Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Future Of Personal Transportation In America

Here's a glimpse of the future, from Emily Wax and Ria Sen in the Washington Post. I've added some photos and a few comments.

"Fuel Prices Boost Cause of S. Asia's Maligned Rickshaw".
The bicycle rickshaws that weave through New Delhi's narrow lanes have long been scorned by authorities here for congesting the city's already fierce traffic. The creaking carriages crawl alongside luxury sedans, book hawkers, horse-drawn carts, hulking buses and cows.

In this city and the other quickly modernizing capitals of South Asia, governments have called the rickshaws backward, embarrassing symbols of the Third World.

Now, however, in a time of $7-a-gallon fuel in New Delhi and growing concerns about pollution, environmental activists and transportation experts are pushing back against rickshaw critics. And rickshaw cyclists are seizing the moment to tout the virtues of their trade.

"My rickshaw is my life. It's very cheap for my passengers," said Saurabh Ganguly, a 27-year-old rickshaw cyclist whose shirt was sticky with dirt and grime. He proudly observed a knot of traffic where about 50 rickshaw cyclists were jangling their bells, pressing their horns and zigzagging past lumbering buses belching plumes of black soot. "We don't even pollute," Ganguly said. "We should be allowed to survive."

Survival has been tenuous for bicycle rickshaws here. Last year, New Delhi banned them in the old walled neighborhood known as Chandni Chowk, one of the capital's most ancient and crowded shopping bazaars, as well as on main roads. While the ban has not been aggressively enforced, rickshaw cyclists say they often pay bribes to keep working.
The rich get richer and the poor pay bribes to keep working.
An international nonprofit group, the Initiative for Transportation and Development Policy, challenged the ban in India's Supreme Court this month, saying current economic and environmental conditions have made rickshaws more necessary than ever.

"We must save the cycle rickshaw drivers. Look at the soaring fuel price hikes," said Nalin Sinha, program director for the group's New Delhi office.

"These bikes are wonderful alternatives. They provide an affordable, smog-free choice," Sinha said. "But unfortunately, when the whole world is talking about the environment, we in South Asia are talking about 'development.' We somehow think we are better if we have hordes of swanky cars."
We're even worse: we think we're better if we have hordes of junk!
There is anecdotal evidence that ridership has increased in some South Asian cities as customers look to save on transportation costs. Sinha said his group is studying the issue.

New Delhi's Center for Science and Environment is also pushing for the court to overturn the ban in Chandni Chowk. The group has pointed to increases in the city's pollution and in the number of children with asthma, blaming the growing number of motor vehicles. India's economic boom is adding nearly 1,000 cars a day to the capital's streets.

"We should be building bike lanes to provide the cycle rickshaws a humane driving area for many reasons. Let's face it, fuel prices are only getting higher, and here we have an alternative right in front of us," said Vivek Chattopadhyaya, the center's pollution researcher. "If we keep banning them, we will regret this in future generations."

Some activists in India cite the increasing number of bicycle rickshaws being used in cities such as London, Paris, New York and Washington, often in neighborhoods with high congestion and heavy foot traffic. Local governments have welcomed the rickshaws as environmentally friendly alternatives.
Here's a situation where it makes perfect sense to "think global, act local". Want to do something for the environment? Sell your SUV, buy a rickshaw, and get an honest job for a change!!
There are an estimated 600,000 bicycle rickshaws in New Delhi serving an estimated 4 million customers. Trips range from one to six miles. The rickshaws -- many festooned with flowers and tricked out with paintings of cartoonish Bollywood starlets and cricket stars -- usually charge less than 50 cents a trip. On a recent monsoon-drenched afternoon, two female college students shopping for jeans said they were taking a bicycle rickshaw as an alternative to increasingly pricey taxis and auto-rickshaws, also powered by gas.

Indian women and children tend to take bicycle rickshaws more often than men because the rickshaws are seen as safe compared with overstuffed buses and unknown taxi drivers.

"We love the peaceful and private ride and the breeze," said Shweta Goyal, 19, an English literature major, as she settled in for a ride. "I like that the price is never impacted by fuel hikes. To me, it's a lovely way to do some shopping as a woman."

In Bangladesh's traffic-clogged capital of Dhaka, where there have been widespread protests over the rising prices of rice and fuel, rickshaw cyclist Shamsul Haque said business has never been better.
We could use some widespread protests ourselves. And some widespread rickshaws.
"There's been a turning point suddenly," said Haque, 25, a father of two who moved from a rural area to get a job as a rickshaw cyclist. "Our customers know we are cheap and very friendly."
Cheap and very friendly? Not me; I'm just cheap.
Some government officials have a different view.

"The rickshaws are popular in the walled old city like Chandni Chowk, but they can lead to large amounts of congestion," said Pawan Khera, secretary to the chief minister of New Delhi. "It's also not so easy for them since there are so many different kinds of motorized traffic on the roads."
It's not so easy for them because of the polluting traffic that's stopped in their way. So let's ban them. That'll make it easier for them!!
Khera said cycle rickshaws will always have a place around the city, but perhaps only in certain areas. New Delhi, meanwhile, is working to curb pollution by expanding the metro rail system and requiring new buses to run on compressed natural gas.

On a recent day in Chandni Chowk, rickshaw cyclists could be seen sweating and straining as they conveyed passengers through the city. Amid the chaotic lanes lined with sellers of Rajasthani slippers, fresh lime soda and incense, a few sari shoppers loaded stacks of wedding clothes onto one rusty old rickshaw. Their fare would be a quarter of what it would cost to drive or take a taxi.

"We do a proper job for everyone," lamented Mohammed Avip, 35, a rickshaw cyclist nearby. "Why does the police and government harass us so?"
Maybe they just need somebody to harass, somebody from whom to extract bribes.

Did Mohammed Avip ever think of that? Did you?

When our mechanized civilization is all over except the crying, before the radiation poisoning has killed absolutely everybody, wheels will still roll and people will still roll them.

Prepare yourself or not; it's your choice.

But don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ronald Swerlein Pleads Guilty To Three Of Ten Explosives Charges; Plea Bargain Will Likely Keep Amateur Rocket Scientist Out Of Prison

Ronald Swerlein, an amateur rocket enthusiast from Longmont, Colorado, pleaded guilty last week to three counts of illegal possession of explosives, in a deal which seems likely to keep him out of prison.

He had been charged with ten counts of possession of explosives; he pleaded not guilty to those charges last December.

He had also been charged with one count of drug possession; that charge has been dismissed.

Swelein has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, and he remains free pending his sentencing, which is scheduled for August 8th.

If the judge accepts the agreement that has been reached between the prosecutors and Swerlein's attorney, Swerlein will face six years of probation, community service and a mental health check.

Ron Swerlein was an electrical engineer with a half a dozen patents to his name when he suffered career-ending injuries in a car accident. Unable to work, but still curious and inventive, Swerlein turned to an old hobby: chemistry. He started buying glassware and chemicals from internet suppliers, and synthesizing compounds he couldn't buy.

Swerlein could make virtually anything he wanted, apparently, including nitroglycerin.

He tested some of these compounds as potential rocket fuels, lighting small amounts of various mixtures to see how they would burn. Sometimes his fuels would burn too fast, causing a small explosion. It's not the sort of thing you normally see in a house, in a residential area, across the street from an elementary school. Some of the neighbors were concerned.

Eventually, after an unexpected explosion in the house, Swerlein moved his center of operations to his garage. There he would test potential fuels late at night, and into the wee hours -- and causing a wee explosion every now and then.

Some of his neighbors called the police, who sent a patrol car to sit and listen in the neighborhood, but the police never saw or heard any explosions, so nothing came of the neighbors' concern, initially.

Some time later, somebody else in Longmont thought it would be funny to pack some shells with gunpowder and scatter them in parking lots, where they might explode if stepped on or driven over. The police asked for help in locating any bomb-makers in the area, and once again Swerlein's neighbors mentioned the strange goings-on at his place.

This time police did a more serious investigation, which involved looking through Swerlein's garbage and culminated in a tear-gas assault on his house.

The bomb squad detonated the nitroglycerin in Swerlein's driveway, and the police took everything else that interested them. Most of the chemicals, they say, have since been destroyed.

Police have never considered Ron Swerlein a terrorist or even a potential terrorist, and his actions seem to bear out their opinion. He had made enough nitroglycerin to fuel a car-bomb, but he kept tinkering with various fuel mixtures, sometimes disturbing the peace in his sleeping neighborhood, but never hurting anybody.

A few times he even tested a fuel with a model rocket, launching it in his backyard and seeing with a thrill that it rose above his rooftop. Not a particularly severe menace to society.

The sentence Swerlein will likely receive seems fairer to me than his treatment by the police, or his treatment by the Colorado media, at least one of which printed false comments from a so-called expert who said the compounds Swelein was testing were never used in model rocketry.

Personally, I am glad to see Ron Swerlein avoid serving prison time, especially since it's so clear that he never intended to hurt anyone.

But I wonder, what if his name were Abdullah or Mohammed? What if he had brown skin, or spoke a foreign language, or read the Koran? Would he have been treated as fairly as this?

One would hope so.


eighth in a series

Subtle: Candidates Exploit Our Fears, But Not Too Baldly

There's been some interesting fallout from Charlie Black's assertion that a terrorist attack against America "would be a big advantage" for John McCain [photo], the candidate for whom Black strategizes.

Black's frank admission set off alarm bells for those who believe it would be easy for such an attack to be made to happen (on purpose, as it were).

In addition to alarm bells, Black's comment has stirred up some of the finest doublethink you're likely to find (until the next time you read a mainstream "news" article about this subject, or anything else). I had fun watching Michael Cooper tie himself up in knots in the New York Times:

In Balancing Act on National Security, a Stumble
It was the journalist Michael Kinsley who changed Washington’s understanding of gaffes with his observation that a gaffe occurs not when someone lies, but when they say what they really think.
All the remarkable moments in modern politics have come when somebody accidentally told the truth. This tells us something about how often they lie.
And more than a few politicians and pundits were put in mind of the classic Kinsleyian gaffe this week after Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Senator John McCain, was quoted in a magazine interview saying that another terrorist attack in the United States would “be a big advantage” for Mr. McCain in the upcoming election.
Whether such an attack would work in favor of McCain is debatable; there are several possibilities and Michael Cooper can't even list them (if he wants to keep his job). But there can't be any question that it's dangerous when a senior adviser to a presidential candidate thinks a terrorist attack would help his candidate.

In recent years we've been treated to barrage of nonsense -- embodied in phrases like "the criminalization of politics" -- sanctifying the notion that politicians are above the law, or that politics is war and therefore all's fair.

So to have a major politician whose strategic adviser thinks a terrorist attack would be a big advantage ... is not only very dangerous ... but it's far too honest a thing to say, isn't it?

McCain thinks so.
Mr. McCain immediately disavowed the remark on Monday, saying: “I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true.” And Mr. Black quickly announced that he “deeply” regretted the remark. But on some level Mr. Black’s assertion was the logical extension — if somewhat tackily and impoliticly expressed — of the McCain campaign’s premise that Mr. McCain is best suited to keep the nation safe from terror.
And this is exactly the point. No matter what happens, whether there's a terrorist attack or not [or two], both candidates will strive to portray themselves as best able to fight terrorists.
Making that case, of course, can be a balancing act, the challenge being how to position Mr. McCain as the candidate who will keep people safe without seeming to be baldly exploiting people’s fears — a balance that has not always been struck in recent political campaigns.
The problem, as you can see Michael Cooper struggling not to spell out, is how to keep exploiting people’s fears without seeming to do so baldly.
The Obama campaign struck back hard, questioning the premise that the Republicans who favored invading Iraq have expertise in fighting terrorism and labeling Mr. Black’s remark as part of a “cynical and divisive brand of politics.”
The really interesting question -- the question that's never asked -- is whether the Republicans are more interested in fighting terrorism or fomenting it. But of course it would be cynical and divisive to ask it, so don't expect to hear it from Obama anytime soon.

Instead, through his chosen mouthpiece, he takes a different tack:
“The fact that John McCain’s top adviser says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a ‘big advantage’ for their political campaign is a complete disgrace and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change,” Bill Burton, a spokesman for Senator Barack Obama, said in a statement. “Barack Obama will turn the page on these failed policies and this cynical and divisive brand of politics so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose to finish the fight against al Qaeda.”
Well, of course, saying a terrorist attack would be good for your candidate is cynical and divisive. But it's not nearly as cynical and divisive as staging one. And that's a balance that hasn't always been struck, either.

On the other hand, Obama says he wants "to finish the fight against al Qaeda", and that's some pretty macho talk, but it's a big problem too, because so far he hasn't shown any understanding -- or even any curiosity -- about what al Qaeda is ... or isn't!

And -- not to put too bald a point on it -- there are only two things that that could "unite this nation around a common purpose to finish the fight against al Qaeda".

One of them, of course, would be a large-scale "terrorist" attack. But rather than helping McCain or Obama, such an attack may merely serve as a pretext for the cancellation of the election. So it would be a risky card to play, even for an old shark like Charlie Black.

There's another way in which a sharp and honest president could possibly "unite" the nation and "finish" the war against al Qaeda, but it definitely won't happen, because it involves serious education.

I'm referring, of course, to a large-scale campaign to inform the American public about exactly what al Qaeda is, who created it, who sponsors it, and whose policy aims it serves.

In other words, a progressive and honest president might require his fellow citizens to take a break from their standard television fare and watch -- no! study! -- a BBC documentary called "The Power of Nightmares". Here's an excerpt:

Big Dog, Little Tail / It's Too Late

Here's Chris Floyd, from his backup site, Empire Burlesque 1.0, in full and with kind permission:
Let's be clear about one thing: Israel will not attack Iran without the full knowledge and approval of the United States government. The trigger of the "warning shot" of Israel's long-range air-strike exercise last week was actually pulled in Washington. The Israelis will not force or deceive the U.S. government into an attack on Iran; that attack – which grows more certain by the hour – will take place because America's bipartisan foreign policy establishment and military-industrial complex (to the extent that there is any real difference between the two) want it to happen, or are willing to let it happen.

It is of course an article of faith for some people that the Israeli tails wags the big American dog. This rather ludicrous assertion is nothing more than the pernicious doctrine of "American exceptionalism" tricked out in "dissident" drag. For its underlying assumption is that good ole true-blue American elites would never commit war crimes or seek empire and geopolitical dominion unless they had somehow been tricked into it by those wily Jews. This is exactly backwards. If Israel was of no use to the American elite's domination agenda, then it would be discarded, or at least downgraded in terms of military, economic and diplomatic support.

When a nation serves the American elite's interests well, it is rewarded, and its various shortcomings are overlooked, however egregious they might be. Saudi Arabia is a prime example. Egypt is another. Iraq is a negative example. When Saddam's regime was thought useful, it was supported, copiously. When Saddam was no longer useful – especially when he threatened the Bush Family's long-time business partners in Kuwait – then he became "a new Hitler." When Iran was governed by a tyrant friendly to Washington, it was lauded – and larded with the usual military support and diplomatic muscle. When unfriendly tyrants took over, Iran became a land of Persian devils. The list of such examples from American history goes on and on.

If Israel had, say, opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it would have found itself shorn of much of its American largess very quickly. Israel is in fact almost entirely dependent on the United States for its military and economic well-being; in return it gives unstinting support to the interests of the American elite. It is in many ways one of the most abject client states in the world today, outside of Iraq or Afghanistan. The fact that there is a convergence of interests and ideology between militarist elites in the United States and Israel is hardly surprising. It would only be surprising if this were not the case. And so we see a cross-pollination of ideas, strategies, techniques, technologies – and even, in some cases, personnel (e.g. the "Clean Break" group) – between these elites.

For the same reasons, we also see a strong "Jewish Lobby" in the United States. For although those lobbying organizations do not actually represent the viewpoint of the majority of American Jews, they do offer unwavering support to the American elite's domination agenda. These organizations – like Israel itself – also serve as useful stalking horses and lightning rods. In the first instance, they can stake out radical positions which would be too impolitic for America's governing elite to espouse too openly. In the second instance, they can always be conveniently blamed for "radicalizing" or "duping" the American elite if one of the latter's schemes for loot and dominion go wrong. And of course they can be used to punish domestic politicians who fail to hew slavishly enough to the elite's imperial line. But if AIPAC came out tomorrow with, say, a demand that America dismantle its worldwide empire of military bases, or condemned the invasion of Iraq as a war crime, we would see its influence decline almost instantly. Again, it is the convergence of interests with the American elite, and their willingness to serve those interests, that give the government of Israel and non-representative organizations like AIPAC such a prominent role.

For example, AIPAC has played the stalking horse in helping push Resolution 362, the "Iran War Resolution," toward its virtually guaranteed passage by the House. The bill – supported by the usual broad spectrum of the "bipartisan foreign policy establishment" – calls for, among other things, a full blockade of Iran. This is of course an outright act of war, and one aimed directly and purposely at the Iranian people, who would be subjected to the same kind of treatment that left at least a million Iraqis dead during the many years of American-led, bipartisan sanctions against Saddam's regime. This fact – an impending act of war that could inflict untold suffering upon millions of innocent people, even before the first shot is fired – does not seem to trouble anyone in the American establishment, nor in the "progressive blogosphere."

Arthur Silber has a few choice words on this situation here, including:
In the fearsome, awful, terrifying wake of an attack on Iran, as the economy crumbles, as violence spreads throughout the Middle East, Asia and possibly elsewhere, as life falls apart in the United States, do you think anyone will give a damn about FISA? Do you think anyone will even remember FISA? Do you doubt that the government will seize and utilize powers that will make FISA look like child's play? Do you doubt that the government will do all this with the active, eager participation of the Democrats?
The stated casus belli in the "Iran War Resolution" – which replicates exactly the bellicose intentions and deceptions of the Bush Administration – is Iran's "nuclear enrichment activities." This is presented as an unmitigated evil worthy of the most severe measures, including an act of war like a blockade. The truth, of course, is that these enrichment activities are entirely legal under international treaties governing nuclear proliferation, and are being carried out under the most extensive and stringent international supervision ever imposed on a nation, as Kaveh Afrasiabi notes in the Asia Times. Afrasiabi also details the rank falsehoods about Iran's nuclear programme, and the international inspection program overseeing it, that permeate the American media: an article in The Wall Street Journal, US Congresswoman Jane Harman, who chairs the powerful Homeland Security Intelligence Committee, cites Iran's steady progress in installing new centrifuges and the dangers posed by "unsupervised, weapons-grade material" in Tehran's hands.

Never mind that IAEA reports clearly confirm that all of Iran's enrichment-related facilities are under the agency's "containment and monitoring", or that IAEA inspectors have had nine "unannounced visits" at the enrichment facility in Natanz since March 2007.

Thus, for instance, in a front-page article in the New York Times, dated June 20, Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt break the sensational news about Israel's extensive maneuvers in preparation for an attack on Iran, indirectly rationalizing Israel's belligerency by omitting any mention of the IAEA's latest report confirming the absence of any evidence of military nuclear diversion and, instead, confining themselves to the following comment: "In late May, the IAEA reported that Iran's suspected work on nuclear matters was a 'matter of serious concern' and that the Iranians owed the agency 'substantial explanation'."

What ought to have been added was that the same IAEA report states unequivocally that it had received "no credible information" regarding the alleged "weaponization studies", nor has the agency detected any nuclear activity connected to those alleged studies. Besides, the same IAEA report more than a dozen times stresses the evidence of peacefulness of Iran's nuclear program...

To turn to another example of flawed coverage of Iran by the US media, a recent editorial in the Dallas News states categorically that the IAEA "has recently accused Iran of developing its program of enriching uranium". The editors appear unaware that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, does not prohibit Iran's uranium-enrichment program.

The IAEA has never declared Iran in material breach of its obligations and, certainly, has never "accused" Iran of pursuing a program sanctioned under the NPT. Rather, the governing board of the IAEA has simply requested from Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear program as a "confidence-building measure", that is, as a time-bound and thus temporary "legally non-binding" step.
As Sam Gardiner notes, Bush and his minions are now pounding the "enrichment" theme as their chief drumbeat for war with Iran. And they have obviously succeeded in demonizing the entirely legal and carefully supervised process of enrichment, as demonstrated by the Congressional resolution and the press coverage, both of which also take up "enrichment" as an evil that must be stopped at all costs.

No doubt this is in response to the IAEA reports noted by Afrasiabi, which have found no credible information about "weaponization studies." (And those are just studies, mind you, not actual weaponization programs.) This is of course not the first time that the Bush Administration has moved the goalposts in its fearmongering campaign. As we noted here last December, just after the Administration's own intelligence agencies declared that Iran had no active nuclear weapons program, Bush announced that
Iran will not be "allowed" to acquire even the "scientific knowledge" required to build a nuclear weapon. Previous "red lines" which could trigger an attack had been based on Iran actually building a weapon; now even nibbling at the forbidden fruit of nuclear knowledge could serve as "justification" for a "pre-emptive strike" to quell the "danger." After all, as Bush rather illiterately told reporters, "What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program?" Better safe than sorry, right?

And at the very least, moving the goalposts in this manner will allow the Bush Regime to portray Iran as a dangerous, defiant menace for merely carrying on with its fully legal nuclear power program, as authorized by international treaty and monitored by the IAEA. Thus no matter what Iran actually does – or doesn't do – the Bushists will continue to use the "Persian menace" as fodder for the imperial war machine.
We see this playing out again today, in the scary talk – and Congressional resolutions – damning Iran's "enrichment activities." What was true then is true now: there is literally nothing that Iran can do – or not do – to divert the American elite's desire to strike at their land and bring it under domination. And apparently there is nothing that anyone in America with any power or a major platform will do to stop it either.

Arthur Silber concludes his damning analysis of our unforced march to new horror with a heartbreaking quote from Martin Luther King Jr. Let it serve as the last word here as well; no one will put it better:
There is such a thing as being too late.... Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity.... Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late."
Indeed. Arthur Silber often screams at the progressive blogosphere: "Why won't you do anything about this?" The big "liberal", "progressive" sites seem determined to avoid the issues on which they could do the most good. It's hard for me to imagine that this is unintentional. And I know this from heartbreaking experience.

What's needed, according to Arthur Silber, is "massive civil disobedience, including a sit-in of a minimum of several hundred thousand people shutting down Washington, D.C. completely", presenting a spectacle the media cannot avoid covering, threatening to shut the federal government down entirely, and holding the fort until more arrive. It's a lovely vision, but I'm not fortunate enough to share it.

Last summer there were a half a million people on the ground in Washington and the media barely gave them a peep. The "Active Denial" heat-ray crowd-control weapon is ready now and it provides a formidable long-distance supplement to the water cannons and pepper spray of old. Throw in the synthetic insects, and it's hard to see how even a couple million people could be a serious threat.

As if you could get them there. As if you could get them interested.

After the 2004 presidential election was obviously and blatantly stolen, I sat up all night leaving messages on all the "progressive" "Democratic" websites I could find. "Get yourself to Washington!" I wrote. "General strike -- now or never!" I exhorted.

I got two responses. One said, "I'd love to do it, but I gotta go to work in the morning." And the other one said, "You sound like you're ten years old."

Last year I wrote a whole series of big beautiful posts urging my readers to get involved in a General Strike planned for September 11th.

Nobody linked to a single one of those posts. No other blogger, to my knowledge, even mentioned the idea. I took this as a sign of the level of commitment to positive change among my readership. Namely: None.

As I wrote before the "election" of 2006,
By refusing to work every day, rather than refusing to "vote" once every two years, you could make your voice heard every day. Or at least that's the theory.

But in this case it's only a theory; and there will never be a general strike in the USA, no matter how clear it becomes that our "elections" are a farce.

Why? Because consumers would be required to sacrifice a little bit of material comfort for future of their democracy, and for the future of their children.

And that is the one thing Americans have proven they absolutely will not do.
I'd happily throw my weight behind Arthur Silber's call for massive civil disobedience. But my track record's not so good.

It's not as if you couldn't see this coming.

Here's an excerpt from a song I wrote in 1984.
It's Too Late

There's nothin' you can do about it
nowhere you can take your complaint
Everybody loves to shout but
no one ever listens until it's
too late

Everywhere you look there's life forms
buidin' little walls and fences
Hardly people anymore, just
owners of establishments, it's
too late

It's too bad
They never gave a thought to what they had

It's so sad
There's nothin' left of what they had

There's nothin' you can do about it
even though it makes no sense, there's
something comforting about
running into walls and fences
too late

Aw, it's too late
Aw, it's too bad
Aw, man, it's over.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another Mission Accomplished: Afghan Opium Production Increases Again!

Colum Lynch in the Washington Post:

U.N.: Opium Trade Soars in Afghanistan
Afghan opium cultivation grew 17 percent last year, continuing a six-year expansion of the country's drug trade and increasing its share of global opium production to more than 92 percent, according to the 2008 World Drug Report, released Thursday by the United Nations.

Afghanistan's emergence as the world's largest supplier of opium and heroin represents a serious setback [sic] to the U.S. policy [sic] in the region.

The opium trade has soared since the U.S.-led 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, which had eradicated almost all of the country's opium poppies in 2001.

The proceeds from the illicit trade -- which is concentrated in Taliban strongholds -- are now helping finance a resurgent Taliban that is battling American troops and their allies.
and so on...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Choose Your Lens -- But Do It Carefully

New from Mark Morford: We are doomed! Sort of!
Earth in crisis, food and water increasingly scarce, people freaking out. Should you join them?

It would be nice to think much of the ugliness is coming to an end.

It would be lovely to imagine the era of brutal Earth-mauling technologies, coal extraction and petroleum and industrial agriculture and strip mining and clear cutting and industrial fishing and all rest, all the more rapacious and unforgiving notions of how we exist on this planet are, after an era of unchecked capitalistic greed and waste and over-consumption right along with almost zero concern for consequences and the ethics of sustainability, finally moving toward obsolescence -- or rather, are quickly being shoved there by sheer necessity, brutal market forces, as supply runs dry and oil production slows and the Earth groans and spits and says, "enough already."

It is a pivotal time, and now more than ever, you get to choose the lens through which you want to watch it all unfold. Or implode.
Choose your lens! And pick your frame!

How much are you willing to look at? And what are you willing to see when you look at it?
For every bit of good news, bad seems to top it like a dirt clod on an ice cream cone. More than 10 years ago, we banned CFCs and as a result, the ozone hole is actually healing, which could theoretically help slow global warming. Then again, as the ice shelves melt, more trees grow, which, given the circumstances, might actually make things worse by reducing the albedo effect.

On it goes. Flooding in the Midwest has severely damaged corn and soy crops, further straining the food supply and washing tons of pesticides into the water table. Meanwhile, California is in drought, wildfires are spreading like, well, wildfire as the state endures its driest spring ever.

It's tempting to see it as one vicious tug of war, eternal dark forces pitted against eternal light, exemplified by, say, Big Oil CEOs on one side and hemp-loving biodiesel hippies on the other, a grand footrace to see if our rapacious capitalistic appetites will destroy us before our finer reason and good conscience saves us in the final minute.

Far harder to swallow the reality, which is far more gray and murky and strange. Because of course there is no 100-percent perfect energy source, no such thing as zero pollution, no magic bullet, no way to move through God's wicked workshop without breaking a few glasses and swiping some gumballs and leaving skid marks on the lawn. Maybe the real question isn't which lens to choose, but rather, do we even know how to see?
I think you should read the whole piece, and Mark Morford's archives are here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

DoJ Illegally Preferred Politically Savvy Applicants

According to a report from the Department of Justice [PDF], law students who applied for select DoJ programs were illegally screened for political acumen.

Those students who recognized that there had been a coup d'etat in 2000, solidified by an enormous false flag terror event the following September, were preferred to those who seemed oblivious, and by a wide margin. The bloggers who follow these issues with fairness in their hearts and nothing in their heads will have a field day with this one, but it makes perfect sense.

Students who were smart enough to have (or claim) Conservative leanings, Republican affiliations, and/or Federalist Society connections were -- quite predictably, in my view -- strongly preferred over those who had or claimed no political connections at all. And the students in this neutral group -- again, quite predictably -- were strongly preferred over those who were (frankly) thick enough to proclaim their Liberal bias, Democratic affiliations and/or connections with the treasonous groups which tend to support such quaint notions as civil rights, social justice, and the former alleged supremacy of the US Constitution.

Think of it this way: if you lived in 1950s Russia and you had a chance to work -- even in some dim capacity -- for the Politburo, or any of its "political" organs, would you list Adam Smith among your influences and laissez-faire capitalism among your passions?

Well, you could, but you wouldn't get the job, would you?

Hope This Is As Sick As It Gets, But Don't Count On It

Angela Levin for the UK's Daily Mail, with profound disgust (my emphasis):

Greetings from Guantanamo Bay ... and the sickest souvenir shop in the world
The sands are white, the sea laps gently and crowds of bronzed Americans laze in the Caribbean sunshine.

They have a cinema, a golf course and, naturally, a gift shop stocked with mugs, jaunty T-shirts and racks of postcards showing perfect sunsets and bright green iguanas.

Only the barbed wire decoration, a recurring motif, hints at anything wrong.

Welcome to "Taliban Towers" at Guantanamo Bay, the most ghoulishly distasteful tourist destination on the planet.

As these astonishing mementoes show, the US authorities are promoting the world's most notorious prison camp as a cheap hideaway for American sunseekers -- a revelation that has drawn international anger and condemnation.

Just yards from the shelves of specially branded mugs and cuddly toys, nearly 300 "enemy combatants" lie sweltering in a waking nightmare.

It is six years since foreign prisoners, many captured in Afghanistan, were first taken to this US-occupied corner of Cuba. Yet even now, no charges have been brought against them.

While the detainees lie incarcerated, visitors can windsurf, take boat trips and go fishing for grouper, tuna, red snapper and swordfish.

The United States' 1.5 million service personnel and Guantanamo's 3,000 construction workers are eligible to visit the "resort", which boasts a McDonald's, KFC and a bowling alley.

They even have a Wal-Mart supermarket.

The vacation comes at a knock-down price: just $42 (£20) per night for a suite of air-conditioned rooms, including a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms.

But it is the souvenirs that have led to the greatest criticism. One T-shirt from the gift shop is decorated with a guard tower and barbed wire. It reads: "The Taliban Towers at Guantanamo Bay, the Caribbean's Newest 5-star Resort."

Another praises "the proud protectors of freedom". A third displays a garish picture of an iguana and states: "Greetings from paradise GTMO resort and spa fun in the Cuban sun."

A child-sized shirt says: "Someone who loves me got me this T-shirt in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

There are mugs inscribed with "kisses from Guantanamo" and "Honor Bound To Defend Freedom".

The Guantanamo holiday trade was exposed by Zachary Katznelson, a British-based human rights lawyer and spokesman for Reprieve, the group leading the international campaign against the camp.

"When I see the conditions the prisoners have to cope with and then think of the T-shirt slogans, I am appalled," he said. "To say I am repulsed is an understatement. Unbelievable as it may seem, the US authorities are proud of the 'souvenirs' and what they are doing."

Mr Katznelson represents 28 of the detainees and makes regular visits to the prison.

"The military keeps a tight hold on everything that is available in Guantanamo Bay and someone senior has given their approval for this disgusting nonsense," he said.

"Pretending that Guantanamo Bay is essentially a resort in the Caribbean is grossly offensive and the idea of relaxing in the sun while close by many individuals are robbed of their rights, tortured and abused is both repugnant and ridiculous."

His anger is shared by other human rights campaigners. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said Guantanamo represents a shameful chapter in American history.

Amnesty International said: "These supposedly 'fun' souvenirs are in grotesquely bad taste and the fact that they are on sale at the camp quite frankly beggars belief."

There are currently 280 prisoners sweltering in cages in temperatures of up to 100F (38C). The camp, where 7,000 soldiers are stationed, was established in 2002 following the invasion of Afghanistan.

In 2004, photographs of cowed Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits shocked the world.

"The majority are kept in isolation in cells that are no bigger than a toilet," said Katznelson. "There is no sea view. Instead, if they have a window, it looks out on to a bleak corridor. The cells are lined with steel from floor to ceiling, including the toilet, sink and bed base.

"There is a popular misconception that these men have had trials and been found guilty. Nothing is further from the truth. Not one of them has.

"The tortures that the Americans use are wide-ranging and inhuman. One is to blast the cell with freezing cold air. Another is to pretend to take the prisoners to a country like Egypt where prisoners are tortured, even to the extent of taking them on a mock flight, so they can be treated in a barbaric fashion."

Katznelson continued: "Inmates are offered three meals a day, but there are eight prisoners who have been on hunger strike for over a year asking either for a trial or to be set free.

"These men are force-fed twice a day. First they are strapped down with 16 different restrictions, including one that jerks their head back. Then a tube is fed through their nose and down into their stomach.

"The guards don't always use lubrication and regularly use the same tube for several different prisoners without bothering to clean it."

Guantanamo Bay has been rented as a military base from Cuba since 1903 for an unchanged $4,499 a year.

"As it is outside American territory the US Constitution doesn't apply," said Katznelson.

This may soon change as the US Supreme Court is about to reach a verdict on whether the Guantanamo Bay area is de facto American soil.

If so, the US Constitution does apply and the men will have the right to a fair and speedy trial.
You have to wonder what sort of souvenirs will be on sale at the "trials" -- if they ever have "trials".

Chris Floyd has more: Fun in the Sun: Gitmo Gets Makeover as R&R Resort
The Pentagon has splashed out for white sand beaches, a golf course, movie theaters, a bowling alley, restaurants – even a Wal-Mart – right next to the holding pens where Terror War captives have languished in limbo for years, enduring endless isolation,"harsh interrogation techniques" and other holiday amusements.

We don't mean to imply that the serious business going on at Gitmo is ignored, however. Far from it. The gift shop features several items that make antic hay of the concentration camp's dread purpose. Barbed wire and guard towers are a prevalent motif on various cups and shirts, for example. You can sip your beachside latte in a cup that tells the world that the Bush gulag is "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom." And if you find froggies and dolphins a bit too frilly, you can always prepare your kids to take their rightful place in the Terror War imperium with a t-shirt emblazoned "Future Behavior Modification Instructor." It makes learning fun!

You can read more about the amenities enjoyed by the non-paying guests at Gitmo in this piece, which points you to a mass of material detailing their treatment, including the landmark series from McClatchy Newspapers.

McCain's Chief Strategist Says Another Terrorist Attack "Would Be A Big Advantage"

A terrorist attack on America before the November election "would be a big advantage" to John McCain, according to his chief strategist, Charlie Black [photo].

Black's comment may have been a bit too candid, but it illustrates one of the great strengths of the American political system: its BS quota is infinite!

No lie is too transparent to be repeated over and over until it becomes part of the national fabric, a web of officially sanctioned lies that grows larger and more toxic every day.

George W. Bush, having refused to protect us in any way in 2001, made mountains of political hay out of his alleged ability to protect us.

And now, according to Charlie Black, John McCain would benefit from another failure of the "national security" apparatus he has supported for all these years -- because it would turn the focus to his "strength".

If that's the case, the next move is obvious: somebody needs to turn off America's security alarm, the way they did it back in 2001, and make sure John McCain gets elected!

That'll keep us safe!

Juan Cole says:
We don't need any more of this politics of fear that Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Bush gave to us.
It doesn't matter what we need, of course. The only thing that counts is what they want us to have.

Juan Cole continues:
That McCain has such people around him is yet another indication that he is too close to Bush and Bushism to be allowed anywhere near the White House.
But this is backwards as well.

Nobody can be allowed near the White House unless he has such people around him!

That Barack Obama is busy surrounding himself with shameless predators indicates that the race might be a close one after all.

Arab World Would Be "Pleased" If Israel Attacked Iran: John Bolton

In an incredible [not] interview with the UK's Daily Telegraph, John Bolton, former US ambassador [sic] to the UN, said the Arab world would be pleased by an Israeli attack against Iran, which could happen soon.

According to Bolton the "optimal window" would be between November 4, 2008, the date of the next US presidential election [sic] and January 20, 2009, when the new [sic] president is expected to be inaugurated [provided the current one decides to leave].

Toby Harnden: Israel 'will attack Iran' before new US president sworn in, John Bolton predicts
John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, has predicted that Israel could attack Iran after the November presidential election but before George W Bush's successor is sworn in.

The Arab world would be "pleased" by Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

"It [the reaction] will be positive privately. I think there'll be public denunciations but no action," he said.
It's an interesting point of view; the Arab world according to a neocon chickenhawk.
Mr Bolton, an unflinching hawk who proposes military action to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons, bemoaned what he sees as a lack of will by the Bush administration to itself contemplate military strikes.

"It's clear that the administration has essentially given up that possibility," he said. "I don't think it's serious any more. If you had asked me a year ago I would have said I thought it was a real possibility. I just don't think it's in the cards."
But what's not a real possibility is the notion that Iran could develop nuclear weapons anytime soon; they can't even do nuclear power.

Of course this is what the Americans and the Israelis are trying to prevent; but as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Iranians are entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful domestic purposes.

And the Iranians say they don't even want to develop nuclear weapons, but the Israelis say, "Don't believe their lies; believe our lies!" Which we do.

The ironic, bizarre, or typical thing about all this is that Israel has at least 150 nuclear weapons, whereas Iran has none, and even if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapons capability, they would still be staring down the barrels of all those guns.

But the narrative that floats has Iran the danger, and Israel the threatened.

Israel is still determined to prevent Iran from developing any nuclear capability, according to Bolton, who says:
The "optimal window" for strikes would be between the November 4 election and the inauguration on January 20, 2009.

"The Israelis have one eye on the calendar because of the pace at which the Iranians are proceeding both to develop their nuclear weapons capability and to do things like increase their defences by buying new Russian anti-aircraft systems and further harden the nuclear installations.

"They're also obviously looking at the American election calendar. My judgement is they would not want to do anything before our election because there's no telling what impact it could have on the election."

But waiting for either Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, or his Republican opponent John McCain to be installed in the White House could preclude military action happening for the next four years or at least delay it.
I need not point out that this is a very bizarre assertion.
"An Obama victory would rule out military action by the Israelis because they would fear the consequences given the approach Obama has taken to foreign policy," said Mr Bolton, who was Mr Bush's ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006.
This is bizarre as well, since it comes after Obama's statement that he would do "anything, and I mean anything" to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Hmmm. Could John Bolton be selling something here? In other words, is he doing an ad for John McCain?

Maybe not. McCain is too much of a dove for Bolton.
"With McCain they might still be looking at a delay. Given that time is on Iran's side, I think the argument for military action is sooner rather than later absent some other development."
There's more [of course] and it's really twisted [of course]:
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, said military action against Iran would turn the Middle East into a "fireball" and accelerate Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Bolton, however, dismissed such sentiments as scaremongering. "The key point would be for the Israelis to break Iran's control over the nuclear fuel cycle and that could be accomplished for example by destroying the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan or the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

"That doesn't end the problem but it buys time during which a more permanent solution might be found.... How long? That would be hard to say. Depends on the extent of the destruction."
Talk about scaremongering!!

The US has no problem giving enriched uranium to Saudi Arabia -- and you won't find a more primitive and radical Islamic state anywhere.

But we're prepared to nuke Iran to prevent them from enriching uranium!

As usual, it's one lie after another, with an occasional truth thrown in.

No wonder the Angry Arab is so angry.

And that's the news.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Torture State: Innocents Suffer; Villains Walk; Media: "Next!"

In an excellent piece posted Friday, Chris Floyd provides an overview of the week's revelations regarding the Bush administration's deliberate and illegal efforts to institutionalize torture.

It's the most despicable tale, yet I urge you to read as much of it as you can stand. We simply need to know what's being done -- to our country, to our world, to our future, and in our name -- if we are to have any hope of dealing with it properly (or at all).

Floyd provides copious links, to the recent McClatchy series on the subject and much else; as he says, it really has been a remarkable week -- yet another totally disgusting, nauseating week for those who care about truth, and justice, and what used to be called "the American way".

There's no longer any way to deny the plain fact that Bush, Cheney, and their circle of spinners deliberately concocted a false "justification" for the horrendous acts which they were determined to commit. And yet, as Floyd points out, no consequences appear to be forthcoming -- soon or ever.

Why not?

Floyd suggests the answer can be found between the lines of a piece from Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times.

Rutten has also compiled a damning account of the administration's embrace of torture, but he argues that there shouldn't be any criminal or legal responsibility attached to this gruesome record, because in America we solve problems like this through the electoral system.

In other words, according to Rutten, if you can get yourself elected, no matter what you do while in office, the worst that should happen to you is that you might lose your job.

Floyd quotes Rutten:
The Bush administration has been wretchedly mistaken in its conception of executive power, deceitful in its push for war with Iraq and appalling in its scheming to make torture an instrument of state power. But a healthy democracy punishes policy mistakes, however egregious, and seeks redress for its societal wounds, however deep, at the ballot box and not in the prisoner's dock.
And Floyd comments:
The cognitive dissonance of this conclusion was so painful and severe that I had to read it several times to fully take in that it meant exactly what it said: Rutten believes with all his heart that the official practice of deliberate, systematic torture – a clear and unambiguous war crime which he himself has just outlined in careful detail – is ultimately nothing more than a “wretched mistake,” a “policy difference” that should not be “criminalized.” And how can this be? The answer is obvious, if unspoken: because it was done by the United States government – and nothing the United States government ever does can possibly be criminal, or evil. It can only be, at most, a mistake, a conceptual error, an ill-considered policy, a botched attempt at carrying out a noble intention.

If any other country had a policy “to make torture an instrument of state power, " Rutten would undoubtedly condemn it as a vicious evil.

But it appears that Rutten's outrage at injustice has its limits. It does not extend to actually punishing those responsible for torture and murder – if those responsible are the leaders of the American government. They are to be allowed to finish their terms, then live out their lives in wealth, privilege, comfort and safety. To do otherwise, says Rutten – to insist that no one is above the law – "risks the stability of our own electoral politics."
There's a lot more from Chris Floyd and I suggest you read it all. But there's also more to the story.

Arun, musing, suggests the hidden subtext of Rutten's column may be somewhat different. In Arun's words,
it could simply be that the politicians consider themselves to be a special breed of human being to whom the laws that apply to the rest of the United States do not apply.
I don't see these observations as mutually exclusive. In my view, these are two poisonous forces working together: America can do no wrong, and elected officials are above the law.

I won't quibble with Chris Floyd regarding Tim Rutten's sincerity, or his status as a "respected" "liberal" "journalist". A less generous writer might suggest that Rutten's status, given his context, reveals something about the nature of propaganda.

Rutten's suggestion that America's troubles can be sorted out through the electoral process -- and that the most "justice" a politician can suffer is the loss of his job -- would be thoroughly worthless, as Floyd points out, even if we had a functional electoral process. But we don't.

The torturers and war criminals we're talking about here were never legitimately elected -- a fact that has magically vanished as far as the national media are concerned -- and every day that major newspapers carry on as if they were elected [twice!] constitutes nothing less than a crime against humanity.

They have no right to the offices in which they do their evil work. They longed for a crisis, then they precipitated one; they started "the long war", and then they used the war to "justify" the extraordinary powers claimed by the unelected president. Everything this administration has done has been illegitimate -- every single act of war, every single draconian bill passed, every single "extra-judicial" killing, every single act of rendition, every single act of torture.

All of it -- the stolen elections, the self-inflicted terror, the regime of torture, the wars of aggression, the secret laws -- all of it -- was quite evidently planned in advance and predicated on the notion that the national "news" media would go along with it. Which they have.

What we're looking at here is a situation in which no major newspaper will call for charges against men who are obviously -- and admittedly -- guilty of treason, war crimes, and horrendous crimes against humanity.

So let's get this straight: There is no possible punishment which could even begin to approach "justice" in this case. None.

The dogs of war -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gates, Rice, Powell, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Grossman, Woolsey, and all the rest -- have done so much damage to the entire world that no punishment could possibly be sufficient. Nothing could even come close.

Imagine the most horrible sort of punishment being inflicted on one of these people. Picture him (or her) under the worst conditions of torture you can contemplate. See his home and belongings destroyed; listen to his children weeping. Imagine that all his descendants were doomed to inhabit a land in which every single thing was contaminated with radioactive waste. Think of all his friends and relatives scattered to foreign countries where they aren't welcome, or living among death and fear and foreign troops and foreign mercenaries and all the other debris of modern war.

Now multiply by a million.

This is what these people deserve. But no opinion columnist (liberal or otherwise) for any establishment newspaper (left coast or elsewhere) could ever get such an opinion published -- and if he wants to keep his job, he'd best not submit such a thing to an editor, either.

Justice is as justice does. Derrick Shareef is in prison, probably for the rest of his life. His crime? He fell under the influence of an FBI agent posing as a wannabe terrorist, who gave him a place to live, strung him along by the nose, and arranged an "arms deal" in which Shareef gave another undercover agent a pair of stereo speakers for four nonfunctional grenades.

Shareef's motives may have been despicable, but he never hurt anybody. He's in prison for what he agreed to do, for complying with the suggestions of an entrapment expert who was sent to get him. And he's one of many angry (or stupid) young Muslims who have been entrapped by "counter-terrorists" working for the federal or local governments.

At the other end of the spectrum we find George Bush and his criminal cronies, who openly conspired not only to break the law but to get it changed so that it would no longer constrain them, so that they could claim legal cover for acts and policies which no sane American could possibly countenance. And they're scot-free.

Meanwhile, nobody who writes for an establishment publication can call 'em like they see 'em. Not a one. Not anymore -- unless he sees 'em crooked.

Tim Rutten is playing a game we've discussed here more than once. He's connecting the dots with a false narrative. He's leaving out essential bits of context, and leaping to conclusions that are not warranted by any facts or any logical reasoning, although they may well be essential for the continued comfort of Tim Rutten and his family.

And it's one of the most important ways, in my observation, that the establishment "news" outlets protect the criminal regime they serve.

In previous situations where I've observed this game being played, I have suspected that the journalist in question was doing -- or thought he was doing -- the best he could under the circumstances. He was getting factual information into the public record, and even though it was wrapped in manure, his path to print may have seemed like a better option than the path followed by, let us say, William Glaberson.

Glaberson writes for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune (the Eastern liberal "elite" and their European connections) and recently he's thrown all his skill and craft into a spectacular hit piece against William Kuebler. Kuebler, as we've seen, represents Omar Khadr, the young Canadian held at Gitmo, whom the Americans want to try for war crimes for something he may or may not have done when he was fourteen years old.

Kuebler has been claiming that the evidence against his client has been fabricated; the prosecution doesn't deny it. Kuebler has been saying that his client has been tortured; the prosecution doesn't deny that either. Kuebler has been saying there's no way Omar Khadr should be on trial based on the so-called evidence, and that there's no way he could get a fair trial even if there were evidence against him, because the military tribunal process is inherently flawed.

Glaberson's take on it: Kuebler is a crank. He should shut up about the process already and get on with it -- start going through the motions of pretending to offer a defense while an illegitimate and thoroughly corrupt government gets on with the ruination of the young man's life -- and that of the whole world.

Khadr is accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002.

Think about that for a second.

If we can bomb, invade and occupy a country we've been destroying by proxy for more than twenty years, all based on one false pretext after another, and anyone who opposes the invading army can be captured and incarcerated for six years and branded a terrorist and tried for war crimes...

... in a "legal" setting where where torture is OK, where confessions extracted under torture -- and under conditions no one wants to read about -- are considered sufficient, where so-called "respected liberal journalists" discuss such practices without seeking to redress them, and where other "journalists" feed their faces by ridiculing the honest people ...

... then where are we?

Here. And now. And sinking fast.


Explore some links, if you will:

Seton Hall University: Guantanamo Reports

Tom Lasseter for McClatchy: America's prison for terrorists often held the wrong men

U.S. abuse of detainees was routine at Afghanistan bases

Militants found recruits among Guantanamo's wrongly detained

Easing of laws that led to detainee abuse hatched in secret

Taliban ambassador wielded power within Guantanamo

Documents undercut Pentagon's denial of routine abuse

Ex-detainees allege that U.S. troops abused Quran

U.S. hasn't apologized to or compensated ex-detainees

Deck stacked against detainees in legal proceedings

Warren P. Strobel for McClatchy: General who probed Abu Ghraib says Bush officials committed war crimes

Strobel quotes Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, US Army (retired), who "led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison":
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes [...] The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
More from Warren Strobel: Documents confirm U.S. hid detainees from Red Cross

Andy Worthington at AntiWar dot Com: John McCain, Torture Puppet

Juan Cole at Informed Comment: The Great Torture Scandal

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post: Abu Ghraib? Doesn't Ring a Bell.

Think Progress: Ex-State Dept. official: Hundreds of detainees died in U.S. custody, at least 25 murdered.

Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times: Torture began at the top

William Glaberson: An unlikely antagonist in the detainees' corner

Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque: Torturegate: Truth, But No Consequences

Arun (Musing): Now I understand

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fan Mail From Some Flounder? Important? Just Look!

Jerome Hauer [photo], whom I have described as a 9/11 suspect awaiting indictment, sent me email last night, ostensibly to tell me that he enjoys reading my "nonsense" and that his friends send him my writing as "a source of great laughter."

Mr. Hauer didn't say what writing his friends had sent him, but I'm not surprised to learn he's a fan of this cold blog.

I have mentioned Mr. Hauer several times, primarily because of his television appearance on September 11, 2001, in which he told Dan Rather and Rather's audience that the twin towers of the World Trade Center had "collapsed" due to the impact of the planes that had hit them, and the "intense heat" of the resulting fires.

In the same segment, Hauer also told Rather that the attacks bore the "fingerprints of somebody like [Osama] bin Laden."

To me, the fact that Jerome Hauer was spreading both main parts of a clearly false story, that early and with that much confidence, indicates that his role in the events of the day was to help get the big lie in first.

I can't say for sure what prompted Mr. Hauer to write to me; I can say that in addition to referring to my writing as "nonsense", Mr. Hauer suggested that I "must have inherited a gene for creativity and one for stupidity." I already knew he had a good sense of humor, but in my opinion he's missed the point.

So I've replied to Jerome Hauer, as follows:
You may be quite correct about my genes for creativity and stupidity. But I also have genes for truth and justice.

If you can convince me that I'm wrong about you, I'll publish a retraction and an apology.

I can't say I'd do it gladly, but I'd much rather get the story right than pretend to be infallible.

So ... What do you mean "nonsense"? Specifically:

[1] Did you talk to Dan Rather on 9/11/2001?

[2] Did you tell him the towers "collapsed" because of the "intense heat" of the fires and the impact of the airplanes?

[3] Did you tell him the attack bore the "fingerprints of somebody like bin Laden"?

[4] And if so, how could you have know[n] these things at the time, when they still haven't been proven to this day?

I look forward to your response since I think it might help me to understand what actually happened.
I was serious about that. If I'm wrong about Jerome Hauer, I will have no problem saying so.

The ball's in his court. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

House Passes War Bill: $162B More For The Destruction Of Iraq And Afghanistan

The House of Representatives [sic] has passed a bill which would fund the continued occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan well beyond the twice-unelected president's scheduled date of departure. And that's the good news.
Republicans [...] applauded the passage of another war funding bill without a deadline for troop withdrawals, something Pelosi and many Democrats had sought [sic] since early last year.

"The measure provides this critical funding without bogging it down with politically motivated surrender language," Boehner said.
"Politically motivated surrender language"! These monsters are so transparent, they'd make me laugh if their actions weren't so deplorable. But that's the good news.

And now the bad news: the Democrats are calling it a victory!

Included in the bill that funds continued war without a deadline, are three provisions which president Bush has already threatened to veto. With apparent support for an override in Congress, the House has "stood up" to the president on those points.
"He is reversing three distinct veto threats and signing them into law. If that ain't a victory, I don't know what is," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus [photo].
Bush can reverse any of those clauses with signing statements, so what difference does it make to him?

The bottom line: the Democrats, who control the House of Representatives [sic] and therefore the national purse-strings, have chosen to spend another $162 billion -- $540 per person -- over the next year, to keep killing people you've never met, in wars of aggression in foreign countries, which are being fought on false pretexts. And
"If that ain't a victory, I don't know what is,"
according to the so-called leader of the so-called opposition party.

Nothing in my lifetime, and probably nothing in American history, has shown as clearly as the so-called Global War On Terror just how easily corruptible and utterly corrupt the American political system is.

But even having seen it -- even seeing it more clearly every day -- we continue to drift along, sliding ever closer to the edge of a horrible abyss.

What's another $162 billion? How many more innocent people will that kill? Enough?

No! It's never enough! Next year they'll need more, and they'll need even more than they needed this year. And even if we've got a Democratic president, even if we've got a solidly Democratic Congress, will they dare to vote against it?

You must be joking.

This is the same Rahm Emanuel who denied funding and national exposure to any Democrat who was fortunate enough to win a primary but not smart enough to toe the party line. So Bob Bowman (who supports 9/11 truth) and Clint Curtis (who supports electoral integrity) were on their own for the general election, while Cynthia McKinney (who supports both) was torpedoed in the primary.

And he's running the national Democratic caucus.

All we can do at this point is drop to our knees and beg for mercy.

Mission Almost Accomplished: Immunity For Telecoms Is On The Way

Immunity is on the way for our spying-without-a-warrant telecoms, as Eric Lichtblau reports in the New York Times:
After months of wrangling, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress struck a deal on Thursday to overhaul the rules on the government’s wiretapping powers and provide what amounts to legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The deal, expanding the government’s powers in some key respects, would allow intelligence officials to use broad warrants to eavesdrop on foreign targets and conduct emergency wiretaps without court orders on American targets for a week if it is determined important national security information would be lost otherwise. If approved, as appears likely, it would be the most significant revision of surveillance law in 30 years.

The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a federal district court determines that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the warrantless wiretapping operation.

With some AT&T and other telecommunications companies now facing some 40 lawsuits over their reported participation in the wiretapping program, Republican leaders described this narrow court review on the immunity question as a mere “formality.”

“The lawsuits will be dismissed,” Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 Republican in the House, predicted with confidence.
Somehow we won't be surprised. Even the supposedly liberal NYT can't help piling on:
The proposal — particularly the immunity provision — represents a major victory for the White House after months of dispute. “I think the White House got a better deal than they even they had hoped to get,” said Senator Christopher Bond, the Missouri Republican who led the negotiations.

The White House immediately endorsed the proposal, which is likely to be voted on in the House on Friday and in the Senate next week.

While passage seems almost certain in Congress, the plan will nonetheless face opposition from lawmakers on both political wings, with some conservatives asserting that it includes too many checks on government surveillance powers and liberals asserting that it gives legal sanction to a wiretapping program that they contend was illegal in the first place.
It WAS illegal in the first place. And worse than that: The system it was designed to replace was illegal too!

FISA was established to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. The new law is designed to take out the few teeth that remain in FISA. And the passage seems almost certain in Congress, which once again is preparing to give the White House even more than it ever expected to get -- all of which is blatantly illegal.

But the law doesn't matter anymore, and neither does the truth. Not to the White House, and not to the New York Times.

You probably noticed that long ago ... but everybody needs a reminder now and again.

Mission Accomplished: Western Oil Companies Set To Return To Iraq

Andrew Kramer in the New York Times:
Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.
Weapons of mass destruction? Complicity in the attacks of 9/11? Central front in the Global War on Terror? Or just the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production?

Oh well, what's the difference? Or, as Andrew Kramer puts it:

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract.
Yeah, that's it. There was suspicion. But there's no suspicion anymore, right?

Well, it doesn't matter. Or it soon won't.
While small, the deals hold great promise for the companies.

“The bigger prize everybody is waiting for is development of the giant new fields,” Leila Benali, an authority on Middle East oil at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said in a telephone interview from the firm’s Paris office. The current contracts, she said, are a “foothold” in Iraq for companies striving for these longer-term deals.
And so it goes. Business is business, and oil is oil, and we have to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.

It's not that you'll believe anything; it's just that your neighbors do.
[i]n a twist of corporate history for some of the world’s largest companies, all four oil majors that had lost their concessions in Iraq are now back.

In an interview with Newsweek last fall, the former chief executive of Exxon, Lee Raymond, praised Iraq’s potential as an oil-producing country and added that Exxon was in a position to know. “There is an enormous amount of oil in Iraq,” Mr. Raymond said. “We were part of the consortium, the four companies that were there when Saddam Hussein threw us out, and we basically had the whole country.”
They'll have the whole country again, from the look of things. No matter how many Americans -- and no matter how many Iraqis -- have to die.

Big Surprise In Buffalo: The Art Professor Wasn't A Terrorist After All!

After a four-year nightmare, art professor Steve Kurtz has finally shaken free of the Department of Homeland Terror.

The trouble for Kurtz started in May of 2004, when his wife died suddenly in her sleep. Police came out to investigate the unexpected death, and while searching the home, they found harmless scientific and art supplies, which they claimed were evidence of terrorism.

Over the next almost-four years, a bundle of alphabet agencies did their best to misrepresent Kurtz and his art supplies as a threat to our security, but -- amazingly -- the case against him was thrown out of court, with a federal judge calling the government's entire indictment "insufficient on its face."

Kurtz spoke with Amy Goodman the other day; here's an excerpt from their conversation:
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our next story, almost unfathomable, but true, about art in a time of terror. Even Kafka might have had trouble conjuring up this one.

Steve Kurtz is a professor of visual studies at SUNY, Buffalo — that’s State University of New York, Buffalo — a founding member of the award-winning art and theater group, Critical Art Ensemble. On May 11, 2004, his wife Hope tragically died in her sleep. When he called 911 for help, a nightmare that would last for the next four years began to unfold.

The police became suspicious of his art supplies and harmless bacteria cultures that he was using for an antiwar project about the public health impact of germ warfare programs. Kurtz was detained as a suspected bioterrorist, his home raided by the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Homeland Security. His belongings, his cat, even his wife’s body, were seized.

After a federal grand jury refused to charge Kurtz with bioterrorism, Kurtz and his colleague Robert Ferrell of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health were charged with federal mail and wire fraud concerning the acquisition of $256 of harmless bacteria. Under the PATRIOT Act, they could have faced up to twenty years in prison.

After four harrowing years, on April 21, a federal judge dismissed the government’s entire indictment against Kurtz as “insufficient on its face.” He’s been cleared of all charges.

Why don’t you tell us your story, beginning that day, May 11, 2004?

STEVE KURTZ: Well, that was a very dark day for me. I woke up that morning and found that my wife had died in her sleep. And kind of after a moment of shock that slowly broke into a kind of panic, I made my way to the telephone, called 911. They came quite rapidly. And as they looked around, they did as they had to do when a woman who, quite young at this age, forty-five, dies in their home and called the police. And the police came out and secured my home, and then three detectives showed up. And for the rest of that day, I was pretty much interrogated as a murder suspect.

And one of the things that caught the police attention’s eye was my home lab, which was filled with pretty basic innocuous equipment that I primarily use for molecular biology, for DNA experiments. And they wondered why I had that, and I explained to them that I was a professor at UB, University of Buffalo, and that my specialty was the intersection between art and science, and this was part of the basic equipment I needed to have, that the university didn’t supply us studios, so we had to create our own space for it. And, you know, I showed them work I had done online, showed them my resume, showed them catalogs. But they weren’t particularly convinced by that, and they were more convinced by the idea that if someone has scientific equipment in their home that they’re probably up to something nefarious. And as the detectives left that afternoon, they were of the opinion that the FBI was going to want to talk to me.

So the following day, as I went out to go to the funeral home to make arrangements for my wife’s cremation, about three or four FBI cars came screeching up, and I was put into illegal detention and basically soft-rendered, meaning I didn’t have to get drugged and flown off to Guantanamo. It was much nicer than that. It was the pleasant way to get rendered. They take you to a hotel and hold you there without charge, without being Miranda-ized, and put you through a lighter style of interrogation.
Thus began the incredible -- but true -- saga. Well, maybe it's not so incredible anymore, not in BushLand. If a skyscraper a quarter of a mile tall can disintegrate in 10 seconds -- just because of gravity -- and if that can happen three times in the same day -- but only on that day -- then nothing's incredible anymore, is it?

When the police initially searched the Kurtz home, they found an invitation with Arabic writing on it. They used this bit of Arabic to "prove" that Steve Kurtz was a terrorist, and this "proof" was then used to "justify" a warrant.

Nothing could have been further from the truth, but it doesn't matter anymore, not in BushLand.
STEVE KURTZ: And when the prosecutor was questioned about it in the first hearing, the judge asked, "You mean if he had a Koran in his house, you would have confiscated that and used that in this manner?" And the prosecutor said, "Yes."
Well, there you have it. If you can read or write Arabic, or if you possess the tiniest sample of Arabic writing, even if you doesn't understand what it says, you may not actually be a bioterrorist, but you'd better be very wary of the police, especially if your wife happens to die in the middle of the night.

But don't worry; they're keeping us safe from art teachers.