Saturday, October 8, 2005

So what exactly WAS this "noble cause"?

Robert Fisk on how the world was duped:
How many lies had been told in this auditorium? How many British excuses for the Suez invasion, or Russian excuses - the same year - for the suppression of the Hungarian uprising? One recalled, of course, this same room four decades earlier when General Powell's predecessor Adlai Stevenson showed photographs of the ships carrying Soviet missiles to Cuba. Alas, Powell's pictures carried no such authority. And Colin Powell was no Adlai Stevenson.

If Powell's address merited front-page treatment, the American media had never chosen to give the same attention to the men driving Bush to war, most of whom were former or still active pro-Israeli lobbyists. For years they had advocated destroying the most powerful Arab nation. Richard Perle, one of Bush's most influential advisers, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld were all campaigning for the overthrow of Iraq long before George W Bush was elected US president. And they weren't doing so for the benefit of Americans or Britons. A 1996 report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, called for war on Iraq. It was written not for the US but for the incoming Israeli Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and produced by a group headed by Perle. The destruction of Iraq would, of course, protect Israel's monopoly of nuclear weapons - always supposing Saddam also possessed them - and allow it to defeat the Palestinians and impose whatever colonial settlement Sharon had in store for them.

Although Bush and Blair dared not discuss this aspect of the coming war - a conflict for Israel was not going to have Americans or Britons lining up at recruiting offices - Jewish-American leaders talked about the advantages of an Iraqi war with enthusiasm. Indeed, those very courageous Jewish-American groups who opposed this madness were the first to point out how pro-Israeli organisations foresaw Iraq not only as a new source of oil but of water, too; why should canals not link the Tigris river to the parched Levant? No wonder, then, that any discussion of this topic had to be censored, as Professor Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University tried to do in The Wall Street Journal the day after Powell's UN speech. Cohen suggested that European nations' objections to the war might - yet again - be ascribed to " anti-Semitism of a type long thought dead in the West, a loathing that ascribes to Jews a malignant intent". This nonsense was opposed by many Israeli intellectuals who, like Uri Avnery, argued that an Iraq war would leave Israel with even more Arab enemies.

The slur of "anti-Semitism" also lay behind Rumsfeld's insulting remarks about "old Europe". He was talking about the "old" Germany of Nazism and the "old" France of collaboration. But the France and Germany that opposed this war were the "new" Europe, the continent that refused, ever again, to slaughter the innocent. It was Rumsfeld and Bush who represented the "old" America; not the " new" America of freedom, the America of F D Roosevelt.

Rumsfeld and Bush symbolised the old America that killed its native inhabitants and embarked on imperial adventures. It was "old" America we were being asked to fight for - linked to a new form of colonialism - an America that first threatened the United Nations with irrelevancy and then did the same to Nato. This was not the last chance for the UN, nor for Nato. But it might well have been the last chance for America to be taken seriously by her friends as well as her enemies.

Israeli and US ambitions in the region were now entwined, almost synonymous. This war, about oil and regional control, was being cheer-led by a president who was treacherously telling us that this was part of an eternal war against "terror". The British and most Europeans didn't believe him. It's not that Britons wouldn't fight for America. They just didn't want to fight for Bush or his friends. And if that included the prime minister, they didn't want to fight for Blair either. Still less did they wish to embark on endless wars with a Texas governor-executioner who dodged the Vietnam draft and who, with his oil buddies, was now sending America's poor to destroy a Muslim nation that had nothing at all to do with the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001.

Before the Iraq war of 2003 started, I'd read a number of writers from blogtopia and elsewhere regarding the factors that would influence Middle East politics for the foreseeable future. Among those reasons was the control of water resources, which of course we would consider a scarce commodity in this arid region. Indeed, one of the tangible complaints that Palestinians have made is that the Israeli version of Apartheid includes increasingly diverting water from whatever areas that the Palestinians are still allowed to occupy to the Israel and its settlements. That our nation would be sending men and women half-way across the world in order for Israel (or any other nation for that matter) to have the potential to divert water from the Tigris River strikes me as pure madness on the part of our own supposed leaders.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Shorter G.W. Bush:

On the war on terra:

My enemies, being evil, only love to kill, while I, being good, only kill for love.
Props to Elton Beard who runs the very excellent and very Bokononist blog, Busy, Busy, Busy.

"It was 50 years ago today, Allen Ginsberg had the gall to say..."


Today marks the 50th anniversary of Ginsberg's first public reading of his famous or infamous poem Howl. Written during another dark and paranoid period of American life, the poem still resonates today. The work was later published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights, and shortly thereafter became the focus of an obscenity trial which Ferlinghetti won (with the support of the ACLU among others). Yep, the American right-wing of the 1950s was as uptight about what it perceived as obscenity as it is today (Abu Gonzales and his predecessor John Ashcroft are merely warmed-over relics of the McCarthy vibe in that sense).

One of the highlights of my undergrad days was getting to see Ginsberg give a poetry reading. My impression: the guy was very personable, had a great sense of humor, connected well with his audience, was willing to share his history and of the times in which his various poems were written, and unpretentious (what you saw was what you got). Great gig.

The Kronos Quartet a few years ago put out a CD called Howl, U.S.A. Well worth checking out for the title piece as well as for the other tracks on the album (including a tune called "Cold War Suite" featuring the voice of I. F. Stone).

The poem:
                       HOWL

For Carl Solomon

I

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
ment roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the
skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-
ing their money in wastebaskets and listening
to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-
cohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of
Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
tionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook-
lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless
ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
until the noise of wheels and children brought
them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's
floated out and sat through the stale beer after
noon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack
of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to
pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brook-
lyn Bridge,
lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping
down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills
off Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts
and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks
and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days
and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the
Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a
trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic
City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grind-
ings and migraines of China under junk-with-
drawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the
railroad yard wondering where to go, and went,
leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
through snow toward lonesome farms in grand-
father night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telep-
athy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos in-
stinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking vis-
ionary indian angels who were visionary indian
angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore
gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Okla-
homa on the impulse of winter midnight street
light smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston
seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the
brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship
to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving
behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees
and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fire
place Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the
F.B.I. in beards and shorts with big pacifist
eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incom-
prehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting
the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union
Square weeping and undressing while the sirens
of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed
down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also
wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked
and trembling before the machinery of other
skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight
in policecars for committing no crime but their
own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were
dragged off the roof waving genitals and manu-
scripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly
motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim,
the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean
love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose
gardens and the grass of public parks and
cemeteries scattering their semen freely to
whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up
with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath
when the blond & naked angel came to pierce
them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate
the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar
the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb
and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but
sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
threads of the craftsman's loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of
beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a can-
dle and fell off the bed, and continued along
the floor and down the hall and ended fainting
on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and
come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling
in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning
but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sun
rise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked
in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad
stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these
poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver-joy
to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls
in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with
gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely pet-
ticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station
solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in
dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and
picked themselves up out of basements hung
over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third
Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemploy-
ment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on
the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the
East River to open to a room full of steamheat
and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment
cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime
blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall
be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested
the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of
Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their
pushcarts full of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the
bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in
their lofts,
who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned
with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded
by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty
incantations which in the yellow morning were
stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht
& tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable
kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for
an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot
for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks
fell on their heads every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccess-
fully, gave up and were forced to open antique
stores where they thought they were growing
old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits
on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse
& the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments
of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the
fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinis-
ter intelligent editors, or were run down by the
drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually hap-
pened and walked away unknown and forgotten
into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alley
ways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of
the subway window, jumped in the filthy Pas-
saic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street,
danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed
phonograph records of nostalgic European
1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and
threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans
in their ears and the blast of colossal steam
whistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying
to each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude
watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out
if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had
a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who
came back to Denver & waited in vain, who
watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
Denver and finally went away to find out the
Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying
for each other's salvation and light and breasts,
until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for
impossible criminals with golden heads and the
charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet
blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky
Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys
or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or
Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hyp
notism & were left with their insanity & their
hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism
and subsequently presented themselves on the
granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads
and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-
stantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin
Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-
therapy occupational therapy pingpong &
amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic
pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of
blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible mad
man doom of the wards of the madtowns of the
East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid
halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rock-
ing and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a night-
mare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the
moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book
flung out of the tenement window, and the last
door closed at 4. A.M. and the last telephone
slammed at the wall in reply and the last fur-
nished room emptied down to the last piece of
mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted
on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that
imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of
hallucination
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and
now you're really in the total animal soup of
time
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed
with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use
of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrat-
ing plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space
through images juxtaposed, and trapped the
archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun
and dash of consciousness together jumping
with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna
Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human
prose and stand before you speechless and intel-
ligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet con-
fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm
of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,
yet putting down here what might be left to say
in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in
the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the
suffering of America's naked mind for love into
an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered
out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand
years.

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
their skulls and ate up their brains and imagi-
nation?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unob
tainable dollars! Children screaming under the
stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men
weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the
loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy
judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the
crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of
sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!
Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun-
ned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose
blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers
are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a canni-
bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking
tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long
streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac-
tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose
smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch
whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch
whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!
Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream
Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in
Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom
I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch
who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy!
Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!
Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs!
skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic
industries! spectral nations! invincible mad
houses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pave-
ments, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to
Heaven which exists and is everywhere about
us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies!
gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole
boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions!
gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! De-
spairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on
the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the
wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell!
They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving!
carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the
street!

III

Carl Solomon! I'm with you in Rockland
where you're madder than I am
I'm with you in Rockland
where you must feel very strange
I'm with you in Rockland
where you imitate the shade of my mother
I'm with you in Rockland
where you've murdered your twelve secretaries
I'm with you in Rockland
where you laugh at this invisible humor
I'm with you in Rockland
where we are great writers on the same dreadful
typewriter
I'm with you in Rockland
where your condition has become serious and
is reported on the radio
I'm with you in Rockland
where the faculties of the skull no longer admit
the worms of the senses
I'm with you in Rockland
where you drink the tea of the breasts of the
spinsters of Utica
I'm with you in Rockland
where you pun on the bodies of your nurses the
harpies of the Bronx
I'm with you in Rockland
where you scream in a straightjacket that you're
losing the game of the actual pingpong of the
abyss
I'm with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul
is innocent and immortal it should never die
ungodly in an armed madhouse
I'm with you in Rockland
where fifty more shocks will never return your
soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a
cross in the void
I'm with you in Rockland
where you accuse your doctors of insanity and
plot the Hebrew socialist revolution against the
fascist national Golgotha
I'm with you in Rockland
where you will split the heavens of Long Island
and resurrect your living human Jesus from the
superhuman tomb
I'm with you in Rockland
where there are twenty-five-thousand mad com-
rades all together singing the final stanzas of the
Internationale
I'm with you in Rockland
where we hug and kiss the United States under
our bedsheets the United States that coughs all
night and won't let us sleep
I'm with you in Rockland
where we wake up electrified out of the coma
by our own souls' airplanes roaring over the
roof they've come to drop angelic bombs the
hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls col-
lapse O skinny legions run outside O starry
spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is
here O victory forget your underwear we're
free
I'm with you in Rockland
in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-
journey on the highway across America in tears
to the door of my cottage in the Western night

Bu$hCo: Resetting the Terror Trap?

Interesting thoughts from TVNewsLies:

TVNL maintains that this ‘major’ speech given by George Bush used four shrewd and deceptive techniques designed to create a new and expanded justification for the Bush/PNAC wars. Each was subtly interjected to refocus the nation’s attention on a larger and far more insidious danger they could imagine on their own. Each was cleverly woven into a speech designed to inspire and exploit the nations fears while it said almost nothing of substance at all.

Let’s have a look.

  1. ERASING IRAQ: In a strange way, this morning’s speech was actually quite momentous. In less than an hour George Bush managed to perform a miracle: he completely erased the war in Iraq. He made no attempt to explain it, justify it, or even refer to it. There was no hint that the bloodshed and the chaos in Iraq would end anytime in the near future. There was no mention of an exit strategy or a timeline for bringing home the troops. The message: Listen up, America: we simply have to stay in Iraq. Terrorists have made that country their base for global domination. Forget the other excuses; this is why we’re staying the disastrous course. The old Iraq War is no more. A more devastating one has started. Deal with it.
  2. EXPLOITING 9/11: Hello, world, was the message, better beware. Those same evil extremists who brought you 9/11 are now planning to destroy humanity in general. But don’t you worry; George Bush won’t let that happen. Our brave young men and women are dying in Iraq right now to save the planet from total annihilation by nameless, unidentifiable, radical terrorists. That’s why we’ll stay the course.

    The speech warned of an insidious, united enemy that was responsible for every single act of terrorism everywhere in the world from the WTC to Bali and Chechnya. These perpetrators of 9/11 were now out to ‘enslave whole nations.” But first, of course, these Islamic, radical, extremist, militant terrorists want to launch another assault the American people. Are you trembling, yet?
  3. RESURRECTING JOE MCCARTHY: Hell, if terrorists won’t frighten you, maybe communists will. It was almost pathetic to hear George Bush invoke that old bugaboo in order to further demonize Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamists. What a desperate attempt to revive old fears by unearthing an enemy long since dead and buried. It seems that his speech writers were forced to dig deeply into their bag of dirty tricks for that one. But maybe reminders of the communist threat would strike a bit more fear into the hearts of Americans if all else failed. It couldn’t hurt.
  4. REFUSING THE BLAME: And finally, the President’s speech was a declaration of our total innocence and unquestionable purity as a nation. Not a single action by the US or its allies, we were told, contributed in any way to the murderous deeds of our enemies, ever. George Bush assured the nation that neither our presence in Saudi Arabia or Lebanon, nor anything else we have every done, motivated any attacks against us, now or in the past. Israeli presence in the West Bank, he went on to say, had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorist attacks anywhere. These evil Islamic leaders have endless ambitions of imperial domination, Bush explained, and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves. His message was clear: Fear this radical scourge, America, but trust me to rid the world of these evil extremists. We’re making real progress, folks; just hang in there.

WILL IT WORK?

At this very moment George Bush and his PNAC puppeteers are well into the third year of their failed and disastrous war in Iraq. At this very moment, the American military death toll is closing in on 2000. At this very moment, the majority of Americans believe that the war was a mistake. And, at this very moment, George Bush and his misbegotten handlers are beginning to panic.

The White House really has no choice but to try and counter the waning support for the war in Iraq. They know is out there and they understand the power of fear and how to exploit it. More speeches will follow. All the speakers will echo the War on Terror theme. The question now is: will it work? Will Americans once again take the bait laid out for them? Or, do they now understand that the war in Iraq has nothing whatsoever to do with the threat of terrorism that permeates so much of the world?

Will Americans refuse to be trapped another time? Only time will tell.

Just the same old bag of tricks warmed over.

We had to destroy the nation's infrastructure to save it

US forces bomb Iraq's Euphrates bridges:
Baghdad - US-led forces have bombed eight bridges on the Euphrates River in western Iraq to stop insurgents using them, US military spokesperson Major General Rick Lynch said Thursday.

"We have been taking out portions of bridges with precision strikes," he told a news conference.

Of 12 bridges between the Syrian border and Ramadi, 110km west Baghdad, "four remain under control of the coalition forces and Iraqi forces after precision strikes on the others," he said.

"One of the vulnerabilities of this insurgency is freedom of movement," he added.

"We took out portions of these bridges to deny terrorists, foreign fighters and insurgents the capability to cross north to south or south to north across the Euphrates River."
Well, that's the propaganda. What does it mean? More destruction of the very infrastructure that the US "coalition" was supposed to rebuild. Yet all these airstrikes and raids miss a key point: Iraqis don't take too kindly to invaders of their land (nor would anyone else really). Under those circumstances folks will fight their invaders with whatever means are available.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

"I am my brother's keeper"

What a great frame from RenaRF of On the Left Tip:
"I am my brother's keeper" is the simplest, cleanest and most beautiful phrase to sum up my political and personal philosophy in this life and on this earth...[snip]:
  • I am my brother's keeper. I will not stand idly by while he suffers for lack of medical care.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I want him to succeed and have an opportunity to work hard and be rewarded for that work.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I love him as I love my own family and I want us to be safe from all threats, man-made and natural.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I will not leave him to suffer because help does not arrive.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I don't want to see him have to choose between eating dinner and filling up his car to get to work.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I don't want to see his children or mine saddled with the debt and bad decisions made in a time that was not theirs.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I want his children and mine to learn and be educated and have every chance at success and happiness in life.
  • I am my brother's keeper. I want his children and mine to have clean air to breath and safe food to eat and clean water to drink.
It's a great frame, I think. It speaks to compassion, responsibility and accountability for everyone - government, individuals, other leaders. You are my keeper and I am yours. The things I want for you and your family are the same things I want for myself and my family. We are responsible to each other.
RenaRF intended this as a Democrat frame, but is one that I think is useful for American Solidarity as well. Of course a Dem who talks like that and can prove that he or she is willing to walk the talk will be welcomed by me. The thing I dig is that the above communicates a positive value that those of us who identify as progressives and populists already espouse - i.e., that of collective responsibility. We are responsible not only for ourselves, but for those in our community as well. Those bullet points show the way to forming policies based on that principle.
More food for thought.

Poverty A Major US Problem

FEATURE-U.S. poverty: chronic ill, little hope for cure
WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Four decades after a U.S. president declared war on poverty, more than 37 million people in the world's richest country are officially classified as poor and their number has been on the rise for years.

Last year, according to government statistics, 1.1 million Americans fell below the poverty line. That equals the entire population of a major city like Dallas or Prague.

Since 2000, the ranks of the poor have increased year by year by almost 5.5 million in total. Even optimists see little prospect that the number will shrink soon despite a renewed debate on poverty prompted by searing television images which laid bare a fact of American life rarely exposed to global view.

[...]

The percentage of black Americans living in poverty is 24.7, almost twice as high as the overall rate for all races.

In predominantly black New Orleans, that disparity translated into those with cars and money, almost all white, fleeing the flood while more than 100,000 car-less blacks were trapped in the flooded city.

Some commentators wondered whether the crisis showed that political segregation, America's version of apartheid which formally ended with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, had merely been replaced by economic segregation. Poor black Americans in one part of a city, affluent whites in the other.

A host of other American cities have such divides, including Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Miami and the U.S. capital itself. It is a 10-minute drive from the White House to the heart of Anacostia, the city's poorest neighbourhood, but they could be in different worlds.

But the black-equals-poor scenes from New Orleans do not portray the full picture. There are three times as many poor whites as blacks in the United States and the poverty rate for whites has risen faster than that for blacks and Hispanics.

Academic experts also say the government's figures minimize the true scale of poverty because they are outdated. The formula for the poverty level was set in 1963 on the assumption that one third of the average family's budget was spent on food.

This is no longer true. Housing has become the largest single expense and tens of thousands of the "working poor," the label for those who work at or near the minimum wage, are forced to sleep in cars, trailers, long-term motels or shelters.

U.S. POVERTY WORST IN INDUSTRIALISED WORLD

"Every August, we Americans tell ourselves a lie," said David Brady, a Duke University professor who studies poverty.

"The poverty rate was designed to undercount because the government wanted to show progress in the war on poverty.

"Taking everything into account, the real rate is around 18 percent, or 48 million people. Poverty in the United States is more widespread, by far, than in any other industrialised country."

Poverty is a universal problem, as is inequality. The world's 500 richest people, according to U.N. statistics, have as much income as the world's poorest 416 million.

The post-hurricane poverty scenes were so remarkable for most of the world because of the perception of the United States as the rich land of unlimited opportunity.

[...]

The minimum wage, which stands at $5.15 an hour [note: correct figure should be $6.35/hr], is not enough to keep you above the poverty line. Yet minimum wage jobs, without health insurance or vacations, are the only jobs available to millions of people with only basic education.

The well-paid unskilled jobs in heavy industry which once lifted working-class Americans into the middle class are largely gone and the decline continues. Since 2001, the United States has lost more than 2.7 million manufacturing jobs. Low-paid clerical work is being outsourced to developing countries.

Food for thought - and action.

Ah...the "Culture of Life" in all its glory

MSNBC reports that due to alleged continuing looting, "shoot to kill" orders are in effect in New Orleans for any alleged looter who refuses to obey police orders. I wasn't aware that either petty theft or failure to obey a police officer were death penalty crimes; apparently I was wrong. And the "culture of life" marches on. Link.

First it was Pat Robertson calling for "taking out" Hugo Chavez, to which the media and liberals reacted with the mildest of reproval. Now it's Bill O'Reilly calling for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying "we could take his life, and we should take his life if he doesn't help us out."

That's Bill O'Reilly, sounding precisely like the kind of God that George Bush and his ilk pray to. And the reaction from the media and liberals? So far, I cannot find a single reference to O'Reilly's outrageous (and, must I mention it, illegal) words outside of Media Matters for America and Democracy Now!. Link.


There's fighting going on between U.S. forces and Iraqi resistance fighters in Ramadi. A few days ago, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, in a story that was, naturally, widely reported in the American press.

Two days ago, six more people were killed in Ramadi, but the story has as far as I can tell not been reported by a single Western news outlet, who are too busy covering George Bush's press "availability" today where he's busy (mis)informing the American public about the "progress" being made in Iraq:

"Six members of a family died today and another 27 people were injured when U.S. tanks and planes bombed a group of houses in the city of Ramadi, 110 kilometers west of Baghdad, EFE reported.

"Sources at the Ramadi general hospital affirmed that they had received the bodies of a city government official, Jalid al-Hasan, his wife and their four children."
[...]

BBC World tonight featured a piece on the fighting in northern Iraq. We were "treated" to shots of U.S. forces using night scopes and simply blasting a series of houses apart, clearly not in response to any immediate firing but presumably in response to "tips" about where the "bad guys" were located. Shot after shot after house after house reduced to rubble; a few less "voters" to worry about whether to vote for or against the Constitution. Then, finally, some shots we would never see on an American newscast -- pictures of dead babies and other civilians in an Iraqi hospital, "fresh kill" of the American assault. No evidence, by the way, of any of the Iraqi forces about whom George Bush spoke so highly today. Link.

American Solidarity - A Beginning:

Seems a fitting title for my 2,500th post since first firing up this blog back in August of 2003. For more years than I would want to count at this point in my life I have been questioning the direction and purpose of the Democrat party. I've made no secret of my general uneasiness within what has become of the Dems whose leadership has generally underwhelmed me over the last quarter century. Truth is I really don't fit in with a party that seems to favor its corporate cronies over its purported commitment to basic progressive and populist values and policies. The GOP was never and will never be an alternative for me. The unholy alliance of theocons and neocons is one with which I simply would never wish to associate. Genocidal wars, draconian laws that decimate the letter and spirit of The Bill of Rights, looting the nation's treasury and generally pissing away the nation's future for the sake of feathering a few cronies' nests under the aegis of God and Country are the halmarks of the GOP. The best I've been able to say about the Dems is that they are "less bad."

The question that I can never leave far behind is this: "is less bad good enough?" When lives and quality of life are at stake, the answer is no. As of late I have given the words of the late Malcom X a fresh read, and I have a couple observations. One is that in many respects, when we're talking about civil rights and human rights in America things really haven't changed much since Malcom's day. The images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of the dire poverty that has consigned so many of our fellow Americans to a lifetime of marginal existence (what the Marxists would call the lumpenproletariat) and neglect by the very government that is supposed to serve them, will haunt me for as long as I can still draw a breath. Those images should haunt all of us. The specter of racism and classism continues to plague our political and social landscape, just as it has all of my life. The second observation: politicians from one party or another haved talked a good game when it comes to promoting progressive ideas and policies - but with few exceptions they don't walk the talk. That was a problem that Malcom confronted with the issues that were salient to him, and is a problem that we on the left continue to confront. The Dems have assumed for so long that they have the leftists, the women, the ethnic minorities in their back pockets because presumably we have "nowhere else to go." The result is, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, a not-so-benign neglect of our issues and values from the powers that be. And as long as we keep registering Democrat and periodically show up to vote when expected, nothing changes, except maybe for the worse. We have a party where its members say the right things more often than not, but then by and large approve laws like The Patriot Act, the bankruptcy bill that will end up burying working families who've encountered exhorbitant medical expenses; they've been silent when the White House nominated an architect of the current pro-torture policy to the office of AG; when it comes to the illegal war being fought against the Iraqis, many of the Dems want to send more troops and kill of even more people; they've been largely silent on the issue of voting irregularities both in Ohio and Florida; and we know that privacy rights are also no longer sacred in Dem circles.

What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP. That's the general idea behind American Solidarity: organize physically, financially, intellectually. Many of us come from varying backgrounds and have varying pet causes, but let's face it - those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, those of us who value liberty, who value equality, who value justice, who value privacy have a hell of a lot in common. Technological advances in the last decade or so make it easier for us to coordinate and to exchange ideas and information than ever before. It's way past time to start using those tools to our advantage. Blogs are one of our tools, playing the same role that zines played in the 1980s and pamphlets such as Paine's played during the Revolution some 230 years ago. Blogging is only part of that picture. Cernig fills in some of the details elsewhere. Clearly, unions, thinktanks, civil liberties organizations are going to be salient as well.

Being unaffiliated with the major political parties is also crucial for an American Solidarity movement. The GOP can be written off as a lost cause. The Dems, I'm also skeptical of, but will note this much: if they think we're registered as Dems, they can assume that we'll continue to accept the status quo. Malcom was onto something back in 1964 and 1965 when he advocated refusing to back any candidate until it was clear that they were willing to walk their talk. If they turn out to be kosher, then by all means support them, but only to the extent that they are representing us. If they stop representing us, we should be willing to walk away from them. If they know that their constituents mean business, they'll be more careful to represent us in whatever legislative body they hold office. There's strength in numbers, especially when those numbers are independent.

Underlying all of this is the assumption that you're registered and that you vote. If you are making less than 35k a year, and/or if you're an ethnic minority, and/or you're a relatively young voter (say 18-25 years of age) you are under-represented when it comes to actual voters come election day. You need to register (ideally independent) and you need to educate yourself on the candidates and issues, and you need to vote - and not only those major elections, but also on the local elections. The percentage of eligible voters who actually do vote is pathetic when compared to other relatively democratic industrialized nations. Understandably, a lot of that is due to the pathetic array of choices we get offered by the major parties; we as citizens too bear some responsibility with regard to voter turnout and need to take that responsibility personally. Becoming an informed voter is going to require some effort, but hardly an insurmountable effort. Newspapers across the globe are available over the internet (I'm a big fan of The Guardian and The Independent - both from the UK, but there are certainly others worth visiting). There are a number of well-informed bloggers that you should make an effort to check out on a regular basis. Keep up with the local newspapers and bloggers. If you don't have a computer at home, go to your nearest library to access these resources. If you have access to these resources, take some responsibility for educating your friends and neighbors.

Making meaningful social change happen in America will not happen overnight, and will be truly a community effort in which each of us must play an active role. In other words, it's time to stand up.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Could it be?

Some much deserved frog marches are at hand?
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal prosecutor investigating who leaked the identity of a CIA operative is expected to signal within days whether he intends to bring indictments in the case, legal sources close to the investigation said on Wednesday.

As a first step, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was expected to notify officials by letter if they have become targets, said the lawyers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Fitzgerald could announce plea agreements, bring indictments, or conclude that no crime was committed. By the end of this month he is expected to wrap up his nearly two-year-old investigation into who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

The inquiry has ensnared President George W. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The White House had long maintained that Rove and Libby had nothing to do with the leak but reporters have since named them as sources.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, declined to say whether his client had been contacted by Fitzgerald. In the past, Luskin has said that Rove was assured that he was not a target.

Libby's lawyer was not immediately available to comment.

[...]

The outcome of the investigation could shake up an administration already reeling from criticism over its response to Hurricane Katrina and the indictment of House Republican leader Tom DeLay on a conspiracy charge related to campaign financing.

Can we do better? Damn straight!

A certain Madman in the Marketplace offers this clear-headed post over at Liberal Street Fighter, that fits in with the whole American Solidarity ethic. The whole thing is worth reading. Here's but a selection:
Leadership is the ability to find those wellsprings for change and direct them, but the wellspring has to be there first. I think that we are at a point where we’re starting to drill those wells, tap that sweet water of hope, though it’s hard to tell sometimes in these dark times.

The conversation is spreading. More and more Americans are finding their political voice, though again it’s hard to hear them over the din of the media and the political establishment, but it’s there. Women, minorities, workers, liberal intellectuals and writers ... those of us who hope for real community, real change ... we are starting to realize that no one is coming to save us. It’s past time for us to replicate what the religious and corporate right did years ago. We’re building a network, and the strange things about these networks is that you can’t see them until after they are built.

We can build a political movement for human rights, women’s rights, workers rights. We can change the conversation away from law-and-order, shock-and-awe, but it will take time, maybe a long time. Best now to take that to heart. However, with time, we can turn this slide to the right around.

  • We can have universal health care, but only if we agitate for it.
  • We can only have peace, but only if we demand it, demand it in a spirit of love.
  • We can have a clean environment, but only if we are willing to sacrifice a way of life that is unsustainable.
  • We can have living and fair wages, but only if we are willing to look at every other worker as an equal, as necessary and not some expendable cost center.
  • We can have a world where women are truly free to make their own destiny, but only if we stop thinking of women as incapable of making informed choices.
  • We can educate ourselves, our children and each other, but only if we return to the center of American life a belief in human reason, and the possiblity that learning and debate can help us all to do better, to make a better life for ourselves.
We can do all of these things, but only if we believe we can, if we’re willing to believe in each other. We don’t need leaders to do that: leaders will appear when they are necessary, when someone is brave or crazy enough to focus all of this political energy we have within ourselves, if only we’d have faith in the one true real thing we share: each other.

There are a number of us who are trying our level best to share a liberating vision as an alternative to what currently passes for politics in America. We can do better. We have the know-how. Let's give it a go.

Quotable from William Rivers Pitt

On his column outlining the veritable flood of scandals that has engulfed the GOP, Pitt has this to say about the lack of leadership from the Democrats:
There has been one consistently missing piece of this puzzle, a piece whose absence would be unutterably galling had that absence not become so drearily predictable. With all that is assaulting the White House, the Republican majority in Congress, and indeed the entire substructure of conservative political philosophy, the absence of a vocal, united, organized Democratic opposition to crystallize the reality of our wretched estate and offer a compelling alternative is, simply, astonishing.

Call it cowardice. Call it cynical. Call it a conspiracy. Call it a custard pie, for all the good it will do. Adjectives and invective wither before the yawning abyss that stands between the words of Democratic officeholders, and the deeds they have thus far failed so completely to accomplish. One hears that they are "keeping their powder dry." All this protracted, disorganized silence leads one to assume they have the driest powder this side of the Sahara. If it does not get used soon, it will blow away like so much dust.

The leadership caste of the Democratic party - those worthies and also-rans in the Senate and the DNC - should take a walk down to the Rayburn House office building and find Representatives Conyers, Lee, Woolsey, Abercrombie, Sanders, McDermott, Waters and Waxman. This crew has been keeping good company, has been burning the midnight oil, and has been speaking the truth of this administration all day and every day. The leadership caste of the Democratic party would do well to drink deep a draught of the courage and integrity that can be found there.

There has been a fair amount of talk recently about the number of scandals surrounding the Bush administration and the Republican party, inspiring allusions to the historic Congressional reversal in 1994. Back then, it was Democratic scandals and seeming scandals that swept the Republicans into power. More than that, it was the organized, motivated and energetic actions of the GOP, which exploited the gaps and ran to daylight at every opportunity. They've been essentially running things now for eleven years, and are learning a few lessons on the dangers of hubris and the nature of the American justice system.

Yet the outcome of this will not be another historic Congressional reversal in 2006, or in 2008 for that matter, if the Democratic party continues as it has been. Give the people a choice between the devil they know and the fathomless, mindless, tidal wanderings of the deep blue sea, and they will choose the devil every single time.

Memo to the Democratic leadership, in the words of departed comic Bill Hicks: "Step on the gas, man."

Yet more reason to press forward with an American Solidarity movement.

Torture is our business, and business is good

Some of the news making the rounds that you might have missed:

Torture of Iraqis Was for 'Stress Relief,' Say US Soldiers:
For the first time, American soldiers who personally tortured Iraqi prisoners have come forward to give testimony to human rights organisations about crimes they committed.

Three soldiers - a captain and two sergeants - from the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury near Fallujah in Iraq have told Human Rights Watch how prisoners were tortured both as a form of stress relief and as a way of breaking them for interrogation sessions.

These latest revelations about the torture of Iraqi detainees come at a time when the Bush administration thought it could draw a line under the scandal of Abu Ghraib following last week's imprisonment of Private Lynndie England for her now infamous role in the abuse of prisoners and the photographing of torture.

The 82nd Airborne soldiers at FOB Mercury earned the nickname "The Murderous Maniacs" from local Iraqis and took the moniker as a badge of honour.

The soldiers referred to their Iraqi captives as PUCs - persons under control - and used the expressions "f***ing a PUC" and "smoking a PUC" to refer respectively to torture and forced physical exertion.

One sergeant provided graphic descriptions to Human Rights Watch investigators about acts of abuse carried out both by himself and others. He now says he regrets his actions. His regiment arrived at FOB Mercury in August 2003. He said: " The first interrogation that I observed was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or a heart attack. At first I was surprised, like, 'This is what we are allowed to do?'"

The troops would put sand-bags on prisoners' heads and cuff them with plastic zip-ties. The sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said if he was told that prisoners had been found with homemade bombs, "we would f*** them up, put them in stress positions and put them in a tent and withhold water. It was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy go before he passes out or just collapses on you?"

He explained: "To 'f*** a PUC' means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To 'smoke' someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day.

"Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. We did that for amusement."

Iraqis were "smoked" for up to 12 hours. That would entail being made to hold five-gallon water cans in both hands with out-stretched arms, made to do press-ups and star jumps. At no time, during these sessions, would they get water or food apart from dry biscuits. Sleep deprivation was also "a really big thing", the sergeant added.

To prepare a prisoner for interrogation, military intelligence officers ordered that the Iraqis be deprived of sleep. The sergeant said he and other soldiers did this by "banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling".

They'd also pour cold water over prisoners and then cover them in sand and mud. On some occasions, prisoners were tortured for revenge. "If we were on patrol and caught a guy that killed our captain or my buddy last week Ö man, it is human nature," said the sergeant - but on other occasions, he confessed, it was for "sport".

Many prisoners were completely innocent and had no part in the insurgency, he said - but intelligence officers had told soldiers to exhaust the prisoners to make them co-operate. He said he now knew their behaviour was "wrong", but added "this was the norm". "Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel [intelligence]. As long as no PUC came up dead, it happened."

Lynndie England speaks of worse abuse at Abu Ghraib:
A United States soldier convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners said, in remarks made public late on Sunday, she knew of "worse things" happening at Abu Ghraib and insisted military commanders were fully aware of what was going on in Iraq's infamous jail.

The comments, made by Private First Class Lynndie England in her first post-court-martial interview, contradicted assertions by top Pentagon officials that a small group of out-of-control soldiers were responsible for abuse at Abu Ghraib, and that no matter how repulsive that mistreatment was, it did not amount to torture.

[...]

But England, appearing on NBC's "Dateline" programme, said the pictures did not convey the full extent of the abuse that took place in the cell block.

"I know worse things were happening over there," admitted the 22-year-old convict.

She said one night she heard blood-curdling screams coming from the block's shower room, where non-military interrogators had taken an Arab detainee.

"They had the shower on to muffle it, but it wasn't helping," she recalled.

"They never screamed like that when we were humiliating. But this guy was like screaming bloody murder. I mean it still haunts me I can still hear it just like it happened yesterday."

The interrogators were not identified, but several investigations into the abuse have disclosed that Central Intelligence Agency operatives worked at Abu Ghraib alongside US military intelligence, mining for useful information.

[...]

...England argued stripping prisoners naked and handcuffing them to steel bars was part of an officially-sanctioned strategy designed to soften inmates before interrogation and make them more cooperative.

"It was just humiliation tactics and things that we were told to do." she said.

[...]

"And the MI would be like, 'Oh, thats a good job! I never would have thought of that,'" England recalled. "He'd show him and he'd show the command and they'd be like, 'Oh, just keep up the good work.'"

US human right advocates argue additional light could be shed on the events at Abu Ghraib with the release of 87 more photographs and four videotapes made by guards at the prison but kept by the Pentagon under lock and key.

No one in their right mind would argue that the Dingbat Dominatrix of Abu Ghraib should have gone unpunished - but as we've noted over and over again, there was and still is an organizational culture that encouraged the human rights abuses that we've read about and heard about in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Those responsible for setting the tone should also be facing criminal charges (that such actions will likely have to be imposed on the US government by the international community seems almost a given, if at all).

Joe at American Leftist reminds us that the Guantánamo Bay hunger strike is still on-going:
Stafford-Smith's editorial and the little VOA piece above are both discussing the same action despite the fact that the VOA writer labels the strike the "second" this year. If you want to carve up the hunger strikes with that level of granularity, the current one should actually qualify as about the third or fourth but it is very hard to disentangle which mainstream news account is talking about which, and it makes more sense to view the whole phenomenon as one big ongoing act of civil disobedience.

And it is a big act -- Stafford-Smith's piece led me to start reading all I could find on the subject and I was quickly struck by the scale of this story. Some sources are saying as many as 200 inmates are involved: that's 40% of the total prisoner population at Guantanamo Bay. We are all so used to the almost non-existent coverage of the plight of these prisoners, that when you read the occasional news story that does appear -- say, last summer when the Koran-in-the-toilet riots forced Guantanamo Bay back into American newspapers -- and the story offhandedly mentions the hunger strikers, we assume this action is a minor affair.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Quotable

From this article, Bush Says Miers Most Qualified Person for Court:
Asked by a reporter if she was "the most qualified" person he could find in the country, he said, "Yes, otherwise I would not have" named her.

Sure. And Brown was qualified to run FEMA...and Bolton was qualified to represent the US in the UN...and pigs fly.

An American Solidarity Movement?

A call for a coalition of the left on the lines of Poland's famed Solidarity Movement is making the rounds in blogtopia. This seems to be in reaction to a number of folks who are increasingly unsatisfied by the lack of a real opposition party in America. This dissatisfaction has been brewing for a long time in lefty circles, but seems to be more at the forefront as what passes for Democratic leadership has proven woefully inadequate in a number of crucial battleground issues. Recent columns and blog posts such as those by Dave Lindorff, Rana at Shakespeare's Sister, Freiheit und Wissen, Meteor Blades, Madman in the Marketplace, Fester, Shamanic at Simian's Brain, yours truly (on a number of occasions recently and in the past), and somewhat unexpectedly even Ollie Willis have voiced dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs with the Dems. If you're committed to a progressive or populist approach to government and public service, if you're an ethnic minority (especially Black or Hispanic), or are a woman concerned with her reproductive rights (which are increasingly under attack), the Democrats have been more than happy to take you for granted. There's a serious problem when the party not only takes its base for granted, but openly entertains selling various members of its base up the river (as the Dems have done increasingly on the issue of privacy rights - and by extension reproductive rights). There is no serious opposition to the GOP, currently. As I said, that's a problem if you want to see any sort of meaningful social change based on core values such as the right to privacy, equality for all, justice for all, protecting the environment, fiscal responsibility, and so on. A possible solution as Cernig of NewsHog notes:

But if no leftwing party at present is strong enough, then what? Remember the old Polish "Solidarity" movement? A coalition of the progressive left that effected real change against an entrenched system. that should be the model. Sure, there would be fueds and differences over concepts - but the small groupings on the real Left are far more used to using a system of consensus and laisse-faire historically in any case. They are used to a system where prominent leaders are delegates as well as representatives. Any union body, any Green party local branch, is used to the give-and-take an American Solidarity would require. It could be done.

How would it work? Back to Cernig:
So where to start? Well, what the Greens and the Unions and the Laborites should do is get together for talks about establishing exactly that kind of grassroots up structure for a coalition movement on the Left - a true American Solidarity. I will even suggest a slogan; "we won't be Left unheard". There are even some bigger names who are currently in the Democratic camp who could be enticed, perhaps, into becoming the faces of the American Solidarity movement. I am thinking of people like bernie Sanders, John Conyers and even Chuck Pennaccio of PA. They should be approached with offers of support and funding. The Democratic Party should be approached as a possible ally, with a level of co-operation in caucus negotiated and a deal to not run against each other where demographics say it would be counter-productive.

And Lefty bloggers should be doing their bit too - we could even be pathfinders in the grassroots movement. Bloggers on the non-latte-sipping Left are pretty good at getting along even where we differ on details. We can form one or more of the think-tanks that are so needed by this new movement. We can also act as fundraisers and talent-spotters, targeting independent (i.e. non Dem or Republican) candidates for everything from local dog-catcher on up. Remember, that massive constituency is out there and I know from experience they would love to have someone to vote for.

Cernig has further fleshed the concept out recently in a post called, appropriately enough Dinousaur Democrats. In other words, this is a clarion call for a genuine 21st century American populist movement. The clock is ticking.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Andy Rooney Sez:

I had just come home this evening, and my wife was watching 60 Minutes. At some point, as I was wandering in and out of the house with groceries, I heard old Andy Rooney's voice. I could only catch bits and pieces of what he was saying, as I fielded questions from my wife about what I'd remembered and what I'd forgotten and questions from my three-year-old daughter about the cookies that she'd discovered in one of the bags. What I did catch from Rooney's spot was intriguing, and fortunately via the miracles of modern technology I could look at the transcript later.

Just a couple words on my general impression of Rooney. The guy always struck me as a stodgy, somewhat conservative fellow with a dry sense of humor - he and my dad are cut from similar cloth (and Dad, if you're reading this, take it as a compliment). I've sometimes found his segment to be irritating or downright offensive over the years, but when he goes on that populist vibe, he can be both entertaining and enlightening. Here's what he said this evening:
I'm not really clear how much a billion dollars is but the United States — our United States — is spending $5.6 billion a month fighting this war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into.

We still have 139,000 soldiers in Iraq today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ike was hardly a liberal either. Today he'd be smeared by the heirs to his political party as aiding and abetting "the enemy" (whoever that is) for expressing such views.

We've certainly changed in our values and priorities in the nearly four decades since I was born. Much of what is on the GOP chopping block to pay for rebuilding the Gulf Coast region and to keep the war against the Iraqis going are the very programs that our citizens would have once regarded as investments in our nation's future. Those days, alas, appear to be over. The nihilists have taken over. "There is no future" is the governing mantra inside the Beltway. Hence, the borrowing from China will continue largely unabated. Hence, the pork will continue as the Congress and White House look more and more like a financial slaughterhouse of gargantuan proportions. Hence, those of us who aren't cronies, who aren't CEOs, will pay an ever steeper price for Belway foolishness.

As I was driving home this evening, the sun was just beginning to set - partially obscured by the remnants from a pacific hurricane. I wondered as I traveled down the eerily quiet highway in between towns if this is what the eve of a dark age is like. If so, I then wondered what our children and grandchildren would think of our generation - if they would catch a glimpse of what we once had and of our potential, and then ponder how and why we chose to waste it all.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Must Reading

I've been arguing for a while that the Democrats have never really figured out how to act like an opposition party, which is a large reason why they as a party have been unable to capitalize on the excesses that have occured under GOP rule. I'm certainly not the only one to note this. And yet the Dem leaders seem oblivious, as they and their well-heeled apologists continue to act as if merely watching the GOP make complete asses of themselves on a regular basis on just about anything from the myriad corruption scandals, foreign policy, national security, economic policy, and so on will be sufficient. Steven D puts the matter aptly:

What created this seemingly sudden Republican resurgence? First off, it didn't happen overnight. I contend that it was a direct result of the Republicans abandoning the center for more hard-line and principled conservative positions. In essence, they learned the hard lesson that an opposition party, a party out of power, gains no real benefit from abandoning it's core principles in a desire to appeal to the moderate elements of the American electorate. When forced to choose between real liberals (the Dems) and faux ones (Republicans during the 50's, 60's and 70's) Americans voted for the Democrats in far greater numbers.

Yet, as many Democrats began to weaken their liberal stance under the assault of the Conservative movement and the so-called "Reagan Revolution" it was the GOP that prospered, even as its candidates became more and more extreme in their stated views. Ultimately, the GOP that took control of Congress despite the presence of a moderate and popular Democrat in the White House whose fiscal policies led to unprecedented economic growth for the country and the first real federal budget surpluses in decades.

The Republicans learned that it was better to stand for something, rather than merely claim that they could govern better and better execute the domestic policies of their opponents. They learned that compromise in order to pass the majority party's legislative agenda earned them no "brownie points" (pardon the allusion) with their constituents.

In the 60's and 70's one could legitimately claim that there were few differences between the two major political parties. In those circumstances, tie goes to the incumbents (at that time mostly Democrats). Now, however, with the GOP firmly entrenched, the same centrist strategy by the Democrats will lead to the same result: a failure to recapture control of Congress from the party in power.

Far better to adopt the strategy that conservatives used to regain control: adopt clear principles and propose policies consistent with those principles. In the case of the Democrats that means not shying away from "liberal" or "progressive" ideals (and the policies that flow from those principles), but embracing them.

Democrats should proudly stand up and state that they oppose the continuation of the Iraqi Occupation, and advocate for a timetable to withdraw our troops as early as possible. They should vigorously push a plan for universal health care, and for increased environmental protections through new laws and regulations, and increased enforcement by the EPA. They should demand real election reform to guarantee that as many Americans as can vote, do vote, and that those votes are all properly counted.

They should proudly proclaim their support for a constitutionally grounded Right to Privacy, and promise to oppose any federal court nominee who refuses to fully answer questions about their views on issues concerning those rights. They should promise to fight for the rights of consumers, and for the general welfare of individual Americans, and not quickly abandon that pledge in the hope of landing campaign contributions from industry lobbyists, whether that industry is composed of energy companies, automobile makers, banks and securities brokers, drug manufacturers or mega-media and telecommunications corporations.

In short, they ought to stand for the rights and well being of the common American man and woman, and the policies they advocate should enhance that well being, not tear it down. This means they will have to take positions that some will call risky, or unpopular. But in my view the greater risk is to stand for nothing but a watered down version of Republicanism. Hoping that voters will throw the crooked [GOP] bums out and replace them with your (i.e., Dem) candidates is a pipe dream in the absence of handing voters a vision of what it is they are going to be getting in return for their votes.

The sooner the Democratic establishment gets that message, the better. Otherwise in 2006 we will be singing the same old Why-can't-we- beat-the-Republicans? blues once more.

Again, an effective opposition party whether it's the Dems or ends up being some other party (e.g., Greens, or some progressive party that has not yet emerged) will have to do so in a way that will energize the base, and in doing so actually make some waves. Merely letting the right-wingers continue to set the tone will not work. As Steve D noted elsewhere in his diary, the historical precedent is there: just look at the GOP and how it largely was a Democrat-lite party during the middle part of the 20th century. It was a strategy that didn't work particularly well for them.

When given the choice between the devil they know and the devil they don't know, they'll more than likely choose familiarity. That's why an opposition party needs to make clear statements as to what it stands for, and what it will do if given congressional majorities.

I'll also reiterate something I've mentioned elsewhere: those of us who in one way or another embrace various causes and issues including civil rights, civil liberties, environment, privacy rights, labor, etc. have a great deal in common. It would be in our best interests collectively to realize what we hold in common and act as a sort of popular front - one that operates largely independently of the Democrats (or really any party for that matter). Truth is, those of us who are largely indentified with the "left", who largely consider ourselves progressives or populists or liberals don't really "need" the Democrats, and by treating the current party's leadership (or lack thereof) as largely irrelevant to our purposes (to promote liberty, justice, equality) is the first step in the long struggle to take our country back.

More inconvenient truths

First an article from The Beaumont Enterprise (props to Parker for the lowdown):
DALLAS - Alex LeBlanc left Beaumont on Thursday to begin a 50-hour bus trip across East Texas. What he experienced, he said, was "like a horror movie."

He couldn't get off the bus to buy food. The drivers were exhausted. And he couldn't go to the bathroom.

"Just had to wait," he said. "I tried to drink as little as I could, but I'm a diabetic. I need a lot of fluids."

[...]

Several bus drivers from the convoy on Tuesday were staying in Reunion Arena, one of the three main Dallas shelters now housing about 1,700 people from Jefferson County.

As they sat outside on folding chairs, having a smoke, they described seeing people on their front lawns glaring at them with shotguns in hand, and pickup trucks with nooses hanging in back (most of the bus passengers were black).The drivers said whenever they tried to stop to rest or let their passengers use the restroom, town officials had court orders waiting for them to get out of town, an assertion those town officials later denied.

Driver Toni Soularie, 49, said she nearly had a violent confrontation when she pulled into a rest area.

"This officer said he was going to shoot me if I didn't get back on the bus," she said. "At that point I was prepared to let him shoot me. I had this invalid on the bus who was already embarrassed because she urinated all over herself. And I was not going to let her embarrass herself again. We just got off.

"But the officer stayed right there with me - made sure we were going to get back on."

Ductape Fatwa has some commentary on the many children who were separated from their parents in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the now largely ignored details about these kids now:

For a while, the missing children got a lot of media attention. CNN even devoted a third of their screen to little baseball cards of them for couple of days.

At one point, sometime near the end of Cleansing Week, the day after Shepherd Smith forgot himself, and screamed into the camera, TV feeds showed someone in a uniform megaphoning to a crowd that buses were coming, and that people should "choose one family member." Buses did not actually come for a couple of days, but the understanding was that when they did, infants, and possibly some elders, would be allowed to board them. The rest would be empowered to continue their natural expiration process without government interference. The "bad rumor" Major Bush mentions.

Throughout history, thus has been expressed the heartbursting ferocity of parental love. Faced with death, mothers and fathers have passed their babies forward, thrust them into the arms of strangers, thrown them from moving vehicles, raging waters, exploding skies, burning buildings. It is an instinct stronger even than self-preservation - species preservation, the anthropologists tell us, and it is the reason why in certain target zones of the world, no matter how much food is witheld, bombs are dropped, and disease cultivated, birthrates are highest.

There is something in us that is determined to grasp at any chance to save our children no matter what happens to us, even when the chance of saving is slim.


there are more than 2,000 children, many of whom are Black, who remain separated from their parents, authorities said. The center, officials say, has received 17,454 calls since the hurricane, the largest effort ever to re-connect families....link

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children can only count the ones about which they have received calls. With the fate of so many of the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties "unclear," many more babies who were passed forward are not on a list.

We can certainly hope that the hands who received them last were good ones, that they will be fed, and loved, and cared for, but the reality of society being what it is, some are now in situations such that their parents, had they known, would have kept them in their own arms to die with them.

As the cessation of media coverage shows us, it is not a subject mainstream America cares to contemplate.

Of course, not all who were passed forward are babies. Some are old enough to be aware of what happened, and if they continue to defy America by managing to reach adulthood, they will remember.


Many of us will remember too.

The will to ignorance?

I stumbled on this passage from an interview with Slavoj Zizek thanks to someone who posts under the handle tiggers thotful spot:
Now that's a good, big question. Big in the sense that I don't have good answers to it. With all my admiration for Noam Chomsky, I partially disagree with him. It's an underlying premise of his work that you don't have to do any theory - just tell all the facts to the people. The way ideology works today is much more mysterious - not more complex, one can always say this, things are always more complex, it means nothing just to say this. People just do not want to know too much. There's an active refusal to know. If you ask average citizens with enough of their own worries, they'd say, "Don't even tell me this. We pay taxes so the government can do all the dirty things that I don't want to know about."

The question isn't of any real link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime. I remember a debate on TV where some viewers' calls made their point clear, which is: we are not talking about empirical links. Both Saddam and al-Qaeda hate the U.S.. That's enough of a link. You cannot really help by making factual refutations. The key factor is not that people are duped - there's an active will not to know. Remember the Reagan presidency, when the media pointed out his factual mistakes. That only raised his popularity. This was the point of identification. With Bush, you have an almost ideal image for how things worth: a naïve, unknowing president, and a sinister figure of knowledge, like Dick Cheney, the operative, who really controls him. This is really quite a nice metaphor for how things work.

People like to identify themselves. "I can be stupid but I'm still at the top. The wiseguy is my vice, he is doing all the dirty jobs for me." There is something appealing in this, I think. Again, my basic position is drop the point that people want to know; people don't want to know. I'm not engaged in any conservative psychology of, you know, "People prefer ignorance, it's only for us, the evolutionary or spiritual elite to lead them." I'm not saying this is an eternal fact. I'm just describing how specifically today's ideology works, through a direct appeal to the will of ignorance.

That begs the question of what to do, to which I don't think there are any easy answers. About the best Zizek can offer is to keep pointing out reality and fighting the lies, just don't do so with high expectations. On the other hand, Zizek seemed to view this period (the first years of the new century) as a sort of pre-revolutionary period of turmoil.

A will to ignorance as a motivating factor in American political life does seem like a compelling concept that I'll have to chew on for a while. Knowledge is power, but with knowledge also comes responsibility. Once you know what's going down, the onus is now on you as an individual (and on us as a collective) to take action. In times of trouble going on with one's life ignoring the visible signs of turmoil has a psychological appeal. A false sense of security in the short term may be less stressful than facing the ugly truth head-on. But even the very fact that this sense of security is based on the proverbial house of cards leads to feelings of stress - namely, that at any moment the illusion will be obliterated. Hence the hostility that one gets when pointing out those inconvenient truths about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, or about the crumbling of the very democratic insititutions that we all once took for granted. That hostility is a behavioral manifestation of the anxiety felt as the walls of ignorance are breached.

Food for thought.