differences), worries about rampant lesbianism in Oklahoma public schools, and is likely a fan of the long-ago discredited eugenics movement. In fact the GOP seems to have few qualms about running candidates who openly advocate a return to the eugenics movement. Granted the worst of the bunch are from the former Confederacy, much as was true of the Democrats 50 to 60 years ago.



Naturally GOP apologists wouldn't want to have to admit being racist. They'll gladly embrace open hostility towards gays - that's a group whose scapegoating is well within the bounds of political correctness in American social discourse. But the truth of the matter is that hatred of gays is only part of the GOP value system. Hatred of brown-skinned people is the dirty little secret, the skeleton in the closet, the huge elephant defecating in the living room. Whether it's the efforts to roll back civil rights gains, the talk of "law and order" (a code term for keeping the whities safe from the blacks and hispanics), or fighting a "war on terror" against "Islamofascists" (code word for brown skinned people of Middle Eastern or Central Asian descent), that ugly song remains the same. Somehow embracing all of this hatred makes one a "good Christian." I'm at a loss as to how.



It's been a long time since I read St. Augustine. I do recall that he once remarked that our emotions can tell us a great deal about the kind of lives we are leading. When taking actions that are good, in accordance with that creative force (God works for me - another name may work better for you) we'll experience feelings of virtue. The other actions, those going against that creative force will lead to feelings of guilt. Ever experience a twinge of guilt when you laugh at a racist joke told by an acquaintance or relative? Or when you abandoned a friend or relative who had just "come out of the closet"? Or when you saw the pictures of those tortured political prisoners at Abu Ghraib and realized that those were outcomes of policies carried out by the guy you voted for president? Or when you realize that you supported military actions that cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians based on nothing more than shoddy lies? That twinge of guilt is trying to tell you something. Listen to it.



Of course there are emotional outcomes to seeing injustices directed at oneself or at others - the most salient being anger. Let's just say that I have a great deal of anger at what I have seen these past few years. I have a hunch that anger is not going away any time too soon. Justice, treating people fairly, is a value that I hold very dearly. What keeps me going is the hope that my children may inherit a world in which there's a bit less injustice and in which they don't have to be so angry.

A round-up of right-wing hate and eliminationism, and what we need to do about it

David Neiwert a few days ago offered quite a round-up of hate crimes that had occurred in the previous week in his post, The week in hate. Some links of interest:

Racial taunt brings expulsion: Black student at Monroe says white student waved noose at him

Racial tensions worry parents: A coalition of Monroe High School parents wants the community to get involved after three recent incidents at the school.

Investigation of possible Memorial hate crime continues: swastikas were drawn on the outside of the door of a jewish teacher's classroom.

2 Arrested In Alleged Hate Crime At Stony Brook: two young hooligans attacked a Muslim student in his dorm room at SUNY Stony Brook

Teen arrested on hate-crime charge after family's house defaced: the family whose home was vandalized was African-American. The teen was white.

Man charged with hate crime: 20 year-old white man physically attacked an African-American woman, and had been using racial taunts aimed at her.

Montclair student charged after swastikas found: Apparently this kid was vandalizing a campus dormitory.

Bulldozer attack on church may have been racially motivated, members sayWarren County man arrested for allegedly striking church with bulldozer

Embattled school seeks answers: let's see - some white kids choose to wear KKK and "white pride" symbols and lo and behold, one of them gets beat up by some angry African-American kids. This is one case where 'victim' blame is appropriate.

Man Beaten In Apparent Hate Crime In University City: Group Threatened To Kill Man, Fled In SUV: A Portuguese man is beaten up by a bunch of white hooligans who stupidly mistake him for Middle-Eastern. Geez. Let me guess - "they all look alike."

MLK mural damaged in possible hate crime: Center's employees express anger, outrage at vandalism of landmark. I must say, that seems reminiscent of the Sacramento Valley that I recall from the early 1980s when I lived there. Some of the communities such as Oroville I recall as being quite the hotbeds for white supremacism.

And where does the inspiration come from? Look no further than the wingnut pundits who've infiltrated the mainstream media: Bill Bennett, Adam Yoshida, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan, Mike Savage, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and so on. Their message:

-- That liberals are the root of all evil.

-- That liberals are innately treasonous.

-- That they are internal enemies on a par with Al Qaeda.

-- That they are responsible for conservative failures.

-- That electing a liberal president would bring the end of the republic.

-- That the nation would be better off if liberals were just eliminated.

Where are the decent conservatives willing to stand up to these thugs? Nowhere to be found.

With all that in mind, here's a thought I've been pondering for the better part of a year, and one which I would like to float: it's time for those of us who are the potential scapegoats of the right-wing extremists who've effectively taken over the GOP to accept responsibility for our own self-defense by all legal means necessary.

One suggestion: let's ditch the gun control rhetoric. I've considered it a losing cause for a long time in any event. Rather, why not embrace the Second Amendment? How about a lefty alternative to the NRA, for example? We could focus on advocating the preservation of 2nd Amendment rights, gun safety, and so forth but with an emphasis on empowering those of us who are targeted by hate groups and the hatemongers who increasingly control the GOP to defend ourselves. If you're a member of one of their target groups of scapegoats and live in a right-to-carry state, let's advocate taking advantage of that right. In the process we send the subtle and not-so-subtle message to the wingnuts that their next attempt at gay bashing, their next attempt to firebomb a family planning clinic, their next attempt to lynch an ethnic minority may very well be their last. The violent rhetoric that they have been fed has put the rest of us increasingly at risk, and it's high time to acknowledge that basic fact. Those people seem to take their culture war a bit to seriously for my comfort. We should be ready for them.

Unpleasant to ponder, perhaps, but food for thought nonetheless.

More Grist For The Mill

Robert Jensen, in his article "Your Rich Men Are Full of Violence" write:

After hearing both John Kerry and George W. Bush end their concession and victory speeches with the ubiquitous "God bless America," I decided to conclude all my future political talks with the call "God condemn America," and quote the Bible in support.



Many in the anti-war and anti-empire movement tend toward the pacifist language of the gospels when they invoke religion, but I've always been a fan of the so-called "minor prophets" of the Old Testament, such as Micah. Probably the best-known verse from Micah is: "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (6:8).



It's a beautiful passage, a reminder -- even for non-believers -- that a decent path through life can be expressed simply: justice, kindness, humility.



But Micah doesn't stop at articulating the ideal; he speaks of the failure of those in power to live up to the ideal. He names the wickedness in the land: "Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth" (6:12). Micah's language is harsh: "The godly man has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among men; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts his brother with a net" (7:2).



Despite the professions of Christian faith from Bush and his gang, that all sounds a lot like this administration: willing to use violence -- and obscene levels of violence, including violence against innocents -- to extend and deepen U.S. power, and willing to lie to manipulate public opinion to build support for illegal wars.



I like reading the prophets, not just for their passion but as a reminder that there are many moments in history when leaders -- whether they are the kings of ancient Israel or the presidents of the United States -- will have amassed such concentrated power that no challenge in the short term is possible. There are moments when those leaders will have bought off or deceived the majority of people so that they rule with popular support. Bush won a second term with a 3 1/2 million-vote margin. Many of the people who voted for him believe, or want to believe, that the United States is God's instrument on this earth.



They should read Micah more closely. Perhaps we can turn back from our assault on the rest of the world, and our disregard for the cascading ecological collapse, before it's too late, before "the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their doings" (7:13). One day, perhaps, we will reach the point Micah promises: "The nations shall see and be ashamed of their might" (7:16).



To reach that, Micah reminds us of the need for commitment over the long haul: "Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me" (7:8).



We sit in darkness; there is no point in pretending otherwise. The imperial project of the United States is rotted to the core, a fact neither candidate nor party seems able or willing to acknowledge. Bush's election is disturbing mostly because it reveals just how many fellow citizens share in that wicked project.



So, God condemn America, please, so that the world might live.




Remember: Bu$hCo talks a good game on values, but it's nothing but empty words. If you want a look at evil, a look at what is most treasonous and most wrong with our country, you need look no further than the White House.