Bob's Links and Rants
Saturday, May 01, 2004

From Tom Toles via Michelle.
Mission Accomplished
Abu Ghraib prison was used by Saddam Hussein's regime to brutally torture prisoners. Now that the world is supposedly better off without Saddam, Abu Ghraib prison is used by George W. Bush's regime to brutally torture prisoners. The Bushies have been trying to blame THESE war crimes on some National Guard MP units. But the woman in charge of those troops, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, said the prison cellblock where the abuse occurred was under the tight control of Army military intelligence officers who may have encouraged the abuse.

And Billmon, in another of his extraordinary posts, suggests that it wasn't just the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) who was involved. The CIA and FBI are also implicated, as well as some more of those infamous private contracting firms, who have been trained by and may actually be covers for Israeli intelligence agents.

I've pretty much given up on guessing that THIS LATEST PARTICULAR INCREDIBLY HORRIBLE EVIDENCE OF THE CRIMINALITY of the Bushies will be the camel that broke the straw's back. Bush could appoint Saddam to be Secretary of Defense and Osama to be Secretary of State tomorrow and about half of America would defend his actions. (Of course, they wouldn't be a whole lot worse than who we have now.)

From Rex Babin.

From John Trever, whose cartoons I usually detest. But he's spot on on this one!

From Chip Bok.
Staggering Hypocrisy
''The message the terrorists learned in Madrid is that attacks can change elections and change policy,'' a senior administration official said, talking about the new Spanish government's decision to pull its troops out of Iraq - exactly the goal some believe the train bombers had in mind. ''It's a very dangerous precedent to have out there.'' -- From a NY Times article about the potential effects of another terrorist attack in the U.S. on the election in November.

Don't they realize that 9/11 set the precedent both earlier and more dramatically? U.S. foreign and domestic (think Patriot Act) policy were changed drastically following 9/11, and the Repugs used the threat of terrorism to skew the 2002 midterm elections, as they clearly intend to do in 2004 as well. And don't forget that one of Osama bin Laden's main gripes against the U.S. was the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia since 1991. Well, most of those troops are gone now, restationed in Iraq or Kuwait or Qatar. Who is really the appeaser here?
Friday, April 30, 2004
Up is down, black is white, night is day
That's the general gist of every White House press briefing by Scott McLellan. Here's a sample from Thursday:

I mean, this is a good opportunity for the President to sit down with members of the commission and talk with them about the seriousness with which we took the threat from al Qaeda, the steps we were taking to confront it and how we have been responding to the attacks of September 11th. The President believes their work is very important, and it is very important to helping us win the war on terrorism. He's pleased to sit down with the commission and answer their questions so that they can provide the American people with as thorough and comprehensive a report as possible.

Smirky fought the creation of the commission tooth and nail for over a year, tried, with considerable success to eviscerate its ability to actually find anything out, and only agreed to meet with the commission after months of stonewalling and insisting on a huge list of bizarre conditions.

Here's another sample from the same day:

Q Was the President's position, before the commission, that the administration had done all it could to respond to the threat from al Qaeda, that it took the threat seriously?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think -- I think the President talked about this in his news conference. Looking back, he wishes we had had certain things in place. He wishes we had had the Department of Homeland Security in place prior to September 11th; he wishes that we had had the Patriot Act in place; and he wishes that we were in a position to better share the intelligence information that we had. This is something that happened on his watch, and he very much supports the work of the commission and wants to see their report and see their recommendations and act on those recommendations.

The Department of Homeland Security, aka the Keystone Gestapo, was Senator Joe Lieberman's idea, and was strongly opposed by the Bush administration until rumors about the August 6 2001 PDB threatened to expose Bush as the fraud that he is in the Spring of 2002. And this crap about sharing intelligence information is just that--crap. The secrecy of the Bushies has made us substantially less safe.

What would have been the harm to national security in the summer of 2001 if there had been headlines in the New York Times and on CNN as follows: "FBI reports suspicious behavior: Many people in flight schools don't care about taking off or landing"; "CIA believes that two associates of Osama bin Laden are living in San Diego"; "President Bush briefed on hijacking threat from Osama bin Laden." While we know that Bush doesn't read the papers, I'll bet that many of the folks at the FBI and the CIA do, as well as many cops and other interested citizens. The dots would have been quickly connected. A few of the potential hijackers would have been rounded up, most would have snuck out of the country, and 9/11 would have been averted, perhaps indefinitely.

As long as the vast majority of the public is not terrorists, secrecy in government is an advantage to the terrorists, not the public. Of course, there might have been some hysteria and false accusations against some Arabs and Muslims in this country, but almost certainly much less than there was after 9/11. And with the charges or suspicions already public, they would have had a better chance of defending themselves publicly as well.

The extraordinary secrecy of the Bush administration, which is the focus of John Dean's book Worse Than Watergate, has deprived us all of the wisdom of countless potential dot-connectors, and has provided shadows for terrorists of all sorts to hide in (including those on Cheney's energy task force).
They've made an IN-credible mess...
And expect John Kerry to come up with credible alternatives:

"This may be our last chance to get it right," Kerry said.

"We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq. We must reclaim our country's standing in the world by doing what has kept America safe and made it more secure before -- leading in a way that brings others to us so that we are respected, not just feared, around the globe."

But the Bush-Cheney campaign dismissed the speech as lacking in any "credible alternatives."

Kudos to Kerry for saying "We need to put pride aside." The macho crap is going to get us all killed. And Bush and Cheney have worked hard for three years to create one of the worst messes in world history. Kerry suggests, for starters, trying something different. Given the rampant secrecy in the Bush administration, chances are high that Kerry doesn't have enough information on hand, even as a US senator, to come up with credible alternatives, even if there are any.

One thing that is completely clear from recent Bush and Cheney statements--the result of the election in November is far more important to them than any particular outcome in Iraq. If getting 10,000 more Americans killed in Iraq or in the US would guarantee his re-election, I have no doubt that Bush would choose that course. In fact, I think he already has.
Fallujah Bugout
Apparently there's plenty of confusion and handringing about the Marines handing over the siege of Fallujah to former regime elements, as I mentioned yesterday. Billmon and his commenters have great insights, as usual.

As Bob Herbert said today:
Mr. Bush has enmeshed us in a war that we can't win and that we don't know how to end. Each loss of a life in this tragic exercise is a reminder of lessons never learned from history. And the most fundamental of those lessons is that fantasy must always genuflect before reality.

It appears that the Marines fantasy of subduing Fallujah has genuflected to the reality of its impossibility.

Billmon and many of his commenters suggest that the 1000 or so strong "Fallujah Protective Army," under the command of former Baathist generals, will quickly merge with the "insurgents" in Fallujah and turn their American-supplied weapons against the Marines or whatever coalition forces they happen across. Most seem to think that this action only makes sense as a first step to full withdrawal from Iraq. I hope that's what it is. If the U.S. loses in Iraq, in the narrow Bushian sense, the world wins, including the U.S., in the larger sense. Uday and Qusay are dead. Saddam's in the brig. Declare victory and come home. We can convert our cars to biodiesel, and worry about things like poverty and education instead of terrorism.
Krugman and Herbert strike the same note
The two best NY Times columnists, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert, wrote largely the same column today, saying that Bush has gotten us into a nightmare, that there doesn't appear to be a good way out, but that the worst thing to do is to keep pretending that things are okay and to continue doing what you've been doing.

The first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging it.
I've been reading about biodiesel, a renewable fuel which is available today and works in production vehicles. Biodiesel is made from soybean or other vegetable oil, and can be made from waste grease from restaurants. It can be used in unmodified diesel engines, such as the TDI engine available in the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta, and New Beetle. These cars already get around 45 mpg on petroleum-based diesel, and reportedly get similar mileage on biodiesel. Rather than smelling like a truck stop, biodiesel exhaust reportedly smells like popcorn, and is much cleaner than regular diesel and cleaner than most gasoline exhaust as well. It also puts out much less global-warming-causing carbon dioxide than conventional vehicles do.

I'd like to be completely car free, but sometimes that puts severe limits on what I do. A 45-mpg car burning renewable biodiesel would remove a lot of my guilt about driving! So I'm looking around for a good used VW diesel car (never buy a new car!). There's a place about 20 miles from here that sells biodiesel. Since a diesel Golf has a range of about 500 miles, that shouldn't be a major problem. I could always fill a couple of extra cans, and use ordinary diesel in a pinch.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Too big for prime time?
An anti-war group planning a massive demonstration at the start of the Republican National Convention in Manhattan has been denied a permit to rally in Central Park because the crowd would be too large.
The permit denial letter said the Aug. 29 event, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of protesters, would exceed the 13-acre Great Lawn's capacity of 80,000 people; only 10 acres of the space is usable because of trees, benches and walkways. United for Peace and Justice indicated on its permit that it expected 250,000 demonstrators.
-- Newsday

Rather than deny the permit, New York should require the Repugs to drastically change their policies and their presumed nominees, Useless Dick and his Dummy. That would probably get the number of protesters down under the 80,000 limit, and the demo could go on as scheduled. Problem solved.

The Repugs are absolutely insane to hold their convention in New York. Oh well, they're absolutely insane anyway.
He said it, not me
Mr. Bush chuckled at the suggestion that he and Mr. Cheney had chosen to be interviewed together so they could prop each other up or prevent discrepancies in their answers. "If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place," he said.

Two-and-a-half years later, under enormous pressure, after much stonewalling and insisting on bizarre ground rules (Bush and Cheney together, no audio or video, no transcript) is not "in the first place."

And, of course, he's as usual claiming the right not to meet with the commission when he obviously has information crucial to their investigation. That is the right of a king, not of a supposed public servant. But Bush has never seen himself as a public servant, and on that he is, for once, certainly correct.
Writing to Congress about Venezuela
I just used the web forms to send the following message to Senators Levin and Stabenow and Representative Dingell:

Dear Senator Levin:
I recently returned from a two-week trip to Venezuela. It is a wonderful country with wonderful people. I am deeply concerned that our government may be trying to unduly interfere in the politics there.

President Chavez was elected twice by a large majority of Venezuelans. The unseemly haste with which the Bush administration was willing to recognize the illegitimate coup of 2002 was deeply offensive to many people there, and suggested that the coup leaders had American backing. The so-called National Endowment for Democracy appears still to be meddling in Venezuelan affairs, especially the attempt to have a recall referendum on Chavez.

I met with both supporters and opponents of Chavez during my visit, and was impressed with the sincerity and passion with which they all approach their government. I believe that they can successfully address, if not fully resolve, their differences without U.S. interference. In fact, I suspect that U.S. meddling would likely make the situation far worse.

Please let me know what you know about any interference by the NED or other U.S. agencies in the internal affairs of Venezuela, and please encourage our government to let the sovereign people of Venezuela decide their own future.

Thank you!

Declaring Victory and Leaving?
FALLUJAH, April 29--The U.S. Marines announced a new plan Thursday to replace U.S. forces in this embattled, mostly Sunni city with a small army of ex-Iraqi soldiers and commanders who would be charged with subduing insurgent activity and stabilizing the city. There was no sign of any new agreement with the insurgents who have been battling the Marines for three weeks, however. -- Washington Post

General consensus in the comments on Atrios is that this will be very demoralizing to the gung-ho Marines--basically abandoning their position. One would have to guess that the "small army of ex-Iraqi soldiers and commanders" will be "subduing insurgent activity and stabilizing the city" by disappearing into the city and joining with the insurgents. The city will be stabilized by effectively withdrawing from coalition control.

I don't want to be at all negative about this--it seems like the best option, given the multitude of screwups over the past 13 months which led to the horrible standoff in Fallujah. I want the Bushies to fail in their mission of fully conquering Iraq, but I want them to succeed in protecting American lives (and by consequence many more Iraqi lives). Bugging out of Fallujah is the way to do that, and that's what this sounds like. The "small army" of Iraqis is simply a smokescreen for a surrender. But a surrender is what was needed, and it looks like this may be it. Hopefully they'll do the same in Najaf, and eventually in the rest of Iraq as well.
Quote du Jour
I'm angry at the U.S. government. I'm angry at the people who got us into this war...How do we get to peace in this world when we're making enemies faster than we can kill them? -- Celeste Zappala, mother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was killed in Baghdad on Monday.

British MP John McDonnell defends Chavez' Bolivarian revolution against U.S. meddling:

[Chavez'] government's program of reforms has included an additional 1.5 million children in school getting three free meals a day, over one million adults obtaining literacy, 1.5 million more people gaining access to drinking water, the establishment of indigenous people's rights to land and bilingual education, the distribution of two million hectares of land to small farmers, the introduction of food subsidies and vouchers for pregnant women and after birth as well as a massive expansion of health care to working-class families.

...the response of the US has been to support a reactionary right-wing opposition in a series of attempts to destabilize and remove the Chavez government from office.

More Ted Rall
As the 9/11 commission winds down, Republicans are arguing that Bill Clinton, whose presidency spanned eight years from the first World Trade Center bombing to the U.S.S. Cole, deserves far more blame for the attacks than Bush, who had only been in office eight months. But they've got it wrong when they criticize Clinton for not being aggressive enough in the fight against Muslim extremism. If we're to believe the August 2001 intelligence assessment and the word of the jihadis themselves, we know why 9/11 really took place.

It wasn't, as Bush says, because radical Islamists are evil or because they hate our freedom. It was vengeance for 1998, for cruise missile attacks that scarcely raised an eyebrow in the United States even as they convulsions of rage surged through millions of Muslims. It's perfectly reasonable, therefore, to blame Bill Clinton for 9/11, but not because he didn't do enough. What led to 9/11 was a clumsy application of excessive military power and arrogance.

It's a lesson that the United States, so accustomed to swinging a sledgehammer to kill a fly, should take to heart in its dealings with the rest of humanity.
Ted Rall, April 15, via my niece's blog.

There's a reason we were targeted for terror and Sweden wasn't. I disagree with Rall a little, though. He's not giving Bush Sr. enough blame. Without the first and equally illegal Gulf War, there would have been no WTC attacks (1993 or 2001), no embassy attacks, no attacks on the Cole. Until 1990, Osama bin Laden (like Saddam Hussein) was a U.S. ALLY. He was a leader in the Mujahadin in Afghanistan that fought a guerilla (terrorist) war against the Soviet occupiers, with extensive CIA support. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Osama offered to have his soldiers (the remnants of the Mujahadin, morphing into al Qaeda), defend Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi invasion. We now know that that possibility was greatly overhyped by the Bush Sr. administration, scaring the Saudis into allowing U.S. forces to be stationed in their country. THIS was what pissed off Osama--Infidel U.S. troops in the Muslim holy land. Al Qaeda, which had opposed Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan, was quite ready to oppose American imperialism as well. And they have.

Not only Osama bin Laden, but Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and John Allen Muhammed (along with many many unnamed others) were turned against the U.S. by the 1991 Gulf War.

And this is why I can't get on board with Kerry. When it comes to the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" he uses the same sort of dumb macho rhetoric that causes terrorism as Bush does.

They hate us simply because we're there
Catching up on my Ted Rall. His cartoons are sometimes brilliant, sometimes incomprehensible, always ugly. But he writes extremely well, and always to the point.

With my Venezuela trip, I fell behind on my Rall reading. Catching up, I find his April 7 column, "Cut and Run Now," to be spot on, as they say across the pond.

There are three categories of civilians in an occupied country: patriots, collaborators and opportunists. In the calculus of hearts and minds, anything short of 100 percent popularity qualifies as total failure. It's an impossible standard, which is why no nation has ever successfully invaded and occupied another in the 20th century. Even if a majority like living under foreign control, a dubious assumption at best, an occupation is nonetheless doomed. As long as one percent of the population spends its evenings blowing up enemy convoys, fence sitters will be scared to collaborate. In Iraq, that one percent--or five, or whatever--shows no sign of letting up.

Read and understand: They hate us simply because we're there. Leave, and the hatred goes away. If you doubt that, visit Hanoi as a tourist.
Were there some possible future, even 20 or 30 years from now, wherein enough stability had been achieved to allow us to hand off power to a democratic government that truly represented the interests of all Iraqis, I'd argue that we should tough it out no matter the cost. The chance of that, however, is zero.

"The message to Iraqi citizens," says Bush, "is that they don't have to fear that Americans will cut and run." The Iraqis don't fear our departure; they crave it. Moreover, they count on it.

"We can't leave," Newsweek quotes an officer with a major security firm in Iraq (hmm). "If it takes a million f---ing American lives, we have to stay."

The hell we do. Sooner or later, one way or another, we're leaving--as defeated and bankrupt and demoralized as we were when we fled Saigon. The only question now is: how many more people are we going to kill before we cut and run?

The Veep from the Deep and his Dummy
Are talking to the 9/11 commission today:

Some critics, primarily Democrats, have suggested Bush and Cheney insisted on a joint appearance so they can keep their stories consistent. In an interview with CNN, [White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales took issue with that.

"This is not a criminal investigation," he said. "This is not someone before a grand jury. The purpose of these private sessions is for the president and vice president to provide information to the commission and that is what they are going to do."
-- CNN

It darn well should be a criminal investigation. Bush and Cheney are major-league liars who have done everything possible to keep the public from finding out what really happened on 9/11. There must be a reason.

Ten more troops killed in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Eight U.S. troops died in a car bombing Thursday and two others were killed in separate incidents in Iraq, according to the U.S. military.

The car bombing in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, also wounded four troops, a military spokesman told CNN.

737 Names on the Iraq memorial now.

From Nick Anderson.

From Clay Bennett.

From Mike Keefe.

There are so many levels of ridiculousness here. Kerry, the former leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, has been trying to outhawk the Bushies on Iraq--more troops, more money. Meanwhile, the chickenhawks in the Bush adminstration, led by Useless Dick, the Veep from the Deep himself, have been trying to attack the honored veteran Kerry on his war record.

I dislike Kerry, but Dick Cheney is probably as close to pure evil as anyone since Hitler.

Meanwhile, the reasoned voice--Vietnam sucked, Iraq sucks, no matter how similar or different they are, and we should high-tail it out ASAP--doesn't get a word in edgewise in the campaign.
Torture in the Prisons
Night raids, indefinite detentions, mass graves (or however the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in this illegal war are being buried). Exactly how is anyone better off now that Saddam is out of power?

One photograph shows Iraqi prisoners, naked except for hoods covering their heads, stacked in a human pyramid, one with a slur written in English on his skin.

That and other scenes of humiliation at the hands of U.S. military police appear in photographs obtained by CBS News, shown Wednesday night on ``60 Minutes II.''
-- NY Times

At least the military spokesman, who usually seems completely oblivious to the long term impact of this illegal invasion, seems to have a clue on this issue:

In an interview with CBS correspondent Dan Rather, Kimmitt said the photographs were dismaying.

``We're appalled,'' Kimmitt said. ``These are our fellow soldiers, these are the people we work with every day, they represent us, they wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down.''

``If we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect, we can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers,'' Kimmitt said.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004
People are dying in Iraq...
So that people can continue to die on the highways here.

The U.S. Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 43,220 people died in 2003, up from 42,815 in 2002.

People drove more miles on average last year, so the rate of deaths per miles traveled was about the same.
-- CNN

That's about SIXTY times the number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq. Driving private automobiles, and especially SUV's and other behemoths, is completely unsustainable and threatens to destroy the planet. And our two stupid presidential candidates are arguing about who will keep gas prices low. It's past time to get serious about breaking the addiction to the automobile.

It's no secret
That the Bush White House is outrageously secretive. Washington Post writer Dana Milbank points out that the Kremlin, the Japanese, the Palestinian Authority, and just about everyone else is more forthcoming with information than is the government supposedly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Americans seeking to know what President Bush said in his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month went to the obvious place: the Kremlin.

"The presidents exchanged ideas on the situations in the crisis areas of the world: Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc.," the Russian government said in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency. "They expressed serious concerns about the lack of progress in the settlement of regional problems and the escalation of the situation in these areas."

And what did the White House have to say about this conversation between the world leaders? Not a thing. "White House officials would reveal no details of the conversation," the Associated Press reported.

As Paul Krugman said yesterday, writing about the Veep from the Deep's top-secret energy task force:

What Mr. Cheney is defending, in other words, is a doctrine that makes the United States a sort of elected dictatorship: a system in which the president, once in office, can do whatever he likes, and isn't obliged to consult or inform either Congress or the public.

I've been reading John Dean's book, Worse Than Watergate, which focuses on the extreme and extremely undemocratic secrecy of the Bush White House. Our government was founded in part on the belief that the people should know what the government is doing and the government should stay out of what people are doing. The Bush administration is intent on reversing that.

From Dan Wasserman.

From Bill Schorr.

From Boondocks.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
The Eve of Destruction
U.S. Troops Kill 57 Insurgents in Battle Near Najaf
U.S. Warplanes Hit Northern Falluja

Apparently determined to provoke the next big terror attack on the US before the election, the Bushies have apparently gone into all-out war mode, destroying Iraq in order to save it.
Black Hawk Down...Again?
Near the Shiite stronghold of Florence, South Carolina. Do you get the feeling that the Black Hawk helicopter is a serious deathtrap?
When Lovers Fight
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was intended by its Washington parents to give unfettered access by American and other wealthy capitalists to world markets, resources, and cheap labor. They never intended for the WTO to block their ability to bribe senators from farm states by challenging crop subsidies, which are basically corporate welfare. But to sell the WTO to the countries they wanted to exploit, they had to put in some language suggesting that the WTO might actually provide some benefits to those countries.

Since our tax dollars are used to subsidize cotton and other crops far beyond our domestic needs, these crops are sold on the world market. There these crops compete with unsubsidized products of poor farmers in other countries, either preventing them from selling or forcing prices below their costs of production.

Brazil filed a complaint in the WTO against the U.S. for our cotton subsidies, and yesterday Brazil won. The Bushies of course say they will appeal, as always worried about votes in the red states than they are about the plight of the poor billions around the world. But their commitment to profoundly undemocratic trade organizations like the WTO will likely trump even this election-year concern, as it did in the case of steel tariffs last year. A far better result would be if they rejected the WTO entirely, leading to its downfall. Brazilian farmers could then grow for the domestic market without having to compete with subsidized American crops. And eventually, American workers could go back to making things without having to compete with near-slave labor in Latin America and Asia.

"Free trade" is a euphemism for capitalist imperialism, and the sooner it dies the better. Hopefully this WTO ruling is a step in that direction, one way or another.

From Jeff Danziger.

Pat Tillman deserves respect for giving up the high-paid brutal life in the NFL for the low-paid brutal life and death of an Army Ranger. But, with all due respect, lets not give him undue respect. It troubles me that military service, even for corrupt regimes for dubious (at best) reasons, is seen as the most honorable thing to do. I'm not at all convinced that Kerry volunteering to go kill Vietnamese is really all that more honorable than Bush ducking out (although the Bushie attempts to label Kerry as unpatriotic or something are ridiculous, as is Bush's macho strutting in military regalia). Unlike most of his fellow soldiers, Tillman had a very viable economic alternative to enlisting. The imperial media is exploiting his death as heroic to convince America's youth that enlisting in the military is somehow "defending one's country," even though that is highly questionable in the case of Afghanistan and a flat-out lie in the case of Iraq.

Bush was able to get away with his criminal wars (as was his father) in large part because of the militaristic leanings of a large part of the population. Many of those coffins are filled with soldiers who joined the Army because they couldn't get a job at McDonalds, and who realized months ago that they were fighting for a lie. Their stories aren't being told in anywhere near the detail that Tillman's is.
Bush Knew
And did nothing. A video from Take Back the Media.
Why still bother pretending?
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said weapons must be removed from holy sites and schools "immediately" -- and if they were not, "further steps may have to be taken."

He said he would discuss those steps but said places of worship "are not protected under the Geneva Conventions in the event of military action, if they are used as bases for operations and bases to store weapons and other tools of violence."

Wars of agression against countries which have never attacked you are the worst of all war crimes. The U.S. has compounded this guilt through the use of cluster bombs, napalm, depleted uranium, and other insane weaponry. Suggesting that the Geneva Conventions still apply, but of course only to the "enemy" (you know, those people defending their country against illegal foreign invaders), is ridiculous in the extreme. It's like a baseball manager machine-gunning the other team's shortstop and then complaining that their pitcher is throwing a spitball.

Monday, April 26, 2004
Quote du Jour
It is the media's responsibility, and an important one, though very uncomfortable for people in government, to put a very strong spotlight on the government's policies and practices on terrorism, especially given the current disorganization of the federal government's fight against terrorism. In this area, the federal government is in complete disarray. There's been remarkably little attention to the major recommendation the Gilmore Commission made for a substantial reorganization of the government's approach to terrorism. Journalists shouldn't let politicians get away with that.

The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it. Maybe the folks in the press ought to be pushing a little bit.
-- Paul Bremer, now American viceroy in Iraq, speaking at a conference in Chicago on February 26, 2001.
Hugo Says NO to GMO!
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias has announced that the cultivation of genetically modified crops will be prohibited on Venezuelan soil, possibly establishing the most sweeping restrictions on transgenic crops in the Western Hemisphere. Though full details of the administrationís policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are still forthcoming, the statement by President Chavez will lead most immediately to the cancellation of a contract that Venezuela had negotiated with the U.S.-based Monsanto Corporation. -- Venezuelanalysis

GMO's are a horrible crime against nature and the planet. Way to go, Hugo!
U.S. soldiers kill four children in Baghdad
BAGHDAD: ONE day after a wave of attacks that left at least 40 dead, four Iraqi children died after being shot by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. According to hospital sources quoted by news agencies in the capital, the children were shot after the U.S. troops whose vehicle had been hit by a grenade opened fire. -- Digital Granma

The U.S. should get the **** out of Iraq, yesterday! Whatever mess we leave behind can hardly be worse than the mess we're in. For the burglar to stay, using the excuse that it will be even worse for the victim if he leaves, is arrogant in the extreme.

A brilliant American knew this 100 years ago:

I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object--robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician's trick--a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor--none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, "Our Country, right or wrong," and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?

For in a republic, who is "the Country"? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant--merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is "the Country"? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn't.

Who are the thousand--that is to say, who are "the Country"? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country--hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Only when a republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.

This Republic's life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: "Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor." Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people on their terms--independence--would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam's phrase--you should take it up and examine it again. He said, "An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war."

- Mark Twain, notes for a book called "Glances at History", writing about the invasion and occupation of the Philippines.

The guy can sing
So maybe Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is also a futbol star! He does look a lot like DC United's goalkeeper Nick Rimando:

New Poll Shows Chavez Will Survive Recall Referendum
Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would unable to recall him if a referendum is convoked by the National Electoral Council, a new poll has revealed. -- Venezuelanalysis

Violence in Chiapas
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, April 22, 2004: The silence in the community of Zinacantan, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, is more profound than ever these days. On April 10, an ambush left 35 indigenous Tzotzil people injured, and now almost no one feels like talking. People are frightened.

Narco News visited this picturesque region today, 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. The ambush--which occurred in the village of Paste, just outside of Zinacantan--not only resulted in many injuries, but demonstrated, once again, the bitterness and racism that one part of the society here feels towards the "Indians" when they try to reclaim their rights, their voice, their lives.

Kerry: Redeeming Social Value?
My brother was telling me last night that Kerry had made a statement blaming his vote on the Iraq war on lies that were told to him and other congresscritters by the Bush administration. I haven't otherwise seen or heard directly any hint of recognition from Kerry that his vote was a mistake, but I would be ecstatic to see it. A brief search of his campaign web site turned up nothing, but that's typical. If anyone out there in readerland has a link to a statement by Kerry renouncing his 2002 vote for the war, please send it to me.

Currently, I don't trust Kerry in the least. I don't see how he would be any improvement at all in foreign policy (more efficient wars of domination?), and I doubt if he could turn things around domestically with a Republican congress, even if he really wanted to. His pandering to business interests and those whining about "high" gasoline prices hasn't encouraged me, either.

But I would be thrilled to be shown that I am at least somewhat wrong, and that Kerry actually offers a real positive alternative. Apologizing for his 2002 vote would be a huge step in that direction, and if he's already done that, please let me know!

From Boondocks.
The 9/11 Commission
I missed pretty much all of the testimony (except for about 15 minutes of Condi) and a lot of the news coming out of the 9/11 commission earlier this month. The WSWS has some interesting summaries and commentary here and here.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
I've suggested before that I'd write more about Venezuela later. Well, later seems to be here, so I'll give it a shot. I've got a lot to say and my time is limited, so I'll warn you in advance that this certainly won't be complete and probably won't be completely coherent. I'll probably add bits and pieces later on, and maybe come back and edit parts of this post as well.

To start with, I'll mention how amazed I am at how little is known about Venezuela here in the U.S. Most of the people I've talked to since returning, none of them stupid, seem to have little or no idea where Venezuela is--even which continent it's on. I was asked if they speak Spanish there. When I mentioned the problems President Chavez is having, someone asked "Isn't he getting pretty old?" Eventually I realized that he thought that Cesar Chavez, former president of the United Farm Workers, was now president of Venezuela. Nobody seems to be aware that Venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the U.S., that the Bush administration despises Chavez, that there was a coup attempt two years ago with U.S. backing, or that there is likely to be a recall referendum in Venezuela soon. While almost all Venezuelans could tell you who the U.S. president is, and who his chief "opposition" is, it seems as though very few Americans know even the first thing about Venezuela (of course, this would be true of almost every country on the planet).

For some basic facts about Venezuela (and other countries), the CIA World Factbook is a good place to start. Here's their introductory background statement:

Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Ecuador). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have held sway since 1959. Current concerns include: an embattled president who is losing his once solid support among Venezuelans, a divided military, drug-related conflicts along the Colombian border, increasing internal drug consumption, overdependence on the petroleum industry with its price fluctuations, and irresponsible mining operations that are endangering the rain forest and indigenous peoples.

From what I learned, the parts about "benevolent" strongmen and the "president losing support" may be a bit biased, but overall it seems a fair assessment. Elsewhere in the Factbook, I learn that Venezuela has a population of 24 million, has a land area twice that of California, of which only about 3% is used for agriculture. And if you don't know, Venezuela is located in the most northern part of South America on the Caribbean, and borders Colombia, Brazil and Guyana. Spanish is the official and dominant language.

Of course, for the U.S., and especially the Bush administration, the key fact about Venezuela is that it has lots of oil. In 2001, the U.S. imported 1.54 million barrels per day from Venezuela, trailing only Canada and Saudi Arabia as foreign oil suppliers. Before 1959, the "benevolent military strongmen" supplied the U.S. with oil at the low prices it demanded, and the democratically-elected governments between 1959 and 1998 didn't change that much. But Hugo Chavez has made Venezuela more of an aggressive member of OPEC, seeking to raise oil prices and share the wealth with the poor majority in the country who were largely excluded previously. This, of course, is the type of action which quickly gets the attention of the cheap labor/cheap oil conservatives in Washington.

So, ever since Chavez was first elected in in 1998, the opposition (composed mainly of the two parties which used to battle each other for power before Chavez came along) has been trying to get him out, with more or less active support from Washington. Opposition-led work slowdowns and stoppages have attempted to cripple the economy and thereby discredit Chavez. In April 2002, a coup was organized which succeeded in deposing Chavez for about one day. Since then, the opposition efforts have returned to work stoppages and more recently have focussed on a recall referendum, which has involved messy arguments over valid signatures on signatures.

Chavez is a fascinating figure, and the focus of adoration by his supporters and hatred by the opposition. He came from a poor family and came to prominence in the military. He himself was part of a failed coup attempt in 1992, for which he served a couple of years in jail. When he got out, he started promoting his populist agenda, telling the poor of Venezuela that they deserved a share of the country's immense wealth and a larger voice in how things were run. He was elected president in 1998 by a huge majority. One of his first acts was to call a constitutional assembly, which wrote a brand new constitution for Venezuela incorporating some of the most progressive elements from constitutions around the world. Chavez supporters, or Chavistas, adore the Bolivarian constitution of 1999, and many carry paperback copies of it with them to rallies and speeches.

But Chavez began to solidify the opposition shortly after the constitution was ratified. He used the new constitution as a reason for holding new elections, which resulted in a new national assembly, the majority of which were Chavistas. He himself was also re-elected to a six-year term in 2000, even though his previous term was far from over. So while the opposition doesn't directly attack the constitution very often (given its immense popularity), they do point out that Chavez used the new constitution to solidify his hold on power. They also point out that he has taken many actions which are unconstitutional under the new constitution. I don't know nearly enough about either the constitution or the actions taken to begin to judge accurately the validity of the charges. My general impression is that he has done many things of questionable constitutionality, probably much more than he admits, and probably much less than he is accused of.

And the constitution itself is the basis for the recall referendum. Unfortunately, the constitution was quite vague on the rules for such recalls, and much of the current debate is about how to run the referendum under these vague guidelines.

So has Chavez been a good president? He has clearly given hope to millions of Venezuelans who felt completely disenfranchised under earlier governments. His education programs have been fairly successful, increasing literacy. I personally witnessed the Mision Robinson (grades 1-6) amd Mision Rivas (grades 7-12) adult education programs. The students seemed thrilled to be finally getting the education they had missed as children. Even the opposition politician who spoke to us granted that these "Misions" had been successful. The health care proposals are much more controversial, although the debate is less on how well they are working than on how they are being implemented. The most controversial aspect is the use of thousands of Cuban doctors to establish clinics in the barrios and other poor areas. The Chavistas say that without the Cuban doctors that millions of Venezuelans would still be without access to health care; the opposition claims that there are Venezuelan doctors being displaced by the Cubans, and that the program shows that Chavez wants to establish Cuban-style communism in Venezuela. The economy under Chavez appears to be struggling mightily, but it is unclear whether this is due more to his policies or to the deliberate attempts by the opposition to sabotage them through strikes and other measures.

I'm going to try to wrap this post up shortly. My brief verdict: Chavez is more good than bad, a necessary force acting for the rights of the poor people in Venezuela. In conjunction with Lula in Brazil, he offers hope to all of Latin America for resisting the crippling free-trade and neoliberal policies being promoted by Washington (both Republicans and Democrats). He is far from perfect: He defintely has a bunch of skeletons in his closet, and at times he seems to needlessly provoke the opposition. But for the people of Latin America, and even the U.S., to successfully resist the pauperization of the masses and total destruction of the environment that the neoliberal/neocon "free-trade" agenda promises, intelligent charismatic leaders will be required. It seems clear that no such leader will result for the U.S. election this November. So dynamic leaders like Chavez, even with flaws, are probably critical to the long-term survival of the planet.

One more thing. While I hope that Chavez survives the recall, I hope that whatever result is achieved there is without U.S. influence. The only help I intend to offer Chavez is to write to Congress (and Bush and Kerry) to tell them to keep their hands off the process, and to ask you, my readers, to do the same. It's their country, not ours, and neither Chavez nor his replacement will be either legitimate or effective if he's seen as the choice of Washington, not Caracas.

More later...

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