Friday, September 28, 2007

Jon Stewart Sez

"She will be the first president you can't spill water on!"

Apparently, during the most recent Democrat debate, the Hillary cackle made its appearance during this exchange:

Mike Gravel: "There was a vote in the Senate today – Joe Lieberman, who authored the Iraq resolution, has offered another resolution, and it's essentially a fig leaf to let George Bush go to war with Iran. And I want to congratulate Biden for voting against it, Dodd for voting against, and I'm ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it. You're not going to get another shot at this, because what's happened if this war ensues – we invade and they're looking for an excuse to do it.

"And Obama was not even there to vote."

Hillary Clinton (immediately after creepy laughter): "My understanding of the revolutionary guard in Iran is that it is promoting terrorism. It is manufacturing weapons that are used against our troops in Iraq. It is certainly the main agent of support for Hezbollah, Hamas and others, and in what we voted for today, we will have an opportunity to designate it as a terrorist organization, which gives us the options to be able to impose sanctions on the primary leaders to try to begin to put some teeth into all this talk about dealing with Iran."
I'm sure that Hillary is as giddy as a schoolgirl at the prospect for yet more war in the Middle East. Justin Raimondo hits it about right when he states the following:
That Senator Gravel, alone, had the courage to raise the alarm, and confront Hillary on this issue, speaks volumes about the state of the Democratic party – and the political impotence of the antiwar majority in this country. Those who want us out of Iraq, and, furthermore, are bitterly opposed to the prospect of yet another war in that neck of the woods, are the new silent majority. Silent because we don't hear this view reflected in the media – where pro-war commentary and "centrist" of-course-we-can't-withdraw-until-2012 punditry prevails – and also politically impotent: with the Democratic frontrunners basically taking a Bush-lite approach.
"The new silent majority." That has quite a ring to it. Let's face it: the antiwar voices are marginalized. If you want to find us, look in the various anarchist, socialist, libertarian, and paleoconservative media outlets (blogs, alternative newsletters, etc.). I don't doubt that there are a few who would identify themselves as liberals and centrists who too didn't really wish to sign on to a state of perpetual war abroad and police state at home. We may not share a lot in common, but on one issue we do converge - imperial aspirations are toxic.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

B Movie

When it comes to military spending and corruption, this Re-Ron is privatized:

To be honest, it wasn't really a million-dollar screw -- it was only half a million each, for washers. Two washers, which cost 19 cents each, cost taxpayers a million dollars.

It was paid by the Pentagon to a South Carolina defense contractor, who sent the equipment to Iraq. But there were some expensive screws, too: three of those screws cost $1.31 each, and then presto chango, because a private firm is shipping them to Iraq, the bill for transportation shoots up to more than $400,000.

Barry Bonds had a tough road to beat Hank Aaron's home run record, but the Pentagon has had an equally successful summer, finally besting the "$100 toilet seat" scandal of the Reagan years, and by a huge margin.

The contractor, C&D Distributors, recently pleaded guilty to the charges of massively overcharging the government for its services. The firm did it for six years, and we don't know why no one was available in the Pentagon to check the invoices. The military says that steps to correct things are "under way," but these steps remain confidential.


There have been other recent horror stories of massive waste and corruption in the new growth industry of outsourced war-making, and there are different ways to measure the privatization of war. State spending that goes to private companies has probably risen to one-third of the total amount, from around 10% in earlier conflicts.

Measured by people, the mercenaries and others working for private military companies and other contractors to help occupy Iraq outnumber U.S. soldiers who are there.

It's actually a deadly triangle: A rise in defense spending, a bigger share of the pie for private firms, and astounding levels of waste and mismanagement -- "privatization" is supposed to replace the bad old public sector, but in the Bush era, the private sector has become synonymous with bloated inefficiency.

The trend toward privatizing the military actually accelerated under President Bill Clinton, but it's no surprise that the policy has really taken off under Bush administration leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney, whose ex-firm Halliburton and its subsidiaries remain the poster children for war-profiteering, thanks to their seeming addiction to cost mark-ups and a failure to deliver what they're supposed to.


One is that the levels of waste and corruption are astronomical; just under $9 billion is believed to have been wasted in the reconstruction of Iraq during the first year of the occupation alone, according to a U.S. government inspector general's report.

Another is that privatizing war serves various objectives, all of which contradict what holders of public office are supposed to be doing. When you hire someone to go to war, the person is less likely to complain, meaning you don't have to deal with the messy task of, for example, generating public support for the fight.

It's a simple formula. Outsource a factory operation, and you don't have to deal with a union or employee benefits. Outsource a war or occupation, and you might not have to deal with citizens or taxpayers. Plus, when you look the other way and let your political buddies running such companies make millions in profits, you might receive a bit back at election time.

The policy might not cover getting the body armor to the troops, but hey, it's war, right?


Expect more million-dollar screws -- or $500,000 washers -- if the privatization of the military continues.

If it's boondoggles you want, this looks like the mother lode. Not to worry, though: as long as the US government is still in good with its creditors, the nation won't go bankrupt. Right? Riiiiiight.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Demise of the God Squad?

See Mark Morford's column, The fall of the Godmongers: Praise Jesus, it's the collapse of evangelical Christian rule in America. Rejoice!

Personally I tend to be more Cassandra than Pollyanna in my thinking, especially given the very authoritarian times in which our typically authoritarian society is situated. That said, any news that the religious right is losing its chokehold on American society is good news.

I'll say that the Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, etc., were a huge turnoff to me when I was younger, and the words and actions of them and their followers influenced me to turn away from Christianity for over a decade. Over the years, I've been blessed with the occasional friends (from of all things the anarchist punk crowd) and my wife who've provided me with ample gentle reminders that there are iterations of Christianity that are nothing like the right-wing abomination. I don't speak of my faith very often, but will say simply many of us aren't like what you see in the mega-churches. A lot of it comes down to what drives my faith that contrasts with what seems to drive the fundies - for them it all comes down to fear; for me it comes down to hope and acceptance.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Iraq War: None Dare Call it Genocide

From a recent column by Lew Rockwell:
How comfy we are all in the United States, as we engage in living-room debates about the US occupation of Iraq, whether "we" are bringing them freedom and whether their freedom is really worth the sacrifice of so many of our men and women. We talk about whether war aims have really been achieved, how to exit gracefully, or whether we need a hyper-surge to finish this whole business once and for all.

But there's one thing Americans don't talk about: the lives of Iraqis, or, rather, the deaths of Iraqis. It's interesting because we live in an age of extreme multiculturalism and global concern. We adore international aid workers, go on mission trips abroad, weep for the plight of those suffering from hunger and disease, volunteer in efforts to bring plumbing to Ecuador, mosquito nets to Rwanda, clean water to Malawi, human rights to Togo, and medicine to Bangladesh.

But when "we" cause the calamity, suddenly there is silence. There is something odd, suspicious, even disloyal about a person who would harp on the deaths of Iraqis since the US invasion in 2003. Maybe a person who would weep for Iraq is really a terrorist sympathizer. After all, most of the deaths resulted from "sectarian violence," and who can stop crazed Islamic sects from killing each other. Better each other than us, right?

Well, it's about time that we think about the numbers, even though the US military has decided that body counts are not worth their time. Opinion Research Business, a highly reputable polling firm in the UK, has just completed a detailed and rigorous survey of Iraqis. In the past, the company's results have been touted by the Bush administration whenever the data looks favorable to the US cause. But their latest report received virtually no attention in the US.

Here is the grisly bottom line: more than one million people have been murdered in Iraq since the US invasion, according to the ORB. Yes, other estimates are lower, but you have to be impressed by what they have found. It seems very credible.

In Baghdad, where the US presence is most pronounced, nearly half of households report having lost a family member to a killing of some sort. Half the deaths are from gunshot wounds, one-fifth from car bombs, and one-tenth from aerial bombs. The total number of dead exceeds the hugely well-publicized Rwandan genocide in 1994.

You are welcome to inspect the detailed data.

Aside from the astonishing detail, what jumps out at me is the number of dead who are neither Sunni nor Shia. It is also striking how the further geographically you move from US troop activity, the more peaceful the area is. Americans think they are bringing freedom to Iraq, but the data indicate that we are only bringing suffering and death.

If you have ever lost a family member, you know that life is never the same again. It causes every manner of religious, social, and marital trauma. It's bad enough to lose a family member to some disease. But to a cold-blooded killing or a car bomb or an airplane bomb? That instills a sense of fury and motivation to retribution.

So we are speaking of some 1.2 million people who have been killed in this way, and that does not count the numbers that were killed during the invasion itself for the crime of having attempted to oppose invading foreign troops, or the 500,000 children and old people killed by the US-UN anti-civilian sanctions in the 10 previous years.


To the extent anyone pays attention to this stuff, they only hear the words of the State Department spokesman: "The bottom line is that the secretary wants to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to avoid the loss of innocent life."

In light of the one million plus figure, such statements come off as evil jokes. The US has unleashed bloodshed in Iraq that is rarely known even in countries we think of as violent and torn by civil strife.


It was the US that turned this country into a killing field. Why won’t we face this? Why won't we take responsibility? The reason has to do with this mysterious thing called nationalism, which makes an ideological religion of the nation's wars. We are god-like liberators. They are devil-like terrorists. No amount of data or contrary information seems to make a dent in this irreligious faith.
Rockwell also addresses the recent Blackwater scandal (in which some of its mercenaries slaughtered without provocation some civilians), with the level of skepticism about ultimate outcome of any investigation into the matter that seems appropriate.

Rockwell's analysis of regarding the whys of our nation's silence when it comes to its own government's war crimes is strikingly similar to the sort of analysis social psychologists might apply - specifically I'm thinking of Terror Management Theory (TMT). To the extent that Americans are wed to a belief in their nation's inherent goodness, any evidence pointing to the contrary (and I'd call the wanton slaughter of a million-plus Iraqis hefty evidence to the contrary) will be either ignored or ridiculed - if not violently silenced. Such evidence is viewed as threatening, as potentially annihilating one's cultural worldview (in this case American Exceptionalism) which provides meaning in an otherwise absurd existence. In other words, for the majority of us, we're experiencing an existential crisis of gargantuan proportions.

For those of us not burdened by this particular existential crisis, the term genocide strikes us as not only appropriate, but one which must be spoken aloud as often as possible.