Friday, October 13, 2006

Journalist Terry Lloyd Murdered by US Troops

via Lenin's Tomb:
What else do you call a verdict of unlawful killing? A war crime, possibly. The ITN reporter was first shot as he was "caught in the crossfire" between US and Iraqi soldiers. But then, being taken away in a vehicle marked 'Press', the US soldiers shot at him and put one through his head. It also seems that the US army unit involved edited about fifteen minutes out of their footage of the incident in order to 'prove' that they were not even at the scene - not the behaviour of innocent people. The British army, for their part, witnessed the event, and kept schtum about it.

The NUJ is rightly demanding the prosecution of those involved. A staggering number of journalists have been killed in Iraq: 22 this year alone, 24 last year, 19 in 2004 and 12 in 2003. The occupiers, having deliberately attacked reporters in the Palestine Hotel, exhibit a murderous propensity toward independent journalists. Blunkett's explicit call for the bombing of al-Jazeera, (and whatever is in the al-Jazeera memo) highlight this. Giuliana Sgrena was lucky to survive (and that too involved a cover-up). Because these deaths make up only a small fraction of the total deaths in Iraq doesn't make them trivial. There is an explicit attempt to regulate the kinds of information coming in and going out of Iraq by killing journalists which (yes, Mr Blunkett) is indeed a war crime, besides everything else that it is.

If we ever start prosecuting the crimes of this war, the 'war on terror', I fear it will take some decades. And, like their old friend Saddam, the culprits will be so defiant about it, so full of affronted dignity.
I caught some of the press conference with Terry Lloyd's widow just before one of my daughter returned home from school. It's a safe bet that she wants justice served pronto.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Iraq Death Toll: 655,000 People

Y'all got that number?


Human Beings

Human beings who would not have died if the US invasion of Iraq had not occurred.

That's a lot of mothafuckin' people - and I'm understating things considerably.

That is mindblowing to say the least.

Here's some clips of the WaPo article just to give you the gist:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq's government.

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.

The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq's mortality rate to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war.

Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country.

The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet.

The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then -- a finding likely to be equally controversial.

Both this and the earlier study are the only ones to estimate mortality in Iraq using scientific methods. The technique, called "cluster sampling," is used to estimate mortality in famines and after natural disasters.

While acknowledging that the estimate is large, the researchers believe it is sound for numerous reasons. The recent survey got the same estimate for immediate post-invasion deaths as the early survey, which gives the researchers confidence in the methods. The great majority of deaths were also substantiated by death certificates.

If you're curious about the method of cluster sampling, a decent quick and dirty description can be found at wikipedia. When I teach sampling techniques in my methods and stats courses, we spend some time discussing different forms of sampling - in the process distinguishing between probability and nonprobability sampling. Probability sampling I define as involving selecting participants in such a way that the odds of their being in the study are known or can be calculated (and includes methods such as simple random sampling, stratified random sampling, and cluster sampling). In a study such as the ones examining the Iraq war death toll, external validity is crucial (that is, can I actually take my findings and apply them to the population that I wish to generalize to), and methods such as cluster sampling maximize that form of validity. That the authors were also generally successful in backing up their analyses with actual death certificates goes even further in establishing the validity of their research.

That the findings seem to be valid gives the reader some idea of the human suffering inflicted by the US-led war against the Iraqis. Think of it this way: the 655,000 death toll in Iraq since March 2003 would be akin to the US suffering approximately 7 million deaths as a result of a foreign invasion and occupation. Perhaps that'll put things in perspective just a bit.

That doesn't even begin to cover the suffering of those who've been wounded, displaced, lost loved ones, etc. Suffice it to say, the toll in Iraq has been enormous, and like it or not we Americans are responsible.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Courtney Pine on jazz and resistance

This article in The Socialist Review caught my attention:

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Courtney Pine spoke to Martin Smith about how the battle against prejudice has been a backdrop to his musical career, and about his new album, Resistance.

In 1986 a 22 year old jazz musician from north London released his first solo album, Journey To The Urge Within. His name was Courtney Fitzgerald Pine. The album was a huge hit, breaking into the British Top 40, the first album by a British jazz artist to do so. It established Courtney Pine as a leading figure in the jazz scene. Twenty years later he has just released his 11th album, the critically acclaimed Resistance. He took time out from his 40-date tour to speak to SR about it.

"Resistance means several things to me," he said. "Playing jazz itself is a form of resistance. It is a music that is about being independent and not conforming.

"I make my living playing jazz music. In Britain this is a minority, minority, minority music. It's a weird thing - you appear on television once, and because you are the first and only black British face seen playing jazz, people just assume everything is just fine and dandy, but things aren't. I'm still struggling to make a living, struggling to get my art heard and respected. So on one level Resistance is really about that, but an alternative title for the album could have been Survival.

"But resistance can also mean standing up to those in authority. I have learnt on my travels that during the Second World War jazz was used as a form of resistance to the Nazi occupation in Czechoslovakia. More recently black South African jazz musicians used it as a form of protest against the apartheid system."

Although his music is firmly rooted in the jazz canon, he has never been afraid to experiment. Albums such as To The Eyes Of Creation and Underground are a melting pot of musical styles and textures. They incorporate everything from hip-hop to reggae, from drum & bass to West African percussive rhythms. The use of samples, loops and beats shocked many jazz purists.

This has not deterred Courtney. He refuses to be pigeonholed, and has striven to use his music to reach new audiences. "Like Coltrane," he said, "I am very interested in uniting people through music. It is so important that we do this. I am fortunate enough to be able to tour the world and meet musicians from as far afield as the Philippines, Russia, South Africa and Brazil. There is a commonality in all our music, and I have been able to link up with these musicians, exchange ideas, learn new skills and create new sounds. This is something that has to happen. I can't see why anybody would want to play music just from their own community when the world is such a rich and beautiful place.

"When you start playing and researching jazz, you realise that there is a connection between Africa - its musicians, its rhythms - and the way slaves in the US, the Caribbean and South America used their music to express their social condition in a coded manner. It is not enough for me to see myself as a north Londoner, or someone from the Blue Mountain in Jamaica. My heritage goes much further back. I haven't had a minute to go back and research where my DNA comes from, but it is definitely of African descent. I am all these things and many more - that's why I describe myself as an Afropean."

His new album marks a change in musical direction. Tracks such as "Right On" and "Soul Power" are rooted in the soul jazz sound of artists Eddie Harris and Nat Adderley. Their music was inspired by the civil rights and Black Power movements in the US in the 1960s. Another song on the album, "Joan of Arc", is a two-minute blast of punky jazz that takes you back to Britain in the late 1970s, a time when the Nazis were on the streets and the black community was fighting to defend itself.

Musical apprenticeship

Born in Paddington, west London, in 1964, Courtney Pine was the son of Jamaican immigrants. He explained, "It was an area destroyed by the Blitz. One of my earliest memories as a child was playing in these disused buildings. It was a time when buildings were being torn down and skyscrapers were being put up. That part of London was one of the few areas where black families emigrating to Britain could live. My parents did a great job of preventing me from feeling inferior, even though we were living in a one-bedroom flat. There was such a pride in who they were, which rubbed off on me.

"North west London was at this time, and still is, a vibrant place. You didn't just have Jamaicans, Ghanaians and Dominicans, you also had Indians, Pakistanis and Cypriots. The place was a melting pot of sound and colour. It was a great environment for a young man who was attuned to sound.

"I grew up with the music of Bob Marley. My parents also listened to a lot of ska music. I preferred the B-sides, which were instrumental versions of these songs. These B-sides were performed by Jamaican jazz musicians such as Don Drummond and Ernest Ranglin. There was just something in that sound that I really liked, it was different and unique. The older I got, the more positive black faces I saw - I guess they were survivors. It just inspired me to doing something with music."

Courtney began his musical apprenticeship in the reggae scene, and soon joined the popular 1980s reggae band Clint Eastwood and General Saint. He remembers, "That band played at a lot of CND rallies. I can remember supporting Madness a couple of times and The Stranglers. We were big favourites on the peace scene. As a 17 year old it was a big eye-opener.

"From the age of 15 I was going out socialising a lot. I remember sitting in the back of a Cortina going to jazz funk clubs in Southend and Basingstoke. It was an amazing scene. I was having a great time drinking and partying. Black and white kids were dancing to the same music - it was a time of unity, and for me of personal growth. So I had this reggae thing going on and this jazz funk thing happening.

"Around this time my parents moved up to Kingsbury, north west London, which was a real conservative area at the time. I can remember working in the local Sainsbury's while the National Front would be standing outside giving out flyers. They were bad times - young black guys were being stabbed. I remember walking down the street, and there would be guys in cars screaming racist abuse at you. It was very much a culture shock, but it was kind of happening all over England at that time. I remember touring in Holland and buying a knife - I felt I needed to protect myself. That was the scene in those days."

One of Courtney's key musical turning points was seeing one of the true legends of jazz, Freddie Hubbard, live. But even that experience was not free from prejudice: "I went to see Freddie at Ronnie Scott's in Soho with a friend of mine. The bouncers on the door just assumed that these two young black guys wanted to go to the disco upstairs. But we wanted to hear Freddie. They tried to stop us, but we were determined to get into the club. We handed over £20 each for our tickets, but they still gave us the worst seats, the ones behind the drummer. But for two 15 year olds, one a drummer and the other a saxophone player, it was the best thing. From that moment on I wanted to play jazz."

By the time Courtney reached 16 he had discovered the music of John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins. But playing jazz live became a new hurdle for him to jump. "I found out who all the local jazz musicians were, and I went down to see them. I asked them all the same question: 'Where can I play jazz?' They all came up with the same reply: 'Don't bother.' They all urged me to stick with my reggae music - some even suggested I got into the disco scene. As you can imagine I was disgruntled, but I started to find out about jam sessions, and started to go along to them with Steve Williamson [another young saxophone player who was part of the British jazz revival scene in the late 1980s]. We would search all over town for these jams. But when we started to play they would turn the house lights on, and the sessions would end. So I decided, 'If that's what you are going to do me then I am going to do my own thing.'

"Many of the bands in the reggae scene had their own horn sections. Many of these guys were desperate to play jazz. In a short space of time I had enough players to form a jazz collective, The Jazz Warriors." This grouping of musicians was like a university for musical experimentation: "In the 1980s the pathway for higher learning for me was also cut off. You couldn't even study saxophone as a main instrument in British universities at that time, you had to play the clarinet. Today things are completely different. I have been made an honorary doctor of music at the University of Westminster. We also have the situation where a lot of young players like Soweto Kinch and Denys Baptiste are university graduates."

The Jazz Warriors toured the country exposing jazz to a much younger audience. They shook up the British jazz scene and launched the solo careers of a new generation of black jazz musicians - Cleveland Watkiss, Gary Crosby, Steve Williamson, and of course Courtney Pine.

Eleven albums later Courtney Pine is a youthful elder statesman of jazz. He presents an acclaimed BBC Radio 2 show, and in 2000 he travelled to South Africa to make a brilliant documentary about the musicians who campaigned against apartheid.

As the interview drew to a close we ended up talking about one of his greatest compositions, "I've Known Rivers" from the album Modern Day Jazz Stories. The song is based around the Langston Hughes poem "The Negro Speaks Of Rivers":

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
down to New Orleans, and I've
seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston was a poet, playwright, novelist and grand figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He was also a supporter of the US Communist Party. Courtney explained where he got the idea of a composition based around the song: "It came from my research into Gary Bartz, a great alto saxophone player. I had the privilege of playing with him a few years ago. I checked out his back catalogue and discovered his Live In Montreux album. It contains a version of "I've Known Rivers", and things just snapped into place. I just wanted to put the two sides together - this great poet and this great jazz artist. But for my version I wanted to use a female voice. The only person I could think of was Cassandra Wilson. Also at that time I was working with samples and breakbeats. It just made sense to update the song, and it seemed so relevant for today because the song is about bringing people together.

"I believe music has the power to bring people together - that is a message I end each concert with. There are a lot of people in the world who are trying to divide us, and sadly the world is a pretty divided place right now. All I know is that when I play music I am just thinking about the whole world in a positive light. This century has got to be about peace and unity."

Interesting reads

Some items that caught my attention:

The New Enabling Act:

The Enabling Act, officially known as the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and Realm,” was short and simple. Its operative provisions were as follows:
Article 1

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich….

Article 2

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain undisturbed.

Article 3

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette….

That, seasoned with only a soupзon of legalistic detail, was it. What it meant was that the executive was empowered by the legislature to decide what the law was. He was empowered to ignore the constitution. Neither the courts nor the legislature would have means to check executive power.

When the world saw the logical conclusion of that social experiment, it promised, “never again.”

As the saying goes, never say never:

Forget, for the moment, that the proposed “compromise” torture legislation effectively abrogates the Geneva Conventions. Forget that it effectively licenses torture in the name of every American. Focus instead on the fact that itvests in the administration the singularly most tyrannical power that exists – namely, the power unilaterally to decree someone guilty of a crime and to condemn the accused to eternal imprisonment without having even to charge him with a crime, let alone defend the validity of those accusations.” Focus on this language from the proposed law:
…(N)o court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever, … including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions under this chapter.

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

The language of the new Enabling Act is a bit more baroque than that used seventy years ago. And, to be sure, it is not as far-reaching as that of its predecessor. But make no mistake: Just as the 1933 Enabling Act created the context for dictatorship, so does this one. The German legislature told the executive that it had the power to make law and ignore the constitution. If Congress passes this bill, the American legislature will second the motion.

It is just one bill, you may object; it only applies to terrorists, you may say; we are not Nazi Germany, you may insist. And yet. The forthcoming FISA bill extends Enabling Act thinking to additional unreviewable executive powers. The slippery slope has been well-oiled. The Niemцller poem stands waiting.

On a related vibe, this from Sara Robinson:
We have a brand-spanking-new torture bill that allows the President to arrest and torture anyone (American or not) whom he believes may be giving any kind of aid or comfort to "the enemy" -- and, for the perfect tyrannical touch, leaves the definition of such enemies at his sole discretion. If recent trends continue uninterrupted -- and that's really up to us, and the outcome of this election -- the Bush Administration will almost certainly use these new powers to expand the ranks of the condemned well beyond the 14,000 languishing in the American gulag now.

Four years ago, when Mr. R and I started planning to our exodus from America, we had a scenario in our minds that we found so preposterously unlikely at the time that we didn't even discuss it with close friends, because we knew they'd think we were crazy. "This is how it happened to my grandparents," he kept telling me. "It was frogs in pots. The Czar came, and their rights were abrogated. The Cossacks came, and there were progroms. Isadore and Bessie left Kiev around that time -- but for their relatives who stayed, the Nazis came, and there was Baba Yar and Auschwitz. Frogs. In. Pots. It may only feel tepid now -- and I'm not going to hang around, adapting and denying, until the day comes that we're cooked." In the privacy of our own conversations, the potential for disaster was enough to keep us going, one foot in front of the other, until we found ourselves all the way up in the Great White North.

And so, from our sunny perch on a hillside in western Canada, we've watched the pot get warmer down there in the lower 48, as every horror that seemed so insane to imagine in those early days has come to pass. Remember how outraged we were when just 1400 Muslims were rounded up and held in the days after 9/11? Now, we've got an order of magnitude more such prisoners, in far worse conditions -- and we passed that stupid law anyway. Which, as long as we're drawing trendlines, means that the next order of magnitude -- 140,000 -- will be reached by 2010, and their conditions will be far more dismal yet. And the next -- 1.4 million -- will be just a couple years beyond that. As the numbers increase, and more people become complicit with and invested in the evils being committed, the travesty we unleashed week will only gather momentum -- and become far harder to stop.

We may, in fact, be watching our last easy, bloodless chance to avoid this outcome slip by us this fall. If you reward the people who passed this outrage by returning them to Congress, my beloved ones, you will officially be on boil.


Maybe this is how monotheistic fanaticism ends -- not with a whimper, but the biggest possible bang. Maybe it will consume itself in a reign of terror, a global clash against Islam and the domestic infidel, that rises up to wield more power and create more havoc than the world has ever seen -- for 15 or 20 years, anyway. And then, like the Nazis, their thousand-year Millennialist Reich will fall to ashes, spent at last, despised by its victims in every time zone, remembered and revered only by a few unstable people on the lunatic fringe.


After the fall, what will be left to history is a few new names for ultimate evil to be inscribed next to "Nazi" in the history books. When our grandchildren speak of the basest instincts of humankind and the unleashing of unimaginable horror, the shorthand word they will use might be "Christian." Or "Muslim." Or "fundamentalist." For, of course, these 21st Century fascists will make sure that everything done -- the burning, the torture, the killing, the bombing -- will be done in the name of Our Lord, with the cross of Jesus or the crescent of Muhammed going on before. Nobody will be allowed to forget it. After they're done ravaging the planet, nobody will be able to -- not for centuries to come.

As our grandparents did, this future generation will spend decades in a searching inquiry of What Went Wrong, reconstructing (perhaps even from blogs like this one) the path that led to the future they'll be living in. Where WWII taught us about the dangers of child abuse, the banality of evil, the true costs of political and economic instability, and the perils of authoritarianism, the scholars of our grandchildren's generation will look at the effects of religious fanaticism, and decide with a unanimous certainty that such delusions are a luxury neither the Earth nor her people can continue to afford.

In this scenario, they'd probably pin a good share of the blame on our generation -- the Boomers and Xers who now hold power. If we allow history's greatest democracy to degenerate into a rough fascism in a fraction of our lifetimes, our most-remembered legacy will not be weaving the Web or decoding the genome, but our complicity in the epochal evil about to occur. More pointed yet will be the blame belonging to liberal, moderate, and evangelical Christians who fully understood the true meaning of "whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me" -- and still kept their silence while a fearful, violent minority rose up and walked off with their good name.
Of course there are plenty of folks in these here United States who are born again with fascist cravings. In addition to an increasingly authoritarian government that has grown to gargantuan proportions during the course of my lifetime, we've got our various dominionist organizations who've willingly linked themselves with the basest of racist hate groups (think, KKK, etc.). It's a damned good idea to educate ourselves and continue by whatever means necessary to be vocal, as it is the dominionist & white supremacist crowd that seem to get a free pass from our ruling elites and it is no doubt they who will be doing the "dirty work" of any ensuing fascist regime.

As it is now, I suspect that as I write my memoirs that I intend to pass to my kids & eventual grandkids (I keep assuming a long life), I will be extending an apology for whatever contribution I made to the mess that they will be inheriting and realizing that apology won't even begin to make a dent in terms of healing their suffering. Just as the phrase "Good Germans" is used as a pejorative, I have little doubt any more that the phrase "Good Americans" along with "Boomers" & "Gen X" will also be viewed as terms not of endearment but of indictment. Quite a legacy, indeed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A quiz

What historical political leader corresponds to the following facts?

1.) His political party once in control of the legislature passed new electoral laws which made it easier to keep the reins of power.

2.) He and members of his party used demagogic political attacks against an unpopular minority which took the form of legislation to deny those minority individuals civil rights accorded non-minority citizens.

3.) He launched an unprovoked attack against another country rationalizing it to the world as a pre-emptive defensive action against that country’s imminent attack and which would later turn out to be intentional fabrications by his government.

4.) He established the use of concentration camps mostly on foreign soil in order to incarcerate and hold incommunicado those foreigners and non-citizens whom he and his staff deemed enemies of the state.

5.) He could indefinitely imprison without charge or subsequent trial any citizen who he designated as an enemy of the state.

6.) He established an official policy of disseminating state propaganda favorable to his personal views, falsely presenting it to the world as if it had originated from a free press.

7.) He authorized the kidnapping and torture of individuals whom he thought might possess information which would be useful to his government.

8.) He used the imprimatur of a rubber stamp legislative branch to give what would have previously been illegal actions official sanction.

9.) He filled his judiciary with handpicked judges whose appointments were based solely on their party affiliation and allegiance to his political policies.

10.) He established a clandestine system of electronic eavesdropping which targeted all his country’s citizens in order to facilitate his search for any and all enemies of the state as he defined them.

11.) He used the occasion of a physical attack on a government building to justify the need to further restrict his countrymen’s civil rights and launched an undeclared and indeterminate ‘war’ against those individuals and their supporters whom he accused of the attack.

12.) He publicly repudiated the need for his country to follow the tenets of the Geneva Convention when dealing with his declared enemies.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Sowing the seeds of fascism

Sowing the Seeds of Fascism in America

A Dig led by Stan Goff

Author Stan Goff, a retired 26-year veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, sounds a warning call that many of the historical precursors of fascism—white supremacy, militarization of culture, vigilantism, masculine fear of female power, xenophobia and economic destabilization—are ascendant in America today.

Read the rest.