Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fight the Power

War on Greed:

Hat tip to David Chandler's Earthside. Make sure to take a look at the other stories Chandler links to in that post. Nothing there should come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog, but, a friendly reminder is always beneficial from time to time.

Now for a blast from the past - Public Enemy's classic "Fight the Power":

Blackwater's bloody rampage in Baghdad

Your tax dollars at work:
Dec. 14, 2007 | For Khalaf, a 38-year-old Iraqi, Sept. 16 started like many other sunny summer workdays. He donned his police uniform -- a white shirt, navy trousers and hat -- and headed to Baghdad's busy Nissour Square. By 7 a.m. he was out in the street, directing the flow of traffic coming from the multi-laned Yarmouk access road into the square. When he spotted four large all-terrain vehicles with guns mounted on top, he did what he always did. He stopped traffic and cleared the area for what he knew, from the tell-tale sign of the two accompanying helicopters, to be a security firm's convoy.
At first, this seemed completely normal for the totally abnormal world of Baghdad in September 2007. "Convoys are common," explained Khalaf. But this convoy made an unexpected U-turn, drove the wrong way around the one-way square, stopped in the middle of it and started shooting. Fifteen minutes later, 17 Iraqi civilians were dead, dozens more wounded, and a white sedan that had been engulfed in flames contained two bodies charred beyond recognition.
"It was a horror movie," said Khalaf, describing the aftermath of the now notorious Blackwater shootings.
I interviewed Khalaf on Nov. 30, in a small conference room inside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. In one of the most in-depth collection of testimonials to date regarding Blackwater, Khalaf was among five witnesses and victims flown from Baghdad to meet with Susan Burke, William O'Neil and their team of lawyers and investigators. The team is suing Blackwater on behalf of the victims of the Sept. 16 shooting.

That lethal incident was a watershed moment that brought intense scrutiny to the problems caused by private contractors, which have effectively operated with impunity as they've brought violence and widespread ill will to U.S. operations in Iraq.
With experience learned from a similar lawsuit filed two years ago against U.S. contractors implicated in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Burke O'Neil is perhaps the only law firm in the nation that could so quickly gather eyewitness and victim accounts, make the right legal arguments and begin the process of holding Blackwater to account.
Sadly, this lawsuit may be the only way that the victims and their families receive remotely adequate compensation for their losses.
Khalaf recounted the events of that day to a hushed room of lawyers with laptops. He watched, he said, as the Blackwater convoy made the U-turn toward the street where he stood directing traffic. As the convoy stopped, Khalaf watched as a large man with a mustache standing atop the third car fired several shots in the air. Khalaf turned back toward the Yarmouk road to see what might have spurred the shooting and heard a woman yell, "My son! My son!" He ran three cars back to a white sedan to find a woman holding a young man slumped over and covered with blood.
The man was Ahmed, a 20-year-old medical student at the top of his class, and the woman his mother, Mohasin, a successful dermatologist and mother of three.
"I tried to help the young man, but his mother was holding him so tight," said Khalaf. "I raised my left arm high in the air to try to signal to the convoy to stop the shooting," he said, thinking that it would respond to such a gesture by a police officer. He described how he crouched by the car, his right arm reaching inside, his head out and left arm up in the air, signaling to the convoy, his gun secure in its holster. Then the mother was shot dead before his eyes.

The shooting then turned heavier, Khalaf said, his eyes red-brimmed and serious. He hid behind the police traffic booth, but shots came directly at him, hitting the adjacent traffic light and booth's door, and he fled back across Yarmouk road to safety behind a hill. Along with a few hundred others, he stayed there as the chaos unfolded, watching as the helicopters circling above the street started shooting at those below.
Fifteen minutes later, the four-car convoy continued around the square and drove away. Amid the wreckage, colorful clouds billowed into the air from the convoy's parting gift -- multicolored smoke bombs.
In remarks prepared for delivery before a congressional hearing in October, Blackwater chairman Erik Prince claimed company guards "returned fire at threatening targets," including "men with AK-47s firing on the convoy" and "approaching vehicles that appeared to be suicide car bombers." Prince's prepared testimony also asserted that one of the vehicles had been disabled by the "enemy fire" and had to be towed. And he contended that the helicopters never fired on those below. (These remarks were never actually delivered; the Department of Justice launched an investigation the day before the hearing and asked the committee not to discuss the details of the Sept. 16 incident. Prince's remarks were subsequently reported in the Washington Post.)
But the accounts of Khalaf and others contradict each of Prince's assertions. Khalaf, who was there before the shooting began, said he never saw anyone fire on or approach the convoy. He watched as all four cars drove away as the 15-minute shooting spree ended, and huddled in fear as the helicopters began firing. He thought the helicopters would start spraying those who were hiding behind the hill for safety from the street-level threat.
Khalaf's observations are backed up by official accounts, including leaked FBI findings, which concluded that at least 14 of the 17 shooting deaths were unjustified, and statements by military officials disputing Blackwater's claim that its guards had been fired upon or under any sort of attack. The Iraq government's own investigation found no evidence that the guards had been provoked or attacked, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson called the shootings "deliberate murder."
I've considered the use of mercenaries to be bad news for practically as long as I can remember. At various times on this blog (both here and the old Left End of the Dial) since its inception I've tried to make note of the abuses of mercenaries in Iraq, in order to make clear that corporations like Blackwater exist solely for their own profit (war, after all, is a racket), and of course to give a lot of very unhinged goons guns, ammo, Hummers, and a license to kill civilians for kicks. Occasionally,some of them face the wrath of angry civilians. Usually, though, they just go on playing General Custer and his Merry Men with relative impunity, and their CEOs just fire off more propaganda if there is even the faintest semblance of heat from what passes for a "free press" and a political "opposition" party.

As to those who view the problem of mercenaries gone wild as something that could not possibly happen here, it's best to keep in mind that the bell could one day toll for you in your own community.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blast from the past

Last night, as I was getting burned out from work, I decided some slacking was in order - in this case that meant Googling anarchopunk bands from the early to mid 1980s. Which brings me to The Apostles, an English band that an old college friend squatted with one summer (this would be the same friend who turned me on to all sorts of great bands from CRASS to Flux of Pink Indians). The band members tended to view themselves as more of a collective than a band per se, and were definitely community activists during those dark years of Thatcherism (which of course have subsequently been replaced by the dark years of New Labour and Blairism). Their sound was eclectic, which of course immediately intrigued me - they didn't quite fit the punk mold outside of a general DIY ethic. Regrettably whatever I might have had of theirs on cassette has long since disappeared, leaving behind only fading memories - with one exception: "To Hell With Leviticus" from their album, The Lives & Times of The Apostles. That tune had some of the most righteous anti-gaybashing lyrics ever. Those cats also had some cool cover art that really tapped into the Zeitgeist of the 1980s, as well as all sorts of useful info for would-be revolutionaries.


Plan B?

Accept that Reid and Pelosi don't have a Plan B because they don't want a Plan B. Hoping that they'll cobble one together over Christmas is sheer folly.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Surprise, surprise (not!)

I'll let the headlines tell the story:

Nicked from Glenn Greenwald's site

The latest stupidity from Kit Bond

As a former resident of the Show-Me State, I remember Bond all too well. This nugget seems pretty much in character:

Yesterday on PBS’s Newshour, host Gwen Ifill asked Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) whether waterboarding constitutes torture. Bond replied that the technique is actually more like “swimming“:

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that waterboarding, as I described it, constitutes torture?

SEN. KIT BOND: There are different ways of doing it. It’s like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that’s beside the point. It’s not being used.

I may not be the greatest swimmer on the planet, but I did get my various Red Cross certificates for swimming many moons ago, and have some idea of what the backstroke is like. If Bond seriously believes that doing the backstroke in a swimming pool creates the sensation of drowning, then he needs his head examined (or at bare minimum try some swimming lessons, pronto).

I suppose one of the things that even those who commit organizational violence, such as our various politicians who've continued to give the White House a free pass on torture, must do is to resort to the technique of minimizing and routinizing the act of torture in question. Makes for wonderful propaganda for mass consumption.

American Jews and Israelis Oppose Attack on Iran

Hardly surprising, but worth mentioning nonetheless if for no other reason than as a handy counterpoint to the belligerent "Jew = neocon" dreck that often makes the rounds on the internet tubes. Check Lenin's Tomb for the details.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Big Lie Works

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

- Joseph Goebbels
I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq's attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I've had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn't be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed "the Iraq's" to attack us on 9/11.

The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don't just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.
nerdified link

Monday, December 10, 2007

Your tax dollars at work

Victim: Gang-rape Cover-up by U.S., Halliburton/KBR.
A Houston, Texas woman says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.

"Don't plan on working back in Iraq. There won't be a position here, and there won't be a position in Houston," Jones says she was told.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave.

"It felt like prison," says Jones, who told her story to ABC News as part of an upcoming "20/20" investigation. "I was upset; I was curled up in a ball on the bed; I just could not believe what had happened."

Finally, Jones says, she convinced a sympathetic guard to loan her a cell phone so she could call her father in Texas.

"I said, 'Dad, I've been raped. I don't know what to do. I'm in this container, and I'm not able to leave,'" she said. Her father called their congressman, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

"We contacted the State Department first," Poe told, "and told them of the urgency of rescuing an American citizen" -- from her American employer.

Poe says his office contacted the State Department, which quickly dispatched agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Jones' camp, where they rescued her from the container.

According to her lawsuit, Jones was raped by "several attackers who first drugged her, then repeatedly raped and injured her, both physically and emotionally."

Jones told that an examination by Army doctors showed she had been raped "both vaginally and anally," but that the rape kit disappeared after it was handed over to KBR security officers.
Sadly, this is what happens when your government gives lavish contracts to firms that then are allowed to operate on the premise that they are beyond the reach of any legal recourse. Hopefully Ms. Jones gets some measure of justice.

Seven Factoids

I've been tagged by my amigo, XicanoPwr. Usually I don't do these, but just for kicks I'll indulge (especially because I need to get my mind off of finals and the ever-horrendous reality that I will be grading finals into the wee hours for the next several days). Let's start with the rules:
These are the rules:

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
So far so good. Part one can be crossed off. Now let's share a few factoids:

1. I have loved puzzles since childhood. It really doesn't matter what the puzzle is per se. Nearly every problem I encounter gets treated as a puzzle to be solved. I consider this particular quality as responsible for my attraction to the social sciences.

2. The first record I purchased was a 7" single (we're talking vinyl!) called "Shining On" by Grand Funk Railroad. I loved the tune at the time (this was after all the mid 1970s), but liked the flipside so much more ("Hey Mister Pretty Boy" which consists of almost unaccompanied blues-ish electric guitar and snarling vocals, and lyrics that could describe just about any celebrity desperately needing rehab). I've had a habit of digging on the obscurities and b-sides ever since.

3. In 7th grade, my best friend and I tried to create our own radio show with the intention of talking the principal into airing it at school. Although that never panned out (our sense of humor was a bit twisted), my taste for doing some form of acting never died out. Periodically, I'd help friends out with film class projects as an undergrad, usually doing some bit character role, just for kicks. Eventually, I had an opportunity to try my hand at theatre, appearing in a play, Divorce, Southern Style at our local community theatre back in 2002, as the lecherous "Dr. Fred Abernathy."

4. I'm an amateur radio DJ and avid collector of mostly jazz recordings (especially the out-of print stuff). Actually, my tastes are pretty eclectic, including (in addition to jazz) electronic musics (ambient, trip-hop, turntablism), rap, funk, blues, industrial, punk, and early metal.

5. I once booked a gig for someone to open for Allen Ginsberg at CSU Fullerton (this would have been 1989); the one and only time I played the role of "agent" - and pro bono no less. The friend I helped get that gig, Richard Pfeifer, gave the performance of his life.

6. I have been fascinated by horror stories, shows, and films since early childhood, from the moment I first caught a glimpse of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery." Even early on, my preference was more for the psychological thriller than gore. In elementary school, I ended up reading the library's entire collection of Hitchcock's "Three Investigators" series (the first book I picked up was called The Moaning Cave; think of a more macabre, edgier Hardy Boys). In early adolescence I became a fan of Edgar Allen Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart" was and still is a personal favorite). My favorite horror thriller is Hitchcock's classic "Psycho" (A sub-factoid - the father of one of my undergrad philosophy professors was a techie on that film - among his accomplishments being the realistic look and "feel" of the blood in the shower scene.).

7. I consume way too much caffeine - at least in the eyes of mere mortals. No human should ever attempt to drink as much coffee as I routinely down on a a daily basis. One can sum up my blogging existence to the simple fact that I ingest caffeine levels that would kill an elephant. In fact, I list my blood type simply as Folgers.

More pieces to the puzzle, as it were.

Strangely enough that's the easy part. Now for the hard part: figuring out seven bloggers to tag. Supposedly this should be random, but lacking access to a good randomizing software I'm going to slightly bend the rules to tag seven (out of many) individuals whom I think would be interesting, and who might be about as crazy as I am to do this thing. So, without further ado:

Manny, boran2, MickeyZ, Scruggs, Smartypants, catnip, and Nezua. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep this meme alive. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Follow-up to the previous post

Make sure to check Glenn Greenwald's take on the Dem leaders' complicity regarding torture. This part in particular is about as good as it gets from a mainstream liberal:
I wish none of this were true. I wish we had a genuine, vibrant opposition party. It would be indescribably beneficial if the rare, isolated and usually marginalized voices within the Democratic Party (and the even rarer and more marginalized voices in the GOP) were predominant. But they just aren't. That's just a fact that can't be ignored. The Democratic Party in Congress is largely controlled and led by those who have enabled and affirmatively supported the worst aspects of the Bush foreign policy and the most severe abuses of our country's political values.
Of course as Glenn, and no doubt others will point out, the excuse mill is already in high gear. We have the usual slogans of "the Dems were virtually powerless," "Well, one of them did make an empty token protest, so that gets 'em off the hook,"and an oldie but goodie - "this story is a Bu$hCo plot to make Dear Nancy look bad." Keep spinning the excuses all you want, but until you are willing to come to terms with the fact that the party's leadership has been largely complicit in the very activities that make the US a rogue nation and are willing to do more than simply continue to meekly ask for more Democrats as if that will somehow miraculously heal a party leadership that has so thoroughly metastasized as to be incurably corrupt, you will be siding with what can only be referred to by its proper name: evil.

Why Pelosi Took Impeachment Off The Table

The current House Speaker has been nothing but an enabler as the CIA embarked on its euphemism of "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding:
In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

Yet long before "waterboarding" entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge. With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers' recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
Hat tip to Arthur Silber. Emphasis mine. By the way, there is more to the article, so make sure to read the whole thing, as well as Arthur Silber's post. For those who would like to keep on believing that torture is merely a GOP thing (and more specifically a Bu$hCo thing), they need to wake up and smell the coffee. There was undoubtedly plenty of bipartisan support for such cruel techniques as waterboarding. If Pelosi ever had a problem with these techniques, she apparently didn't voice it then, when it might have meant something. Same goes for pretty much the rest of the sorry lot that was privy to the same information.

Of course, the Democrats' own tortured history goes back a way. All we need do is travel in time to the early days of the Clinton regime to witness the acceptance and use the practice of extraordinary rendition - including both Bill Clinton and Al Gore (yes, one of the darlings of today's self-styled progressives). Heck, by 1996, the Clinton regime was signing into law limitations on habeas corpus - thus serving as a precedent for last fall's sorry Congressional spectacle in which torture was made the law of the land and habeas corpus was essentially erased altogether. As noted previously, the CIA for numerous decades has been given pretty much carte blanche to research, utilize, and export torture techniques without any objection whatsoever from White House administrations of either party. Congress up to the present time seems perfectly okay with continued funding of one of the US government's notorious vehicles for exporting torture (SOA/WHINSEC) - there was this summer quite the rogue's gallery of Democrats among those voting in favor of continued funding. And on it goes.

Continuing to dutifully contribute money to these clowns' campaigns, continuing to vote for them under the pretense that there is "no other alternative" is to live in what Sartre would call Bad Faith. Personally, if I had my way, there'd be a general strike on election day, along with a boycott of the polls. But this of course is the US, and we would like to keep deluding ourselves that we're "exceptional." Hence, I hold out no hope whatsoever that enough American people would actually do something of that nature.

There's inspiration, and then there's inspiration

I'm just enough of a history buff to find this of interest - old Adolph Hitler had something of a love-hate thing going on with the US. Although initially prone to badmouth the US (for example see Mein Kampf), but the time of Zweites Buch, he'd become quite the fan of American pioneering of eugenics practices such as forced sterilization and US immigration law (which by the 1920s was pretty draconian). Of course that wasn't all. See Why Hitler Loved America:
In Hitler's view, the US had become a major power by 'ethnic cleansing' of the native inhabitants: he saw clearly that the US itself, which poses as a nation state, is in fact an Empire. It's just that the anninhilation of the indigenous inhabitants was so complete that we don't see the US as an Empire.

As Finkelstein has pointed out, Hitler's 'push for the East' was explicitly inspired by the American setttlers 'push for the West'. As Adam Tooze reveals in his superb Wages of Destruction, it's true that Hitler compared the Russians to Indians, but it's ALSO true that he compared them to AMERICAN Indians. As the Indians had been pushed off their lands and herded off to reservations, so the Russians (and Poles) would be herded off to super-concentration camps: i.e. neo-reservations, where, Hitler hoped, their numbers would be 'thinned' to the extent that Germans could easily rule them while using them as cheap labour.
Hat tip to Inteligentaindigena Indigenismo Novajoservo. Scroll down and you'll find out that Hitler used to refer to the Russians as "redskins."

And even if in Mein Kampf, Hitler comes off as sour toward the US, he still found plenty to inspire him - including none other than Teddy Roosevelt. At least one passage in Mein Kampf reads like an abridged version of Roosevelt's The Winning of the West, Volume One. I guess if you were an aspiring fascist dictator during the 1920s, what with ethnic cleansing, eugenics, reservations, etc., what was there not to love about the US?