Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Modest Proposal for a Blogswarm

This October 7 will mark the 8th anniversary of the start of the aptly misnamed "Operation Enduring Freedom" - the opening salvo in the so-called War on Terror that has subsequently cost over a million lives; maimed, traumatized, and displaced many more; and further bankrupted the US financially and morally. The so-called war on terror has also provided a convenient excuse for the introduction of draconian laws that have further eroded the civil rights and liberties of those of us who reside within the US, expanded the powers of the White House to practically dictatorial, and expanded the extent to which the US involves itself in such atrocities as torture.

I realize that it is unlikely to be especially politically correct to propose a blogswarm on the anniversary of a war against the Afghanistan people that the current president is in the process of escalating. However, that very anniversary is one that deserves to be observed for what it has meant for those who value human rights, and those whose human rights have been trampled upon for dubious reasons. I am proposing a blogswarm, along the lines of last year's blogswarm commemorating the 5th anniversary of the current phase of the Iraq War. If this sounds like something of interest to you, drop me a line. We have plenty of time to plan.

The glorious heroes of the "War on Terra"

Ted Rall's on a roll.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gallows humor

Ted Rall's most recent.

Gupta out of the running for Surgeon General - I say good riddance

You can read a bit about it here. Over at Think Progress, there's a reminder of why Gupta is so toxic:
He encountered criticism for “his mugging of Michael Moore over Sicko” and for having a cozy relationship with drug companies.
Of that mugging, Paul Krugman reminded readers in January:
I don’t have a problem with Gupta’s qualifications. But I do remember his mugging of Michael Moore over Sicko. You don’t have to like Moore or his film; but Gupta specifically claimed that Moore “fudged his facts”, when the truth was that on every one of the allegedly fudged facts, Moore was actually right and CNN was wrong.

[snip]

In other words, he accused Moore of lying. That’s a very strong accusation, which had better be backed by solid evidence. Instead, we had CNN misreading a number from Moore; CNN objecting to Moore using a projected health care spending number for 2007 instead of an actual number for 2005 (and the projection was right, by the way); CNN accusing Moore of not showing a number that was in fact right there in the movie. And Gupta did not apologize, except for the misread number.
Back in 2007, Moore summed it up thusly:
"In the report they say that I fudged the facts," he said, "and they didn't find a single fact that I fudged."
In fact, Moore managed to give Gupta and CNN a good hiding that year (see 'SiCKO' Truth Squad Sets CNN Straight, and 'SiCKO' Truth Squad Sets CNN Straight -- Again), culminating in this statement:

Friends,

The mighty CNN, in a lengthy and sad online defense of their woe-begotten 'Sicko' story of last Monday, has admitted that they did indeed fudge at least two of the facts in their coverage of my film and have apologized for it:

1. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN: "To be clear, I got a number wrong in my original report, substituting the number 25, instead of 251." -- My Conversation with Michael Moore, July 11th, 2007; and

2. CNN: "Moore is correct. Paul Keckley left Vanderbilt in late 2006." -- CNN's Response to Michael Moore, July 15th, 2007.

Furthermore, CNN confirmed that all of our statistics in "Sicko" are the correct numbers from the sources we cited. Although CNN still prefers to use older World Health Organization statistics, we will stick to using this year's Bush administration stats and more recent U.N. data. (In "Sicko," we consistently use only U.N. Human Development Statistics unless it's for studies they don't do or have recent numbers for.) CNN did apologize for these two factual errors, but no apology seems to be coming for the rest of their errors. These days, to get the mainstream media to admit they were wrong is rare; to get them to admit it twice, as they have with "Sicko," I guess should be considered a whopping victory. Will they eventually apologize for the rest, or for their reporting on the war? Will the Cubs win the World Series this year?

So the truce has been signed, the peace pipe has been smoked. And the public is left with a much more cautious and wary eye when it comes to CNN. To be fair, this is what happens when you have to grind out "news" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a staff you have shrunk through layoffs over the years (like all the broadcast networks have done). You end up rushed and having interns do your research. You have robots replace live camera operators. And, if you're CNN, you are constantly dodging the accusation that you are "too liberal." So when you do a piece on someone like me, you have to make sure you add superfluous and standard ad hominems attacking me simply to prove that you are NOT too liberal. I get it.

Until the last month or so, I have not appeared on a single national TV show for nearly 2 and 1/2 years. After the attacks I had to endure three years ago, from a media intent on questioning my patriotism because I dared to speak out against the war when none in the media would, I decided I had had enough and would simply concentrate on making my next film. I had no desire to participate in networks that were complicit in the war because of their refusal the challenge the commander in chief.

I have to admit, though, I do feel kinda bad taking it all out on Wolf Blitzer. It's not like he's the official representative of the mainstream media. I mean, he's from Buffalo, for crying out loud! He said to me at the end of the show last week to please come back on "anytime you want." I will take him up on that offer and appear again with him tomorrow [UPDATE: Michael's appearance on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer has been postponed. More details soon.]. I'm not expecting a dozen roses or make-up sex -- I only want a promise that there will be no more distorted distractions so we can have a decent discussion about the REAL issues like why 18,000 Americans die every year because they don't have a health insurance card. More than 300 of them died this week. As Ehrlichman said to Nixon in "Sicko": "The less care they give 'em, the more money they (the insurance companies) make."

THAT'S the only thing we should be talking about. How profit and greed are killing our fellow Americans. How profit and private insurance have to be removed from our health care system. CNN should join me in asking why our 9/11 rescue workers aren't receiving medical care. Somebody should send a crew to Canada to find out why they live longer than we do, and why no Canadian has ever gone bankrupt because of medical bills. And all of the media should start saying how much it costs to go to a doctor in these other top industrialized countries: Nothing. Zip. It's FREE. Don't patronize Americans by saying, "Well, it's not free -- they pay for it with taxes!" Yes, we know that. Just like we know that we drive down a city street for FREE -- even though we paid for that street with our taxes. The street is FREE, the book at the library is FREE, if your house catches on fire, the fire department will come and put it out for FREE, and if someone snatches your purse, the police officer will chase down the culprit and bring your purse back to you -- AND HE WON'T CHARGE YOU A DIME FROM THAT PURSE!

These are all free services, collectively socialized and paid for with our tax dollars. To argue that health care -- a life and death issue for many -- should not be considered in the same league is ludicrous and archaic. And trust me, once you add up what you pay for out-of-pocket in premiums, deductibles, co-pays, overpriced medicines, and treatments that aren't covered (not to mention all the other things we pay for like college education, day care and other services that many countries provide for at little or no cost), we, as Americans, are paying far more than the Canadians or Brits or French are paying in taxes. We just don't call these things taxes, but that's exactly what they are.

See you all when I'm back on CNN tomorrow -- where the discussion will be not be about whose statistics are right, but rather about the guy without insurance who died while I was writing this letter.

I also noticed that Moore's front page refers to Gupta as a "fact fudger" which seems quite apt. I'm sure that Obama will find some equally toxic, albeit lower-profile, for the position. As for Gupta, any time I happen to see him on the boob toob I ask myself just how much of his "information" is correct.

Inches away from dictatorship

Back when it was very politically incorrect to say it, some of us were warning that the Bush II regime was intent upon destroying any remaining vestige of civil liberties in the US. As documents from that particular regime are becoming available for public consumption, it appears there was good reason to be concerned. Here's what Naomi Wolf has to say (h/t CENSORED NEWS):
For three years, since writing End of America, I have been arguing that the Bush team sought irretrievably to subvert our liberty. Fortunately, this appalling and conceivably irrevocable subversion of the tenets of freedom was narrowly averted by citizens at every level -- from the grassroots to the courts -- resisting in time. But the release this week by the Justice Department of the "secret memos" sought valiantly by the ACLU confirms that Bush's legal architects were building up the framework for something even scarier than our most anguished projections.

You can see the documents themselves online -- but, as usual, there is a gap between the cautious journalistic interpretation of the event and the dense legalese in which they are written, and no one yet has really explained to citizens who are not attorneys what these memos claimed to give Bush the right to do. This is my initial reading of these documents:

Most dramatically, one memo asserts that Bush can deploy the military within the United States -- all of the military if he so wishes -- overriding Posse Comitatus, which has kept us safe from military policing for over a century. As many heard me warn in October and November of last year, when the first troops were sent to US streets, history shows that once the military is deployed domestically to "keep order" in a civil society, it is over. This memo is especially galling, since last fall's red alert from us was met with alarm by citizens but by ridicule by mainstream media outlets. Turns out we were right. This `deployment' memo proves that Bush indeed, as we feared, wanted the power to deploy military for domestic policing purposes, a mission that Northcom spokesmen denied -- apparently falsely -- when a few critics from non-mainstream platforms raised the alarm last November about the deployment of the First Brigade from Iraq to the US. This memo shows that Bush sought the power to deploy any number of U.S. military into the U.S. itself for any reason he chose; direct them to rip through your home without a warrant, even if you have not been charged with anything; seize material and documents; and even gave Bush the power to use deadly force against you -- yes, you, innocent US citizen -- "in self-defense." In your homes and streets -- not on a faraway battlefield. Major David Antoon confirmed that this power -- to send US military to control, arrest and even shoot US civilians in self-defense -- was in Bush's hands last fall when I asked Antoon about it. Turns out this memo shows Bush indeed wanted to have that power.

Another memo would give the power to Bush -- at his discretion -- to close down or censor newspapers, radio and the Internet - override the First Amendment in the interest of "national security." So if he had deployed, say, ten brigades -- 37,000 warriors -- in key cities (he deployed three before the election and 20,000 are due to be deployed domestically by 2012 unless we stop it), you would not be able to hear about it through the news media if he invoked this power to suspend free speech. And if you protested -- if you dared -- well, his actions would have been -- thanks to John Yoo and others, who will go down in history along with the criminal Nuremberg lawyers as one of Satan's willing attorneys -- perfectly legal.

Yet another memo gives Bush not only the right to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant" and hold him or her indefinitely - a danger we knew about, and one that we have tried hard to alert citizens to, a warning that has seemingly penetrated collective consciousness. The newly released memo demonstrates that was the very surface of the powers over US citizens Bush claimed. For three years when I have cautioned citizens about this power Bush invoked to seize US citizens as "enemy combatants" I reassured them that he did not yet have the power to torture US citizens, "only" drive them mad through prolonged isolation in a navy brig. Well, this memo asserts Bush's right to do whatever he wants to innocent US citizens in this kind of custody, and rejects the notion that Congress would have any role in how US citizens are held or treated -- say, by the hypothetically deployed military - on US soil. It seems also to claim the right to hold innocent US citizens in domestic military custody while Bush has the right to do anything he wants to them. Anything he wants. Remember this is an administration in which Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld and Cheney have now been proven by Jameel Jaffer's revelations in Administration of Torture to have known about and okay'd not just waterboarding as a policy but ok'd the discretion for interrogators to use tactics such as electrodes attached to genitals, sexual assault, threats against family members, suffocation, the beating of prisoners' legs to "pulp," and in some cases the covering up of their murders. This memo gives Bush the authority to do those things if he wants to innocent US citizens.

Still another memo gives Bush the right to ignore any international treaties -- to take over any country, say, or render and citizen anywhere, and do whatever he wants to the citizens of any country against any law, without consent of Congress.

The Washington Post called these memos "legal errors." We need to stare them in the face and understand them: they are evidence that the groundwork was laid out that gave the president the legal power effectively subvert the Republic. We need to understand the full darkness of what we narrowly escaped -- for now, our work is hardly begun. We need to build these lessons into our history and to use the terror they represent to dismantle the last of Bush's evil legacy -- a legacy that could have been activated by any US president in the future, including Obama or McCain -- and see these memos for what they are: the revealed architecture of an intended edifice of what amounts to treason again our republic and against all of us, regardless of belief, station of life, or political party.

As I noted in passing last September while remarking on the transfer of wealth to the rich that is euphemistically referred to as "stimulus" (or as I prefer to call it, The Great American Swindle):

This is the same sort of scam that ruling elites used when imposing University of Chicago-style "Shock Therapy" on such nations as Chile in the early 1970s, as well as numerous other nations in the Americas, Russia, and Eastern Europe throughout the 1970s and into the 1990s. What "shock therapy" amounted to was a transfer of wealth to the rich, the hollowing out of whatever government services had once existed, and the mass unemployment and displacement of large portions of each nation's population. Not too surprisingly, the newly impoverished did not take too kindly to such economic regimes imposed by duress, and would take to the streets. Equally unsurprising was the standard governmental response: mass disappearances, torture, genocide. If there's any silver lining to be found, it's that these regimes do tend to eventually get overthrown - though not until the joint's been looted and a lot of corpses litter the ground.

What I'm about to say I say so quite dispassionately: there is a very real possibility that this is now our fate. The pattern seems too familiar. We can view the various pieces of "anti-terrorism" legislation - starting with the Clinton regime, and accelerated under the current Bush regime - as preparation for the "crisis". Once a critical mass feels some very real pain - and I'm not talking about merely not affording that shiny new iPod, but such basics as food and shelter - the legal mechanisms needed to be in place in an attempt to coerce the populace into submission. One can also interpret the recent news that the US is committing an Army brigade to "homeland security" stateside, as preparation as well. For those curious, I'm sure the usual trappings of a republic will remain - I doubt there'll be martial law per se or cancellation of elections. The latter are needed to keep the ruse of "democracy" alive a bit longer. If the swindlers are able to pull this off, a lot of folks are going to be hurting and will be very angry, and I wouldn't be surprised if we start getting word of "disappearances" here in the "land of the free." After all, the Prez has the power to declare such malcontents as "enemy combatants." I would expect that protests will be more brutally dealt with - the scene of the RNC in St. Paul a few weeks ago serves as a harbinger.

I'll repeat once more: be shock resistant. Keep calling things by their true names and be ever vigilant. I certainly would not advise breathing deeply now that the Bush II version of dictatorship was narrowly avoided. Enough of the groundwork for dictatorship put in place by Bush II and Clinton is still sufficiently functional. There is much that will need to be done in the way of informing ourselves and each other in the coming days, weeks, and months. Bear in mind that ideas are bulletproof - including the idea that the ruling elites need us far more than we need them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Got some change to spare?

Throw a few $ into Arthur Silber's tip jar. Don't forget to check out his recent writing while you're at it.

How the American Taliban does it: playing dirty

This blogger's football analogy seems to hit it on the head:
an analogy: a popular Christian high school football team, The Fighting Americans, has half a dozen members who play dirty. vicious illegal hits are their stock in trade, temporarily knocking their opponents out of the game. sure they are occasionally penalized on the field, but not really by the team, quite the opposite in fact. the coaches quietly reward their behavior with increased playing time, they are praised in the locker room and at the pizza joint, given nicknames like The Enforcers, The Bad Boys. a few of the moderate players, those who might want to criticize, mostly keep quiet because of fear of rejection by the tribe; plus they are enjoying the benefits of being a part of a tough winning team. the 'end justifies the means' attitude bleeds into the fans at the games and into the school and the community. and then one Friday night, the stands are packed, the crowd roars, another vicious hit and a boy goes down and doesn't get up, ever. he's paralyzed for life and a family is destroyed by grief and expense. whose fault is it?
I remember this past fall watching one of our home football games from the stands. The opposing team was a Christian liberal arts college (our university's football team plays at least a couple of them each fall). What impressed me about the Christian college in question - I keep wanting to say it was Southern Nazarene (though don't quote me on that) - was how many cheap shots, how many illegal shots that they took at our players. The officials managed to catch a fraction of them. At the end of the game, after the opposing team had won, they all converged on the center of the field and engaged in a characteristically pious display of loud prayer. I wondered at the time if there were any of their team members who had felt tempted to object or felt a twinge of guilt for not saying something.

The same sort of mindset, the same sort of behaviors seem to emerge on the social and political fields too - the end justifies the means; let God sort it out. Some of the worst liars, some of the most devious manipulators, happen to put on gaudy displays of their alleged "faith." For me, such faith is worthless without the deeds to back it up. Maybe it comes down to such folks to so successfully compartmentalize so much of their behavioral and mental activity that the question of deeds matching words never gets asked (that sounds like something along the lines of what Altemeyer writes regarding right-wing authoritarians).

From the mailbag: Religious fanatics are evil

The Westboro Baptist Church is at it again, this time targeting Moore OK high school students:
Claiming they speak for the Almighty, members of the Westboro Baptist Church announced they would picket Moore High School next Monday afternoon because God hates the students there.

In a media release, the Topeka-based church announced that "God hates Moore High School" and said church members would picket the 6A high school in "religious protest and warning" at 2:45 p.m. Monday March 2.

"We will picket your really large high school because you southern(ish) hypocrites keep lying to the children," a second document, distributed with the release said. "We have a message, from your Maker, high school students -- we're here to deliver God has cursed you, with your parents' lies. Now God is rejecting your filthy raging lies violent brats, God hates you."

The announcement by the controversial church -- which has previously picketed military funerals in Norman and south Oklahoma City -- raised the concerns of Moore school officials and city leaders.

In an e-mail to The Transcript, Moore councilman Robert Krows -- who also teaches in the Moore district -- said school officials are trying to do "all they can to make the day as normal and as safe as possible."

"Unfortunately, that's not the goal of the WBC group," Krows said.

This week, Moore school officials sent letters to parents in the district about the protest. In a letter dated Feb. 23, Moore High principal Mike Coyle said school administrators were "working closely" with the Moore Police Department to "ensure a safe and orderly conclusion" to the school day.

"We have been advised that the group will create a video chronicle of the protest," Coyle wrote. "We strongly recommend that our students do not interact with this group."

Because of the protest, Coyle said school officials would dismiss the high school early.

"Given our overriding concern is and will continue to be learning in a physically safe and emotionally secure setting, we will dismiss early so as not to subject anyone to inflammatory speech," Coyle wrote. "For student safety, exits from the school will be controlled. School will be released at 2:25 p.m."

A second letter, written by superintendent Deborah Arato, said school officials expected a "non violent protest" and said school officials had "not been contacted nor have they spoken with" representatives of the church.

"Our position is that the event is disruptive in its effect on students and staff at a time of day when we are releasing hundreds of student-age drivers from school," Arato said. "We have heard from numerous patrons and community members who do not represent the philosophy represented on the Westboro group's Web site. Many of our students have discussed ignoring the protesters so as not to provide any further attention to their topic."

The district's goal, Arato said, "is that school is a place for our students to come and learn in physical and emotional safety. We do not appreciate interruptions of that goal."

Telephone calls to the Westboro Church's Topeka office were unanswered. Calls to the telephone number listed in the group's media release noted the number had been disconnected.

White Phosphorus: Powdered Mengele

Good to know that even in the post-Bush II era, The Freeway Blogger shows signs of activity. The signs (like the one pictured above) coincide with the recent reports of Israel using white phosphorus on Gaza civilians. The person who put up the signs writes:
When I was a kid I saw a picture in a book about the Holocaust that showed a Nazi scientist standing beside a body on a gurney. The body was covered by a sheet except for the legs that had been burned away to the bones. The caption said they'd been burned off with a blowtorch to see how much pain a human being could endure. I was something like ten years old when I saw that picture and I never forgot it.

I'm Jewish and when I was growing up believe me the Israelis were the good guys... I mean they were the really really good guys, and I just can't believe this shit's happening.
Some of my Palestinian friends and acquaintances would no doubt (justifiably) take issue with that last sentence. That said, the willingness to publicly compare the atrocities committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians and the atrocities perpetrated during the Nazi Holocaust deserves some positive recognition.